When considering the help the NEA honor has afforded me, I'm reminded of those credit card commercials which highlight how "the intangible" often butts heads with "the material." In my own version there would be a price-tagged printer, a stack of new books, a few plane tickets, another stack of new books, some car rental receipts, more new books, and beneath the image of a handwritten poem the caption would read: priceless. Which is to say, no amount of money can guarantee a worthwhile poetry collection, nor a worthwhile poem, for that matter. And yet, how much more difficult my year of writing, research, and travel would have been without the benefits of the fellowship. One synergetic example: in the Spring I traveled to a far off state to read to at-risk high school students in the lobby of a modest community center. During the trip I was also able to conduct a pivotal interview for a book I'm working on about the life and work of poet Etheridge Knight. In town with none of the usual duties connected to sponsorship (dinners, classes, student conferences, etc), I was able to spend a few solitary days researching and working on poems before returning home. Without the NEA's assistance there may have been no reading, no interview, no open time. That's one small example. I'm grateful for the money, of course, and for the honor of joining the company of fellow winners, but the greatest reward has been the fellowship that comes with taking poetry to people who might not otherwise receive it. A fellowship that begets fellowship. What could be more priceless?
The Blue Borges
Pessadilla, Ephialtes, Incubus, Alp,
Black Horse, a blind man cannot see
the night. I dream the moon
and I dream my eyes perceiving
the moon. When I dream of Buenos Aires,
my father is talking up and talking down
the genius of Gustav Spiller
with coffee and a cockatoo. Scharlach
was the name of a German schoolgirl
and Escarlata the name of her twin
in Madrid. Macedonio Fernandez,
Alfonso Reyes, Maria Kodama, Rafael
Cansinos-Assens, Don Nicano Paredes,
the caudillo of Palermo— El amor
o el diálogo de unos pocos. I wanted to lie down
with each of them and run with each of them
in a fresh meadow the way a river lies down
and runs in a meadow. I wanted to be shelter
and fire like that builder of the Great Wall
and burner of all the books written before him,
the first Emperor, Shih Haung Ti,
who outlawed all the words for death
and paid his sorcerers good money
to invent the elixir of unlimited health;
the screwball Shih Haung Ti,
who called himself the first Haung Ti
so as to be in some way the original
Haung Ti as he wandered a palace
that contained as many rooms as there are days
in the year. Decay loves the ramparts,
the stairwells, the terraces, the parapets,
the galleries, the patios, the cloisters,
the cisterns, the chambers, the anterooms,
the dungeons, the vaults. Decay loves the cells.
Decay loves the inscriptions. Decay loves
decay and neither I nor the executioners
of the State can do anything against this love
because it is a love that does not decay.
"Alles Nahe werde fern," said Goethe,
but it is also true that everything distant
becomes near. The Intellectual Voyage
of Paul Groussac; the beloved blue
Boethius who worked the toll booth
between Free Will and Providence;
An Experiment with Time by Dunne;
Dante waits with Virgil in my father's study.
A line by Verlaine that I have forgotten;
Guatemala, Serrano, Paraguay, Gurruchaga;
Juan Diaz de Solis who rowed upstream
in 1516 to be consumed by Indians;
Hipolito Irigoyen, the twice elected,
couped Argentinean president; terraqueous
daguerreotypes wait in that circular room
with walls and doors that are mirrors.
I remember the phony infinitude of the self.
I worship the dream of the yellow tiger
which can only be hunted by men
riding the back of a Persian elephant.
Pessadilla, Ephialtes, Incubus, Alp,
Black Horse, I want to lie down in darkness
and dream of the fresh meadows
that have vanished, and the rivers
that have also vanished. I long as Spinoza said
all things long in their being to persist.
Terrance Hayes is the author of Hip Logic (Penguin 2002) and Muscular Music (Tia Chucha Press, 1999, Carnegie Mellon University Press Contemporary Classics, 2005). His honors include a Whiting Writers Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a National Poetry Series award, a Pushcart Prize, and a Best American Poetry selection. Wind in a Box, his third collection, will be published by Penguin in 2006. He teaches in the English Department at Carnegie Mellon University and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his family.
Photo by W.T. Pfefferle