Winning Poems for August 2014

Judged by Suzanne Lummis

First Place

Wintry Peacock

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

As if they were three frail boats, opening their feathers like ragged sails.
–D. H. Lawrence

Each day I walk through a forest with somebody’s name
carved on a tree. In the winter, I had seen peacocks

and hens, and like the old story, birds flew before me: feathers
wet with snow. Each of us alone unafraid were trespassing

through cemetery trees. Tomorrow it would be
someone else walking and listening to the forest.

I whisper the blind man’s ashes, powdery and grey
a chimney of mist leaves my mouth, forms

a dull sentence. Forest deer ramble on their way,
never a sermon or a regret. The trees clutch their green

prayer shawls, tremble in the snow. My footprints fill.
The forest becomes an unblinking eye, silver and blue,

cold and fearless. It is yesterday, yesterday still.
A deer dreams of my strangeness, smells my winter skin.

In a series of hushed images that unfold, one out of the other, the poet draws us into a hypnotic, trance-like mood, but a mood that rises from an environment so specific, so physical it seems both landscape and dreamscape. Nothing in this language feels false or forced, the precise, declarative sentences clear but never ordinary. I find the line"...It is yesterday, yesterday still" especially wonderful --"still" in both senses of the word, continuation and frozen in stillness. --Suzanne Lummis

Second Place

The House on Limestone Street

by Shawn Nacona
The Waters

Late at night
he would stumble in the back door
after a hard day at work
turning money into beer
the way Jesus once changed
water into wine. He was
messiah of our household, the real
deal. Just one stroke
could convert happiness to hurt, joy
into fear, bread became starvation
knotting our stomachs
all year. We learned to be
as invisible as the angels
that silently witnessed our suffering—
like them we said nothing
when he stumbled past our beds
into their front room bedroom, listened
to their nightly revival; the creaks
as mother hymned his name:
“Oh God, Oh God”— such praise
heaped on he who reigned
over every part of her being.

This forceful poem, short and efficient, winds together the holy and the debased, allusions to the sacred with revelations of violence, to create a portrait of a brutal man and his subjugated family. And in a final twist, it is the wife and mother's ecstatic capitulation that seems to surround this figure with an aura of divine power. It's a sad story and an old one, one that has recurred down through history and around the world, but this poet has found a fresh approach to the material. --Suzanne Lummis

Third Place

Vanessa and Vietnam

by Greta Bolger
The Waters

They became intimate in the body of a man
named Rusty, gypsy brown in the fierce
sun of Richmond, foil to her Michigan white.

He served his country and it served him back,
back then with a love for a needle in the jungle,
much later with the end game of Hep C, cirrhosis.

In between, they made a life of libraries
and sheetrock, shared meals from a garden overflowing
with baby squash and beans, long-blooming flowers

and baby beetles. His going was no accident,
neither quick nor painless. The longest living hospice
patient in Virginia VA history. She lay down

beside him, spoke to him right until the end
and he talked back. Just shut the hell up
he said, please just quit talking. So she did

and he did and what’s left now is the tar
and feathers of grief that slow her down
to death speed, staring motionless

at his sky-high collection of technology
obsolete as he is. Beta, VHS, 8-track:
stories and songs trapped like flies in amber.

On the face of it this is a deftly rendered portrait of a life, with glimpses of the sorrow left in its wake, but above and beyond that it is a story of a generation, or a part of it, for it takes place against the backdrop of history. Further, the poet reminds us of the wistful unsubstantiality of our lives. Who reading this poem could foresee that it would all narrow down in the end to some remnants of defunct media technologies. --Suzanne Lummis

  • December 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      by Judy Kaber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      To James Bulger, aged 2, murdered February 1993
      by two boys aged 10 in Liverpool, England
      by Christopher T. George

      Third Place

      Dr. Pachango’s Mango
      by Jim Fowler

  • November 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      Notorious RBG
      by Laurie Byro

      Second Place

      To My Old Age
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Waters

      Third Place

      Beggar’s Lice
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Writer's Block