Winning Poems for June 2011

Judged by Judith Fitzgerald

First Place

Natural Alchemy

by Michael LaForge

In the old growth tangle of Lighthouse Park
somewhere on the Seven Sisters Trail
near Song Bird Meadow, I am struck dumb.

There is nothing new about the nurse logs
nestled on the forest floor, roots angled skyward;
nothing about the moss, the western hemlock,

the sudden granite outcrops,
gulls and ravens, crash
of distant surf on naked rock.

Even this giant red cedar rising up before me
like a thousand years of sky-crowned history
is not unusual. Some trick of breath, perhaps,

but something in me suddenly
grows still and mighty
as that monolithic tree

and a voice comes like ferns
stirring in a downdraft:

It is just like this; just like this.

If, as Dr. Marshall McLuhan averred, modernist poets deliberately mix up the five elements of rhetoric, then "Natural Alchemy" proves his main point, namely that fractured times require fractured responses to them, despite the tightly knit three-line stanzas (save for the echoing final set, brokenbroken, broken), precisely because the speaker's "struck dumb." Although not a propagandistic screed lamenting the loss of nature in our virtually extinct environment/s, the brief yet superbly controlled lyric does indeed advocate for an ecology of mind, body, spirit, and the gratuitously sacred spaces reminiscent of the work presented in Alice Oswald's 2005 anthology, The Thunder Mutters: 101 Poems for the Planet, say, especially those entries from Heaney, Whitman, Hopkins, Neither sermon, lesson, nor manifesto, "Natural Alchemy" ranges across the universe to arrive at the base of "this giant red cedar" which, in turn, tracks back to the nurse logs, both literally and figuratively, the fecund and the fallow, the essential and existential combining and recombining in that necessary stillness: Just? Justice? Sanctuary or cosmological suicide? The choice is ours. (The title throws one for a loop, so diffuse and wide-reaching, from cosmetics to Homer, Snyder, Thoreau, Pound, Anand, to . . ..) Then, of course, both Shakespeare and Wordsworth would approve; but, truly, I kept thinking of Ian Hamilton Finlay's 15-word "Estuary" included in the Oswald offering: "RUSH SEDGE COUCH MARRAM BENT / CURLEW WHIMBREL GULL LAPWING TERN / ESSO MOBIL BP EXXON SHELL"; and, yes, that historically protected beacon of light in the rapidly descending darkness, the one carrying with it the universal illumination of the final lines, of the fact it is JUST like this, "For the rain it raineth every day." — Judith Fitzgerald

Second Place

Tonight the Pendulum Still Swings

by Tina Hoffman
Muse Motel

I like my new place, to tinker ~ ordered
a new Kassel clock, was thrilled when it arrived.
I sized it up right away, chose a special spot
for display and hammered it to the wall
with a soup can – the only hammer handy,
tools lost by some errant mover guys.

The clock looked level, not cock-eyed; its
dark, rich wood sat up straight against
my creamy new walls in its place of honour.
An empty space exists where its pinnacle
should sit, now with its threads stripped.
“Some assembly required” part of my bargain.

I’m not a carpenter nor as precise as a clock-
maker, but at long last, the penultimate moment:
I attached the pendulum to the clock’s inner guts.
Gave it life with a gentle thrust and thirty twists
from the shiny brass key that did come with it.

Tick, tock, tick! Hooray! Now time to adjust
the bottom weight for pace. I placed trembling
hands on its gold-rimmed face to set ornate,
pre-calibrated hands; tied time to red LED’s
of my always right cable box and waited for chimes.

I am still waiting as tonight, the pendulum still swings.
The sun inevitably sets in the west. I finger the clock’s
key as its hands follow the pendulum’s lead like
a musician to metronome. It ticks, tocks, ticks then
clicks as the chimes finally ring, nonstop. Incessantly.

Do you know what you do or do you think exclusively of anyone but you, of anything but those go-to snapshots featuring skid-rose angles, one relentless need-to-throw lurid glow (or more likely, given the greed to succeed, that sacral altar where the wholly ruthless grin while human beings — Tick! — falter, Psalm or Psalter, gratuitous shelter)? Somenone vacates, relocates, lucidly dreaming, within or without time, appreciates the itinerant still standing, still thwarting these versions, those visions, that porous air textured, withering, swithering, palpably gleaming, thus and hither, guilty heroines where heroes go grinding, winding, grimly binding, formally blinding, sign of the time-smither, the whiff of a whim of a laserlight shim, internal rhythms / rhymes / trim rims; but, you raise high the roof beam moon-blanched blue and calculate the key, the grandfather clock needing not needling, one obsessively gorgeous habit of precision grievously spindling, singing the news, brindling the blues, oblizzerating your hearts and bleeds. Faces stasis, sere, sincere, yours newly sheer, signs truly clear, holy fool's goad glitter glowing, growing, going, gong. Express An Other, My Sister, My Brother; but, HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME . . . Its place, its articulated motion, its punctuated devotion — And, then or when? — sounds its resting gutter, seeks its nesting grace, blasted expansion mutter, second-hand concision, first-class Hail-Mary space — say, sway, background merry-go-ghastly carnivalistic half-past broken hurt gone astray, liquid encharmment, hypnotic bedazzlement, frissson in splendid array sonically missing; but, still, you hear: Life in the past-cast lane — magical, melancholic, uplifting — O, Kassel Tale, what counter-blast time, Poet? Vector trajector — Just when you need just enough to remember this too shall prevail in the glistering sublime; and, yes, you freely do know the chart, the flow of it, the terminally temporal feintly beaten tick stir, trickster, our miraculously collective wholly mechanical industriotically shattered heart. — Judith Fitzgerald

Third Place

Listening to a teen poetry slam on NPR

by Mike Talbert
The Town

The sense was too scant
and rarely piquant,
the slam was rap-rant

mostly rap for sure
expression not demure,
emotions were pure

teen-age esoteric,
verse so hyperbaric
of things hysteric

yet i had the fate
to anticipate
lines first rate,
no ego masturbate

words of immense
of little sense

beyond example:
an acne pimple,
keep it simple;

color you words azure,
avoid manure,
seek a cure

with your hustle,
create a tussle,
and please don’t rustle

idle lines that leave me bewildered

East of E-Den's brillicious technotartency —
Either sour gripes or the grapes of rap —
Flippin' urban posse of gutsy goombahs
& guidadaistic honchettes ranking honour
Alongside more traditional phenomena —
Beatification, pinballistics, credit scores —
We now return disenfranchised signifried
You to your regularly skedded miracures.
— Judith Fitzgerald