Photo courtesy Amanda Field

Photo courtesy Amanda Field

NICOLE CALLIHAN

writer, teacher, reader

My first memory, I’m playing in the dirt, drawing circles with a stick, waiting for my mother to come home. I think maybe I’m suspended there forever: the stick becomes a pencil becomes a keyboard; the circles become letters become circles again.

Growing up, I didn’t know that you could become a poet. It seemed as crazy as wanting to be Big Bird or Batman. Even now, I get a little jittery when I say it. My parents were both high school drop-outs. Everybody we knew worked at the phone company or third shift at a motel or in a restaurant. My mom, though, wanted more. She divorced my dad not long after I was born, went back for her GED then became (it seems now somewhat impossibly) a doctor. From then on, she was insistent that I could be whatever I wanted to be.

I was crazy about words, not pretty words so much as wildly juxtaposed words, or crazy imaginative words, or just the way different people spoke different words. We moved around a lot. I went to 26 different schools before I graduated high school, and I can remember on the first day of school at almost every school people talking about the way I spoke. (Say it again, they'd say.) To them, my words were too Southern or too poor or from too far away. Language—and all our ways of speaking it and embodying it—wasn’t something I ever took for granted. There were so many voices around me, and so many old voices inside my head, and so many more voices waiting to be heard.  Through the years, language became music to me.

And poems, it seems, are the most sacred of language: prayers, of a sort, prayers from the deepest, darkest, most tender place. It never ceases to amaze me that if we draw enough circles in the dirt someone might understand them. Maybe that someone will just be us, or our mother, or an old, old friend, but maybe it will be someone else in the world, someone who recognizes the circles and says yes, yes, I know just what you mean.

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Nicole Callihan writes poems, stories and essays. Her work has appeared in, among others, American Poetry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Forklift, Ohio, PANK, Plume, and as a Poem-a-Day feature from the Academy of American Poets. Her books include the 2012 nonfiction Henry River Mill Village which she wrote with Ruby Young Kellar and which documented the rise and fall of a tiny mill village turned ghost town in North Carolina, as well as, SuperLoop, a collection of poems published in early 2014. In 2015, she received, with the poet Zoë Ryder White, the Baltic Writing Residency Chapbook Contest Award for their chapbook A Study in Spring which was released by Rabbit Catastrophe Press in fall 2015. Her book, The Deeply Flawed Human, was released by Deadly Chaps Press in summer 2016, and in summer 2017, Finishing Line Press published Downtown. The Assistant Director and a Senior Language Lecturer at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering, Nicole frequently collaborates with artists and actors throughout New York City.