Winning Poems for October 2011

Judged by Nathalie Handal

First Place

That and a Dime Will Get You a Cup of Coffee

by Sue Kay
Wild Poetry Forum

He taught me how to make a hat of newspaper,
but the funny pages I preferred bowed like Blondie
on the brim to Dagwood on the crown. My Hornblower
was admirable, rattled like the sails before the boom
comes across and they fill again with wind, my bi-corn stiff,
my posture proud beneath the pages of newsprint.

A trip to the corner drugstore for The New York Journal American
I ordered coffee with no sugar or cream, a forbidden treat —
played at the bitterness of adulthood, thinking I liked
its peculiar bite, the slap of a heavy Sunday edition
on the counter, the smell of words, the taste of scorched brew.

He flirted with the waitress, though I didn’t know
then what it meant. She had a tilt and drift like the wind
and came across before she filled our cups, and boomed
off sloughing a wisecrack, a tack I think that made her tail
twitch importantly as she returned to port. I remember
the quiet scent of tobacco on wool wet with snow, how the quest
for Sunday news taught me women liked my Dad.

I bought a five dollar sandwich from a street vendor along with last
Sunday’s newspaper and enough time to kill a good idea.
My hats have all turned brim-up into this late life wind.
The papers are all funny now, but without the Ben-Day dots,
the impress of the ink, the graphic blot,
Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte.

I can eat two dollars worth of the time it takes to make
a five dollar sandwich I don’t really want and read the papers
that consume a good idea without actually giving it a thought.
I find myself scavenging for paper, bending it to my needs—
a fragile sail on the sea, a hat for the admiralty.

This poem moves and moves us. A narrative song walking us through a vulnerable heart.

When a poem does that, it leaves us few words and endless sighs. ---Nathalie Handal

Second Place

In the Beginning

by Brenda Levy Tate

Our mothers taught us too well
to fear the snake, author of a cry
under the knife, a cutting, the mangled
cord that loops us to a single loss:
one night when we forgot
to be wary. The rind stretches,
inevitably bursts.

In this blackberry meadow
we gather – we women who hold
that same pomegranate
the serpent offers, month after month,
year upon bloody year, until its lure
gleams flat as a mirror, raised
for us to bear witness.

Here, then, are its red-jellied ova
in their five hundred cradles: this,
a sea maid with war under her fists;
this, a dust orphan who believes
only that each road leads
to some new sorrow.

There, tumbling downriver,
a firstborn son grasps his own
ankles, jellyfishes on the current.
And there, a buttercup lass
without voice refuses to curse
her creator. She does not recognize
a bribe when it dangles in front
of her hand. The swollen skin is fruit –
nothing more. She wrinkles it
into the dirt.

We limp toward our dry age,
when every kernel is blown and gone.
I throw off my heavy scarf
dividing skull from spine. Thought
has become acceptable. I am
no longer forbidden to jackknife
questions for my enemy
in a round-bark trunk. Nothing
grows inside me any more.

The Garden temptress hums sweet
as a harp – she, who has tricked
us from the beginning. Her secret
teeth fill a gourd with droplets
of juice. Its neck juts firm,
the last man-thing in paradise.
The false adder hangs her trap
on a thorn. Insects jostle each other.
Come, you are not too late.
Flies’ wings click-zip together
like angel bones.

She could have bitten Eve
instead of feeding her. She has never
shared a bond with Adam, the lust
that urges every poor girl to damn
herself. Now she relives that choice,
over and over, having no legs
to walk away from it. We are all too late,
but she understands.

We watch her tend the tree, cultivate
its next crop – wisdom and illusion.
Apples for fools. Pomegranates for the rest,
who should know better. She lacks
interest in us now.

Then we leave her there and follow
the flowless rivers out of Eden,
where beheaded grasses shake and mourn.
She has taken our wombs before
letting us go. No rapture can ever enter us
by that path again. The gate rings
as it closes.

There is a breath at the center of this poem that breaks our expectations. Forces us to ponder on the complexity of illusion, and of temptation. To question what we understand and think we don’t understand, and ask, are we really “too late.” Every line, an echo. Every word, a small cry. Every letter, a damnation. But we are reminded that although, “She has taken our wombs before / letting us go. No rapture can ever enter us / by that path again. The gate rings / as it closes.” This poem doesn’t let you go. The strength of this poem is in the immediacy of the lines, in their precision. It closes in on us, only to open all the gates at the edge of our conscious. ---Nathalie Handal

Third Place

at a foodbank

by Dan Flore
The Writers Block

pictures of Jesus swirling
robed in grandeur saying “what happened my son”
or soggy with blood limping to Calvary
gasping “I understand”

kids yawning
kicking their feet
waiting in a square that wraps around the church
that seems to be tied around my neck

my life plays out across a humble wooden cross
all of my potential like two roses falling from Christ’s toes
and compassion is the redness of my face
ready to pour out of my skull
as a bottle of champagne for everyone to sip

outside I let the sky
rub into my eyes like I’m asleep
in a robin’s egg
ready to crack open

The lines: “my life plays out across a humble wooden cross / all of my potential like two roses falling from Christ's toes,” kept echoing around me. I wanted to spend more time with it. Everything I needed were in these lines. Yet a few others lines took me away. Regardless, this poem succeeds in placing us outside of ourselves while placing us at the center of a foodbank—where reality is tough. Where “waiting in a square that wraps around the church / that seems to be tied around my neck.” And around ours. ---Nathalie Handal

  • 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