Catherine Pierce is the author of three books of poems: The Tornado Is the World (2016), The Girls of Peculiar (2012), and Famous Last Words (2008), all from Saturnalia Books. Both The Tornado Is the World and The Girls of Peculiar won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Prize; Famous Last Words won the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. Her poems have been twice selected for The Best American Poetry (2015 and 2011) and have won a Pushcart Prize. Her poems and essays have appeared in the American Poetry Review, the New York Times, the Southern Review, Gettysburg Review, New England Review, A Public Space, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor of English at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi, where she co-directs the creative writing program.
I am humbled and deeply grateful to be named a National Endowment for the Arts fellow. Each year when fellows are named and I see the arts being publicly recognized, championed, and supported, I feel glad and hopeful for our country; to know that I’ve been added to the roster of NEA fellows I’ve so admired over the years is remarkable. The financial support of the fellowship means the ability to travel, to pay for childcare, to secure substantial time that I can devote solely to my work—a tremendous gift, especially for a writer who, like me, has trouble working in the short stolen moments daily life often affords. Less quantifiable but equally essential is the affirmation that comes with having been selected for this award—I find myself approaching my work with new vigor, purpose, and bravery, and I’m so thankful to the NEA for that, and for everything they do to support the arts and the artists who do the making.
In the beginning, the ending was beautiful.
Early spring everywhere, the trees furred
pink and white, lawns the sharp green
that meant new. The sky so blue it looked
manufactured. Robins. We’d heard
the cherry blossoms wouldn’t blossom
this year, but what was one epic blooming
when even the desert was an explosion
of verbena? When bobcats slinked through
primroses. When coyotes slept deep in orange
poppies. One New Year’s Day we woke
to daffodils, wisteria, onion grass wafting
through the open windows. Near the end,
we were eyeletted. We were cottoned.
We were sundressed and barefoot. At least
it’s starting gentle, we said. An absurd comfort,
we knew, a placebo. But we were built like that.
Built to say at least. Built to reach for the heat
of skin on skin even when we were already hot,
built to love the purpling desert in the twilight,
built to marvel over the pink bursting dogwoods,
to hold tight to every pleasure even as we
rocked together toward the graying, even as
we held each other, warmth to warmth,
and said sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry while petals
sifted softly to the ground all around us.
(Originally published in American Poetry Review)