Trip to Field Museum inspires award-winning poem

Roger Reeves, assistant professor of English

Roger Reeves, assistant professor of English, won the Pushcart Prize for his poetry. Photo: Chris Strong (click on image for larger file size)

A visit to the Field Museum led to a poem — and an international award — for a faculty member in English.

Roger Reeves, assistant professor of English, is among 69 winners whose work was chosen from thousands of entries for the Pushcart Prize, awarded to works of poetry, short fiction and essays published by small literary magazines or small presses around the world.

Reeves was selected for his poem “The Field Museum” (below), which originally appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of The Cincinnati Review.

The winners’ works are published annually in an anthology of stories, poems, essays and memoirs. The latest edition is Pushcart Prize XXXVIII: Best of the Small Presses.

In 2012, Reeves was one of 40 recipients of a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing grant for outstanding poets. He is using the $25,000 award to investigate the Rock Springs Massacre, an 1885 racial labor riot in Wyoming, when white miners killed 28 Chinese miners over wages and other issues.

Reeves is also working on a collection of sonnets that deal with the emotional and intellectual legacy of lynching.

His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast and the Cincinnati Review, among others.

His poem “Kletic of Walt Whitman” was selected in 2009 for Best New Poets, an annual anthology of 50 poems from emerging writers.


The Field Museum

It is customary to hold the dead in your mouth
Next to the other dead and their failing trophies:
Quetzal, star-throat, nightjar, grebe and artic loon:
This ash for my daughter’s tongue, I give without
Sackcloth or sugar: the museum closing
And the whale falling from heaven due
Upon our heads at any time: our haloes already
Flat as plates and broken about our ankles:
How often can you send a child to meet a ghost
At the river before the child comes back speaking
As the river, speaking as the pedal-less red
Bicycles half-buried in its bank, speaking bolt oil
Spilling down the legs of a thrice-trussed bridge
Just after a train lurches toward a coast covered in smog:
The river must be thick with this type of body:
A daughter bearing bird names on her lips, cutting
Her ankles on cans that resemble her mother’s tongue.

— Roger Reeves

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