NEA Literature Fellowships

Joshua Mehigan

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(2011 - Poetry)

Fire Safety

Aluminum tank
indifferent in its place

behind a glass door
in the passageway,

like a tea urn
in a museum case;

that dumbly spend each day

waiting for gas or smoke
or hands or heat,

positioned like beige land mines

sanguine on walls,
or posted on the street

like dwarf grandfather clocks
spray-painted red;

little gray hydrant
in its warlike stance;

old fire escape,
all-weather paint-job peeling,

a shelf for threadbare rugs
and yellowing plants;

sprinkler heads,
blooming from the public ceiling;

all sitting
supernaturally still,

waiting for us to cry out.
And we will.

(First published in Poetry, November 2010)

Joshua Mehigan was born in upstate New York in 1969. His first book, The Optimist (Ohio University Press, 2004), was a finalist for the 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared recently in The New Republic, The New York Times, and Poetry, and in the anthologies Bright Wings and The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets. His poems have also been featured on Poetry Daily and Writer's Almanac and awarded Dogwood and Pushcart prizes. He lives with his wife, Talia, in Brooklyn, New York, where he is a teaching fellow at Brooklyn College.

Photo by Talia Neffson

Author's Statement

The NEA Fellowship will give me more time, by far, than I've ever had for writing. I wrote my first book over eight years of Saturdays and evenings. Then life got complex and I found myself working on my second book three pre-dawn hours a week. Then life got more complex and over the past year I've written 30 lines in ten sittings when I was supposed to be doing something else. This fellowship means that I can finally write full-time for awhile. In two decades as a publishing poet, I've never had such an opportunity. Really it's impossible to communicate what it means to me and my family. Thank you.