NEA Literature Fellowships

Joy Katz

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(2011 - Poetry)

December, Fever        

A tang approaches, like the smell of snow.
Illness like a color deepens--
pale gray, thick-in-a-cloak gray, secret coat silk,
and finally the weight of rough pelts heaped on the bed.

The last enchantment of the day is tearing pages out of a book.
The paper soft and thin, like falling asleep
(a hand backstage at school smoothing my hair:
a boy named Lakamp, who became an undertaker)

My baby laughs to rip the pages.
Stays by me, does this damage.
The tearing moves like voltage through my own hands.

           Oh mother skimming fever

I need him to linger

           are you still happening there, in your body?

I just want to lie at the edge of breaking.

Yes, I am still backstage, here in my body.
The baby pulls out another page--
leaving him would come this easily.

I will bind myself to the thinnest sounds,
the feather coming out of the pillow.

Please keep ripping up the words.
Please don't need anything from me.

Joy Katz is the author of The Garden Room (Tupelo Press, 2006) and Fabulae (Southern Illinois University Press, 2002). She holds a B.S. in industrial design from Ohio State University and an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. Her awards include a Stegner fellowship, the Nadya Aisenberg fellowship at the MacDowell Colony, and a Pushcart. Her work is anthologized in The Best American Poetry; recent poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review, Ploughshares, Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere.

She teaches in the graduate writing program at the University of Pittsburgh and at Chatham University, and lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and young son.

Photo by by Star Black

Author's Statement

Because I seem to work best on airplanes, I plan to use part of the money to travel, but possibly only to other airports.

It's an amazing feeling when your government, and a group of serious, smart poets you respect, say to you, "Carry on." A moment of faith that came at a time I needed it.

I am working on some poems about design--the conflict between poetry and design, my two disciplines. Design is seductively rational. It solves problems. It can change the world, or thinks it can. Whereas poetry operates by wild intuition. It can't change the world. It doesn't do anything.