Winning Poems for October 2013

Judged by Kelly Cherry

First Place

Sunday Mourning

by Brenda Levy Tate
PenShells

An eye tarnishes; motes drift
from webs and air, to stick
where the shine is fading.
No glaze – only a dustfall.
Death holds its own gravity.

His grey coat stretches dry
over old bone; his rib-rack
heave has ended. In the corner,
a bucket squats where thirst
will never visit again.
On the sill, a mercy bottle
sits drained of its poison.

His last bed is straw, hard
boards under mane and shoulder,
turf bits fallen from hooves
when he dropped down.
He cannot feel our hands now.
His name, tossed among
the rafters, comes back empty.

We scuff in the aisle, waiting
for his absence to solidify.
Something needs to leave;
we have to let it out.
All we understand is a door
into the next room.

The barn cat steps lightly
around us, knowing
this is not her business here.
In the yard, a blue backhoe
purls and shudders.


I'd change the title, since Wallace Stevens's "Sunday Morning" is so well known and so stunning. And I hope the poet might consider deleting the first stanza and the poem's last line: the first stanza is so abstract that we have to return to it later, when we realize that it describes a dying horse. The last line, by animating the backhoe, subtracts from the horse's centrality. The rest of the poem is marvelously moving, especially in the way the horse is allowed to retain his dignity. That "[s]omething needs to leave" is a perfect line, referring us to the spirit or soul of the horse.

There is a nobility about horses that this poem acknowledges and defers to. Of course, we can read a poem about a horse as if it were a poem about a person, and that heightens the emotion, but here the details of "turf bits," "hard boards" and "straw"--the actual life of a horse--lift the poem above sentimentality. I like it very much! --Kelly Cherry

Second Place

Tireless Hunt for Food at Safeway

by Bernard Henrie
Muse Motel

The tomatoes are turning geriatric,
cantaloupe this late in the season
near cardiac arrest; the deaf plums
purple as a king’s robe.

Food bins to ransack; kosher cheese
strips delivered by jet plane
from Jerusalem, I spy on Kleenex
sunning under fluorescent lights.

My image appears in the meat case,
red cap on sideways, long hair, gold
and yellow Hawaiian shirt, Navy ship
tattoo on my bicep;

I am an aborigine gathering food
for a wife in her tweed business suit
and my child, nose-deep
in algebra.


Humorous and touching, this poem is a humble self-portrayal of a husband at the grocery store (I wonder what Randall Jarrell, who wrote about a woman shopping, would think. That times change, for one thing!): that makes it charming, first of all, and second of all, the description and details of both store and speaker are exact (except perhaps for "I spy on Kleenex," which moves us from hunting to spying). The working wife in tweed deepens our idea of this family, this husband, and the "child, nose-deep / in algebra," lets us know what a loving family it is. The poem is impossible to resist. --Kelly Cherry

Third Place

Debussy’s Music

by Guy Kettelhack
Wild Poetry Forum

Full of un-deciphered crimes,
Debussy’s music makes you sad sometimes,
with all its poignant dreams of chimes

and body scents, chromatic climbs
and schemes and indigent emotion.
We don’t know how anyone can stand

his notion
of polyphony
all nakedly

exposed
and played.
He should have stayed

to tell us how to parse its mist,
or how to clear it.
In his absence, all that we can do is hear it.


I am not a fan of Debussy, but I enjoyed this poem, which, itself, "chimes" a la Debussy's music. There is a quickness, a lithe lightness to the line's rhythms and rhymes, and "to parse its mist" is an accurate--I mean dead-on--assessment of what needs to be done when listening to Debussy. "Mist" is a splendid word here, capturing in a single stroke both what is good and what is bad about Debussy's music. --Kelly Cherry


  • November 2017 Winners

    • First Place

      Hope Springs Like a Panther from a Large Boulder Overhead
      by Andrew Dufresne
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Second Place

      Lullaby
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Writer's Block

      Third Place

      Love Story
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Writer's Block

  • October 2017 Winners

    • First Place

      The Day of a Girl
      by John Riley
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Night Thoughts of a Mottled Songbird
      by Kenny A. Chaffin
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      The Art of Not Being Descartes
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum