NEA Literature Fellowships

Joan Murray

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(2011 - Poetry)

Rear View Mirror           

If you'd seen her there, trying to rise, you'd understand
why I didn't make a sound. If you'd seen how many times
her spindly forelegs dug themselves forward, trying to
lift the stone cart of herself off her yearling flanks--
if you'd watched her head toss left and right,
searching for instructions from any corner--
if you'd seen how she finally broke through
the cowl of her pain and pulled
herself upright, you'd know
why I sat there paralyzed.

Then you'd have seen how she was denied the heady
moment given to any flimsy fawn who makes it to its feet--
how she couldn't pause a second to feel gravity
pull away from her hooves and slink back in the earth.
And you'd have stayed there with her too,
hanging onto the wheel like an exhausted god
till she tossed her death on the heap of her shadow
and hauled herself to the woods,
one leg scratching  jaggedly behind her
like a lie on a lie-detector test
until she disappeared.

Only then would you have pulled apart your harness
and stepped out and seen the smashed side mirror
pressed flush against the window where your shoulder
had just been. Only then would you have
touched the caved-in door that held the
sudden wave-like thud of her wriggling spine.
Only then, Demeter-like, would you have
brushed the tufts of fur, still stuck in the
rear window gasket--and probed
a finger through the wet grassy smear
that her flailing hoof had left there.
Only then would you have figured out the strength
to go after her into the dark place where she'd gone--
to search for her and keep searching--
just the way you'd have done if you'd come to
in a dark room after labor, and found no one there,
not a cry, not a sound--like that time--
when I slid down on a sheet below a mirror--
so I couldn't watch my daughter come or go.
But this time, with the cars rushing by,
I watched in the mirror. I watched.
And I saw where she'd gone.
And I followed her in.

(Originally published in The American Poetry Review)

Joan Murray's books include The Same Water (Wesleyan, 1990), winner of the Wesleyan New Poets Series Competition; Looking for the Parade (W. W. Norton, 2000), winner of the National Poetry Series Open Competition; Queen of the Mist (2000), a novel in verse which she adapted for the stage, and Dancing on the Edge (2002), both from Beacon Press. Her poems have been selected for The Pushcart Prize and The Best American Poetry, and she's received fellowships and grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts. A repeat guest on NPR's Morning Edition, she's been poet in residence at the New York State Writers Institute, and is editor of The Pushcart Book of Poetry and the Poems to Live By anthologies.

Photo by David Lee

Author's Statement

What does this fellowship mean? It means money to buy me time and travel to create a book (maybe even two books!). It means I can stop doing the other work that eats into the time and energy I have for my poetry. (What a gift for any artist.)

It also means affirmation. It means an aesthetically diverse group of accomplished poets and literary laypeople, who don't know me and didn't even have my name, thought my poems had serious merit as art--and deserved this award. (Is that energizing, or what?)

Do I think I deserve it? I believe I do. I take my art seriously. And I take this fellowship seriously too. So to the panel, the NEA, and the people who fund it: Thank you all for this fellowship. I'll make good use of it.