NEA Literature Fellowships

Mary Szybist

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(2009 - Poetry)

In Tennessee I Found a Firefly

Flashing in the grass; the mouth of a spider clung
            to the dark of it: the legs of the spider
held the tucked wings close,
            held the abdomen still in the midst of calling
with thrusts of phosphorescent light?

When I am tired of being human, I try to remember
            the two stuck together like burrs.  I try to place them
central in my mind where everything else must
            surround them, must see the burr and the barb of them.
There is courtship, and there is hunger.  I suppose
            there are grips from which even angels cannot fly. 
Even imagined ones.  Luciferin, luciferase.
            When I am tired of only touching,
I have my mouth to try to tell you
            what, in your arms, is not erased.

Mary Szybist grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Her first collection of poems, Granted, was published in 2003 by Alice James Books, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Award, and a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. Her poems have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry, Tin House, The Iowa Review, Best American Poetry 2008, The Kenyon Review, and other journals. She graduated from the University of Virginia and the Iowa Writers' Workshop and lived in the Midwest for a decade before moving to Portland, Oregon, where she now teaches at Lewis & Clark College.

Photo by Megan Cahn

Author's Statement

As I have worked on my current manuscript over the last few years, I have cycled through periods of faith and doubt, both about the poems and the project as a whole. To have my work selected for this distinction is a gift of validation and a boost of adrenaline to my writing process. I have always done my best work in long, uninterrupted spaces where I can listen, really listen, to the line I have just written; it is in stretches of silence that I can hear what comes next. This fellowship is a gift of time and space that will allow me to attend to poems with more vigor and concentration, and my best efforts will go toward writing poems that are worthy of this support. I am very grateful to the NEA for this grant.