NEA Literature Fellowships

Barbara Duffey

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(2015 - Poetry)

Anniversary Weekend

You wouldn't sleep with me, but the next room's bedsprings
crimped and she groaned into the bed & breakfast hall.
We had toured the historical farm:  You asked,
were men who chose mates based on their cross-stitched samplers
turned on when they saw the thread
pulled taut across the skin of cloth, embroidery's bulked
hardening of color against taupe cotton, lush
flowerings in soft control.  The hands that did it—
oh, the hands.  Would it lead to other tests?  "Make me
bread; I want to watch you knead.  Show me husbandry,
the calf you've taught to nurse.  I want to watch you slip
seeds into ready ground, your fingers nimble, quick."
And if you owned those hands, how clear if you were
good.  How verifiable:  One could show off with
brioche, its several risings; calmed goats on mothers'
teats; cottonseeds plucked from pods and planted with soft
thrusts into earth.  But what am I to do to prove?
The groove and catch of the neighbor's breath defeats me.
Others use their bodies better than I do,
and I'm sure you've noticed.  Yet, each morning after
my brief panic, you still wake beside me.  For now,
the yaw of habit's hollow vow, enough.

(Originally published in Natural Bridge)

Barbara Duffey is the author of the full-length poetry collection I Might Be Mistaken (Word Poetry, forthcoming July 2015) and the chapbooks The Circus of Forgetting (dancing girl press, 2013) and The Verge of Thirst (South Dakota State Poetry Society, 2013). She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Utah, an M.F.A. from the University of Houston, and a B.A. summa cum laude from the University of Southern California.  Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Best New Poets 2009, Western Humanities Review, and elsewhere, and her prose in CutBank and The Collagist.  She is an assistant professor of English at Dakota Wesleyan University and lives in Mitchell, SD, with her husband and son.

Photo by Barbara Duffey

Author's Statement

At this point in my career, this award means that I have the time, resources, and confidence to finish my second book and perhaps even get started on another. It means that I can say to my students that they should follow their dreams, and do what they really want to do, instead of settling for something easier or safer, and have evidence to back myself up. It gives me drive and energy to continue writing and sending out, and it will from now on serve as my own internal bulwark against the pains of rejection ("It's OK!" I say to myself. "You got an NEA!"). I am very flattered to find myself among the awardees past and present whose work I admire. I feel welcomed into a community of serious poets, and I feel people have more reason to take me seriously as a poet. It means that someone believed in my work enough to think that I should be able to live off the quality of that work alone, and that means everything to me.