NEA Literature Fellowships

Rickey Laurentiis

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(2013 - Poetry)

Epitaph at the Foot of the Stone

Like you, I was born underwater.
(I lied: there was never a stone.)
Like you, I was born but that's not the half of it:
I lived. Lord, I lived. Like a cancer, I crept
sideways. Like a scorpion, I lied. I lived
the way a problem lives, openly, so much
earth wanted me closed. Don't you know the dead
are not easy? Don't you know they crave?
I stepped out of the water (I was made doing this) slick-
skinned, fluent, a character: my eyes twice
haunted, my humor, my voice--and can't you hear
shackles running the length of my voice? I was born
in a minute, in a panic, on a whim. A mistake,
I mean. A choice between this world and a body,
pretty fault where a heart should be.

(originally published in Anti-)

Rickey Laurentiis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1989. He earned his BA in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College, and is completing his MFA at Washington University in St. Louis where he is a Chancellor's Fellow. He is the recipient of scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and fellowships from the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Cave Canem Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, and the Poetry Foundation, which awarded him a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship in 2012. The author of the e-chapbook, Whipped, (Floating Wolf Quarterly), he has been a featured poet in the March 2013 issue of T, the New York Times Style Magazine, and his individual poems have appeared in several journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Callaloo, Feminist Studies, Indiana Review, jubilat, Oxford American, and Poetry.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Author's Statement

I had ignored the call. It was the fever of election season: no television, no Facebook newsfeed or telephone was safe from a constant parade of campaigning politicians. So when I first glanced down to see an unidentified D.C. number flash across my cell phone, I shrugged it off, assuming it for some campaign's robo-call, apparently too busy at that moment to pick up. But the morning after the re-election of Barack Obama as president, when the number (which had been insistent) called once again, when it couldn't be possible (my mind told me) that I was going to be asked again to vote for or donate to such-and-such figure, I shrugged once more, put on my glasses (having just stirred awake), and answered.

Hearing the news that I was a recipient of a 2013 NEA Grant was--cliché as it sounds--an affirmation but, before this, a total surprise. I couldn't believe it. To know a jury of prominent poets and readers that I admire had read and found something to admire in my work; to realize that by saying "Yes" to me they were, in some sense, putting their trust in me, whatever promise I show, and that this was especially significant given that I am a very young, very emerging poet; to later discover the extremely talented, impressive, and diverse company of NEA fellows I am among this year, and to learn of even more fellows from past years: all of this seemed incredible to me, in every sense of that word.

This grant, symbolically, lends me courage; practically, it affords me time. I'm not first to say that both are prerequisites for the production of any lasting work. And to be awarded this, as I've suggested earlier, at so early a point in not just a poet's career, but his literal life, is humbling. For this I remain thankful.