NEA Literature Fellowships

Elizabeth Hughey

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(2013 - Poetry)

If Oaxaca Means If

Oaxaca the dawn was a film of the dawn.
Oaxaca I stood in the shower and thought of Bulgaria.
Oaxaca Bulgaria. Oaxaca the hotel.
Oaxaca we had a better song for birthdays.
Oaxaca a man would come to every home
in which a man was dying, that a president
would come, like a nurse into a house of the dying,
into this country and help not just the dying
but those of us who are still very young.
And we were better at dying, of course,
not at dying, but at convalescing.

Oaxaca your dad wasn't dying.
Oaxaca your corduroy pants were easier to spell,
and you weren't shrinking inside them.
Oaxaca nobody said "at least."
Oaxaca the crane in that song was a wild boar,
and that song was written down
and played for infants to help them wake.

Wake up Oaxaca you can.
Let me put on your shoes.
Let me pull back your hair.
Oaxaca there were something that would arrive
in the mail, that you could go to the post office today
or turn on the television and there it would be,
Sofia, the city! A city for sick fathers where you could
drink wine with your breath, where breathing was
drinking, and you were so hungry, and here come
the trays of gleaming meats, thick soups,
bread for sopping. Oaxaca you could be so full. 

(from GUEST HOST, The National Poetry Review Press, 2012

Elizabeth Hughey is the author of Sunday Houses the Sunday House (University of Iowa Press) and Guest Host (National Poetry Review Press). She received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and she has been the recipient of a Poetry Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Hughey is a contributing editor at Bateau Press and a founder of the Desert Island Supply Co., a creative writing program for students in Birmingham, Alabama. New poems can be found in American Poetry Review, 27 rue de fleures, Two Serious Ladies, and the White Whale Review. She lives in Birmingham with her husband and two sons.

Photo by T. Scott Carlisle

Author's Statement

I was standing in my kitchen the night before election day when I received the call from D.C. I assumed it was from a last-minute campaigner, and it took me a moment to register what the call was about. What an amazing surprise. The call came during a period of creative frustration for me. I was in the production phase of a book and had very specific ideas about the project I wanted to be working on next, but I did not have enough time to devote to the work. I am the mother of two small children, and together with my husband, I run a creative writing program for students in Birmingham. I also teach a creative writing seminar at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I really do love the work I do as a mother and a teacher, but honestly, most of the work I do right now brings in little to no income. I was starting to look around for more significant ways to contribute to our family's income, and the NEA fellowship has allowed me to contribute by writing. That is a gift, and I am so grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts, not just for my own award but also for supporting so many artists and writers every year.