Winning Poems for October 2010

Judged by Paul Lisicky

First Place

Chichicapa, Mexico

by Bernard Henrie
The Writer's Block

Mezcal Del Maguey Chichicapa
is one dirt road farther than the day laborers from Oaxaca.

Coconut farmers live there, hands and clothes carry the scent
of bath soap.

The men are brown as beans. Washing under outdoor pumps
their bellies are plump and white.

We play dominoes under the shade of my copal tree
and share the Mezcal of the city.

When they sleep on the Day of the Dead they awake refreshed
and disappointed.

Women walk single file the way women once followed behind
ancient horsemen.

In my clinic, they point on a doll to the places they hurt.
When they don’t want me, they speak Mayan.

When they nurse, their breasts fall as sweet potatoes
from a basket. They carry barley corn in their pockets.

Children run after the red pullets. They ride a stuttering
burrow who circles the plaza as though trying to remember.

Older girls stay with one another, long chestnut arms,
I imagine their pupils set with deep purple iris.

Young men gamble with their deaf beauty. Turkeys come
to them, stars whiten.

Skinned animals hang in the market, small goats chew,
their bobbed tails twirl.

Dried stigmas from the saffron crocus stiffen on pages
of newsprint.

Night rises from the arroyo north of the city and turns
my house black.

I read under the hurricane lamp. The crickets move close,
the eyes of the yellow dog are open in a waking trance.

The town cannot afford a bright moon. Shooting stars
are clean as bells, voyaging planets slide close.

You cannot write them, there is no post office.
It is too far for the bus to come.


This poem is enlivened by its awe and cold wonder of the place. I also like the humility of last stanza: "You cannot write them, there is no post office." This seems to suggest something about the limitations of description, the inability to make complete meaning of a bewildering experience. --Paul Lisicky

Second Place

Iowa Born

by Billy Howell-Sinnard
The Writer's Block

To be raised like a pig.
To not come out
until years later
after the dirt wouldn’t.
The smell in my
nostrils to this day.

I keep looking back,
under, sometimes up.
I snuff water. It hurts.
It doesn’t help.

It’s on my fingers,
on my clothes,
in my car. My wife
puts her nose
to my skin.
I’ve smelled it.
It’s me,
the me I know best,
can’t forget.

My fingerprint on air:
ubiquitous, delirious,
musky, amber, repugnant.

If they tracked it
like bloodhounds
sniff out a body,
dying, living, shitting,
it’s left on couches,
pillows, shoes, socks,
on women’s bodies.

A confluence of soul
longing, obsessing
until I can’t stand myself,
take a shower.

I sniff my finger
after rooting in my ear
for a sound, a word
turned to a waxy cartouche.

All the dirty words,
dirty loves, dirty lies,
dirty suspicions
distilled into liquor
in the dark hole
of my head,
in the pigsty
I come from.

It’s lost any meaning.
Smelling the intoxicating
filth one last time,
I cry. I laugh.


There's an inventive syntax in this poem, an attention to the way sentences make unexpected rhythms. And I love the dark humor, the simultaneously seductive and queasy sense of smell on the air: "ubiquitous, delirious." --Paul Lisicky

Third Place

God War

by T. Obatala
About Poetry Forum

In one short instance,
in one short breath
I kill all the names

of any of the gods.
The god of the tight-lipped
father, the god of the smoke

in the jelly jar, the god of ‘Who shot
J.R.,’ the god of the blackest man, even
the god of the secretary on Dixie Highway,

and like these gods even you must submit
to a final authority. A human being might straddle
another one for years or even a lifetime but they

are nothing like a god and all of the babies who
managed to make their way out
know this.


An appealingly sassy poem that makes use of a dark litany to bring about an unexpected ending. --Paul Lisicky


  • 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