Winning Poems for May 2008

Judged by Patricia Smith

First Place

Sunday with Labrador

by Sarah J. Sloat
The Waters

My dog doesn’t need the Church.

She wants hands; she wants
the vagabond, to lope and mosey
with the whole body.

My dog wants nothing to do
with bloodshed or fluorescent lighting.
She’s here to unpack the grass.

Don’t try to teach her property.

Like God, she’s not industrious.

She goes along, eating what she finds.
Brown today, brown
all day tomorrow.

From the very first line ("My dog doesn't need the Church"), this concise little life lesson had me in its capable clutches. I loved its practicality, its tiny truths, its barely subdued smile. It's sparse and economical, but it backs a big wallop. I've shared this with merely a million people, and not all of them have dogs. And the last line is an unqualified classic, tolerating absolutely no argument. None whatsoever. Love it. --Patricia Smith

Second Place

What April in New York is

by Guy Kettelhack
About Poetry Forum

You take your bony awkwardness into the April day —
too warm for May — and yet the nearly naked trees are
barely March: well, that’s what April in New York is.
Gold scrabbles here and there: forsythia: frail runty yellow
feathers sprout from scanty soil — buttering a toss of corners
in the side-walked town: you stumble down the pavement
like a scarecrow with a tooth ache: pretty close to true.
(Another poem snatches pain from you and turns it
into point of view.) If you are to love this city you suppose

it can’t be only when the two of you are pretty, which
Lord knows, right now, my dear, you aren’t. Currents lurch:
bipolar — hot/cold — devil-zephyrs from the river twiddle with
the ordinariness of people — tourists: bodies are a weight
and bother, something may be flourishing but it is not sweet
human pulchritude. The sun’s too rude, and flesh too
blank and pale and bulbous and mistaken to be taken
seriously. Mysteriously, though, you’ve got to have a taste
of it: you take your aches uptown to Central Park —

decide to walk up to the Metropolitan Museum’s art. All
the geologic outcrops! — rocks and runners! — gray
and unused to the light: squiggly growing green shoots
make it impolite to stare: they’d clearly rather not be there,
all embryonic in the glare. Damn the chronic pain of
everything! — and yet it paints a sort of wash of interest:
splinters of a prickly sensibility that keep you walking and alert
and almost happy with discomfort. Grandeur of the Met
begets its usual surreal imperial effrontery: columns,

steps and quandaries of what to look at first: but
you are on a mission to do two things: see if your sore
mouth can eat a sandwich in the cafeteria, then walk into
the Pompeii bedroom painted gold and blue and red
you caught a glimpse of on your television set that morning
from your bed. The sandwich is a bust: leaves you scowling
(the ghosts of both your wisdom teeth are howling):
but oh! — the room. Roman glory turns the page
and places you in habitable plot. Let the April day resume.

Here we've got the just the opposite, a wildly ambitious, cluttered sensory celebration that deftly captures the rhythms of the world's most complicated city. My favorite line, the one that gives the tale an intriguing twist, is "If you are to love this city you suppose it can't be only when the two of you are pretty..." From there, the momentum takes over, and--especially if you read this city setpiece aloud--it just gets better and better. --Patricia Smith

Third Place


by Allen M. Weber
Desert Moon Review

She likes to hike her dirty denim pants,
to teeter on a trash receptacle–
the daring daughter of a spectacle
that people pass without a sideways glance.

Behind an Appomattox five-day fast,
Miss Via’s waking found her drunk and stark,
balled up inside her three-wheeled grocery cart.
She stretched and mumbled how she couldn’t last

in cities of her selves. In store-front glass
she strikes a pose of someone else’s life–
an author or a famous bastard’s wife.
If beetle-black reflections scurry past

she’ll trap them with the dash-like Emily.
And if she carries tomes about the town–
because there’s no good way to set them down–
the critic cites her incivility.

Tonight beneath Graffiti Overpass,
she flings tomatoes at her drying work
daubed overhead. Ideas on a lark
lean Via west like tributary grass

before a petulant Atlantic : She
may lumber through the lower altitudes,
strip down the dress of urbane attitudes,
and clamber above inhibiting scree.

Out there she’ll learn to taste untroubled air,
to make her water on unpublished leaves,
to rub her narrow rump on trunks of trees,
to go as Appalachian as a bear.

"She stretched and mumbled how she couldn't last/in cities of her selves"--lines such as that one fueled this marvelous character study. I was engaged me so immediately that the creative adherence to form was a secondary, unexpected delight. --Patricia Smith

Honorable Mention


by Douglas Hill
Wild Poetry Forum

I recall the spiral down the spit-fountain
in my father’s dental chamber: I leaned
too long over the sucking shiny throat,
stalled, steeling against my return to
his adept hands wielding instruments
that would drill precisely into my fault.

I lay back dry mouthed on that baroque
black barbershop chair, as if for a trim,
scissors on the sides; resigned to the rest,
longing for a sip of water, some respite.
He turned secretively as he would in
the kitchen to decant a tumbler of scotch.

The pestle riffed a hard hissing mantra:
he urged it against the mortar, mixing
the mystic silver-mercury amalgam;
then into me flooded the moment of bonding
more intimate than thirst:
his soft warm fingers in my mouth.

I'm the dictionary definition of a daddy's girl, and this gentle poem--so full of specific detail, yet at its center a tender and intense moment between father and child--hit me right in the heart. --Patricia Smith

Honorable Mention


by Sally Arango Renata
SC Writers Workshop

Rust scallops the red wheelbarrow,
left too long in mud by the shed. Still,
it carries the white rocks that have to be
cleared from the garden – in time
they’ll be spread as a path.

The handle on the short shovel is broken,
but held right, it cuts sharp through stones
and carries them to the mound of clippings,
weeds, the alien balls of bound roots.

The rose can use morning sun and composted
dung. I trim dried buds and yellow leaves,
more than one thorn penetrates my thin gloves.
I take them off to mound the soil

around the crown of root, leaving them off
to stick my finger in sandy soil
planting seeds. Peppers, tomatoes,
broccoli, collards, I’ll can what I can’t eat —

or trade with the neighbor for pears
when their tree is weighed, breaking,

It was called a Victory Garden during the Big War
when sugar and meat were rationed, but the garden
for this war will be called Forgiveness,

and I’ll surround it with marigolds,
so the souls can find their way home.

I love the simple instructive tone of this piece, its solidness and warmth. I couldn't decide if the last night was touching or trite, so--maybe because I'm a child of concrete and brick, pitifully inept in matters of the soil--I chose to be touched. --Patricia Smith

  • 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