NEA Literature Fellowships

Chris Forhan

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(2007 - Poetry)

"Prayer before Sleep"

Straight A's on arithmetic quizzes, your cheek gets ground
into the concrete down here, Sir.  Thank You

for sending only Your smallest monsters to find me
and Your giant silence, thank You for that, within it

I accept that the Beatles won't sing in my rec room ever
and my gerbil will not unstiffen and nibble through his shoebox.

My teeth--I'd forgotten them--the braces are working,
don't worry, and my hands, my back, no problem.  I will bear

Your son across Thornton creek when You send Him
should You lower Him into my neighborhood.  Let

the capsule of astronauts splash down gently,
let me stay friends forever with William and Phil

and with Jenny, a discovery of late, by Your grace. 
If Dad and Mom laughing today is Your doing,

thanks.  My sister's no bother, really.  You haven't yet
taken my soul in my sleep, You let me lie in my bed like this,

the window lifted.  Whatever that sweetness in the breeze is,
as if it's still summer, thank You for that, and for the Beatles.

Chris Forhan, born and raised in Seattle, Washington, is the author of The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars, which won the Morse Poetry Prize and a Washington State Book Award, and Forgive Us Our Happiness, which won the Bakeless Prize. He is also the author of two chapbooks, x and Crumbs of Bread, and his poems have appeared in Poetry, Paris Review, Ploughshares, New England Review, Parnassus, and other magazines. He has won a Pushcart Prize and has been a resident at Yaddo and a fellow at Bread Loaf. He teaches at Auburn University.

Photo courtesy of the author

Author's Statement

Like many poets, I make my living as a teacher. For twenty years, an annual ritual for me has been to solve the problem of how to pay the rent and stock the refrigerator from June to September. Typically, I have taught summer classes and, as during the rest of the year, attended to my writing when I could, in odd, scattered moments.

This fellowship is therefore a godsend. It will allow me to forget that annual ritual and devote the next two summers entirely to my writing. I am especially thankful that the support is coming now. I have begun writing poems toward a fourth book, but it is early enough in the project that I still have little sense of the book's obsessions and shape. I know only that I am beginning to explore certain structures and follow the implications of certain tones of voice. I have only just pushed my raft off from the shore and begun to float seaward, into the unknown. I am exceedingly grateful to the NEA and to the jurors who selected me for this fellowship; because of them, I have been given the sort of freedom the imagination feeds on. I can stay now on the open water and let the current take me where it will, toward poems I would not have been able to discover otherwise.