Winning Poems for November 2008

Judged by Hélène Cardona and John Fitzgerald

First Place

Russian Crucifixes

by Emily Violet Swithins
The Writer's Block

Mama kept the Russian crucifixes
in the same drawer as her panties.
It gave her pleasure to think of the rough wood
rubbing up against silk.

She’d bury swan eggs to make flowers
more beautiful, and broken glass
to protect the garden from thieving foxes.
Dirt was magic; only city people called it filth.

She beat me with a cedar switch;
afterwards my wounds smelled holy.
When the black dust storms descended,
we hid in the underground shelter,

while papa read from the Old Testament.
I blamed myself for sneaking a peek at the crucifixes
and trying on mama’s underwear, for kissing
the Jewish boy with my wicked tongue,

and hiding from papa at the bottom of the well.
The next morning we walked through the ruins,
and papa found the crucifixes, still neatly wrapped in silk.
He beat mama with his calloused fists.

Afterwards she filled the house with new
crucifixes, the cheap pine ones you buy in the dollar store.
The old ones she buried with the corpses of sunflowers.
I like to think of them that way, tangled in golden hair,
little priests in the arms of harlots.


Strong imagery and command of language, with a great rhythm and flow, make this piece stand out. It's full of contrast and surprises, and poetic lines, with a very strong end. --Hélène Cardona and John Fitzgerald

Second Place

My Father’s Family Tree

by Anna Yin
Pen Shells

It all started from an ink spot,
my father took it as a sprouting bud.
Sucking on his smoking pipe,
he drew his long narrative
on a piece of paper.
I can sense his smile,
as leaves spread their dense fragrance:
always his favorite,
now highlighted by a brush –
son: a high-ranking officer,
daughter: a respectable scholar,
(my father decorated each with details
like my mother’s Christmas tree)
then me, the would-be poet.
My father has never known poets,
and, to him, “would-be” worse than the rough bark.
(I can feel his pause)
then, a tinted soft orb beside me:
“engineer abroad” perfectly mirrored.
My father ensured his final touch
to free me from starving.
I roll up this glowing paper,
and place its warmth on my chest –
Someday at harvest,
out from the chrysalis of my heart,
I shall start a new scroll.


This poem also tells a great story, unique, yet universal. The piece is sure-handed, and captivates the reader from beginning to end. Both this poem and the first have a strong beginning and a strong end. --Hélène Cardona and John Fitzgerald

Third Place

only waitress at the truck stop who never uses the cash register

by Justin Hyde
Salty Dreams

pamela
is half indian,
grey-black hair
in a double braid
down her back.

every time
she serves me
another waitress
rings the ticket.

i figured
she was slow
or bad with numbers,
maybe had a
theft charge
in her past.

but yesterday
on my way out
she was sitting
on the
hood of her car
smoking a
cigarette.

come here a sec
tell me
what this says,
she motioned over
and handed me
a white piece of paper
creased in thirds.

told me
she found it
taped to her
apartment door
that morning.

i told her
it was a note
from her landlord
saying she had
five business days
to get rid of
her dog.

she stood up
and snuffed out
the cigarette
with her heel.

bear’s been
with me
since idaho,
she said
and walked back in
leaving the note
in my hand.


This poem has a nice flow and interesting narrative. It's concise and compelling, and keeps the reader surprised until the end. The waitress is very well captured, almost cinematic. --Hélène Cardona and John Fitzgerald

Honorable Mention

An Endangered Species

by Melissa Resch
About Poetry Forum

Across the flats in Provincetown, Cape Cod
walking at sunrise in autumn
breathing in coolness of morning     low tide
like a bathtub draining empty
bubbles and crabs slinking
airborne gulls crying     loud and terse

This promising hour before coffee
prospectors laden with rakes and buckets
proceed over rocks and beach
ready to stake claim     a bit of sandbar as their own

Clammers are an endangered species
exteriors of calcified armor
too soft in the middle     just like
the clams they cherish and gather

Gashing at sand with tines of hard metal
eager for each clank of promise
fooled by broken shells     robbed of their innards
by one who came before

Buckets are filled inch by inch
heavy and ripe, lifted and lugged     the retreat begins
Briny ripples trickle in, cover and flood
this stretch of toiled, torn sand
chasing the diggers back to town     this wedge of land we call home
to study and share and shuck
bivalve bounty from an ocean garden




  • 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