Winning Poems for December 2014

Judged by Philip Belcher

First Place

What more could I do with wild words?

by Judy Kaber
The Waters

                                        Title taken from the poem “Morning”
                                        by Mary Oliver.

In the white shell of morning, I could scramble them in a bowl.
I could take them like pills, oval and still in a plastic bottle.
Throw open the window, let them wing toward town,
skim with eyes riverbound after fish, dart quick in water.
I could sprinkle them like petals at a wedding, toss them
in a bouquet, sing them as a Glory, Hallelujah.
If rain peppers the drive with its blue eyebrows, I can
use them as an umbrella to comfort me. For you,
I could sew them into a Mayan indigo shawl covered
in faceless birds dancing. If I were really lucky, really
responsible, kind, given to the malady of hope, I might
parachute them from planes in the middle east, wrap
them in bread and lay them at the feet of homelessness.
I could use them to tell you the perfect things that sit
in my kitchen. I could use them to tell you that my cat
is dead, buried beneath a stone in my side yard.
I could engrave them on spruce, on pine, my hands
sticky with them. I could lay them in the gravel and watch
them move, black ants of letters, spelling one hundred
impossible things. I could ride them, a lone poet on
a white horse, calling, Hi ho! Hi ho!

Surprise and image drive this poem. The poem grabs the reader in the first clause with the evocative “white shell of morning . . . .” By the 7th line’s rain peppering “the drive with its blue eyebrows,” the reader is hooked and a little disoriented. Not every poem can get away with these flights of imagination, but the poet’s command of diction and image demote sense-making in favor of pure enjoyment of the language. The poem is also ambitious. It leans into the political when it describes hope as a malady and references the societal ills of homelessness and war. The poet’s decision to touch on the political and not linger there saves the poem from devolving into a rant. The strong closing returns to a focus on words themselves and leaves the reader wondering about the power of language. This is a fine poem. --Philip Belcher

Second Place

hospice nurse

by Billy Howell-Sinnard
The Writer's Block

up late
the dying have paperwork
i must complete

it says nothing
about their living

i want to be up early
not miss the blood moon
the total eclipse
in the first hours of morning

dreams are about to say
something i won’t remember

a shadow
over my mind
will disappear

i’ll know
a good thing happened
without a trace

The starkness of these lines shows how content and form can complement each other in the hands of a skilled poet. Even in their brevity, however, the lines are nuanced. Consider the second stanza: “it says nothing / about their living”. The ease with which the reader comprehends the double meaning—the paperwork neither describes the patient’s life nor forecasts more life in the future—amplifies its power. Nothing is opaque here; rather, it is honest and plain. The final stanza, too, is revealing. Having mentioned in preceding stanzas the blood moon and the eclipse, forgotten dreams, and a shadow that has disappeared, the poet ends in a moment of contemplation: “I’ll know / a good thing happened / without a trace”. Like the shadow, the moon, and the dream, a life can pass with no trace but what lives for a time in memory. --Philip Belcher

Third Place

and then there was the day even words were gone

by Cate
Wild Poetry Forum

It started as a slow fade,
a bass beat mixed into the rumble
of the earth so low
no one heard it. Small things
were gone at first;
what he had eaten for lunch.
Had he eaten lunch?
A memory of something
that probably didn’t happen
but could have
so was all the more special.
It moved into closet spaces
and under stairs spaces.
There was once a photo of a man,
he was looking at the mirror
through a lens or perhaps light.

This morning he woke to a sky
of only greys, the sound
of crows someplace behind him,
an echo of a lake
he had once slept beside.
In the bathroom the water ran
through his fingers.
He did not look up,
he would not look up.
Who needs to see his own face,
to know he is still real.

One way, but certainly not the only way, to interpret this poem is to read it as a kind of meditation on the constriction of energies and capacities that accompanies old age or dementia. The reader cannot identify the “place” of the poem until the scene described in the last six lines. The poet skillfully keeps the reader off balance aurally (the slow fade that seems to continue indefinitely; it’s “so low / no one heard it” but still there) and spatially (Where are we? Outside? Near a closet or the stairs? Looking in a mirror? Looking at the sky?) The poem ends on a powerful elegiac note: “. . . he would not look up. / Who needs to see his own face, / to know he is still real?” This is a contemplation of what it means to be human and to know it. If I have misjudged the context of this poem—because it remains mysterious to me—I hope I can be forgiven. The poem’s ambiguities only increase my appreciation for it. --Philip Belcher

  • February 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      Not a Poem of Crows
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Resolution to Laugh More
      by F.H. Lee
      The Write Idea

      Third Place

      The Nowhere
      by Erwin Fernandez
      Wild Poetry Forum

  • January 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      How the Wind Works
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Sleep Walker
      by Brenda Levy Tate

      Third Place

      The Woman Who Grew up in My House Finds Me on Facebook and Comes to Take a Look Around
      by Antonia Clark
      The Waters