NEA Literature Fellowships

Angel Nafis

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(2017 - Poetry)

"When I Realize I'm Wearing My Girlfriend's Ex­Girlfriend's Panties"

Praise now the fabric, for protecting who it can.
Praise the purposeful silver needle, and the thread's long arm.
Praise now, the path, and the ex­girlfriend, and
any mouth that has known my love's impeccable salt.

Incredible, incredible gravity
you lead me here
every time—to the water
to drink. You lead me here
to this open space. To two­step with
beloved ghosts, a past
that is, too, a garden.
Do not un­wish a single blade of grass.
For the house craves each brick.
The war, every bullet.

This is my gift.

This is the circumstance
of loving. To see another’s name
written so plainly. To see, too,
what my body will perform
in another woman's panties—

my own curious blood,
a single jewel, a red eye
                winking.

(previously appeared in The Rattling Wall, Issue 3)

Angel Nafis is an Ann Arbor, Michigan native and the author of BlackGirl Mansion (Red Beard Press/ New School Poetics, 2012). She earned her BA at Hunter College and is an MFA candidate in poetry at Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in The Rattling Wall, The BreakBeat Poets Anthology, MUZZLE Magazine, The Rumpus, Poetry magazine, and elsewhereNafis is a Cave Canem fellow, the recipient of a Millay Colony residency, an Urban Word NYC mentor, and the founder and curator of the Greenlight Bookstore Poetry Salon. In 2011 she represented the LouderArts poetry project at both the Women of the World Poetry Slam and the National Poetry Slam. With poet Morgan Parker, she runs The Other Black Girl Collective, an internationally touring Black Feminist poetry duo. In 2016, Nafis was a recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Facilitating writing workshops and reading poems globally, she lives in Brooklyn with artist, writer, and musician Shira Erlichman.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Author's Statement

When I was eight years old my second grade class had a writing contest. The winner got to have their poem read over the morning announcements just after the weather. I was the only Black girl in my class and the only one who wrote “Artist” on my “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up” form, so, my task was set. In my heavy maroon diary, I wrote my first ever poem about the wind, very astutely titled THE WIND. It didn’t have line breaks, rhymed “dashing,” “crashing,” and “flashing” and ended in a first person statement about me not knowing where wind comes from but being grateful for its cool. I tried greatly to control my face when they announced my name over the loudspeaker. Twenty years later (with the heat bill always late and a never ending to-do-list, emails I’ve been meaning to answer, and time that runs away from me the moment I catch up) I’m not trying to control my face whatsoever. I’m all teeth and my whole body is a smile with all this time, all this support that the NEA has seen fit to rest upon my work. Let me never again try and control my gratitude when such a precious and rare blessing arrives, making it more possible for me to continue doing what has always felt the most natural. What an undeniable honor to write poems, what a buoying gift to be seen. I don’t know where this kind of mercy comes from, but I’m ever grateful for its cool. Thank you.