NEA Literature Fellowships

Jacob Rakovan

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(2013 - Poetry)

The Mine is a Black Mouth

She has fed all her boys to it.
In the hollow of the hills
the mine is an upside-down church.
Her boys come back with a blue-black mark no water can erase.
Her boys come back in boxes in their Sunday clothes
then gone back down again.

The mine is family reunion.
The bloodline pools below the earth in the cold and dark.
Her green-eyed devil come up every Sunday, to spit, sing
and fill her belly full of children.
'till he went down to stay
to wait on Jesus
coming in the middle of the air.

Church of God
with signs following.

The coal cars crawl like rattlesnakes through the topless hills.
Don't it say, You shall take up serpents?

They will burn his bones to light the city at night.
She will sit on her porch in the dark
waiting on her devil who will not come.

Jacob Rakovan is an Appalachian writer in diaspora. He is a 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Poetry. His work has appeared in numerous journals including The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The James Dickey Review, Anon, Thrush and Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism, as well as anthologies by Salmon Poetry Press, MTV Books, and The Arsenic Lobster. His unpublished manuscript The Devil's Radio was a finalist for the 2012 Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature and the Gell poetry prize. He is co-curator of the Poetry & Pie Night reading series in Rochester, New York.

Photo by Rachel McKibbens

Author's Statement

The stories, music, and poetry of Appalachian people are too seldom acknowledged in the current of American letters. For me, the incredible gift of this fellowship is not just the endorsement of my work as a writer, but the recognition of the importance of the work of generations of Appalachian poets who have preceded and informed that work. The NEA has again and again shown its commitment to underserved communities, helping bring voices like Irene McKinney and countless others into the fold of American literature. I am honored and stunned beyond measure to be included in their number, particularly at this point in my career, when I have struggled at such length to find a home for my manuscript. To be an Appalachian is to feel forever on the outside of the culture of your own country, and I am moved beyond words to be rewarded for work that I have, at times, doubted would ever find a readership in the larger culture. Financially, the fellowship has allowed me to continue to live as a working artist at a time when so many Americans are struggling to find gainful employment, and to support my family, and for this I am forever indebted.