NEA Literature Fellowships

Susan Deer Cloud

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(2007 - Poetry)

"Canvas" (for Ruth)

She decided to paint again after a quarter century,
set wood easel on table near north window, canvas
on that.  The tubes of acrylic paint called her hands
to bright yellow.  She had a story to tell,
one crying for yellow background.  Half
the night she brushed yellow across white
until there was no white left.  Her cat brushed
against her hot legs, after awhile
all she could feel was yellow, all
she could taste.  She was getting
drunk on it, lay on the floor
to sleep it off.

Dawn.  Still yellow.  No
Galliano dream.  She brewed tea,
lifted the brush for the story part.  Spring
light darted across yellow, shadows
of leaves shook across lights.  Her mouth
blossomed with smiles, the girl of her
loved yellow best.  She stood there
growing old, brush poised in hand. 
Crow's wing.  Cloud across eyes. 

She lay the brush down. 


Susan Deer Cloud grew up in the Catskills. She is what mountain people call "part Indian." For many years she lived in Binghamton, NY, where she occasionally taught Creative Writing at Binghamton University. She is the author of three books of poems, most recently The Last Ceremony and has edited a multicultural anthology, Confluence. She has been published in journals such as Rosebud, Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review and in anthologies, including Sister Nations. She has received other awards, including a fellowship from New York State Foundation for the Arts. Her cat, Wu Wei, is not impressed by any of this.

Photo courtesy of the author


Author's Statement

When Dana Gioia called to tell me that I had received an NEA Fellowship, I literally started dancing at the edge of a cliff (only place where I can get cell phone reception in Amherst, MA, woods where I currently live). I also laughed, howled, and (I am fairly certain) sang. Why? Because before I started dancing at cliff's edge I was on one of those poet's edges of despair, not knowing how this poet was going to live in the months to come. 

I am of Native heritage, and our approach to life is very much one that includes thanksgiving, gratitude. So Nia:wen to the NEA panelists who thought my poetry of enough fineness to receive a Fellowship. In the deepest and most essential sense, this Fellowship is not only for me, but also for my family, friends, and Indian community; their supportive love glimmers inside my words.

I am using my Fellowship season to complete a book of poems and to write a chapbook with a particular theme (it's a secret). I am also editing a Native anthology, a longtime dream of mine. In completing these books I remember all the beautiful voices that ever were silenced.  Onen.