NEA Literature Fellowships

Morgan Parker

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(2017 - Poetry)

"The President Has Never Said the Word Black"

To the extent that one begins
to wonder if he is broken.

It is not so difficult to open
teeth and brass taxes.

The president is all like
five on the bleep hand side.

The president be like
we lost a young         boy today.

The pursuit of happiness
is guaranteed for all fellow          Americans.

He is nobody special like us.
He says brothers and sisters.

What kind of bodies are moveable
and feasts. What color are visions.

When he opens his mouth
a chameleon is inside, starving.

Morgan Parker is the author of Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night and There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. Her work has appeared in the The Paris Review, Poetry, The New York Times, The Nation, Buzzfeed, and elsewhere.Her poetry has been anthologized in Why I Am Not A Painter, The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, and Best American Poetry 2016. Parker is winner of a 2016 Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is an editor for Little A and Day One, and also hosts Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel in New York. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets With Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She lives with her dog Braeburn in Brooklyn, NY.

Photo by Renell Medrano

Author's Statement

In 2014, I saw bell hooks speak with Laverne Cox at the New School in New York City. Amidst the discussion of stereotypes, books, and privilege, hooks said something that simultaneously inspired me and filled me with dread. “I wanna say to every Black woman in this room, ‘Girl, go get your money straight.’”

As a Black woman, financial literacy has always felt inaccessible to me, something murky and overwhelming. Even now, trying to explain what an incredible psychological and practical gift the National Endowment of the Arts has given me, I’m tempted to quote rap lyrics, because I have never, admittedly, believed that economic language belonged to me. While my wealthy white peers were fluent in stocks, investments, and savings, I shamefully tucked “money” into a dark corner of my brain. Maybe one day I would understand it, but probably not, and that would be my cross to bear. I’d either marry rich or continue to work hard enough to scrape by until the next pay period.

This fellowship frees me of the psychological servitude of bills and debt. It’s a transfusion of my energy from the hustle to the art. I’m grateful for the chance I thought I’d never get— the chance to leave behind the distraction of personal struggle in service of creating work that can reach far beyond my own imagination.