Winning Poems for January 2013

Judged by Deborah Bogen

First Place

Down the Street

by Fred Longworth
The Waters

The kite slings upward into the wind,
and for a moment the two boys shout
like pole vaulters clearing a higher bar.
Then it dives hard toward the grass,
and the boys look her way because they want
to holler things she would scold them
for saying. And faintly out of somewhere
only she can go, she hears two pairs of shoes
crunching caramel-colored sycamore leaves
along a riparian trail. One runner chases
the other, and she can feel the hammers
of their legs against the anvils of the path,
and taste their salty newborn sweat.
She marshals her mind back to the yard
and to the plastic laundry basket
on the table by the dryer, with its molting
cotton towels and wrinkled garments
that she’s been folding and unfolding,
and folding and unfolding again,
so that the boys won’t think she’s watching.
And in a part of town she never goes to,
the father of the boys retreats
to a barstool farthest from the jukebox
with its chance encounters, and closest
to a nook of shadows. He licks the salt
from the rim of a cocktail glass,
and wonders if he has the gumption
to go home, or resign himself
to sleeping on the sofa at the office.
As he taps his fingers on his mobile phone,
miles away a second phone is waiting—.
Maybe it will join the first in voice,
or share with it the void of silence.
The liquidambar trees are dancing,
and the boys are running with their string.
The wind is picking up, and the kite
will either lift off, or it won’t.

"Down the Street" brings to mind a Hopper painting with its dark vision of American family life, or perhaps lack-of-family life. Reading the three scenes [the boy’s kite run, the mother’s clothes folding and the father’s drinking] I was struck by the feeling that although nothing is working quite right in the relationships portrayed, there remains a connected dis-connectedness among the players. The closing lines are perfect – a truism that you cannot argue with, but one that gives no comfort. --Deborah Bogen

Second Place

for what is given

by Dale McLain
Wild Poetry Forum

I saw the fallen stars in the orchard yesterday,
well not an orchard but a stand of pear trees
bent and knobby as that jazzman from Metairie.
I walked there to give my thanks up to the wind,
but looked down and saw them there, stars strewn
like charred jacks, thorned and dead amid the pears.

I wore love like a treasured broach, my children
the sapphires and the pearls, worn close to my throat.
Then I saw your eyes, no, I mean the sky, but blue
and impossible. In Texas winter is a drifter that comes
to sleep in the barn. He leaves things behind, a crease
in the hay, a sprinkle of ash, stars burnt like bones.

I remembered my blessings, these boots, this ridge
where someone thought to plant some pears.
I thought of all the days gone past, a tree in bloom,
a song, a cry. There are stars hiding in the bright sky,
glittering stones set fast in gold. I lack for nothing
save a voice clear and true enough for this quiet joy.

"for what is given" is either prayer or odd explanation, perhaps both. The voice of the speaker is compelling and rich (“charred jacks, thorned and dead amid the pears”) even while it is conversational, interrupting itself to tell us what it meant to say. How to resist a poem that says “Then I saw your eyes, no, I mean the sky, but blue and impossible.” --Deborah Bogen

Third Place

An A-Z of fruit: A for Apricots

by Marilyn Francis
The Write Idea

It was Monday and the grandmother was buying apricots
from the stall in Church Street market. She squeezed the fruits
between her thumb and first finger, testing for ripeness,
feeling the whiskery skins brush the flesh of her hand.
She chose three fruits to be wrapped.

Later, the child opened the wrapping,
unveiled the unfamiliar fruit,
and refused to eat.

She smoothed out the paper,
saw a map traced in brown ink,
fingered its contours and pathways,
but couldn’t figure a way through the
wastes of marshland, and the land where
there be dragons.

The grandmother ran a blade around the fruit,
tore the halves apart.
The child still refused to eat.

She took the three discarded stones
wrapped them in the crumpled map
buried them in a secret place.

"An A-Z of fruit: A for Apricots" creates a small but marvelous world, at once storybook like and strange. There is a clear sense of ritual and an ambiguous sense of identity – who are these people — gypsies or the boring neighbors in the next apartment? If the child is a girl the ambiguity is increased. Is the “she” in this poem the child, or could it be the grandmother? Finally, the poem’s sound effects are great – e.g., “whiskery skins brush the flesh.” --Deborah Bogen

Honorable Mention

Christmas, Connecticut, 1960

by Christopher T. George
Desert Moon Review

I was in school in Connecticut that December of 1960,
“The Little Drummer Boy” hung on the brisk air.

I was eleven—I identified with the song about the boy who had come
to honor him and its insistent chorus, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum.

Our hero of the moment was John Kennedy, the clean-cut New Englander
who’d be our new President. A new leader and a new Pope: John XXIII
—advent candles following a long darkness.

Even now, fifty years later, I thrill to that song
thrumming in my ears—pa-rum-pa-pum-pum.

Witnesses said the noises did not sound like gunshots—
unforeseen—like hammerblows—pa-rum-pa-pum-pum.

So many bullet holes, so many nail holes—
Black crepe and muffled drums—

Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum. . . pa-rum-pa-pum-pum. . .

"Christmas, Connecticut, 1960" is a vivid photo of a time and a weirdly accurate portrayal of the way kids, perhaps all of us, re-constellate events in ways that make a particular sense given our vantage point in the world. The merger of the Drummer Boy song with the Kennedy assassination is exactly the kind of thing an eleven-year-old would do. --Deborah Bogen