NEA Literature Fellowships

Nickole Brown

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(2009 - Poetry)


We have heard her tell the story
over and again, like this: an early spring
tornado, a still, yellow sky,
nuns who said must have felt better
going in than it does
coming out as they gave her
a hot compress and dimmed the lights
for pain.

She was half my age now,
barely healed when God smacked
half the trees flat and curled her down
under a mattress
in an empty bathtub
in an empty apartment,
a newborn suckling
the tips of her fingers. The porcelain,
cool as death, was a white womb, an open
drain ready to forget how a month before
she didn't know better

but to sit up and grab the slippery blue
feet first, an impossible breech, a twist
with a snap that meant
leg braces, special shoes, a grown woman
who would never walk right
in red heels. Cramped in this shelter,
she wanted the sweetness of the word

birth but knew better now. Birth
meant forceps, rips, umbilical cords
wrapped around the neck. Birth kneaded
the abdomen for more birth, recovered
with douche singed with a drop or two of Lysol,
boiled a set of glass baby bottles in the same
pot that made the pinto beans. Not much more
to hold and so she touched

the blue leg of her bruised baby, cooed
footling, thinking it sounded
more like the name of some imp
than a complication, footling, her shape-shifter
sleeping inside the cup of a trumpet vine,
footling, because she was so young
and who could blame her, dreaming
away and waiting while wind
plucked off pieces of home,
peeled shingles back from rooftops
one by one.

Nickole Brown graduated from the MFA Program for Creative Writing at Vermont College and has received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council. She studied English Literature at Oxford University as an English Speaking Union Scholar and worked as an editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. Her work has appeared in The Courtland Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Another Chicago Magazine, Diagram Magazine, 32 Poems, The Kestrel Review, The Writer's Chronicle, Poets & Writers, and Mammoth Books' Sudden Stories anthology. She co-edited the anthology, Air Fare: Stories, Poems, & Essays on Flight. Her debut book, a novel-in-poems entitled Sister, was published by Red Hen Press in 2007. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she teaches at Bellarmine University and the University of Louisville. She has worked at the nonprofit, literary press, Sarabande Books, for more than nine years.

Photo by John Fitzgerald

Author's Statement

This fellowship offers more than an opportunity to take time to write. It is a promise to myself, signed and sealed, to complete my second book of poems within the next two years. It is the girl within me feeling oddly humbled, stepping into her yellow Cinderella dress and sitting down at the banquet among an exquisite company of writers. It is a sign posted on a long stretch of road that has been tripped with mirages and doubts. The sign is pure and simple; it reads, yes, girl, you got it, this way. It is change, in the pocket and in the mind, the kind of change that means the difference between breathing through a straw versus being let loose on a clear, red kite day. I keep thinking of Marianne Moore, remembering two lines I read of hers long before I was able to believe--Satisfaction is a lowly thing / how pure a thing is joy."