Winning Poems for September 2008

Judged by Tony Barnstone

First Place

St. Louis Jim

by Henry Shifrin
Wild Poetry Forum

He picks his nose, index finger deep in the nostril,
face turned to the window. Passengers file by, stutter-step
to stare at the split-seam back of his gray suit jacket — a camel’s
back spreads its feather-duster hairs to wave
in the heavy breathing of the air conditioning.

His reflection a map in the glass. The creases in the cheek
highway east and west. Soot gives them a macadam glow;
maybe it’s the settled ash of a cigarette. The rolling paper
in his chest pocket. The smell in the fibers of his jacket
and pants. On his bottom lip, a black spot
where the nicotine dies the way a dinosaur
drops off its carcass (a font the oil companies will

one day drill). His finger pops out — it’s a champagne-bottle
cork–no, it’s a finger, dark from worming
in the space between seats. A momentary smile.
The sheen of a quarter. He licks off the bubblegum.
It’s a fruity flavor. He sticks a hand in his back pocket. Compares
the taste to that of threads and Froot-Loop bits.

He tongues his fingertips. The sweetness. Then the salty taste.
The train stops, opens doors. He stands, re-buttons his jacket.
Curls his fingers for another view. Hitches up his beltless
pants, the waist a wrist too wide. Then leaps
through the closing doors. His pants fall
when he lands. The sight of half his butt,
the underwear torn to flap away from the right cheek.

His hands are two squirrels. They grip at the air.
Timidly jot down the trunk of his leg. Stammer for
a belt loop–or no, they want to survey the sidewalk.

Yes they pull up the pants. Up over the rear, a sidecar rounds
a hill, he swaggers the drumbeat of a sidewalk musician.

I enjoyed this portrait of St. Louis Jim, simultaneously tender and gross. This poem has a condensed, packed image-palette that swells with assonance and consonance and internal rhyme. Listen to its great language: "Passengers file by, stutter-step / to stare at the split-seam back of his gray suit jacket -- a camel's / back spreads its feather-duster hairs" --- don't you love those sounds? I also liked how the theme of mute musicality becomes verbed into the poem by the hands that "Stammer for / a belt loop," by the passengers who "stutter-step." Mutely, the poem comments on the speechlessness of the mentally challenged protagonist, and of his instinctive, natural self, picking his nose, licking old bubblegum for its flavor, swaggering to his own drumbeat. --Tony Barnstone

Second Place


by S. Thomas Summers
Wild Poetry Forum

Sunlight contents itself
with treetops. Stones shawl
themselves with shade:

The boy across the street
has begun his chores: folding
night’s remnants–draped

over the porch light, the mailbox–
laying each on a bathroom shelf
above cotton sheets, lavender

towels. His baseball mitt
has been crucified, nailed
to a front yard elm that dangles

a broken swing. His father
has hidden the evidence, buried
a hammer in the sandbox where

ants have begun to carve their
tunnels. There’s work to be done.

I enjoyed the gorgeous language, "Stones shawl / themselves with shade," the folding of night's remnants, and the archetypal imagery of the poem--the baseball mitt crucified to the elm tree, the hammer buried in the sandbox. The domestic narrative seems transparent at first--the father crucifies the mitt to the tree because he wants the boy to work, do his chores, though it's Saturday, not a work day, and this dynamic of work against play is conceptually rhymed against the broken swing dangling from the elm (it would take work to fix the swing, but why fix the swing, if the swing is for play?) Still, I'm not quite sure why the hammer is buried in the sandbox. I'm glad it is, though. It seems that this is a poem whose logic might be more magical than rational. Perhaps I am attracted to the fact that the poem makes sense to me without quite making sense? --Tony Barnstone

Third Place


by Tom Watters
Moontown Cafe

that, and roller skates

a small voice that
runs in,
leaves a wake

the receiver
becomes a monitor
distracted by a sexy beauty mark
dancing above that lip

the one she tends to bite

I feel corners of my smirk
lift as grass to the light
syrup of Pet Sounds
with a twist of Gil Giberto

I trace small ovals
on the back of my hand
veiled to earlier weather,
storms of malcontent

I scuff an obscured itch

in wonder of
foolish electrons

and parts

love of tiny transducers
that bring her

Okay, I admit it--this is a peculiar poem, rather elliptical, hard to grasp. It is so lyrical and glancing that I'm not entirely sure what's going on in the poem. I think the poem is about a protagonist who is looking at a video of an ex-lover, or perhaps of a movie star he has a crush on. Thus, the language of the poem becomes all static and light and foolish electrons and tiny transducers and the woman who is brought to consciousness cinematically. I like the way the poem uses light to turn technology into lyricism. I enjoy certain aspects of the line breaks, as in the stanza:

I feel corners of my smirk
lift as grass to the light
syrup of Pet Sounds
with a twist of Gil Gilberto

The first line seems to stand alone, but then the next line modifies it: I feel the corners of my smirk. Then I feel them lift like grass lifts to the light. In a poem about light and electrons and the television screen, the smile lifting to the light takes on extra meaning. Then this meaning is revised by the next line: "light" turns out to refer to weight--light / syrup of Pet Sounds /...[and] Gil Gilberto. So, the meaning evolves in interesting ways, and the "wrong" meanings turn out to be right, part of the poem's unfolding strategy. Cool stuff. --Tony Barnstone

Third Place

sink holes and illusions

by Dorothy D. Mienko
Salty Dreams

he opened me
to a different way of dying

beautiful as ghosts

I wore him on my skin
for days

in my breath
I stored his stories
and his poems

we were eclipses — an event
strange magnetic forces differences and fierce
chapters and colors

coral oceanic bubbles
clown paint

It seems that in this batch I am most attracted to elliptical, strange, lyrical poems that reference physics. Why is that? In any case, I am attracted to this poem. I'm not sure why ghosts are beautiful, or why the stories and poems are stored in the breath, or how we get from eclipses to magnetic forces to coral bubbles to clown paint, but I guess I enjoy the speed and surprise of the voyage, and I understand that all that I don't understand is erotic shorthand, short-circuiting of meaning, and so I don't try too hard to force it into the long circuit of the rational mind. --Tony Barnstone

Honorable Mention

Snake Song

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

I was never intended to be unique.
Dawn appears as a shapeless cloud opening up
the path and I believe in the world beyond
my vision. Every dreamer is different.

Some seek sunlight, some seek shade, others sleep
in a starless night. In the witch grass a mate
slipped me out of my coal-grey suit. She cleaved
a blanket of ghost-skins. She belonged to me
and not the earth, and we dissolved from flame

to ash. Her truth is as flexible as her spine.
In high summer thousands tangle with the wind.
We are the wild braids on a mother’s head.
We whistle our death tunes through the bones
of fallen sparrows. We feast on the banquet
of morning as the sun strikes the day like flint.

I am not the lowest of creatures and yet
I haven’t been blessed with wings. I will not
entreat the trees to rustle their goodbyes
and cover me in leaves. I won’t beg shivering
stars into harvesting wishes on me. My blood thickens
and sets. I shrink again into the crimson ground.

Honorable Mention

Zambezi Storm

by Beverleigh Gail Annegarn
Mosaic Musings

Violet clouds roll
like dragon’s breath
over earth’s contours.
In their wake, sharp raindrops
spike expectant ground.

Lightning spears pierce
and lash chaotically
silhouetting baobabs
clinging to shuddering rock.

Rain licks my face,
trickles into my eyes,
traps my clothing
on my shivering flesh.

Water shards, beamed by
pyrotechnics, scurry down
hills and banks. Gullies
gouge and chisel toward
the engorged river.

A night —
when elements
scrape together:
energies connect like war drums
on heaven’s stage.

Daylight reveals
a cleansing…
animals dance,
pudgy plants perk and peek.

Sunshine kisses the wounded.

  • 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