Winning Poems for April 2007

Judged by Bryan Appleyard

First Place


by Bernard Henrie
The Writer's Block

Your dwarf Tangelo
is frostbitten,
rigor brittles the pulp;
a re-planted Nagami
kumquat lumbers
in a terracotta pot.

Myrtle shrivels
beyond the porch
and the birdbath
is still iced;
Spring empty handed
and brown.

I pull on heavy gloves
and clear debris;
Later, we begin a card game,
we discuss a travel book
but break off and then stop.
Someone telephones.

The aimless evening
falls on the house
and like widow weave
folds along the chair
stopping at the lamp.

When did I cross
an invisible line
and never
find my way back?
A palsied old man
tapping the steep stair.

The first stanza is a showstopper. The first two lines signal at once that this writer feels poetry. I'm not sure about the one line short fourth stanza--though I can see why it is lopped. This poem does much with little. --Bryan Appleyard

Second Place

Mary Lincoln Communes with the Dead

by Ellen Kombiyil

Is that you, Willie? You sound muffled,
like you’re tangled in the bedclothes.
You must come closer and whisper.
Father tells me I’ve already wept
too much; if he catches us he’ll send me
to the asylum. But tell me,
how should I mourn you? I still glimpse you
in the sun’s glint on the brass knocker.
The oak tree creaks in wind–your boots
on the porch floor, coming in
from the river, home for supper.
It’s not you, only the whisper of you,
like the quietness of books. I envy
your Father the preoccupation of work.
I know you visit him. He calls them “dreams”
when you sit beside him on the train
clasp his hand in the theatre.
I’ve kept the flowers from your coffin
pressed in our Bible. Come here, closer
to the light, let me see once more
your sweet face. I won’t ask to hold you,
I know I can’t, won’t ask you what it’s like,
can’t bear the immensity. My grief,
will it be eternal? You smile.
I know you can’t stay. Look at you!
Exactly as I remember, your face
like a saint. Tomorrow I’ll light dusk’s
candle again, William, William.

This a triumph of tone and rhythm that easily survives multiple readings. The poem sustains the drama of its opening question well, shifting confidently between narrative and detail. It is a touch more perfect than "Winterset," but came second only because it didn't have the same poetic originality. --Bryan Appleyard

Third Place

Bird Caller

by Daniel Barlow
The Maelstrom

By twenty-eight I’d moved to Idaho
from Auckland, got the girl, the job, the car.
My Mum came once, but said it was too far
and never made the trip again. I know
she would have loved the way the sycamore
transforms the yard and those on either side
with autumn drifts. When Luke was born I cried
to know she wouldn’t be there any more.

Yet sometimes, through the kitchen window, dawn
bears rising sounds that call the winter brave.
I hear the furtive trilling of the birds
and catch the gentle timbre of her words,
her tutelage that lives beyond the grave,
reminding me to go and rake the lawn.

This poet set himself a difficult task--writing a strict sonnet in a relaxed, conversational style. He pulls it off by sneaking a strong but easy rhythm into the lines. The poem doesn't fall from its own fiction into excessive directness, a common crime with naive sonnet attempts. It is, simply, very complete and lovely. --Bryan Appleyard

Honorable Mention

Blas Rivas

by Sally Arango Renata
SC Writers Workshop

Blas Rivas wanted to die on Socialist soil.

I heard him say it twice, once on a bus to Cienfuegos
and again days later as he lay dying from a blood clot
exploding in his brain.

I say nothing. It is a quiet pronouncement, an inward ken
requiring not even a delayed response.

Humidity veils the window, blurring shades of red, blue,
hues of skin with the green of sugar cane.

Workers turn to wave and smile, an interlude necesario,
the essence of custom and fecundity in Cuba

the island that rests like a smiling dragon
just beyond the chalice of Miami.

Honorable Mention


by Jan Iwaszkiewicz
Mosaic Musings


We sink the corner posts first, as each defines a neighbour.
It is here where the bottom six inches are the most important.
It is here where the strength is muscled into the fence.

The heart of a fence lies in its foot.
I tamp until the bar sings of possession,
the bar bounces and writhes.

We snug the stays and tighten the wire,
each barbed note is tensioned into voice
the division sings a warning.


The fence cannot hold back the drought.
The sky aches blue and the sun eats green;
the earth coughs dust as rich as blood.

My bones hunker down beside the rock.
Eagles hang; wings wound into the wire,
heads nailed down by the sun.

Ribs rack a heaving fleece.
I watch my image fade
from the eye of a lamb.

Honorable Mention


by Mitchell Geller
Desert Moon Review

Normally this week I’d gather together
the ingredients for your special birthday cake:
a rather grandiose Victoria Sandwich.
Two layers of orange Genoise
filled with lemon curd and frosted
with an orange buttercream,
and decorated with candied orange peel from Provence.
One year I made the lemon curd from scratch,
using, you said, every goddamn pan in the house,
and please, for Christ’s sake next year buy a jar!
My gift to you would usually be something blue:
that aquamarine stickpin I designed
when you turned 47, your birthstone’s
limpid beryl beauty so much like your eyes,
or that Lorenzini shirt, the shade of
a Tuscan sky, with every buttonhole
stitched in a different whimsical colour.
You adored that shirt, and wore it constantly,
the pumice of your two o’clock shadow
abrading its collar to shreds.
Some years a book — “The King Of Instruments”
still sits on the glass coffee table;
or a recherche CD, or a Novello edition
of a Bach transcription.

Last year I was stupefied with gin
and stayed in bed the whole day,
occasionally listlessly getting up
and picking out the anthem
from the 4th Saint-Saens concerto
with one finger on the dusty Steinway grand,
with truly voluptuous masochism,
crying until the skin around my eyes was raw.

This year, as sober as the mohel at a bris,
(and quite liking the way it feels)
I will go to hear a poet read at Harvard Books,
and eat a caesar salad. I’ve nearly lost a stone
of what I’d gained — for a while there some of
your things fit me, and I felt like you.
It wouldn’t have surprised me,
if, shaving one day, I found that my eyes were blue,
and my nose smaller and elegantly perfect,
and that my chin had developed a deep round cleft,
sexy, but quite hard to shave.

Oh my love please be assured
that I would most certainly still need you,
and deem it an honour supreme to feed you,
had you awakened this March 22nd,
and turned 64.

Honorable Mention

Masked Artwork

by Elizabeth DiBenedetto
Mosaic Musings

With artist’s palette, brush and hues in hand
she decorates the drabness of the day –
thin dabs of sanguine on an ashen land,
soft strokes conceal what she will not betray.

The doctors canvassed charts, discussing test
results; a darkish blot had showed when scanned,
a teardrop shape – and still she paints her best
with artist palette, brush and hues in hand.

She hides discolorations of her life
by touching up the downs, a bit of spray,
then casting shadows with a shaping knife.
She decorates the drabness of the day

to filter out the fading tints of sin
in youthful days. A woman in command,
when strength and courage were immersed within-
thin dabs of sanguine on an ashen land.

Her gallery is now a storage shed
of artwork which will never be displayed –
each dappled bloom now lives among the dead;
soft strokes conceal what she will not betray.

  • 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