Winning Poems for February 2007

Judged by Pascale Petit

First Place

on an autumn evening, i

by Eric Rhohenstein
The Critical Poet

wander the north end of harnett’s farm.
his man is wrestling a tractor home across the field:
imperfect turnings, mechanical churn.
it’s as if the wheels would like to come out from under it,
do their own bit of digging,
as if they cared less about the world.

discover the carcass of a buck crumpled in an irrigation ditch.
there are two vacancies:
where its antlers were,
where its eyes have turned to jelly.
death has pressed a winter skin upon him:
frost-whitened flanks, a draft of dead air rushing in. . .

mutter something about a body’s atoms and the liver of life and god being a drunkard.
trucks downshift in the distance.

know the deer’s jaw is a busted hinge.
he is saying this:
salt me.
stuff me into a dead sheep’s gut.
smoke us back into life.
he does not ask me to listen.
it’s post-harvest and the pumpkins left behind huff out like deflating balloons;
what’s left but to marvel at the hunger of the world?

recall a night:
a field-romp,
an autumn love,
a blanket tossed down.
we draw together like bank tellers transacting:
intimately callous.

do none of this,
only dream it,
wake in spring beneath a loose blanket of un-grasped straw.

shake the blood back into a sleeping hand,
the death of it neither worked out nor stored–
simply there and gone,
so much smoke.

imagine a fish preparing to groan itself out of some ancient shallow–
thinking lung,
thinking leg–
then dropping like a plumb to measure the loss of beauty in knowing.

gather spilled seed from where it lays scattered,
cracked like witches’ teeth.

look into the wind,
await the cold-burning;
my eyelids are corn husks crushed into tinder.

watch the sun fall like a deer plowing into its eternal ditch,
but only like it;
it appears to bruise into red-anger,
to catch on stronger fire.

smell the hope-scent which festers around slit ground–
wherever it is broken.
my bones ache against the twilight;
my boots don’t make the sound i hear as the sod plugs and unplugs beneath them,
are not saying,

This poem slows me to its meditative pace. I like the way the familiar but estranging field gradually reveals its layers. I'm drawn underground through that haunting image of the buck crumpled in a ditch, and further down and back in time to the evolution of fish, into a chthonic realm where seed is "cracked like witches' teeth." The jagged stanzas are built like strata, each containing either a vivid image and/or a precise observation: the couple in a field-romp are "intimately callous." When the sun ploughs into its own ditch, that image of the deer falling gains even more weight, acquiring a mythic power. It reminds me of the Hungarian poet Ferenc Juhász's miraculous stag from folklore with the sun in its antlers. I admire this work for its depth and ambition, and the care the poet has taken to make fresh and memorable impressions of life at "the north end of harnett's farm." --Pascale Petit

Second Place

Boundaryless in Bedlam

by AnnMarie Eldon
The Writer's Block

I discover, tripping over in the night, my skin upon the floor.
It has covered me for you for many years but a little stink of
lymph drew me up. There is carpet stain, I think, amidst
capillaries. This the token of the affair. How subcutaneous
the arousal was. Your chiffoned penis head outlined against
the grasp attempts, its drool a pearl in pasty splatter. My sole
encounters artery and extraneous andipose like the dreadful
waking of erectile knowledge. Sweat glands worm their way
up my legs to familiar haunts. There are green centipedes
in a constant dreamline wending their way upstairs who would
eat this mess. If waking from it were an option. We made an
arrogance of lovemaking. A career. And now the basals crunching
beneath a sleepwalk. I keep my blood in by uncertain denial.
As if in facto esse could save me. Yet not subject to the free
will of the individuals my skin has fallen off in the first attempt.
My maker squeezes a corpuscule. There is a scent of sebum
and lilies. The scavengers slither to a horde over boards to the
rug’s edge and the truth is out. This is the lore of realization.
Horny and squamous I can hold together no more. I lay me down.
Each pore a former glory.

My attention was instantly caught by the first line of this poem, which sets up the surreal conceit of a person discovering their skin by their bedside. The form itself, with its single prose-like block, looks like a cross-section through layers of skin under an electron microscope. In it we encounter sebum and corpuscules. The biological terms are embedded in the context of an erotic relationship, with all its luridly visceral manifestations. Thrown in to the mix is also the bedlam aspect of the title, allowing this poem the licence to bulge with irrational secretions. It's difficult to write this kind of overripe montage, but the poet gets away with it. --Pascale Petit

Third Place

The crying girl

by Jude Goodwin
The Writer's Block

There’s someone crying,
a girl in an open window.
Sunlight pulls at her hair.
Behind her, shadows
ignore things. The girl
lifts one bare foot onto the sill,
then another. She holds
the window frame
like a painting, carries it
forward into the gallery of summer
where other girls sleep
on the beach, eat hard cheese
and learn chords. The major sevenths
sound like doorways. In her bag
is a pair of bellbottoms. In her ovaries
an egg named Harmony. The crying girl
sits in an idling Chevy, listens to Elvis
with reverb, her arms are covered
with spray-on velvet, the windows
are rolled up tight. She was there
last night, I could hear her muffled
mandolin as I locked our slider
and carried the cat
upstairs to bed.

At the heart of this poem is a luminous kinaesthetic image. That crying girl carrying the window forward into the "gallery of summer" lifts this poem onto another plane. It's a movement out of the poem's confines, into the open and future. Like the "egg named Harmony" in her ovaries, it's as if, at the core of the distress, there's also the possibility for transformation. This powerful image, coupled with the synaesthetic language of "the major sevenths / sound like doorways," made me go back and reread the poem many times for sheer pleasure. I enjoyed this poet's concentrated use of language and evocative image-making. --Pascale Petit

Honorable Mention

the demolition kid

by Andrew Pike
SplashHall Poetry

stars dip their heads
in and out of the atmosphere.
the pet shop boys announce – go west…
my father veers his truck
between pre-dawn buses,

landing alongside a mcdonald
sign on paramatta road.
today, apartments grow there,
but fifteen years ago bloomed
a golden M, thirty feet high.
i smile out my window.
father, glum at the prospect
of taxis and glowing pale yellow
from the dashboard gauges, he
turns to me and asks; son,
are you hungry?

to work, in an alley off george street.
sunlight leaks down the western walls;
down the rear porches of first floor lofts,
smeared in peeled apricots.

first things first…

son, let’s learn to tie a sheepshank.
afterwards, bring down the jackhammer, the grinder
and the wheelbarrow,

and try not to make so much noise;
this is residential.

can you handle this?

of course.

i prove to co-workers how many bricks
i can wield in a wheelbarrow,
up a flexi-board mountain.
sixteen was my record at age eleven…

… the boss’s son.
gasps all ’round.

the rich man’s restaurant; a mesh of gyprock, studs and brick.

the centrepoint tower; a black prong in an amorphic skyline.
the harbour bridge; half a web over a buzzing river…

out back, the one way traffic
and a white truck, etched in silver scars,
leaning from the sidewalk
into bitumen.

the stench of grease from central station
outflanks the aroma of coffee beans
being cracked open in michel’s cafe.

by ten a.m. i become the caffeine boy.

a notepad in hand,
my writing is uncursed and primitive;

2 s m, X 5.
and for henry – an egg and bakan roll.

a fifty crumples in my fist
and i scamper through the metal nest.

the red afternoon tucks itself into a corner
pocket of the earth. white ball, sinking colour
into the landscape as i linger outside the ettamogah.

it is one of those night jobs
i conceal from mother.

Honorable Mention

Bees in Thin Hours

by Nanette Rayman River
The Critical Poet

The ache will find me near white flowers, yes, white and magenta in the projects

I find bees gunning down the humble Silent Ladies Tresses displaced here among

a thousand brides in water, seven thousand in cement – kneeling beside me.

We lie like an argument against the pavement, listen to the bees’ decrescendo,

how they bear witness against a life soured, doors firmly closed to any light

I could turn to. How it evaporates quickly in this oven of shadows, news to broadcast

that won’t be heard. Who to cry to and how to cry? The blackflies are biting

your soft under-bicep, honey, and the clouds are singing. Our vast deaf ears

lay ringing beside dead brides. These are thin hours when bees buzz in the outskirts

of lives never meant to happen– like this. A sudden hush catches us off guard,

makes mephitic fervor of the night, without whiff of why. We curl useless legs around

poor sky. Our last magenta inhalation. There are no words.

Honorable Mention

The Rival

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

Long afterwards I knew she had entered
my house, not as a scavenger,
a buzzard or a gull, but as a wagtail.
She cocked her head and studied me

as I hung blue sheets on the line. The silence
and fluttering I’d loved as a child had polished her
a lustrous yellow. Lot’s wife could be dissolved
into a night of salty stars but what to do

with her? In feverish August I willed snowflakes
on my skin to ease the summer heat. I warned
her to leave us for exotic Africa, chanted

your name as idle sunshine buttered
her wings. I preened myself to prepare
for my late migration from jealousy to song.

Honorable Mention


by C. King

I know her voice, too soft for understanding
but with alarming sibilants, like rust.
The worry of the decades moves her mouth
and throat to make the indistinct more harrowed.
I lose the nuance. And, again, I lose it.

My wife, of course, can hear the tiny vowels
and doesn’t mind how half the consonants
are shouted while the other half are missing.
She hears anxiety as kiln-fired love
and slight approval as confetti rainbows.

I wonder, now, how my own mother sounds
without the filter of my understanding,
the singsong tones, the braced sincerity
that I know as the cautious woman’s care
for those sewn on her tapestry of life.

  • May 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      I think of the colour purple
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Swimming in Twilight
      by Peter Halpin
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      In another country with strangers
      by Greta Bolger
      The Waters

  • April 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      Furiously Overcome by Stars
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Second Place

      Ides of March
      by Rachel Green
      The Write Idea

      Third Place

      Natural History
      by Antonia Clark
      The Waters