NEA Literature Fellowships

Eleni Sikelianos

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(2015 - Poetry)

"Survey: Phototropes"

The snow falls, picks itself up, dusts itself off
a sparrow flying like a leaf back up to its tree
The future does a backbend toward you, it's
what you can almost see, scrimmed
in the clouds which crowd the sky, elbowing, laughing

After that I see space and its influence in a bucket of spinning water
and two calcium atoms shoot forth, twinned photons traveling

back to back, arms unlaced, perfect
swimmers in the lit dusk

Where are they going?

First, to Holland, then
to calcium-kiss her bones

And in Holland the streets are made of water, the dolls & dogs gather
   round lit picnic tables like happy rags

The body is in the root cellar

When snow falls our dead gather close to our bones
because the cold's ghost has come back to haunt the cold & the body,
too, is a happy rag

Tree, take a photograph of her thought, you can do it
with photosynthesis: silhouettes of seals appear, a swarmed planet and its satellites, a celestial atlas that breaks when tapped (it's glass)
Some giraffes, some elephants, a lion scatter
in the clearing; in the clearing

the leaves of the world turn toward the light as do the letters of the word
the words are beautiful not for their accuracy but for their dream:
words-are-arrows that loop between no-man's-land and the wetlands, soft
flints flying toward their target

—words bird the zone—

when home was adopted as mother
area was given here
[a future of] all surface, no border

(First published in The Loving Detail of the Living & the Dead, Coffee House Press, 2013)

Eleni Sikelianos is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently The Loving Detail of the Living & the Dead, and two hybrid memoirs (The Book of Jon, City Lights, and You Animal Machine, Coffee House). Sikelianos has been the happy recipient of various awards for her poetry, nonfiction, and translations, including an NEA, a NYFA, and the National Poetry Series. (This is her second NEA.) Her work has been translated into over a dozen languages, and she has translated Roubaud and others into English. She has taught poetry in public schools, homeless shelters, and prisons, and collaborated with musicians (Philip Glass, etc.), filmmakers (Ed Bowes), and visual artists (Peter Cole, Mel Chin, etc.). She is on guest faculty for the Naropa Summer Writing Program and for L'ecole de Littérature, and teaches at the University of Denver, where she runs the Writers in the Schools program.

Photo by Laird Hunt

Author's Statement

My first NEA, nearly two decades ago, allowed me to take a whole year off to just read and write in Paris.  (If we translate time into product, that span resulted in my first full-length book, Earliest Worlds.) The more hours we accrue in life, the more complicated those hours seem to become — the dust of the daily thickens and takes on new weights. Thus, I am especially grateful to have this gift to provide a little clearing in the window. Thanks to this grant, I'll take a little time off teaching to engage in the hard work of the imagination which, in fact, requires quite a bit of open space. As the world around us keeps kicking up all kinds of dust, that work is more vital than ever. It's what reminds us we're human.