Winning Poems for March 2008

Judged by Fleda Brown

First Place

Carol for the Brokenhearted

by Brenda Levy Tate
criticalpoet.org

Can you hear the whole sky ringing?
I watch you stumble under its alleluia bell.
Your bare feet string a dozen prints
like pearls across the December grass.

These soles are your only stars, girl.
Hours, days, years – every last wound
you’ll ever endure – catch in the silty net
you drag behind, sans mermaids, moths

or seraphs’ teeth. Your uncombed dreams
pour down your face, white as salt.
Listen, the sea is shifting in sleep.
It’s Christmas, and you are unparented

again. We both wait in this empty inn-yard;
a few stray gods quarrel behind their curtain.
Since they have been replaced, no doubt
they can discount one more failed prayer,

one more gloria in excelsis. A feather zags
its way to earth. This is only an owl’s trick,
girl. If you pick it up, you will be lost.
Can’t you feel the darkness gathering itself?

Midnight snaps shut, a padlock against hope.
Tomorrow is ordinary, as you must surely
expect by this time. Come into the pub-light
where a solitary barman offers decent ale

and music for all the bruised people. We are
among them, we whose homes and lovers
have blown like scarves over the world’s edge.
Here’s to absent friends, someone says.

I lift a mug; foam spatters my right hand.
A nearby church peals one o’clock and I
almost believe in something. Then I look down
at the tabletop reflecting your face. Its eyes

turn to knotholes, beaten into the wood.
Its mouth is the crack under a door.
You’ve damned me, girl, with a feather
saved from dirt. Now you wear it in your hair.


I could almost choose this poem for its one line, "we whose homes and lovers have blown like scarves over the world's edge," but there is much more to like, here. The poem is beautifully controlled by its four-stress lines--it is a carol, after all--but within the lines, many wonderfully strange turns. The tension of the darkness of the two people's lives set against the ringing alleluias of the season does not include one maudlin line or image. "Midnight snaps shut, a padlock against hope." Metaphor is smart in this poem. This poem is smart and polished. --Fleda Brown

Second Place

Bitch

by Carla Martin-Wood
criticalpoet.org

Whatever poison runs through the veins of wolves
that draws them to some solitary place,
there to howl in altercation
with the moon,
runs burning through my veins tonight,
and restless,
sweating,
I rise and pace
this carpeted wilderness,
these rooms grown strange.

How many times have we mated
on nights like this,
rain beating
like the frantic hands of a jealous wife
against the windows?
How many nights have you fed my craving,
a mad thing
wild and tangled
with tears and earth
come crying in from the woods?
How many years have I let you hide
your anger and your grief inside me?
I have learned so well how easily
one passion is spent in another.
And is this love
that gorges itself,
then slips to some cave apart
to gnaw the bones of memory,
till it grows lean and hungry
once more?

I write this under a hunter’s moon,
the years baying behind me
like a pack of hounds.


his poem lives up to its fierce title. It moves flawlessly into the craving, the mad passion that "gorges itself,/ and then slips to some cave apart/ to gnaw the bones of memory." I am in the presence here of pure energy, no blunder of language in the way between us. I love "rain beating/ like the frantic hands of a jealous wife," which may inform the poem, leaves us to guess that it does. Then the last stanza, which pulls us out of the immediate, tells us this passion is long past, but not at all, really. It's after the speaker "like a pack of hounds." What apt metaphors! --Fleda Brown

Third Place

The Soul’s Active Ingredients

by Greg McNeill
About Poetry Forum

TS Eliot just paid me a visit.
He was tapping on an African drum.
He described the wasteland that he left in ’65
and the wasteland in which he nows resides.

The drums, he said, contained embedded rhythms he hadn’t learned at Harvard
or in the litanies of London.
Rhythms that only accidentally made it into his poetry when he had a vision of discontinuity.
Rhythms, he said, that would stun Rimbaud and Donne.

He’s been drumming ever since he stopped breathing,
and if and when he re-incarnates
he says he’ll teach the poets a thing or two about how the senses interface
with the soul’s active ingredients.


I pick this poem because of its affecting unpretentiousness. When one begins a poem with T. S. Eliot, it's not easy to be unpretentious. This small poem is like the tapping of a drum. The poem is about sound: the "litanies of London," and rhythms "that would stun Rimbaud and Donne." Just when I think I know how the poem will sound, the next line does something different. The poem pulls off its abstractions. It almost gets lost in them, but the plain lines, the plain language, keep my feet on the ground. Who would think that a poem could get away with "interface/ with "the soul's active ingredients" without floating into space? Yet when I get here, I'm nodding my head, listening to the drum, and it's okay. --Fleda Brown

Honorable Mention

Remembering A City I Never Knew

by Don Schaeffer
Pen Shells

I remember the river
lined with stone steps,
each a tiny planet.
Neighborhoods of
stone harbors, orange
stone that shines in the sun.
Hot rain and
water everywhere poured,
dripped, flowing.
Life at the feet
of great trees
with festooned trunks,
spiced stains and powders,
trees are the roofs and
air the walls. I remember
statues of bone and ivory
with colored parasols and
sweet rotting smells.
How the people rise from
straw beds so gently smiling
with fingers full of petals.



Honorable Mention

Corn Shy

by Kathleen Vibbert
Pen Shells

By October, crows were corn shy,
blur of sun, yellow dust at eye-level.
I walk through each row, looking for mother
in spaces where kernels have fallen.
Days from death, she asked that fifteen
dollars be buried with her:

I wish there were something
to hold up to the light,
to feel the fabric of her cells,
a dollar green inside the earth,
laid out like her tongue,
silent and spent.



Honorable Mention

Love Through a Plate Glass Window

by Dave Rowley
poets.org

I visit after closing time each night.
The dress she’s wearing is faint, pink mist
draped over sculpted bones.
The fugitive turn of shoulder carves
a lucid arc towards me, awakens
the bloodline at my centre where tracks
of blue, silver, red reflected traffic
swoon and shudder through me.
Tonight the display lights hinge her lip
in a pout. Dear plaster cast
of someone long-lost and pale,
your mouth is a smudged afterthought
whispering secrets, your monologue silent
but discernable: messages slipped in coded lines
of designer clothing. Sometimes I’m there
when they undress you (I never dare to look).
The blind push and pull of my desire rubs
me wrong as crush hour crowds dissipate
leaving this thick window as our chaperone.
The wind blows cold here on the street.
Back home I fall dreamless, overcome
by grey plastered ceiling
as the grandfather clock hollows out the hallway.
Mornings find me drained, my face in the bathroom mirror
kabuki white, inching through fog.



Honorable Mention

Bo-Peep Tunnel

by David Phillips
criticalpoet.org

Coarse roughneck navigators built Bo-Peep
to run the railway through to Hastings, west,
with sculptured portals hewn from sheep-specked hills.

Men gave their lives to progress through the chalk
but who can trust the glistening steam-blacked bricks
to celebrate the Irish hands who clamped
the rails to sleepers, oil-light springing shadows
over tunnel walls like Disney thieves?

And who can name the pair of Wicklow men
who bricked the tunnel wall one afternoon
and died that evening in a pointless brawl,
the Railway paying for their pauper graves?

No man is marked in any book, no worker
is remembered, but the collective noun,
a gang of navvies, lives in common tongue–
and a hill in Sussex honours men
who made a tunnel with a pretty name.



Honorable Mention

The Season of Science

by M.E. Silverman
Wild Poetry Forum

i. How to Explain What It is All About

Bees bothered by absence,
violin-hunger
for pollen to fill their days,
fields full of van Gogh,
golden glows and sun fire
of the katsura, the quick spread
of spice over lawns, wild
like the William Tell Overture–

wait. Hear me out: this is suppose to be
about blooms and the season of amore.

More what?
No, I meant–
here, let me try to explain.

But she is dressing,
and it is difficult to express
postulates and proposals
to pearls and powders,
to a bra and blouse, to the berry pit
of her tongue.

Look: the cold of night shadows
the countryside, bees far from the hive
will cease their search–

what? Listen. I didn’t mention drones, dear.
No, I didn’t know they only had one purpose.
I think we’re getting off track here–
no one knows why the life expectancy of drones
is 90 days. Oh,
that’s rhetorical.

Alright, forget the fucking bees! Let me try again:
a field with interaction has a magnetic moment–
that’s the science of electrons.
From a distance, an entity feels the force of another–
that’s the science for particles.
These moments do not need
to be temporary; we can be more
than a flyleaf on a book of nameless poems,
more than motel meetings and phone calls
that sound like a lute.
Do you understand? The season of science
is like everything that moves,
and sooner or later, will change,
changes, changed.

ii. Ode to Jasmine

The horizon’s hem
retreats, and a little light splits
between the curtains.
The night jasmines the room.

Between the double beds,
I left a bottle of cheap Chilean Merlot,
thick bread sticks still in the box, cold,
and an unopened gift in blue wrap.

The radio crackles between stations,
half-plays static and the heavy notes
of Schubert, slow and haunting–
you heard it if you know such seasons.

I lean in to swing shut the door and pause
to remind me of this ode
and the comma I changed
to a perfect period.




  • August 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      The World Is Moist in the Morning
      by Terry Ofner
      The Waters

      Second Place

      My Epitaph
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      I kissed a tree
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

  • July 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      The First Time I Drank With My Father
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Waters

      Second Place

      My Bicycle
      by Andrew Dufresne
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      J. Alfred Prufrock Searches for Mrs. Right
      by Laurie Byro
      Babilu