NEA Literature Fellowships

B.T. Shaw

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(2013 - Poetry)


The green wheelbarrow is missing. Poppies in the garden are tall as my thumb. Delete is the key I most often hit when I write.

In the garden, poppies are small as crumpled tissues. When my thumb was small, my father was Poppy. The poppy seeds went in late. They may not bloom this season. The seeds were miniature lead shot. If they bloom, the flowers will be crumpled as tissues period space bar.

His own father was Pop. After the science fair, Ellen's mother suggested we all go for soda, which turned out to be pop without ice cream. I understand now I didn't understand then. Ellen loved the quiet girl who could draw anything from life or memory but married the Army. Two lines deleted.

The seed packet mentions thinning but sidesteps the issue of grief. The time is now 2:57 on a Monday. The sun wasn't up the Saturday I lay my head on my father's chest and he patted my hair with the hand that still worked. The only way to properly thin is by hand. This sentence is a stand-in. It is closer than it appears. Num Lock. Num Lock. The time is now 3:06.

Outside Dolores, Colorado, a dead dog on the side of the road rose and became a hunk of brown carpet. He shaved every day of the illness, sans one, before breakfast. The tumbleweed became a plastic bag became an egret in a ditch. If poppies are not dead-headed, the seeds will know mercy. Delete. Page down. Sound becomes words become sound.

Barring disaster, poppies bloom mid- to late summer. The sentence ends. Where did the wheelbarrow go? The sentence begins. In Needles, a rose-colored rock rose as a rose-colored bird. Before I left, I put my head on his chest. Back arrow. Delete. Before he left, I put my head on his chest. Back arrow. Delete. I put my head on his chest, I became a broken watch. Delete. A turn was taken. Delete ad infinitum. Once the blooms are shot, finches turn to seedpods. Alt. Control. By the dry wash, wind in the cottonwoods becomes running water.

(originally appeared in The Portland Review)

B.T. Shaw holds a BS in journalism from University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Washington, where she was a Jacob Javits fellow. Before relocating to Vietnam in late 2012, she taught at Portland State University and the Independent Publishing Resource Center, and for 15 years she reviewed books and edited the Poetry column for The Oregonian. Her first collection, This Dirty Little Heart, won the 2007 Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry and was published by Eastern Washington University Press; thanks to Carnegie Mellon University Press, it is not quite out of print. Her work has appeared in publications such as Orion, Climbing, Agni, and Field, and is forthcoming in the anthology Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. Please visit her on the web at

Photo by Wil Catlin

Author's Statement

When the National Endowment for the Arts called, I was elbow-deep in socks and T-shirts, packing for a move. It was the 12th call of the day--Election Day--and I was certain I was again to be polled. When my brain finally grasped what the lovely voice on the other end was saying, I asked if she was sure. Between the chaos of the move and my estimation of the odds, I'd forgotten I'd applied.

My celebration--a happy dance among boxes in the kitchen--was brief, though ecstatic. Two days after the public announcement, my husband and I relocated to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Still, the news couldn't have come at a better time.

Since 2008, I've been chipping at a series of poems sparked by a murder in Jacksonville, N.C.--home to the USMC's Camp Lejeune as well as my first full-time newspaper job. The poems make me nervous. Sometimes they keep me up at night--sometimes we go long stretches without speaking.

All of which is to say I am profoundly grateful to the NEA not only for taking care of practicalities like travel and food while I pursue the work but also for its vote of confidence. The fellowship offers a kind of permission I'd found hard to give myself. I'm tremendously thankful to join the company of NEA-supported voices.