NEA Literature Fellowships

Paula McLain

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(2001 - Poetry)


He says you're a blackberry, dropped into his mouth
by a crow, says Sweet, sweet girl to the damp of your neck.
It's afternoon. Through your squint, foxtail splinters,
blonde as the half-slip we fight over in the catalogue,
the demi-cup bra, satin-strapped and less candid
than this boy's hands. He'd wear you like skin if you'd let him.

He says locusts told him where to find you,
that your blue dress is plenty deep for two;
and you're starting to trust the muscle
all this wanting gives you. Your shoulders come back
when a car full of boys rockets by on the two-lane, pulling dust
and a long howl. All the way out to the interstate,
they talk about turning around.

Now your arm is beside you, bent, like a page you'll return to.
He says Listen, then stops talking. What comes next isn't news:
his sudden flush and bloom. Then the cell-like splitting
of this day into two, four, eight identical others.

I pass the shape you've tamped into the grass.
It looks like an animal has circled before sleeping. I lie down,
willing anything: a ripple, rain. I lick my hand.
There is no tinge of blackberry, no hint of what's coming.

Real Audio"Willing" read by the author

Author's Statement

I quit my teaching job to spend more time in my pajamas. On any given day you can find me in them from mid-morning through late afternoon, in front of my computer, writing. In the evenings, I wait tables at a high-end Tex-Mex restaurant, schlepping grilled crab enchiladas and seven-dollar margaritas. Until Cliff Becker called me in December to tell me I was receiving a grant, my writing days were regularly interrupted by prolonged crises of confidence that went something like this: I'm thirty-five years old with no health insurance, no retirement plan, huge student loans, a car on its last legs, and at least one cavity--that I know about. All of those things are still true, of course, but I also have this grant, which means financial support for the next year, and a renewed faith in my gifts and perseverance. And maybe some new pajamas. I am currently at work on a second book of poetry, as well as a memoir about the fourteen years my two sisters and I spent as foster children in California.