NEA Literature Fellowships

Miriam Bird Greenberg

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(2013 - Poetry)

When I Was a Child

There was a woman who walked the roads all day;
she would come into the café
holding a handkerchief full of bees
then shake them free. You could see her catching them
painstakingly all morning
in the honeysuckle, her face
scabbed where she'd scratched old stings. 
She had a daughter
who'd died of lockjaw
after the hospitals had closed;
she was buried by the graves of the great-aunts who'd raised her, enough
to make anyone crazy. She called
all children her daughter's name. For a time
she slept in the fallen-in blacksmithing
shed in back of our house.
From inside my dreams
I could hear her some nights
calling out, Ruth, Ruth.

(first appeared in Nthposition in 2009)

Miriam Bird Greenberg is the author of a chapbook, All night in the new country, from Sixteen Rivers Press. She holds an MFA from the University of Texas Michener Center for Writers, and has been awarded a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, as well as residencies from Headlands Center for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center for the Arts, and Signal Fire. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Ninth Letter, the Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. Though she mostly resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, Greenberg is a native Texan who currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center.

Photo by Rino Pizzi

Author's Statement

I'm working on several projects right now, all built around journey narratives. The manuscript of poems I've been at work on for a few years now is set loosely in a dystopian future Piney Woods, and follows a young woman fleeing unnamed civil upheaval; another newer project of contemporary travel poems is much more rooted in true(ish) stories of "by the seat of my pants" travel through the United States. I love to travel, to meet the strangers lined up at the counter of a café in a small town, sitting next to me on the bus, or walking alongside the railroad tracks--and so some of this money will undoubtedly go toward travel-as-research, probably a small bike tour along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Texas, then north through the Piney Woods to my family's house in northeast Texas.

But more important than anything as simple as travel, what a respite it is to know that my financial stability is assured for the next year-or-more! For me, and for so many other writers and artists, even if we have money in the bank it can be so hard to know whether that stability will last, and if it does, whether it'll be at the expense of our creative practice. So it's an incredible (and astonishing, and affirming) privilege to have an income derived from poetry, rather than detracting from it. Finally, in the days after the literature fellows were announced, the sense of shared celebration among us and for us was amazing, and took me completely by surprise. It was one of the few moments I've really had a sense of the oft-mentioned notion of a "community of writers" made visible, and was such a lucky, palpable thing to be part of.