NEA Literature Fellowships

Lisa Lewis

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(2011 - Poetry)

Days Beginning to Lengthen

The blackberry brambles droop
under the demands of winter.
Like seamstresses sweeping the floor
for a dropped needle,
they will not look up
until the business is done.
The harrier skims the contours
of the red valley, and the one-eyed cat
clings to the screen door.
In the houses discussion centers
on marriage and birth
and the maligned realities
of consciousness,
will we recover? How so?
You say you could learn to live
without your hands,
but if you had to stop walking
the clouds would get the last word.
The violets' sores weep
like lepers.  Despite the warning
I take no comfort in the facts
of the coming season.
First, a man entertaining
a crowd with quotations
he memorizes that morning
from an alphabetized list.
Later, a thigh bone lifted aloft,
the enumeration of recipes
for the magic of yesteryear.
Oyster stew.  Puppet shows.
The belief that if we touch
the earth before we speak,
we rise as geese shift in vees,
whistling like wheels.
We hesitate to pronounce
the vowels of loss over the casket
we fill as children play
at laying dolls to sleep
and confident resurrection,
reciting incantations
for neither: only gestures,
palms down, twisting skyward.

Lisa Lewis's collections of poetry are The Unbeliever (University of Wisconsin Press, 1994, Brittingham Prize), Silent Treatment (Penguin, 1998, National Poetry Series), Story Box (Poetry West Chapbook Contest), Vivisect (New Issues Press, 2010), and Burned House with Swimming Pool, forthcoming from Dream Horse Press as the winner of the American Poetry Journal Prize. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including the American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Fence, Rattle, Missouri Review, Seattle Review, Third Coast, Crab Orchard Review, Indiana Review, and American Literary Review. She directs the creative writing program at Oklahoma State University and serves as poetry editor for the Cimarron Review.

Photo by Dinah Cox

Author's Statement

I've lived in Oklahoma for more than 15, and sometimes it feels pretty isolated. There's a lot of sky and grassland, sunset and cattle and horses grazing the open spaces, but it isn't the first place that comes to mind for anybody as a literary center. Yet because there are no limits on the artistic impulse, there are poets here as there are anywhere. In my work as a teacher I've tried to secure something of a literary community for myself and my students and my fellow poets and writers, so we can say what we have to say about life here and elsewhere without feeling quite so much like those lone trees that crop up in empty fields. The National Endowment for the Arts has always represented, and respected, the public importance of the arts for this country, which is of course as much made up of the heartland states like Oklahoma as of the coastal and otherwise more populous zones, and it thrills me that the support of the NEA extends to us all. This award is a tremendous honor to any writer; to me it is also a relief and a sense of connection. I will use it to deepen my commitment to poetry wherever I am; it will sustain me in the completion of what will become my fifth book of poems.