Winning Poems for April 2010

Judged by Fiona Sampson

First Place

Here With You

by Laurel K. Dodge
The Writer's Block

Unlike the beloved dog, the dead father is not buried
in the backyard; the backyard where the beloved
dead dog buried tooth-ruined soup bones and remnants
of rabbits. What comes undone, what comes un-sewn,
can be pieced or stitched back together; but you know
it is never whole. A hole is a hole is a hole. Whether
filled with the embalmed remains of a grandmother
or the stiff body of a dog rescued from the pound,
wrapped tenderly in a raggedy blanket you had no use
for anymore. You thought you had no use for mourning.
You packed your grief in a suitcase and stuffed it deep
in a closet. Years later, now, on this unremarkable
day in February, you discover the phantom luggage.
Unzipped, the contents fall out like so much viscera,
strange and almost unidentifiable: Stones from the ocean,
chalky seashells, antlers of driftwood. And just like that,
loss comes back to you strong, as sweet and sorrowful,
as wet and cold as your beloved dead dog’s nose pressed
into your hand, not asking, not begging, just asserting
what you forgot, yet always knew: I am here with you.

This remarkable poem encapsulates itself – and the loss which is its theme. It does this partly through repetition, which is used throughout. Even the first three lines have “the beloved dog... the beloved / dead dog”, which becomes “the stiff body of a dog” and returns to the “beloved dead dog’s nose”. It also does it by starting with a parting of the ways – “Unlike the beloved dog, the dead father…” and closing with a re/unification “I am here with you”. And it also does it through the complete conviction at level of diction and in the way one idea builds upon the previous one, to make an absolutely necessary whole. Quietly, in passing, the poem gives us a great deal of detail (“wrapped tenderly in a raggedy blanket you had no use / for anymore”) and several separate bereavements (there is also “a grandmother”). Yet the way grief accumulates, and its odd connective logic, is shown not told. A moving, beautiful poem. --Fiona Sampson

Second Place


by Lois P. Jones
Pen Shells

Green sunflowers trembled in the highlands of dusk and the whole cemetery
began to complain with cardboard mouths and dry rags.”
–Federico Garcia Lorca

You asked for an R, for the ripening of olives
in your garden, the red-tailed hawk

angling over the road, the path
that took you down and away

from the empty room of the body.
The R of reasons, of the ringing that breaks

in a yellow bell tower – the only sound
after the round of shots that shattered

an afternoon. And the T can only be more time,
time to be the clock or the weather vane,

the twilight through your windows
on the page, your pen once again plow

and the places you took me
where I abandoned faith.

A is alone, how you never wanted it,
preferring the company of bishop’s

weed and drowsy horses—the warm trace
of the lily and a flame

for the night with its black mouth
that sings your saeta.

G is the ghost bird that hovered
at Fuente Grande that you did not wish

to come, for the grave some say you dug
with your own hands,

empty as a mouth full of snow,
as a sky that held no moon that night

only its pure shape to stow
all the names of the dead.

The apparent randomness of the four letters (R, T, A and G) this poem’s visitant picks on the Ouija board makes this seem like a poem “which really happened”; but this doesn’t, for once, weaken a poem whose confident trajectory is concerned with cleverly and evocatively re-telling the story of Lorca’s murder – but telling it not only “slant” but in Lorca-esque terms. A difficult feat, and especially hard to avoid this sounding mannered, but you manage beautifully. Some killer phrases – “the empty room of the body” – though I might have replaced the epigraph with a “for” or “i.m.” and would have fiddled with the grammar of “A is alone, how you never wanted it” – maybe “that”? – which I think you worry too much about matching to “green, how much you wanted it”. Especially given that the famous opening of that Lorca poem is a translation, in English versions! --Fiona Sampson

Third Place

Caring For Your Gimp

by Henry Shifrin
Wild Poetry Forum

Fold your Gimp along his creases. The hemline
created by his smiles. He can beam, an ornament
of sorts, in front of a window for hours.
The passersby may not be happy. See
the pale cheek. But no lip stays straight

when it confronts such an endless smile.
As you fold him, powder the skin a gentle
lavender. Make sure to clean away any chance
for mildew or mold, things that ruin
a complexion and often cause a terrible stench.

Brush the hairs, all the hairs, even those
on his back, straight. Leave the folded man
on a chair beside the door. He will be ready
for a car ride, a flicker of television, a kiss
on the ear. And later you can unfold him and

scrub the skin stretched across his belly
to shine like a just-washed sedan.
In the evening, if you have folded him into
a small square, place him snug among mothballs,
where nothing will bite or nick his skin.

This is witty, of course, and in just those deft ways – using unobvious details – which sustain the joke: “powder the skin a gentle / lavender”, “leave the folded man / on a chair by the door”. The fantasy is inhabited, in other words, rather than being simply an idea schematically explicated. Moreover, the quality of the image-writing is fluent (“scrub the skin stretched across his belly / to shine like a just-washed sedan”), and this is rhythmic, well-articulated writing: see the rhythmic repetition of “Brush the hairs, all the hairs, even those / on his back”. Many entries were more serious and complex than this poem, but they lost out to it through being either unfinished or having a tonal problem (or excessive sincerity or sweetness). Idealism is the greatest of virtues – but belongs beyond the poem itself, I suspect. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

My Neighbor, Only a Name On a Mailbox

by Bernard Henrie
The Waters

Margaret Yamasaki dyed her hair seaweed color.
In the right light and a few miles an hour of wind
she appears to swim toward me, to come landward,
a water postman, eerie mop of hair waving
in semaphore code.

I imagine sea water beaded in her eyelashes
as she effortlessly swims the Pacific breakers.

Later, she leaves the beach and turns to look
at an old man, a silver porpoise almost metallic
with a backstroke.

At that distance she cannot see my smile
or that I am busy at invisible controls, a pilot
in a cockpit I hope to avert any disaster
she might encounter and to fix all bets
for happiness in her favor.

Highly commended for a great image – “In the right light and a few miles an hour of wind / she appears to swim towards me” – and for the interesting idea, in the last stanza, that the observer is at the controls. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Queen of the Road

by Alice Folkart
Blueline Poetry

Lady long-haul trucker,
mistress of power and speed,
regal queen of the miles.
smiles of the double yellow line,
the long, scary tunnel
that curves right in the middle.

Can’t play the fiddle, but I’m a long-haul trucker
carrying the weight of the world
on my back, car parts, pig parts,
big carts for supermarts,
whatever they weigh, I start my day
with a cup of joe, and I know

that the miles will roll
with me or without me
but I’d better go and see
the world – I love the gears
eighteen right here, near my hand
and up the road there is a band

I want to hear. Nearly every stop
there is a cop or some guy
with a beady eye says, “Hey, babe,
you too cute and small to haul
that big old truck!” and his eyes cluck
shut cause of the rhyme of that word.

But I heard him, what he thought,
my mama taught me to translate
what’s in men’s heads, and not to date,
late or early any guy whose name is Curley,
but to get out on the road
where it’s safe, just deliver my load.

Highly commended because it’s a great folk poem – could be the lyrics of a C&W song – and for the line “and his eyes cluck / shut cause of the rhyme of that word” truck. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

‘serPina biNary

by Carmela Cohen

                                                 barely rains, rarely, but for the morning residue
                                                                                                                       of grapes. wine
                                                                                                                  chased down
                                                                                                           by apple gait
                                                                                     by dappled tannin bombs
                                                                      replacing the very sour
                    hours. delinquent hours. bald refrain of arpeggio
          pain replete with teething,
   antecedent shame
and windows, windows
     plagued by
        gaping thoughts
            of trains, derailed
                                weather vanes span the mottled
                                                                      stretchers. here the masters cluster
                                                                                                     disapproving stares
                                                                                                                     shuffle whispers;
                                                                                                        the glaring difference
                                                                                           in years. here the gilt
                                                              ridden host of clear coasts
                    begins to burn cinnamon, the toast. fenestration
    for opportunity’s sake. the spur
of the prosperous moment
    casts aspersions
         aside while focusing
                 on desire’s bloodshot eye.
                                 tell me, tell me obliquely, about getting laid
                                                                                          off feeling infinitely
                                                                                                   screwed, used. maturity's
                                                                                                                  security. making do
                                                                                                    with defense mechanism’s
                                                                                       helium cocoon. mulling over-
                                                     heard mentalities in the corral of modality. baby
              baby. me metatarsenal. smash. come from hind baal
     bush, shellack. i grow down goose-
bound. mustachioed
        splashed brackish kitsch
            koosh? to waste away dusty,
                   douche without tasting
                                 touching tipsy lip to
                                                     lip, pipslip hip to big dipper shlook your butterfly zipped a
                                                                                                               smidgeon a smudge
                                                                                                      of vulnerability. tish
                                                                                toosh splishplash of eyelash,
                                                  chance come prance, compress. stress
                                 test love. my flower. bed.

Highly commended or its elegant shape (among shaped concrete poems); for its successful accumulation of thoughts, tropes and things from small-town anomie; and for its incidental wit – “fenestration / for opportunity’s sake”. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended


by Michael Virga
The Writer's Block

It has been
polished off

by the greatest
of artists:

“Mother, see
how I make all things
new again.”

The last time
like the first

the first
not unlike the last.

Drifted in on wood
(infant imprint in the hay)
stayed with the wood
working it for sustenance
(the name “Jesus of Nazareth” & the date
carved in the lid of an oaken chest)
then sustained the wood
a larger-than-life easel displayed
the abstracted remains.

The unveiling
reveals it is
without a doubt
a commission
in full.

See now how He renders
the tomb vacant as the manger.
His way with light
makes the definition of space

no longer an open & closed form
framed as drafted bookendings
to encompass the stories
bound from flesh into stone.

It is the tree
that is finished
from the root up.

Highly commended for its lineation which perfectly catches a certain speech-rhythm; and for the clean, contemporary diction with which it re-articulates, in a totally fresh way, Christian mysticism. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Today at the Ranch

by Steve Meador
FreeWrights Peer Review

What is it inside the imagination
that keeps surprising us
–Charles Wright

9:00 am

I have found a shovel.
The handle is broken,
there is a small crack
in its throat. But it is
still good in structure
and could be repaired
for use in your garden
or your yard. Perhaps
it could scoop fallen
leaves of magnificent
color, or snow bland
beyond all description.
Who wants this shovel
someone pitched from
a car or truck, into my
pasture, where the cows
eye it with fear and wild
animals smell the danger
of man. Who would like
to take this shovel, make
it whole and usable again?


Who will buy this goat
with a face like a sage
and a mellow voice
that beckons the early
evening? Will someone
take this fine animal
and let her see what lies
beyond the wire fence
that butts tightly against
the wood water trough?
She is only familiar
with the ground in a pen
found at the southeastern
corner of the northern
half of a section of land.
She is most ignorant
of wars and the actions
of politicians eager
to make her life better.
She merely seeks to be
a goat free of bondage.

3:00 pm

A rusty scythe crusted
with more than forty
years of chaff and dust
is this day recovered
from beneath the rubble
of a collapsing tin shed.
Its corroded blade once
sliced through ripe grain
used to make the bread
which fed the family.
Then out of the ground
or down from the sky
its sharp inner curve
came cloaked in silence
to reap the gift of God.
It became the symbol
of all things non grata.
Accept this implement,
for past indiscretions
often are by the hands
of others, not ourselves.

Highly commended for the trope of giving each stanza a time as well as a place – which locates us very successfully. And for the attention to nearly-regular stresses per line when the temptation in this kind of poem is to go for touchy-feely free verse. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Daily Thought

by Kay Vibbert
FreeWrights Peer Review

I’ve never seen half a rain,
never held the whole of it.
From a ladderback chair
the color of manna,
the rain smells of vanilla.
Ducks come together like black spoons
against the brown skin of clouds.
A sheet of paper across my lap
reminds me of the white blouses
worn in grade school.
Mother waited until the buttons
were loose as weathered pinwheels
to sew them back on again before summer.
That last long summer,
how it slipped across my shoulders.

Highly commended for a charming surrealism, even though I’m not convinced it’s completely controlled; and for fine imagistic associations of ideas: ducks “like black spoons”, “that last long summer, / how it slipped across my shoulders” as the conclusion to a sowing poem. --Fiona Sampson

  • 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