I stare at a stack that stares
back. I willyessomehow reduce
this word mound. Pounds of pages,
bound, stamped with a federal number
cover the bed and dresser, block
any view of the city. Peer review.
Piles of proposals, another week
locked into another low-budget hotel.
A stipend so small we call it
“a tip.” One learns to plead
for a corner room, good windows
to fight blindness and boredom,
extra pillows to brace an aching
back. One learns to read sitting,
lying, standing, and “bathrooming,”
to take the tokensnotepad, leaking,
black ballpointwhen it’s over. Begin,
I tell myself, the glare of Fl00234’s
hundred pages staring at me. Read,
concentrate, score. Millions
“on the street.” Hundreds competing.
Read, take notes, turn pages,
assurance after assurancedrug-
free environment, e.e.o. statement,
no conflict of interest. Goals,
objectives, workplans, evaluation,
staff, budget. Read, turn, score.
Dawn, dusk. Dusk, dawn. Days blur.
The brain numbs. Just one moreread
and review, write and score until,
suddenly, the mountain has moved
downstairs where reviewers’ reviews
are reviewed, stamped, boxed
for trucking back to federal buildings.
Letters will be sent. Scores only,
reviewers names whited out.
At check-out, I sign my own forms
no conflicts, no arrests, no drugs
and walk out into cold air. I’ve been
on both sides. Letters will be sent.
Most will disappoint, but in a very few
places, a very few people will open
a very few thick envelopes offering
the chance to change the world in tiny ways.
Davi Walders is the recipient of the Greater Washington Hadassah's Myrtle Wreath Award for developing the Vital Signs Writing Project at NIH; a Puffin Foundation grant, a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, and residency fellowships at the Alden B. Dow Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Blue Mountain Center, and the Ragdale Foundtion. Her poetry has appeared in CCAR Journal, Conservative Judaism,Midstream, Moment and Lilith, and such anthologies as Literature of Spirituality, Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust, and The Women's Seder Sourcebook. She is the author of Women Against Tyranny: Poems of Resistance During the Holocaust (Clemson University Press, 2011). To read more by this author: Davi Walders: Whitman Issue Davi Walders: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue