Winning Poems for November 2013

Judged by Kelly Cherry

First Place

The Legend of the Green Man

by Christopher T. George
FreeWrights Peer Review

The Green Man persists through the lies, the obfuscations,
the pretentious accents and the newspaper pirate hats crafted

from today’s headlines. The Green Man peers at you from behind
the tree trunk entwined by the yellow-eyed luminescent serpent,

just as he spied on the Persian archers, the Roman pikemen
who tramped through the forest leaving their dead slumbering

under the fall leaves. Still, we earn our salaries as did
those soldiers rewarded with salt and never look back; we

pretend we are in receipt of generous donations, largesse
of the gods — golden leaves that mound up in attic chests.

The Green Man is watching you through each day’s relentless dreck,
the never-ending commercial static. Something that you can’t control,

despite all the newfangled inventions: something primal and obscene.
Yes, yes — you saw him once: once seen, never forgotten. Listen.

He’s listening to you, watching your every move. You hide your hand
in a black velvet glove. Hide your face in a mask. Just don’t ask.

This month my pick for FIRST PLACE is "The Legend of the Green Man." The Green Man, often depicted in visual art as a face, framed by leaves, from whose orifices vines grow and tangle, and in literary tales as a kind of Robin Hood—a figure of the forest—or, as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a pagan deity or mentor, is a mysterious holdover from earlier times, and this poem in couplets reminds us, at one and the same time, of the immeasurable difference between us and the vegetable world and our necessary closeness to it. Here we see him hiding behind a tree trunk to which a threatening serpent clings; we are reminded that he likewise spied on "Persian archers" and "Roman pikemen," which tells us just how ancient he is. Yet like the Persians and the Romans, we do our job in life, we are glad to cull "golden leaves" or coins. But the Green Man never leaves off looking: he has us in his eyes, he sees our mistakes, he knows we are, like him, "primal and obscene," no matter how technology and the world change. He is the sinner with whom, it seems, we cannot fail to collaborate, and though he welcomes our collaboration, he is also disgusted with it. This poem is short but it carries a good deal of tension and I found myself shivering as I read it. --Kelly Cherry

Second Place

In Mission Trails Wilderness Park

by Fred Longworth

A stream bisects Oak Canyon.
I stand on one side; a derelict Ford Pinto
sprawls on the other.

It lies inverted, like the husk of a dead insect.
As rust reclaims the cab on the far side
of the rivulet, close by, beneath a laurel sumac,

the soil digests the remnants of a squirrel.
A little ways up the opposing hillside,
a coyote slows its pace. It stares at me

with caution, then turns and sniffs the air.
Against this silence, there’s a deeper
silence in the white sage and chamise.

Both coyote and interloper stand motionless.
Everything is caught in the caesura
before sunset, when lungs of chaparral

release first breath, and shadows loom
larger than the things they trail.
It’s a glimpse into a slightly shifted world,

where time-out is a parcel of the game—
the living, the dying, the cycling and recycling,
mysteriously switched to standby—

so that only after sunset gives a nod
will clay resume the path toward earth,
and earth the task of birthing clay.

SECOND PLACE goes to "In Mission Trails Wilderness Park," a poem that beautifully describes a natural scene that includes a "derelict Ford Pinto," a canyon, and a stream. "[T]he caesura / before sunset," a stunning phrase, heightens our feeling that we are waiting for something, our expectancy. All, as the poet says, is on "standby." --Kelly Cherry

Third Place

We Give Back What We Cannot Keep

by Jim Zola
The Waters

Better to begin at noon with bricks instead of river rocks,
with three train crossings we call the bones of Mister Jones,
with a river that rises in locks, with a father who works
at the ice factory and brings home sculptures, nudes reduced
to acceptability, swans without wings,
with a mother whose hands are whiter than fishbone.

So we begin with departure and travel this distance
between us, as if to touch is to travel.
Or with sleep, sound, back to back. When I wake,
I am three and flying around the basement,
my shoes scuff the red cement floor, my legs
are braced. Father kneads them with his icehouse hands.

We give back our mothers and fathers, sweat fresh
on their faces, give back birds that rise from the thin
comfort of branch to shake the elms, give back the field’s past.

Outside this window, there are no fields. There are warehouses,
the clatter of train and track, and warehouse birds.
They hop on corrugated rooftops.
They sing for our leaving.

Honorable Mention

Destiny’s Physics

by Guy Kettelhack
Wild Poetry Forum

Balance will insist upon itself –
ruthlessly it varies to produce
what will conduce to the dispersal
of exactly equal weight. What had

once come early now comes late.
What was once revealed will now
be hidden. It doesn’t seem to matter
who is riding, who is ridden.