Winning Poems for July 2007

Jduged by Maurya Simon

First Place

His Jacket

by Witt Wittman
SplashHall Poetry

Early mornings when the whippoorwills
have hushed their racket,
you stoop in the garden, pulling weeds,
always in your tan jacket,
checkerboarded with cigarette burns,
the pockets slick with grime
from years of nesting collected eggs,
the frayed knitted cuffs
hang like dried tassels on ready corn.

I was afraid if I washed it,
it would fall into shreds
and disappear down the drain,
to find a home with all your
lost dress socks,
(no matter; you never wore
anything but boot socks anyway).

Arms loaded with squash
and knotty tomatoes,
pockets filled with chicken eggs–
never eggplant,
you tossed that jacket on the
same ear of the same kitchen chair
for so many years that it is worn down
and shorter than the others.

I should throw the nasty thing away,
but your ruggedness still clings.
I need to wrap myself in it
like a photographer
under the black drape,
perhaps to capture you
one more spring,
stooping in your garden.

This poem enacts, with deft economy of language and emotional restraint, a morning gardening ritual that becomes an elegiac homage to someone beloved. The description of "his jacket" is tinged with humor and pathos, and it vividly provides insights into the man's character and habits. The last stanza's turn is both surprising and satisfying: the speaker wrestles with an urge to "throw the nasty thing away," but the man's "ruggedness still clings" to the jacket, causing the speaker to want to be "like a photographer," wrapped in "the black drape,/ perhaps to capture you/ one more spring"-- Brilliantly and subtly, the poet enters the void and freezes time, for a bittersweet moment, to savor again the beloved's imagined presence. --Maurya Simon

Second Place

The Man Next Door According to His Pockets

by Adam Elgar
The Writer's Block

He’s losing faith in us.
We feel him check and re-
check that we have his keys
and wallet, and the talismanic
letter from his daughter,
wherever she may be.

He slouches down the same
streets to the same work,
mistrust a whisper that aspires
to clamour. Which of us
is guilty of the hole
that everything slips through?

Some conjuror has swapped
his life for one where wives’
eyes redden and accuse,
obsessed sons slur and darken,
daughters abandon him
for intolerable lovers.

Our forebears knew his children
when they were little more
than half our height, those soft
fists reaching up to tug out treasures,
his reward to let his pockets
haemorrhage for those he loved.

What a delightful and unlikely dramatic persona this poem creates: its speaker is a man's trouser's pockets, and they are steady witnesses to the familial and personal trials of the "man next door" (an Everyman). The poem's first line--"He's losing faith in us"-- provides its dominant theme of loss, which the poet skillfully develops and enlarges as the poem proceeds. The man has alienated his wives, and lost his "daughters [who] abandon him/ for intolerable lovers," while his sons "slur and darken," suggesting an emotional distancing between them, as well. The poem's ending poignantly evokes an earlier time when the man's children reached up with "soft tug out treasures" from his pockets--and its final lines ("his reward to let his pockets/ haemorrhage for those he loved") suggest his former pleasure in freely giving his love to them, even as these lines hint back to and underscore his present desolation. --Maurya Simon

Third Place

During an Epileptic Fit, Ida Saxton McKinley has a Premonition of her Husband’s Assassination

by Ellen Kombiyil

Just now I have seen it, fluttering,
William’s handkerchief, sailing towards my face
to conceal my expression — (Oh, I know
what I must look like, my rolling eyes, my spit) —
But it couldn’t have been — William has gone
to the Exhibition. The white handkerchief
wasn’t his at all; it was rimmed with blue lilies.
Goodbye, it said, a ghost hand waving
from the bow of a ship. That sound!
A horn-blast, a shot from a gun,
an air-organ’s fanfare: Bach’s concerto
had begun. The moment was eternal,
the handkerchief falling, falling, never
landing, on fire and floating as it fell,
the flap of doves. Be quick! Send word —
he has gone to the Reception. I fear
the President has set sail for the far shore
and we shall find him already fallen.

This dramatic monologue assumes the voice of Ida McKinley, wife to our 25th President, William McKinley, as she experiences a moment of deja vu, precipitated by an epileptic seizure. Ida's premonition of her husband's assassination is compelling and persuasive because the poet reveals the character's altered consciousness as it amplifies the sensual events Ida's experiencing: a hallucination of a "white handkerchief" saying " Goodbye," heightened aural effects ("A horn-blast, a shot from a gun,/ an air-organ's fanfare"), and the sense that time is slowing to eternalize this horrifying moment. The handkerchief is emblematic of McKinley's death and spiritual deliverance: "the cloth on fire and floating as it fell/ like the flap of doves," and the poem fittingly ends with a denouement that returns Ida to normal consciousness and a call to action, though she knows that "we shall find him already fallen. --Maurya Simon

Honorable Mention


by Laurel K. Dodge

The mackerel are as charred and flat
as the tomatoes are red and round.

There is magic in random numbers,
a message in the three dead fish

and the five fruit, ripe and grotesque.
A trinity of skeletons, and an uneven

yield, a harvest that keeps everything
off balance. The green tomato waiting

on the sill will not make a whole.
Even if you put a hand clear through,

you would not believe you’d seen the holy
ghost. Fork and knife suspended above

the heaping plateful of food; your belly
growls, but you cannot move. Later,

you’ll remember how the eyes stared
at you like god. How, in the distance,

the apocalypse burned. This is how
Lot’s wife felt just before she turned

around. Soles too blistered, too tired
to move the body forward. And a hunger

despite the plenty; an empty stomach,
a bereft vessel. A hole that could not be filled.

Honorable Mention

Cherry Grove

by Elodie Ackerman
The Town

All around the old place,
the dead visit. The
day he opened up the trunk
of that sweetgum tree,
and before we saw the
horseshoe hanging inside,
something brushed against
my face. I heard a nickering
far away, and the smell of oiled
leather and candlewax.

A few days later Lloyd
found an anvil half
inside an oak tree, back
by the old barn. It was ten
feet off the ground, and
the color of storm clouds
when the air smells like metal
and electricity breaks
it right in two. They say
a shipwright lived
there once. I know.
I’ve heard him hammering.

That was before the rumor
of the slave revolt across
the road. Nineteen men killed,
tortured, all for the sake
of a child’s tale. A child
named Obey. No excuses.

The crape myrtle we cleared from
the back forty bled claret-
colored sap, and stuck inside
one old, stubborn knot
was a skeleton key.

The silver lying all around,
tarnished forks and bone-
china plates. Daddy said
she burned that house a’purpose,
took the tram to the train
and left town. Nobody
Ever saw her again.
But to be frank, I don’t
believe it.

I saw her walking in the fog
one morning, early. Picking bones,
rearranging bricks,
breaking twigs over and over.
She saw me too.
We’ve been talking
back and forth, she and I,
between the branches.

Honorable Mention


by Brandon
The Maelstrom

The last brown box and bulging plastic bag’s
been thrown inside the truck. A vacuum screams
through empty rooms while morning dawns and drags.

The past is bundled up, we’ll follow dreams
of wealth and newness in another town,
a neighborhood with winding streets, shade trees
and parks. Escape’s the road we’re driving down,
scrambling to find those blasted keys
and turn the locks. Before the front door shuts
for good, a glance around the house reveals
familiar ways and that our lives had ruts:

the dingy pathways on the carpet show
high-traffic routes, that we just spin our wheels,
because we’re there no matter where we go.

Honorable Mention


by Bernard Henrie
The Writer's Block

6:30. The radio just lighting up. November
in corridors, faint yellow bulbs turning on.

Men take down their trousers, lazy at last;
butter placed on the table, fresh meat cut
on heavy bread, almost eaten.

Utensils burnt underneath with electric heat,
men beside dishes in the sink, women released
from shops asleep on davenports, a soiled potato
in a pail; once vivid folds of hair pinned back.

There are men who look out between the blinds
and darken as the light falls dark, grow still
in rooms that grow quieter still.

Not morning time, not afternoon, time written
down but not addressed, thin painted palm trees
on fields of long faded green, a souvenir cup
holding a tooth brush, a cloth your scent;
lumps of hydrogen stars, clouds of meteor gas
and fumes of futile ascent.

I have held a mask across my face,
stayed alone longer than I should want,
become fossil bone and broken shell.
Almost partners with the migratory birds
fallen on thermal air and comic suspense.

  • 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