11/06/2012 04:08 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2013

First Poems

Before I met Rickey Laurentiis, I heard him read, which, it turns out, is probably the best way to be introduced to Rickey. We were freshmen in college and, as I remember it, he read a series of poems he had written to New Orleans, the city he grew up in and the city recently ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. There was the influence of the blues and of 20th century lyric poetry in those first poems, and his reading voice sounded a little bit (or maybe a lot) like Langston Hughes' -- the first poet I ever loved. I don't think there was a student in that audience, freshman or senior, who didn't think to themselves: "Well, he's going to be something special." And that was the way with Rickey in college -- it was hard not to revere him and hard, too, not to be intimidated by his talent and his poise.

Six years later, Rickey, now an MFA student at Washington University in St. Louis, has been named a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellow. As part of the fellowship, Poetry, the most significant poetry journal in America, has published three of Rickey's poems in their November 2012 issue. And although our paths have not crossed for some time now, his poems are another reminder not only of Rickey's promise, but of his arrival.

You can find the poems here, but I have provided "You Are Not Christ" in its entirety below -- a new poem for New Orleans:

You Are Not Christ

New Orleans, Louisiana

For the drowning, yes, there is always panic.
Or peace. Your body behaving finally by instinct
alone. Crossing out wonder. Crossing out
a need to know. You only feel you need to live.
That you deserve it. Even here. Even as your chest
fills with a strange new air, you will not ask
what this means. Like prey caught in the wolf's teeth,
but you are not the lamb. You are what's in the lamb
that keeps it kicking. Let it.