NEA Literature Fellowships

Mary Biddinger

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(2015 - Poetry)

"NOTRE DAME DE PARIS"

What was left wasn't her, and it wasn't me, and it wasn't a visage lifted from any of the posters that decorated our shared bedroom. One day she was there, and the next she was reportedly giving hand jobs in the back booth at the Ram's Horn and then she disappeared completely.

I thought I did well filling out the application. I underlined certain passages for emphasis and to demonstrate how lively I could be and how dependable. My mother said there was no way I would get hired by a bookstore due to my imperial attitude, and she was right. But this was pie.

I heard once that a classmate offered an entire semester's worth of French instruction in the 20 minute cab ride it took to go from Roosevelt to Lawrence. Okay that was me, but it was a noteworthy academic excursion for the discerning traveler with no surplus time on his hands.

To be honest, there were days when I ground my cheek into the grass and acknowledged that it could never get better, and it didn't. When's the last time you got to boycott two simultaneous parties and secret a soft shell crab in your pink purse? I didn't think so.

Of all the adolescents and post-adolescents and post-post-adolescents huddled in the doorway of Notre Dame de Paris, only one was wearing a pathetic high school football jersey beneath her manteau, and that was her, but only because she was emulating me.

Sometimes old friends are like a packet of corn that occupies minimal space in the back of the freezer. Other times they're a rice fire instead. She was the empty pâte brisée I ate off a brochure on the bus. I was just another an old church packed with jackets and sermons.

(First published in The Laurel Review, Issue 48.1)

Mary Biddinger is a poet, professor, and editor from Akron, Ohio. She is the author of three full-length poetry collections, A Sunny Place with Adequate Water (Black Lawrence Press, 2014), O Holy Insurgency (BLP, 2013), and Prairie Fever (Steel Toe Books, 2007) as well as the chapbook Saint Monica (BLP, 2011). Her work has recently appeared in Crazyhorse, Green Mountains Review, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, Pleiades, and Sou'wester, among others. She teaches poetry writing and literature at the University of Akron, where she edits the Akron Series in Poetry at the UA Press. Biddinger holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and a PhD from the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has received two Individual Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council.

Photo courtesy of Mary Biddinger

Author's Statement

I was poolside at the Shaw JCC in Akron when the big news broke. LeBron James was returning to Cleveland. Even the noisiest children grew silent when a lifeguard commandeered the loudspeaker to make the announcement, and after that everyone screamed and hugged and began texting the news to friends. I realize that receiving an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship is not going to have the same kind of momentous impact on the morale and local economy of my Rust Belt town, but nonetheless I feel that it is a victory for all of us here in Northeast Ohio. I write poems about ordinary folks in the Midwest, using everyday artifacts from their lives, and this award demonstrates that someone is listening.

The spectacular and unexpected gift of the NEA Creative Writing Fellowship will allow me to have something truly unusual: time specifically dedicated to writing. We Midwesterners are scrappy. We were multitasking before there was even a name for it. My guy can throw a football to the kid and grill walleye at the same time. I can jot down lines to a poem in the grocery store while answering emails for work. The idea of being able to set aside time exclusively for writing has been an impossible luxury in the past, and this summer I will be able to do the unthinkable: not teach. Write poems. Read the books I have been too busy to open. Breathe a little. My gratitude to the NEA is infinite.