NEA Literature Fellowships

Nick Lantz

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(2017 - Poetry)

"My Father, Singing"

Yes, it’s true: Americans can buy back the bombs
we dropped on Laos in the form of bangles
crafted from melted casings. This moment, three silver
circlets clink on the wrist of a woman
as she stretches to reach an apple
at the back of a bodega’s fruit stand.
Beauty’s built that way, but I don’t mean
the hibiscus shampoo dripped
into a lab rat’s eyes, or Elizabeth Báthory
climbing into a tub of virgin’s blood. I don’t mean
the woman at the bodega doesn’t think
of someone else’s child blown to bits
every time those bracelets jangle
down her arm. Maybe she does. I lived a year
beside a battlefield and didn’t once lie awake
thinking of young men dying
in the pasture behind my house.
That was all ancient history, or near enough.
I made up metaphors about the cardinals
flitting by the window, though I know birdsong
is all struggle: draw the mate, warn
the rival. The egg hatches in a nest
of twisted reed and wire.
But when a tree sprouts
aboard the garbage barge
that’s been circling
the ocean for years, it isn’t proof
of anything. An uncle I never met
used to lock my father
in a room and beat him,
but I don’t owe that uncle
for the way my father sang me to sleep
on the dark nights when I was afraid.

Nick Lantz is the author of four collections of poetry, We Don’t Know We Don’t Know (2010), The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House (2010), How to Dance as the Roof Caves In (2014), and You, Beast (2017). His poetry has appeared in journals such as Copper Nickel, Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, jubilat, Pleiades, New England Review, and Southern Review. Lantz received his MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. He teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing, Editing, and Publishing at Sam Houston State University.

Photo by Victoria Lantz

Author's Statement

Not long after the 2017 NEA fellowships were announced, I underwent a nasty health scare requiring a trip to the emergency room on Christmas Eve, several doctor visits, and some expensive procedures and tests. I’m lucky enough to have health insurance through my employer, but within a couple weeks, I still racked up a few thousand dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. I usually spend the break between semesters catching up on reading, and writing my own poems, but the days spent in doctors’ offices and waiting on test results and watching my checking account were a reminder that life, in all its unpoetic difficulty, intrudes. One day I may write some poems about x-rays and blood tests, but in the moment, I wasn’t thinking about poetry. Poetry, as important as it is to me, won’t pay my medical bills or fix the broken garbage disposal or buy new tires for the car. An NEA fellowship is, first and foremost, a big vote of confidence in my writing, and that matters to me a great deal. But the practical, financial support of the NEA means a lot too. I feel, more than ever, the need to advocate for the work that artists do and for the NEA’s role in supporting that vital work. I hope the poems I continue to write will testify to that.