NEA Literature Fellowships

Cheryl Burket

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(2001 - Poetry)

bird & passport

Sometimes I have gone back there, touched the sides of the plane getting on knowing the metal had already flown there once today, giving it your name as my mantra as I stepped over the wedge between light & ground. I wish for the years to have taken you back too. But the demands of forgetting why & how you stood in your shoes took their toll. Some place most of us went but knew enough to return, words to the story, how the backyard knew the trees would still be there but you didn't, no one could have. & there was never any retribution of the commas, no house to return to. And you don't know until you start writing it, raising the lanterns & figures you can't see their exact outline like the stars everyone wishes on

I wish you more, I wish you the strength & dispassion to have a notebook & trace your name in the margins so it looks out even over vacant lots & blood & weeds & failed marriages because I have you here, I held you through your bones & being & scripted answers both knowing this road would bleed too. I wanted more than that, you always did too but this thick house contracts with flames when the sun hits bottom & the snares the animals all escape return to the outskirts of these woods to look in your window, someone breathing there but it's not you, most of us would agree & I have hunches, still, rock solid evidence that the game the children play will come true

Opening the mail tonight I saw your picture, which is why I write you, the postscript was unnecessary if you read the picture, if you have any clarity along with the sharp edges of where you stood at the giant Buddha in Indonesia, layers of stairs you go to get up there. In the frame was an unidentifiable dot - something alive - you could have seen it too had you turned around. It's singing something to anyone who will hear. I can't hear it either from this distance but I can imagine it says - keep walking in the round earth one end to the next, says no more language will help you & silence may include this. I see how you must have headed down the steps then, hands in pockets shining stone or two there, a bird you were hoping followed you one country to this one

Locating the text of the phone call to me before you boarded the plane for the last time, again flying, to fly, our useless radio said the war was in remission. Too easy to die, wasn't it just too easy to leave then arrive like this, didn't the passport say indestructible? They found an intact bottle of champagne you were bringing home to me - they found most of you but you were mixed in with other people, from such a height the falling has that force. I saw instead a bird then, the same one you didn't see following, its small flutter and pecks at the writing still legible, how a bottle of champagne can escape 35,000 feet & you couldn't would make you laugh, we said at the service making a joke like you would have - hey that's damn good champagne - but I saw the hovering flight, I saw them there, multiplied, arranged to help me by shading, guarding this tent by this river. I write this to say good-bye & I have no doubt something will carry it to you & this will be my last

Real Audio"bird & passport" read by the author

Cheryl Burket's first book Passing Through Ninety Degrees contains prose poems about language, astronomy, kidnapped children, gambling, magic, 14 wheelers, skies & spheres in general (San Francisco State University, 2000). Chapbooks include Children's Stories (Standing Stones Press, 1999) and behind the white (Poets & Poets, 1999). She holds an MFA from San Francisco State University where she taught creative writing for two years, and earned a certificate in Holistic Health. She is a former poetry editor of Five Fingers Review and Fourteen Hills Magazine. Currently, she resides in San Francisco and teaches fiction at UC Berkeley extension. Her poems have appeared in a variety of journals, such as Mirage/Period(ical), Juxta, Key Satch(el), First Intensity, Experiodicist, Lost & Found Times, Split Shift, zaum, Found Street, Spillway, Indefinite Space, and San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Author's Statement

The first thing I thought: "My god, now I can go buy a printer" (my first). Thank you, NEA. This is really something. Now I'm working more with what I'm doing narratively -- this fellowship has given me pause about what I'm putting out there in words, what the ultimate message of the work is, how the images, bridges & other structures between those words impact maps that come out of a line -- in prose poetry these directions being like state lines drawn in eraseable ink -- a hybrid not only of genre but shadow & light, time passing & what's held back. I almost didn't send in my application -- who cares about prose poetry? bird & passport is about the downing of Pan Am 103. Yes, the liquor survived. Still, there's a bird left over which flies. This year I am taking to write! Research for the next book, work part-time, attend a residency back east plus AWP, give readings, look for a teaching position. Words can't describe what this means to this writer!