NEA Literature Fellowships

Brandon Brown

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(2015 - Poetry)

"The Last Words of Gerard Manley Hopkins"

What do you
think they're doing
in heaven today? 
What do you think
it's like there?  Is it like
a croissant tunic,
flaking to the shape
of your chest. Your
very beautiful
chest, paradise for
nose and cheeks.
Like here but
better, I guess. 
Here on earth,
or in Oakland,
a guy follows three
feet behind me
all the way
to the train, one
hand in his pocket
the whole time. 
Chevron stock
is up.  A garbage
truck reeks by
and dumps
garbage on me
and my friends. 
And we love
it, we don't care. 
But I did have
a vision of the after
life that wasn't up
or down.  It wasn't
inside anything or
painted on a building. 
There weren't even
fists, just hands
holding tightly
together.  It was
a hall of singers
and you were there
and you were there
and you were there
and Tupac, and
Emily Dickinson and Walt
Whitman were there
puffing on a spliff,
in a big ass
bathtub.  The foliage
grazing their naked
chests vaguely
Californian.  I guess
it was a dream
of song flying
so well that even
the sun chilled
out.  Wax congealing
all over the bed,
the couch, the kitchen
floor. Wherever it spilled,
that's where I went.
I loved it.  I didn't care.

Brandon Brown is from Kansas City, Missouri. He moved to the Bay Area in 1998, and received a B.A. and M.F.A. from San Francisco State University. He is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Top 40 (Roof) and the forthcoming Shadow Lanka (Big Lucks). His poetry and prose have appeared recently in Open Space, the blog and magazine of SFMOMA, Art Practical, Maggy, Elderly, Berkeley Poetry Review, and Where Eagles Dare. He is an editor at Krupskaya, occasionally publishes small press materials under the imprint OMG!, and helps curate the Heart's Desire reading series at the Bay Area Public School.

Photo by Alli Warren

Author's Statement

My early fantasies about the National Endowment for the Arts are all rooted in the 80's and 90's, when I had the vague understanding that there were artists in the world whose works were able to provoke radical negativity in spectacular political agents of evil. These artists have always been among my heroes, and the political agents of evil my nemeses. The agents of evil seemed to target the NEA as an accomplice to art and as a young Zoroastrian I aligned myself appropriately thereby.

I've made a joke recently that in the 70's poets who received grants from the NEA would like move to Portugal and build a cottage there. The house would be in a quaint village and the poet would have this enormous amount of time to observe the intricacies of the landscape, practice her Portuguese, and write terrific reams of verse. 

But what's up with these fantasies of other decades? Sometimes I hear people of my generation lament the lack of time and space that artists apparently had in the ‘70s. I mean, I get it. I also read Just Kids and ruined a dozen handkerchiefs with salty tears of joy and jealousy. But that time and space, that little Portuguese cottage, just like anything we will do with an award in the present, is always and ever founded on the radical exploitation of a vast majority, guaranteed by state violence and force. In other words, I question the fantasy which dictates that the proverbial cheap rents and easy living without wage labor of those times was so great, so much better. 

So while I won't move to Portugal and live in that little cottage, this award will relieve somewhat the otherwise relentless demands of wage and massive debt. My work as a poet is informed and made possible by my heroes—epic punk warriors, the order of St. Agatha, the people of Ferguson, Missouri, radical daydreamers, my loves, my friends, my comrades, Charli XCX, Carlton Ridenhour, etc. The "etc" goes on and on, and indeed my work as a poet is more and more about going on and on, on hoping to contribute something to a general scene of surviving a more general and oppressive sickness.