Winning Poems for February 2009

Judged by Elena Karina Byrne

First Place


by Ray Sweatman
Salty Dreams

We’re having a menage a trois on the kitchen table,
the lobster, the light and me, the sun no longer
a voyeur but a live and willing participant.
And I was just saying to the lobster as I stroke
his soft sacrificial flesh with iridescent butter:
‘You see it undulating in this bottle? All I got
to do is put a cork on it and it’s mine forever.’
But as soon as I try, the bottle spins and I’m
in the closet edging closer and closer to lips
that whisper, ‘Make the most of it darling.
Your 7 minutes are almost up.’ And sure enough
1978 is 2008 and the gal in the closet is just
another mistake trying to escape, singing
‘Excuse me, while I kiss this guy.’ Which
I heard as ‘Yes I’ll marry you and we’ll
live happily ever after.’ Meanwhile, my
brother storms in the room booming his best
Jersey soul, ‘When i find my beautiful red
watch!’ He keeps right on looking and singing,
under the bed, in the creases of the couch.
While outside, they’re trying to paint
all the yellow school buses red as if time
could be stopped in a brush of inspiration.
And all the signs have been changed to read:
‘Other than fish, no pets allowed.” When
at the door, it’s both Merriam and Webster
come to exchange all the old words which have
lost their meaning for the lanky promise
of brand new ones. ‘Instead of love, happiness,
bliss, hope, time, war, death and peace, I think
it’s time you try these: pescatarian, norovirus,
mondegreen, prosecco, soju, endamame, dwarf
planet, dirty bomb, wing nut.’ ‘But I’m still
trying to figure out the old ones.’ Merciless,
they leave me to my hot tub, which is starting
to boil like a tourist in a Jimmy Buffet song
who just stepped on a pop tart as I try a few
of those new words on my tongue and the light
cackles like all things that won’t be held captive
when a tremendous hand reaches out to grab me
like a hungry Adam longing for a rib in the Sistine
Chapel. ‘Endamame! Endamame! ‘ I shriek…
But there’s no one there to hear me
except for the Captain of Noah’s Returning
Ark, who looks like a cross between the dwarf
on Fantasy Island and the dude from Love Boat
back from a long journey with solo animals
who lost their mates along the way. Oh and
Ulysses is there too, telling fresh tales
from divorce court. ‘What the hell? Did
you think I was gonna wait forever while
you have your fun with Sirens and Cyclops
and whathaveyou!’ And he’s leading the animals
in a singsong: ‘Prosecco and Soju for everyone!’
But I’m beginning to think it’s just another stretch
along Giraffe Highway, blue tooths, moon roofs
and long necks lost in their respective mental safaris
straining to see the goldfish in the trees
and hear the muffled shuffle of strange folk
walking crustaceans in the mondegreen horizon.

This month's winners, oddly enough, all have something to do with sound and song and the process of seeing. The subjects travel synaesthetically. The first place winner, "Mondegreen" is a raucous wonderful rant that reads a little like a Philip Levine poem with a Barbara Hamby and Andre Breton flourish: it is a seeming narrative which picks up momentum and makes sudden surrealist lyrical turns as it moves forward "like all things that won't be held captive." It's a wild, dark-humor ride in a rowboat on the ocean with no oars! --Elena Karina Byrne

Second Place

Virginia Sings Back To the Stones In Her Pockets

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

I must get the details right. How stones warbled
to her from the garden for a fortnight or so. Troublesome,
intrusive, they trilled while she weeded anemones. Beneath
the ease of roots and thrust of new growth, they ingratiated

themselves to her prodding callused fingers. They knew
her sister was the lucky one, the one who skimmed flat-brimmed
lake stones with the children. This one lay on the couch
with her eyelids peeled back, mushroom capped stones rattling

in the crèche of her eye sockets. Stones were faithful
as vowels; they didn’t let her down. Night after night,
her husband begged her to push them back into the gully of silence.
Last night, she overturned another patch of fertile earth, brushing

off the smooth and round. She pictures the summer table noisy
with anemones and her sister’s brood. She is washed out, a little
brown thrush. “Drab hen, frump” her sister will urge her to over
come the day’s exacting brushes. I must get the colors right,

melt down her charms to the bare-bone mauves and ochre.
The stones will do their job shortly. Aggressive reds need to be
given back to the soil—to the bridegroom river. We must empty
out all the flecked mica chips from her pockets, the cloth’s blood
stained lullabies, the stones last sweet songs.

Our second place winner "Virginia Sings Back To The Stones In Her Pockets" reminds us of what Poet Laureate Stanely Kunitz said about poetry being ultimately mythology, creating a self we can bear to live and die with. We then might also find metaphor (whose Latin origin means to carry-over), especially extended metaphor, translating experience to reenact the "last sweet songs" of who we are. In this haunting poem, the odd "details" blur between dream and reality, where stones are "faithful as vowels," in the mouth of the imagination. --Elena Karina Byrne

Third Place


by Eric Rhohenstein


       only matters in that your eyes see it. Others like it don’t exist, are 
crumpled in a figurative corner: a paper-moat around a bin. They are 
bits of a scene in a lousy movie in which a man courts

              It is not a moat, but a ring. . .

                                                             his stubborn bit of less-than-genius 
as if it were a butterfly worth netting.

(Every x number of pupations, it stands to reason that a creature must 
emerge discolored, missing a wing – wholly not itself – as if by mandate:

              rise like the cream does! remember what the dream was!

                                                                                    Perhaps in a movie 
it would be allowable to consider

the more definite.)


I gut it. It bleeds out the bottom.

              No. It’s

                              the phantom wing, rising

              Scratch that. Have it

                                                   falling where only one person hears it; the 
universe expands a bit
                              swallows nothing, this, sound

This third place poem crosses its own tightrope in a "figurative corner" of the mind. It's a compelling example of how art averts its subject matter. The psychology becomes an essential part of the material: as a writer struggles, a metaphysical angel/Gregor Samsa "creature must emerge" and its the unfolding process of discovery, of creation, which involves the maker, the maker standing back watching himself/herself, and the other unseen viewer, in a triad of perception. Yes, this marvelous "universe expands a bit" as we read it. --Elena Karina Byrne

  • 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