NEA Literature Fellowships

Amorak Huey

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(2017 - Poetry)

"Earl Scruggs and Adrienne Rich Share a Cab to the Afterlife"

Season’s changing. Always. The only mistake
is expecting something more profound –
this vehicle could not be more ordinary:
dirty-yellow taxi, on-duty sign aglow,
driving just a little too fast through the confusion,
though not getting anywhere any sooner.
Previous passengers have scrawled names
on the seats and walls, making their marks
wherever they found room. Some with hearts
around their names, plus-signs connecting lovers,
flourishes under certain letters.
The driver has the radio on but we do not understand
the language. His phone keeps ringing
but he’s considerate enough not to answer.
We deserve at least that much care.
Outside is cityscape, all heartbeat
and sidewalk. Outside is a mountaintop
thick with pine. Outside is noise
and weather and the skeleton
of our century. Behind us a cloud of dust
swells and rolls like the tide –
rooster tail, inflating balloon, invitation.
Caption this. Capture what is familiar:
the ink and string and rhythm
of the ordinary, the beautiful, the both at once.
We have nothing in common,
only everything significant.
Our fathers are not waiting for us.
They are still somewhere in the shared past,
as we remember them, calling our names
and offering the advice they never gave
when we asked for it. Forgive us
for what we may have wasted. For anything
we did not get to in time. The road
narrows, turns. A hill is crested.
The pattern grows restless.
The road is the illusion of a road.
Something has changed.
It’s the season. We said that before.
A pen, quick. Let us add our names.
Let us say: we were here, once. We were here.

(first appeared in Heron Tree)

Amorak Huey, a former newspaper editor and reporter, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and grew up in Trussville, Alabama. He holds a BA from Birmingham-Southern College and an MFA from Western Michigan University.

Huey is author of the poetry collection Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress, 2015) and the chapbooks The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl, 2014) and A Map of the Farm Three Miles from the End of Happy Hollow Road (Porkbelly, 2016). He teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, and his writing can be found in The Best American Poetry 2012, The Southern Review, The Cincinnati Review, Ninth Letter, Brevity, Booth, and elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of Grand Valley State University

Author's Statement

When the NEA called to tell me about the fellowship, it was shortly after the 2016 election. I saw the D.C. area code and pushed “ignore,” assuming someone was seeking one last political donation. The second call came a day or two later; this time I answered, figuring I’d better get it over with; maybe I could get my name off whatever list it had appeared on. Wow, did I have no idea what list that would turn out to be. The poets who have won this fellowship in the past include many of my favorite writers, poets whose poetry has inspired and informed my own; so, too, the poets I would later learn are this year’s other recipients. I am beyond grateful to have my work recognized alongside theirs. It’s incredibly humbling.

I am revising and reshaping two poetry manuscripts, titled Boom Box and Seducing the Asparagus Queen (poems from both of them were in the packet I submitted with my NEA application), and this grant will allow me time and space to complete them—as well as to travel and research and read for yet a third manuscript that is just now beginning to take shape and for a new prose project that is in the earliest stages.

I expect my writing to grow in ways I cannot yet predict from this award. No award or publishing milestone writes the next poem for you, but the generosity of the NEA provides the confidence, time, and resources to make the task a little easier. This fellowship brings with it a deep sense of obligation: I must do what I can to make sure my future writing lives up to the promise someone must have seen in my poems.