NEA Literature Fellowships

Christopher Kennedy

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(2011 - Poetry)

Memory Unit: A Vague Memory of Wings

A swarm of bees followed me home
last night. Winged, pollen-laden,
branch-haired. Everywhere I walked
bees shadowed me. When I stopped
for dinner, the swarm hovered outside,
waiting for me to leave. It looked
like a dark cloud, which made me
think my luck might be turning away
from me again, manifested in the ominous
merger above my head. When I arrived
at my house, the bees were undeterred
by doors or walls and flew behind me
into my bedroom. When I lay in bed,
trying to sleep, the cloud circumambulated
around the room. The bees seemed
to have an urgent message or a warning.
I could sense they wanted something
from me. What it was, I couldn't tell.
I wondered if the swarm was really something else,
maybe my father's soul or the soul
of an old friend. Or maybe my mother's soul,
though she's still living, stuck in a papery
version of the world. As I ruminated,
the bees formed two lines and flew
into my ears, where they crowded my head
like thoughts of a long drought.
My dreams were shadows of dreams.
There were human figures, gesturing
from far away. I saw them as if through
a screen door in summer. They were
telling me to follow them somewhere
I was afraid to go, as if I were a child again,
unsure of the world and my place in it.
I slept fitfully, waking up often and looking
around the room for the source of the noise
inside my head. I sensed a low humming
sound but thought nothing of it. Something
electric was doing its job. When I woke
the next morning, I had a vague memory
of wings, an image from one of my dreams
still lodged in my head: the hive in flames,
the queen asleep in her chamber.

(from Ennui Prophet, Rochester: BOA Editions, 2009, permission courtesy of BOA Editions, Ltd.)

Christopher Kennedy is the author of three poetry collections: Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death (BOA Editions, Ltd.), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award in 2007; Trouble with the Machine (Low Fidelity Press, 2003); and Nietzsche's Horse (Mitki/Mitki Press, 2001). A fourth collection, Ennui Prophet, will be published by BOA Editions in 2011. His work has appeared in numerous print and online journals and magazines, including Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Mississippi Review, Ninth Letter, and New York Tyrant. He has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. He is an associate professor of English at Syracuse University where he directs the MFA program in creative writing.

Photo by Jay Muhlin

Author's Statement

The poems I submitted to the NEA are part of what I hope to be a book-length exploration and documentation of my mother's battle with Alzheimer's. Witnessing the dissolution of her memory and the resultant loss of identity has been at times a harrowing experience. It has also, at times, been oddly comforting. The barriers my mother built up over the years to protect herself are gone. They were substantial, so it has been something of a relief to see them disappear. What is left of my mother is her wit and essential kindness. I hope the poems reflect both the hardships and the rewards of dealing with a parent who is coping with this mysterious and ultimately fatal disease.  

I am very grateful for the peace of mind the financial assistance from this fellowship will afford me, as well as the encouragement and validation such an award provides. The kind of writing I have been doing is difficult emotionally and artistically. Receiving the fellowship has energized me to take on the task of finishing the manuscript over the next year.