NEA Literature Fellowships

Corey Van Landingham

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(2017 - Poetry)

"Love Letter to Who Owns the Heaven"

                        scujus est solum ejus usque ad coelum —13th c. common law

Before man dreamed up the flying machine
                        we owned the air as far above our land

             as we could imagine. Up to infinity. Down
to hell. Because air, in the days of tangible

property, was nothing. No foot had emerged
                        from a shuttle onto the foreign terrain

             of the moon. No satellites passing over the garden.
No drones. The act of a horse, law says,

reaching his head into an adjoining field
                        and biting another horse is a trespass.

            A word, freed from the lips, is in the air
a trespass. Now, in a country divvying up

the sky, unmanned machines will be given
                        innocent passage. People will walk around

            whispering dominium as if to control at least
their breath. So, before the space of utterance

is duly regulated, before the 83 feet of air
                        we own above our heads begins its collapse,

            this. I love you from the depth of the earth
to the height of the sky. I love you upon

land immovable, soil open to exploitation
                        by all. I am for your unreasonable use alone.

            And, when the drone finally interferes
with your possessor’s enjoyment, to an

indefinite extent, I’ll remember a time when
                        men were the ones doing harm with

            their own hands. I’ll remember the words I once
had to give to you, on the porch, in private.

(previously appeared in Ninth Letter)

Corey Van Landingham is the author of Antidote, winner of the 2012 Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry. A former Wallace Stegner Poetry Fellow, her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2014, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, and The New Yorker, among many other places. She’s currently a doctoral student in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati and a book review editor for Kenyon Review.

Photo by Christopher Kempf

Author's Statement

To be a writer is to become accustomed to the highs of acceptance, the lows of rejection. It is to check one’s email uneasily, to place undue import onto unknown numbers, to scrutinize foreign area codes—does X editor live there? There must always be a glass of wine readily available—to celebrate or to mourn. It is, therefore, a somewhat absurd existence, one always on the precipice of joy or despair. Which makes it all the more necessary to steel oneself against these occasions, to believe in the work enough to write the next poem, the next book, to not come undone after either a rejection or an acceptance. It would be ludicrous to suggest I’ve mastered this, but all of this is to say, rather, that the incredible gift from the NEA will help bolster this belief, that it will provide time to write the next poem, support the long game. My gratitude for the encouragement this fellowship provides is vast, and to receive support from a federal agency is especially meaningful, especially now. To receive support about poems that are at times critical of federal policy means even more.