Winning Poems for June 2008

Judged by Patricia Smith

First Place

The Length of Never

by Steve Meador
SplashHall Poetry

How did the meadowlarks in Wichita
remain invisible for over two years?
Virgil showed up in the fourth grade
with five baby rabbits crammed into
a tan briefcase. Two died before lunch
recess, one squashed at playground’s
edge when it took a wrong turn–Kevin
stepped on it–and two dissolved into
the wheat field from which they were
plucked in the first place. Nature seemed
bountiful that May. The walk home tripled
in length with another relentless search
for a yellow breast with the black V.
Disappointment quadrupled by suppertime.
We toured a grain elevator the next day.
I watched the wheat-dotted blacktop
fill with sparrows as my voice spilled
a current of nevers on the man with
the face like a dry riverbed. His voice
was smoke and gravel, “Never means
something will not happen forever.
You should not say that.”

Out of the sun dropped a place named
Vietnam, then we moved to Ohio,
land of cardinals. Red spots dotted
the trees and bushes. Shrewd crows
attacked row after row of my uncle’s corn.
Straw men were useless. Killdeers faked
broken wings, lured us into hope
and away from their nests. Groundhogs
burrowed under tillable soil, escaping
from one hole as we dug at another. Still,
the sparrows were everywhere. We shot
them with BB guns, for a man hidden
underneath a John Deere cap. He hated
hordes, demanded that we line bodies up
for the count. As dust and slivers of husks
floated on his coffee he paid us for the
deaths, talked about the war and how
we would never lose. My voice was oak
and mint. “Never means something
will not happen forever. You should
not say that.”

I was in Colorado recently and saw one,
a meadowlark. I know now of intentions
and accidents, of dark skies and unstable
ground, of red spots and guns, of dropped
grain that doesn’t matter, of wars and when
to dump coffee. I know now that never
is a million sparrows later.

he first two lines of this riveting slice of narrative set up a dark and engaging mystery--and each tight stanza is like an unfurling slice of cinema--mesmerizing and crammed with color and heat. I loved the tale, and I loved the vivid search for an answer to the riddle. --Patricia Smith

Second Place

A Fall from Grace

by S. Thomas Summers
Desert Moon Review

Grandpa scales the fish before
he removes its head or slices
a thin line up its belly, spilling

blood and water. He lodges
his thumb deep in its throat,
between gills — clenches

his fist around the skull.
Jagged tool, a spoon with teeth,
tears shimmer from flesh:

a rainbow ripped from the soft
air that lingers after morning storms.
The tail curls toward the sun. Lidless

eyes, still moist, leak disbelief.
This is death. Gills flare like butterflies
fanning purple wings. I ask

if it hurts. Grandpa says
Little bit, just a little bit.

Stark, concise and deliciously image-driven, this minute gem is lush and unerringly focused. The underlying tale grows larger and more complex with each reading--and with each reading, this poem feels like a gift on the open air. --Patricia Smith

Third Place

Outwitting Your Angels

by Dave Mehler

Use every animal ferocity be fierce as fire lovely fire
they are made of and as willful use blood cunning
fear shrewdly corporeal rightly and against them.
They will not expect it either hate or applaud you.
You require oxygen fuel sheltering sleep, you change in time–
alien, they do not–but twinned to you nonetheless.

Use that. Be the compact wolverine squat underestimated
harried by hunter pursued across tundra over rises
who turns and charges knock him off his high loud horse
the snowmobile his white wings over cloud froze high
even before he can pull rifle from sheath stare him down unscratched
unbitten till he will not no cannot shoot you even in war
as you turn away make him admire you ashamed of himself.

Be a virus relentless soulless machinelike repetitive
producing like kind impervious fruitful godlike and love strange
like that–no antibody will withstand no death touch you for long.

Certain light heat lightning hot white quick or black black black
he will shapeshift he you the muddy cornered pooch pathetic
you a mutt pup pissing down your leg neck up back down saying here take it

always outnumbered outgunned before you were born unable
unchosen without gift of speech a vague dream a bark a whimper
only canine teeth no power of thought really no imagination
as it should be truly understood they understand yet know
in the Presence even they must cover their faces
with haughty wings still they superhuman cry they other
laugh hear music you must be deaf to you uncomprehending

sniff the air circular back leg scratch at an itch unreachable
only skin deep. But think remember did He identify with
did He die for them? He outwitted he became the wedge
between you kyrie kyrie to your angel eleison you must look weak

must but the secret is weak is the weapon they in hoary anger
mirror horrible harbinge dark ancient awe guests, unwished for,
unanimal yes the doorway you put off opening the facade
hot cool cool hot layered the dog dressed up like death
but you couldn’t know didn’t imagine death and everything
you lost every buried bone come back to greet you.

The relentless meter, the urgency, the unyielding pulse of this poem was immediately addictive. I was hooked on its inevitability, the way it hurtled toward an ending that left me me short of breath. --Patricia Smith

Honorable Mention

Spirit Catcher

by Catherine Rogers

What do you do when it’s full?
I ask the proprietor. She frowns.
She obviously thinks
I’m not serious.

Most people don’t have that many
evil spirits visiting their house.

The glass orb winks and twirls
on its thread. How many
are in there now?

They don’t come here.

Not to this shop. Too many
spirit catchers hung in the window,
too much lucky incense adrift
in the still air. Runes and stones.
I take up an amethyst, sure to protect
against drunkenness, a gift
for the dissolute.

But what if–? She’s doing
the books.

What if they foment
a demon revolution?
What if the last one in
is a rotten egg? What if
the shell cracks and leaks
its malice all over the parlor?

If we don’t know
how many angels can boogaloo
on the head of a pin,
how can we number the legions
of lust and envy that can cram
themselves into this delicate sphere?

Too risky, thanks. I step
into sunlight. I’ll just
have to handle my sins
one at a time.

One of those things that make you go "Ummmm....," a delightful, and slightly sinister, answer to a question we all wish we'd asked. --Patricia Smith

Honorable Mention


by Richard Evans
Moontown Cafe

I thought if I waited,
if I left wine, small purple flowers
a polished coin, if I made secret prayers
and with rituals
blessed the dirt that would cake
your boots when you came,
then you would come.

I thought if I wept,
if I fucked with the thought
of your face masking the face of the one
who has taken your place
and made of my bones
a terrible shrine
then you would come home.

And I thought if I drove
my children away, and drove
myself mad, and cut through my palm
and bewitched the windows of your friends
with my watching –
or if I stayed numb, silent
and orderly, beached
and counting the sum of your acts
with white and black pebbles, one by one –
then you would come home.

Eight stars out
and the station is calling.
Not much to eat, the clocktower is gone.
And where the rivermouth was
now there’s a market –
the people seem surprised
when it floods.

The building tension, marked by a growing and ill-fated desperation, wouldn't let me shake this one. --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