NEA Literature Fellowships

Roger W. Reeves

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(2013 - Poetry)

Before Diagnosis

The lake is dead for a second time
this January. And no matter
how many geese lay their warm breasts 
against the ice or fly across
its hard chest, it doesn't break,
or sink, or open up and swallow them.
The ice is frozen water.
There is no metaphor for exile.
Even if these trees continue to shake
the crows from their branches,
my sister is still farther away from her mind
than we are from each other
sitting on opposite ends of a park bench
waiting for evening to swallow us whole.
In the last moments of a depressive, a sun.
In the last moments of a sun, my sister
says a man is chasing a goose through the snow.

(originally appeared in The Boston Review)

Roger Reeves's poems have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, and Tin House, among others. Kim Addonizio selected "Kletic of Walt Whitman" for the Best New Poets 2009 anthology. He was awarded a Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2008, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and two Cave Canem Fellowships. Recently, he earned his Ph.D. at the University of Texas and is currently an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His first book, King Me, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in October 2013.

Photo by Julio Jimenez

Author's Statement

Winning a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship allows me to pursue a project that I heard about years ago and could only research from a distance—a massacre of Chinese mineworkers in Rock Springs, Wyoming. The NEA fellowship affords me the opportunity to visit Rock Springs and surrounding towns where Chinese immigrants migrated to in the late nineteenth century. I hope to build a series of poems that elegize and interrogate the racial violence of a recent American past. While a project of this sort is considered normal practice for nonfiction writers, journalists, and scholars, I hope to use the medium of poetry to grapple with the same material. The NEA fellowship allows me to work a little less this summer and spend time looking for and listening to the dead.