NEA Literature Fellowships

Corey Marks

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(2003 - Poetry)

Portrait of a Child

When I'm ready to think of something else, finally,
I think of wind that runs like a river along a river,
and trees bending into themselves with a will for breaking,
a will to break from the soil and leave the lap of the horsefield
where death has laid its head, its fire-red curls.

I think of the young painter who finds the body of a child,
drowned in the river and cast on stones that rattle
in the white hands of the water.

At first, the painter thinks all the right things.
He thinks of his infant son.
But then he notices the child's beautiful blue lips
like the blue rim of a bowl, and the wine of its blood

spilled on a stone, and the dark loaves of its closed eyes
resting on the table of its face,

like the meal Christ rises over, sweeping his hands apart
while around the table the Apostles all lean against each other,
whispering, waiting, posing, even, for the thousands of painters
not yet born,

all but Judas, who looks away,
who has already broken the heavy bread and chews the grain,
not thinking of betrayal, of kissing sour wine from Christ's lips,

but of walking in a narrow street and hearing the song
of one bird that flew a hundred miles to rest in a tree
and pull its meal from a tent of worms.

The painter begins a portrait of the boy.
For a long time he stands beside the river, the brushes in a jar
near his hand, the sun turning lower in the sky,

and after a while he doesn't look at the child on the stones
but only at the boy lying in the soft bed of paint,
the dead boy at the end of his brush.

Then the boy by the water wakes
and climbs from the stones to the riverbank.
He walks to the painter and asks him, What are you painting?
You, the painter says, But you're dead.

No, the boys says, That boy is dead,
and he points to the painting.

Corey Marks's first book, Renunciation, was a National Poetry Series Open Competition winner published by University of Illinois Press. His poems appear in a number of journals including Antioch Review, Black Warrior Review, New England Review, The Paris Review, Raritan and TriQuarterly. Currently, he teaches at the University of North Texas.

Author's Statement

What a privilege to receive both the recognition and the freedom to write that come with the NEA Fellowship. As a slow writer, someone repeatedly unsatisfied with the early settlements each new poem establishes on the outskirts of the larger city it could become, the fellowship comes as a great boon. Because of it, I am able to devote more undivided time to my second manuscript of poems than I had right to expect. Thanks to that time, the manuscript is increasingly populated with poems that strive to move beyond the claustrophobic spaces of individual experience to a larger world, drawing shape and texture not only from unspooling versions of the self, but also from fable, history, popular culture, from other lives both famous and obscure, poems charged with the imaginative struggle to lead me to where I am quickened by surprise, by what I hadn't expected to discover.