An NEA fellowship is a wonderful and remarkable gift. For the writer who receives it, it serves as an expression of national recognition and profound encouragement for the making of literary art. In my case, it will also make possible a full year's sabbatical from my teaching job at Carroll College, during which I will write the bulk of my third book of poetry. I often tell my students that in order to fulfill one's potential as a writer, one must stay prepared, disciplined, and relaxed. Unfortunately, none of these is easy when we spend too many hours on other concerns, worthy as they may be. The NEA fellowship has made it possible for me to use most of my energy and attention every day for an entire year on writing, and it is that element of this marvelous gift that I most treasure.
Small Child Walking on Great Aunts and Uncles
They lined up like foothills on our flowered divan,
the great ones, overflowing the kitchen chairs and footstools
that continued in a circle across the front room linoleum,
and I climbed up to travel the uneven track of their laps.
I trod on the scruffy ones, the gap toothed, the jowly.
The oblong of bosom who smelled of talcum and coffee.
Those who laughed themselves red in the face.
I walked across the paunchy and the ones with unruly hair.
The warty. The blemished. The slope-shouldered and dewlapped.
Those whose breath came out in little gasps.
I traversed shaky lipstick and eyebrows drawn on in pencil,
the bald, bespectacled, chinless,
those with an air of motor oil and fish bait,
with huge meaty hands and over-inflated fingers,
those who scraped under their nails with knife blades.
The ones who laughed hard in odd wheezes and grunts.
The ones who laughed merely by shaking.
Mine was a road of scratchers and nodders,
a pathway of great jiggling elbows,
of the stubby, of the widows-peaked, of gaping black nostrils,
a fleshy track suffused with tobacco and bacon grease.
These were the ground I walked on, mine underfoot,
and though dead are still mine and will persist as mine
though I become ground with them, though I be dust.
Loren Graham was born and raised around Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He studied as a writer and composer at Oklahoma Baptist University, and he received an MA in English from Baylor University and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Virginia. He has since taught English and creative writing in Virginia and in Montana, where he now lives with his wife, Jane Shawn. His first book of poetry, Mose, tells the story of a prison inmate in Texas (Wesleyan, 1994). His second book, The Ring Scar, is scheduled for publication by Word Press in July 2010. This poem is a poetic sequence entitled Mirrow, which is based on Graham's childhood in rural poverty.
Photo by Jane Shawn