NEA Literature Fellowships

Mark Sullivan

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(2007 - Poetry)

"Landscape in the Manner of Huang Gongwang"

Beginning of February, ice-melt
     across the tar of the landing
making its bleak little landscape
     beyond the window, mountain
passes of snow, asphalt-dark
     inlets.  Already the week-old
storm has shifted through several
     geological eras, upheaval then
erosion along the curbs, until
     now the shoveled drifts show all
that remains in the successions
     of time and exposure.  If we could
see our histories in X-ray, the sweet
     dissembling now turned half-clear
in the mildly harmful radiation
     of our gnosis, they might resemble
the flawed geometries forming these
     scaled-down sierras and exhaust-
washed arroyos.  I think we'd be
     metaphor rather than memory,
some sheer promise of a knowing
     that would shatter and stay like
nighttime waters.  On our drive to visit
     my wife's mother in her nursing
home, there's a stretch of parkway
     where vines and trees tangle for
every inch of light and air.
     The landscape they make looks as manic
as a preschooler's crayon coloring,
     no space untouched.  Her mother's
almost all space now, the voids
     becoming ever more solid, and
I don't know where the details
     go as synapses misfire, the network
unknots.  Language  no longer an
    element you live by, involuntary
as breath, but the wild bird
    amazed inside the house, stunned
for sky.  In the Yuan Dynasty the great
     master Huang Gongwang roughed out
the unfinished handscroll of his mountain
    dwelling in one sitting, the whole
composition, then carried it with him
    the rest of his days, long horizon
rolled in its silk sleeve.  In the evening,
    as if drawing down a shade, he would
spread it out to add the dragon
    veins to each crevice, pour shadows
through the pines.  Tea cooling in
     his cup, the lamp flame low.  Finding
more room everywhere he looked, wind
     on the roof like a barely wet brush.

Mark Sullivan's first collection of poetry, Slag, was published in 2005, the winner of the Walt MacDonald First Book Series competition. He is also the recipient of a "Discovery"/The Nation Prize. His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in Mid-American Review, New England Review, Orion, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, Southwest Review, and other journals. He was born in Willmar, Minnesota, raised in eastern Massachusetts, and educated at Middlebury College, Oxford University, and Columbia University. He lives with his wife in New York City.

Photo courtesy of the author

Author's Statement

I think it was Thoreau who said that any serious work has in back of it a long leisure. For me, a literature fellowship from the NEA will provide precisely this crucial margin -- -an opportunity to take time off from a part-time job that I have held for many years to support my writing, and for the first time to be able to devote myself completely for several months to creative work. I am currently preparing poems for a second collection and hope in the course of this year to finish a working draft of the manuscript. I feel hugely privileged by this gift of time in which to reflect and write and grateful to the NEA for supplying it.