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Emily Skaja

Emily Skaja was born and raised in northern Illinois. She received an MFA in creative writing from Purdue University.
 
Her debut poetry collection, Brute, was selected by Joy Harjo as the winner of the 2018 Walt Whitman Award, given by the Academy of American Poets, and will be published by Graywolf Press in 2019.
 
About Brute, Harjo writes:
 
Brute, though a collection of singular poems, is essentially one long elegiac howl for the end of a relationship. It never lets up—this living—even when the world as we knew it is crushed. So what do we do with the brokenness? We document it, as Emily Skaja has done in Brute. We sing of the brokenness as we emerge from it. We sing the holy objects, the white moths that fly from our mouths, and we stand with the new, wet earth that has been created with our terrible songs.
 

In 2019, she was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Skaja is also the recipient of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Intro Journals Project Award; the Gulf Coast Poetry Prize; the Russell Prize from Two Sylvias Press; and the Thomas H. Scholl and Elizabeth Boyd Thompson Poetry Prize, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets.

She is the associate poetry editor of Southern Indiana Review and a Taft research fellow at the University of Cincinnati, where she is finishing a PhD in creative writing and literature with a certificate in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

 

By This Poet

8

Four Hawks

circle the same mile of Indiana where I force myself to look

at every dead deer on the road, as if that braces me, as if I believe
it will protect me from losing anything good.

I can’t stop dreaming I’m hiding

my own prints in the snow, convinced
my mouth is a metal trap, a part of it, apart

from you, & when you pull me awake
it’s because I’m lining my body with burrs,

because I’m antlers & talons & I know

the smell of cedar is home, is a ring of sky
I love, but I can’t take it when

you say Only deer, only hawks.

Why is there nothing wild in you
to explain it, nothing killing; why

am I the chased thing horrified
to overtake myself in the brush I wonder &

if a deer darts across this road & the dead don’t
take it, don’t the dead wait, don’t I know,

don’t the dead always covet something running?

I count bodies like cold days in March.

Ten, eleven, twelve—& you
with the map unfolded, following the sky.

I wonder if you & I are twin limbs
of something running.

If you & I circle.

Dear Ruth

Anyone can be a plank-mouthed bird or anyone can be the sky hallelujah
is the accepted lie of hymns. Like a girl walking has never needed to fly

but could if she wanted. If winged & if the wings fit—if fielded, if felt.
What is the difference between asking & asking for it are the words

that we should burn into a field, Oh Glory. Whether you are lost
or whether you are the blondest bird leaned against a fence

hemming in an orchard, Ruth, you are the holy thing I look to.
So explain to me about the habits of cicadas, why only the men

speak, why it takes some of them 17 years to come correct.
All the leaves are eaten bare; yet the tree is not empty, we know

from experience—Ecclesiastes. Help me understand, help me reverse
the pilgrims’ stories. Make them rise up out of their bone crypts

doubled with purpose—bloodied, believing—& send them to war
for their girl queens. War for their daughters hallelujah

as it wasn’t in the beginning isn’t now & never shall be
world without end. Oh but God my God Amen.

I Have Read the Whole Moon

In March I drop an egg hoping a bird will fly out disbelieving
science. All the manuals tell me this is a logical contract.
You commit yourself to a shell & you end up flying. Fine.
Stone after stone, I’m defacing the river of being in love with you.
True, I don’t care how that sounds. I have a list
of cocoons to transform my body: Uncontrollable
Shaking. Sleep Paralysis. Dread of Eating. I’m guilty
of pretending the roads to your house are no longer roads
but deerpaths angled crooked through the marsh. Again the water
doesn’t stop; it rains even when the weather is overdue: a holy
parallel. My mouth is rotted & anonymous. The bed needs oars.
I’m interested in dust but only new dust arriving unmarked
after you leave. After you leave, you leave &
thicketed in sludge I’ve been glued open. Self as spectacle:
Yolk Marvel. Unbird. Emily as grave pillar as salt lick as dammed up
luminous in thread. I have read the whole moon
cycle; it doesn’t explain the cracks. Mercury for once
cannot be blamed. My dishes float in soap like little planets.
I drop my hands in the sink. They come up feathered.