NEA Literature Fellowships

Aracelis Girmay

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(2011 - Poetry)

elegy for the beekeeper

How dazed the body
            after stinging, how drunk
with death & venom.

We wear our good shoes
            to the funeral. & our black eyes,
fat with hallucination, hold

the image of the swarm,
            take it everywhere:
the streetlight, to church, the coffin.

Even now, the air is wild
            with the fever-pitch of wings.
Our girl, small graveyard

of marks & stings--
            so fast.

We leave her to sleep outside
            like the cats.
We climb into our houses & our beds,

& we miss her. For years
            we dream our deaths little
as the bee’s.

Aracelis Girmay is the author of the collage-based picture book, changing, changing, and the poetry collection Teeth, for which she was awarded a GLCA New Writers Award. Her new book of poems, Kingdom Animalia, won the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award and will be published by BOA Editions in the fall 2011. Girmay is a Cave Canem Fellow and Acentos board member. She has taught youth poetry workshops with Community~Word and DreamYard for the past ten years, and she currently teaches poetry at Hampshire College and in Drew University's low-residency MFA program. She is originally from Santa Ana, California.

Photo courtesy of Aracelis Girmay

Author's Statement

First and foremost, it's wonderful to imagine that I'll be able to teach a little less this summer. I often take on teaching jobs over the summer -- in addition to my work in Drew's low-residency program. While I absolutely love teaching, it's nice to imagine that I'll be able to focus on my own writing projects for whole strings and strings of weeks. This grant makes it financially feasible to work a "little, little" less than always. Also, I am hoping to earmark money for a small and quiet trip-to create my own research/writing retreat. The grant has opened up a giant window for me. This support is, really, a gift of time.

There is something hopeful, I think, in a program that supports multiple perspectives and visions of the world--or the exploration of the world--through art, to show a national commitment to this is remarkable. Still, we see that there are far too many stories and numbers that contradict this national commitment. It's important for me to think about the ways that an organization might work towards or against silences... and, perhaps most importantly, I am reminded that I'm not an organization, per se, but that I have affiliations that make it easy for me to support others. And so then the observation is: This is what the NEA is doing with their money. And the question: What will I do with the doors I have access to? How can my life and work help to support the work & communities that I love, the arts that I love?