NEA Literature Fellowships

Denise Duhamel

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(2001 - Poetry)


I just didn't get it--
even with the teacher holding an orange (the earth) in one hand
and a lemon (the moon) in the other,
her favorite student (the sun) standing behind her with a flashlight.
I just couldn't grasp it--
this whole citrus universe, these bumpy planets revolving so slowly
no one could even see themselves moving.
I used to think if I could only concentrate hard enough
I could be the one person to feel what no one else could,
sense a small tug from the ground, a sky shift, the earth changing gears.
Even though I was only one mini-speck on a speck,
even though I was merely a pinprick in one goosebump on the orange,
I was sure then I was the most specially perceptive, perceptively sensitive.
I was sure then my mother was the only mother to snap--
"The world doesn't revolve around you!"
The earth was fragile and mostly water
just the way the orange was mostly water if you peeled it,
just the way I was mostly water if you peeled me.
Looking back on that third-grade science demonstration,
I can understand why some people gave up on fame or religion or cures--
especially people who have an understanding
of the excruciating crawl of the world,
who have a well-developed sense of spatial reasoning
and the tininess that it is to be one of us.
But not me--even now I wouldn't mind being god, the force
who spins the planets the way I spin a globe, a basketball, a yoyo.
I wouldn't mind being that teacher who chooses the fruit,
or that favorite kid who gives the moon its glow.

Real Audio"Ego" read by the author

Denise Duhamel's most recent poetry collection is Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.) Her other titles include The Star-Spangled Banner (winner of Crab Orchard Award in Poetry, Southern Illinois University Press, 1999), Kinky (Orchises Press, 1997) and Oyl (a collaborative chap book with Maureen Seaton, Pearl Editions, 2000). Denise Duhamel has read her work on NPR's "All Things Considered" and Bill Moyer's PBS poetry special "Fooling with Words." She is an assistant professor at Florida International University in Miami.

Author's Statement

I have been applying for an NEA grant for thirteen years, since the first year I was eligible, and this year received my first. I was born on the 13th of June which makes me think there is some strange astrological force at work. I am ecstatic -- the money came at the perfect time, when I really needed it most. I was able to travel this summer to Spain to accept a residency at Fundacion Valparaiso because of this grant. More than the money even, (which is very considerable to be sure!) I feel like the grant is the universe's way of saying, "YES!," telling me to keep going and giving me extra time and peace of mind to write.