Winning Poems for October 2014

Judged by Philip Belcher

First Place


by Billy Howell-Sinnard
The Writer's Block

Swinging in a gondola
at the very top
I feel like the hands
of a clock stopped
while the roar
of the fair goers below
continues madly on
without me.

The eight lines of this compact poem show the merits of compression and attention to sound. The title itself carries weight, with its double meaning of midpoint and a fair’s central pathway. The alternating rhythms of the lines suggest a rocking motion to match that of the fair ride being described by the speaker, and the internal and end rhymes hold the brief narrative together. This is a terrific example of a poet’s close attention to language and meaning and how they can reinforce each other. --Philip Belcher

Second Place

La Bocca della Verita

by Lois P. Jones

the heavens are a hoary chowder
a Pavonazzo marble
over the San Francisco bay
and there’s just one gash
of sun as if a god grew tired
of darkness

a wound where light
has ripped through the mouth
of truth

you know the legend –
the one which dares us
to place our hand inside
the gaping hole

to slip out of a body
and enter the hollow
is to watch the lie
fall away

the sky strips me
of desire
you are the bird
who comes so near
fly closer       I know
you fear being reduced
to poverty in human arms
I will be the woman who lets go
of her angel

we kill       we burn
we empty into the mouth
of the river

the god Oceanus is here
to wash our sorrows

into the Tiber
but we can’t remember why

This poem employs inventive and precise imagery to explore the nature of truth and relationships, of security and freedom. The first two stanzas are the most powerful: the four images—heavens as a “hoary chowder,” “one gash / of sun,” a god tiring of the dark, and “a wound where light / has ripped through the mouth / of truth”—do the work that no explication can do. The poem also treats the reader to a complete narrative arc when it returns in the closing lines to the image of the mouth. --Philip Belcher

Third Place

Noon Witches

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

For Samantha and Rachel Maynard

To know my deed, ‘twere best not know myself. Macbeth

I am a crone, my girls know it’s true. We are the witches from Macbeth
I am the ancient who mutters gutturals, they are young enough to hum
labials. I try to explain to them, who are unaware of death, that

in the end, my father was my son. I fill the car with tears for
my absent father. On the sidewalk, heat rises from white cement
and I quote “round about the cauldron go.” My borrowed children

look at me strangely while poking through the bargains on
the table in front of each store. Nothing is perfect, there are flowered
bowls with chips, dog-eared journals. There are lovely paper angels

whose wings have lost some glitter. I point out the velvet masks
from New Orleans, one has a rhinestone owl. I try to talk them
into something that will last, not a latte or salt water taffy.

The summer after my father dies, I have the day on a leash.
The heat and light swirl over me, catching me pink. I am a moth caught
inside a nautilus shell. Ghosts have trapped me in a shankha in their garden.

This poem takes its cue from Macbeth to explore familial relationships and grief. Particularly absorbing are the poet’s use of the craft elements of music, detail, and imagery. Short “u” sounds tie the poem together: “mutters,” “gutturals,” “cauldron,” “children,” and more. The mystery of the “borrowed children” is never completely resolved, and that’s a strength of the poem. Not everything has to be explained. Specificity is helpful, too; the “rhinestone owl” helps the reader believe in the speaker’s voice. It is clear that the poet is working to consider things “that will last” as she or he contemplates the father’s death. Particularly exciting were the images of having “the day on a leash” and the “moth caught inside a nautilus shell.” I am envious of those. --Philip Belcher