NEA Literature Fellowships

Josey Foo

Back to NEA Literature Fellowships
(2001 - Poetry)

invented sizhu

I am walking on the field without you.
Suddenly, day-to-day living is unimagineable.
The air is filled with scents of grass pulled from the ground
and left to rot in places of youth, now places of aging.

As I continue waiting for the mustard cake of the sun,
as the afternoon makes plain its decay; as line of grey
scrapes into rain; as I scoop wheat-grains by the fistful--
lie and listen to little gold and little snow at play.

As I set our table the news came in.
The news bore the figurine of early noon.
The news said: she covered her face as she walked in.
I thought: we were right to be anxious.

A thousand threads of water form violet clouds.
A thousand threads of water woven into fine rain.
A thousand threads of water woven into a sleeve, trailing.
A thousand threads of water wrung in my fists, fourth week of the thunder season.

Spring is coming. Is the granary on the mountain's right side?
The granary now decaying, another woman leaving her baskets out in the rain;
another looking to engulf the rain in her two fists--
her two fists swirling in adamant flowers.

As they play cantabiles of calm and neglect,
eyes closed. Lie and listen to our fair weather.
Rain and mud-soaked feet in the hills, the flute, constant.
Old Woman resting on a bed of green hills, the reed-oboe, silent.

Tell our neighbor to wear her violet and green scarf.
Tell the butcher to cut a wind-dried empty shell
for meat, to demonstrate our clean spirit.
Our winter, bare of growth or harvests, is sweet.

Count three mountains--three olden days of walking marriage.
Ravines and creeks of legend; amber yellow lanterns.
Pastilas two fists wide; your door leading to foothills and water.
Husband blooming orange, wife dark blue and scarlet.

Perhaps a deer or dog ran on the snow
then over the Western River. I say: it was a leaf
deciding on its three-hole-wells. I say, it was catalpa.
Are you dreaming the style of nomads?

Ginger, wheat and fly encircling, never changing.
I am placing my face down on the clay.
Putting my ear to the da gu to hear what the drummers say.
Blue soil, tied, winter wrapped cloth.

Josephine Foo (Josey Foo) a Chinese native of Malaysia, immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s. She was an undocumented alien for a few years after attending college and worked in New York City in carpentry, restaurant work, and other trades. The undocumented period ended when she received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Brown University in 1990. In 1997 she obtained a JD from the University of Pennsylvania and now works as a lawyer-advocate in Shiprock on the Navajo Nation. Portions of her first book of prose, poems and a picture story of a three-legged traveling beagle, Endou (Lost Roads) were included in The Best American Essays 1995. Her second book Tomie's Chair will be out from Kaya in Spring, 2002. An evening-length concert dance piece set to her poems is forthcoming from the Leah Stein Dance Company, funded by DanceAdvance and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. She is published in various journals including The World, The American Voice, Open City, Upstairs At Duroc's (Paris), and the philly edition of The American Poetry Review. In addition to the NEA, she has received a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and an Eve of St. Agnes Poetry Award. A two-time Yale Series of Younger Poets finalist, she lives in Farmington, New Mexico where she and her husband Richard Ferguson run Crooked Shelf Books. Please see

Author's Statement

The NEA [grant] couldn't have come at a more crucial time. I was living in the northern Arizona desert in an old Mormon ranchhouse without electricity during a period of renewal, cleansing, atonement. My savings had been depleted due to moving out west and getting a four-wheel drive for the washboard roads and flash floods. I am very grateful for the financial peace of mind the NEA brought me. I have no doubt that it will have an impact on future opportunities in my writing life.

This year I have been working on two manuscripts on related themes. Tomie's Chair, an allegory of a woman's movement and changes, and View For An Afternoon now being made into a dance by the dancer/choreographer Leah Stein. View weaves together farm rhythms of China's Naxi region; the silences and space of the deserts on the Navajo Nation; and the art of the late Robert Smithson who entwined "nature" with the day-to-day reality of urban progress.