Winning Poems for April 2012

Judged by Shara McCallum

First Place

Drought

by Sue Kay
Pen Shells

Drought raises its head, trumpets another amber sunrise, tusks
the earth, charges the faded foliage, tramples, tosses it aside.
Storm-less days wrinkle and die. Dust on sun-cracked skin, dust
in the eyes . On the horizon, dust lightning sparks from clouds
that have rubbed themselves dry. Heat like a prayer for rain lights
the night with a fire line. Drought like darkness grows a shape

shakes itself free of restraints, parches, attacks and backs
its quarry into another hot day. Heat, like the aim of the hunter,
sights the prey, brings it down beneath an ivory sky. Drought pales
everything in its gaze, shimmers the promise of a lake lapping
dry waves. The deep aquifers bleed out pumping into wells
that fail to stanch the earth’s thirst. Heat blows its dry breath

into the land’s panicked mouth, pants a warning ahead of drought’s
heavy foot that stamps, bellows its coming. Heat enters into
every corner, every refuge, wearies of its charge, worries dead
brush and picked bones. Bored with the kill, drought turns once
to see ash and smoke sift over ruined leaves into dry streams,
drift and smother, like doubt, like memory.


From my first read, I was caught up in this poem and on many re-readings that feeling of being swept up in language never abated. The poem is a tour-de-force of image and sound, showing off poetry’s ability to resonate in the mind and ear. This poem also captivated me because the ending culminates in a statement. In that last line, the poet moves away from relying on image alone, saying something about what “drought” means—this is a risky move that pays off, as what is said feels both surprising and, yet, exactly right. --Shara McCallum

Second Place (Tie)

The Roofer Stays Up

by Jim Zola
The Waters

I sit atop this roof after the last
shingler has tossed his last wisecrack
to no one. Across the street, a couple
hesitate in the doorway between
the hushed dark of the house, a brush
of streetlight. I suppose they are lovers
because I am alone. I suppose
that when they spill into the furnishings
of their lives, they’ll touch at the wrist.
Just as I suppose this night will stay
like lovers who stifle their cries
with silk scarves because walls are thin,
windows left open. By morning,
when others arrive, I’ll say
I came in early to avoid the heat.


The subtlety of this poem is what drew me in. The voice is unassuming and its honesty accretes power, as in the lines, “I suppose/that when they spill into the furnishings/of their lives, they’ll touch at the wrist.” The speaker’s observation, here (steeped in metaphor) and elsewhere, brims with insight without being showy or heavy-handed. The diction of the poem is also simple, the lines spare and restrained, all of which makes the existential condition of the speaker (“I am alone”) all the more moving. --Shara McCallum

Second Place (Tie)

Yard Work

by Dale McLain
Wild Poetry Forum

The shed is orderly, all muted shades,
and there within I am a glimmer.
The air smells of cedar and rust.
I find shears in a coffee can,
wrapped in flannel, blades ready
still to whisper in polished sighs.
In this beautiful solitude, I cut the sapphire

threads stitched on me, cipher
of disregard, a pilfered incantation.
The pure laziness of affection
staggers me, as if it were a bundle
of broken branches thrust at me.
Now I hope for a late frost to dull the glass,
clouds to tether the sky, a night cold

enough to sleep a silvery sleep.
But the year has lost its keen edge
and by mid-day it is too warm
to weave into this poem. I am hungry
for some faith, a curtain of radiant light
to shield me, but there are flowers
instead. A confection of blushing buds

trembles against the cloudbank.
Listen, I exaggerate. The days are sweet,
laden with splendid little sufferings.
I feel like a saint until nightfall when sin
nips my heels. I hate this weather though,
the frail cusp of spring, all tender and bright.
It reminds me of everything that ever died.


I love this poem because it constantly surprised me: with its diction and phrasing, as well as its imaginative reach. The physical and emotional world the poet attends is meticulously rendered and is also often being undercut, lest it become sentimental. Even the poet’s own stance is self-consciously tempered as in the sentence, “listen, I exaggerate.” And the last line of the poem offers the biggest and most satisfying turn of all: that beauty ‘reminds us of everything that ever died.’ --Shara McCallum

Third Place

How is Florida treating you? Best, Jim

by Susan Katz
conjunction

Tampa is fine.

Florida treats me well,
though the move from New York
leaves me homesick.

The weather’s on track, sky all blue,
different bugs for different seasons,
if you can call hot, ter, test seasons.

Business is sluggish, I have arthritis,
am neurotic, skidding downhill after 60,
my daughter still doesn’t speak to me—

I wish I would die already, get life
over and done with, out-of-the-way,
Fini.

What could be bad?


The persona of this poem grabs my attention and doesn’t let go. I love the phrasing throughout this poem (“sky all blue” and “I wish I would die already” as two examples), which turns the voice on the page into a fully-dimensional character. This poem provides us with a hard-edged, humorous, unsparing, and unflinching look at one’s own aging and death—what else could you ask for? --Shara McCallum

Honorable Mention

First Kiss at Fifty

by John Wilks
The Write Idea

She had grown to look exactly like
herself, while I had just grown older.
Within the first five minutes, we spoke
more to each other than we had in
five years of school. She had photographs

of the class, but I could not find my
face in the black and white uniformed
ranks. She remembered me more fondly
than I deserved, though I had become
all the things I once despised. I was

Mister Suit’n’Tie, Mister Safe Pair
of Hands, Mister Never Takes a Risk,
Mister Home, Hearth and Family. She
kissed me thirty years too late, when it
could no longer make a difference.

I took a train home when she caught a
plane back to Australia. As she
drove her motorcycle across the
outback, I walked from room to room and
sometimes out into the back garden.


I admire this poem’s ability to take a situation that could easily become a cliché and rescue it from that predicament. The poem especially soars for me in the last two stanzas, in which the speaker’s regret for a life unlived is handled with grace and power. The “sometimes” in the last line of the poem is heartbreaking. --Shara McCallum


  • 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

  • June 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      Poem in Exile in the Style of Neruda
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Writer's Block

      Second Place

      Either February or March
      by Brenda Morisse
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      Accidental Writer
      by Bernard Hamel
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Honorable Mention

      Mouse in April’s Winter
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

      Honorable Mention

      Sister Valeria
      by Siva Ramanathan
      The Writer's Block

      Honorable Mention

      My Trip: The Last Siona Dream
      by Don Schaeffer
      Babilu