NEA Literature Fellowships

Ryan Teitman

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(2013 - Poetry)

Fable, or, Pietà

The boy hides near a stump to watch. A deer, its fur the color of honey, stands ankle deep in the pond and dips its head to the water. A dozen fish surface in a cluster, just out of the deer's reach. Their heads peek into the air, covered in skin so thin that the boy can see their plum red tongues flickering in their closed mouths. From his cover, he can hear the murmurs of their little congress. He thinks of the stories his mother tells him at night, of animals in the forest talking to children his age, granting them wishes if they can free the small birds caught in the tangle of manes, or fashion poultices of herbs for wounds on flanks just out of a tongue's reach. When he at last gives in to the throes of sleep, his mother bears him off to bed, his small body cradled in her arms, the blanket in his hand trailing behind them like a train. She wonders why slipping him away each night feels like a small spell of grief. Now he waits for the deer to step gently from the pond, stamp the water from its hooves, and bound away. He walks to the edge of the water and slips off his shoes, tucking the laces under their tongues. The fish circle his ankles as he steps in, their milk bottle bodies nearly scraping the pond's bottom. But when he reaches the center, they huddle in front of him like a children's choir. And then, they begin to sing.

(originally published in The Journal)

Ryan Teitman is the author of the poetry collection Litany for the City, selected by Jane Hirshfield as the winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Prize and published by BOA Editions. He worked as a newspaper reporter in Philadelphia before earning an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English at Indiana University. He was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University and his poems have appeared in Ninth Letter, The Southern Review, Sycamore Review, Third Coast, and other journals. He was the winner of the Fineline Competition from Mid-American Review and an AWP Intro Journals Award in poetry. He is currently the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg.

Photo by Timothy Shonnard

Author's Statement

With the support of the NEA Fellowship, I'll be able to continue work on my second poetry manuscript, The Dream Protects the Dreamer. This award comes at an important moment: for much of the past year I've spent my time teaching, giving readings, and applying for jobs. To receive such a vote of support from the NEA, a panel of distinguished judges, and the government itself is humbling. It's a gift of confidence and time--things we all run short on in our day-to-day lives. I'm extremely grateful for this opportunity to devote my time to poetry, and I'm honored to be included in this group of truly outstanding poets.