Winning Poems for May 2015

Judged by Lesley Wheeler

First Place


by Christine Potter
The Waters

In Japanese, Hibakusha means “bomb-affected people.”
It is the term used for survivors of the atomic attacks
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If we carry everything that ever happened to us, words
must be the buckets we use to contain it all. That was

the first thing I thought when I opened my eyes to the day
gathering itself into one bird and then many, into harmless

light that grew until I got up to join familiar trees and
a road crew listening to talk radio out the open windows

of their truck. They were laughing as I opened the door
to pick up the newspaper in its blue plastic bag and I

thought how the Hibakusha I’d gone to hear last night
had laughed, too: at snotty noses they’d had the winter

after the A-bomb, at the translator interrupting their
Japanese with English too soon, or not soon enough.

I understand no Japanese and so it all sounded like rain
to me, but I do understand rain. Then the grandmother–

her three-legged cane leaning on the lectern–cried.
It was her twelve-year-old best friend in 1945 again,

dying of radiation burns, said the translator, dead fish
suddenly floating in the river, how her mother said they

were poison and made her put them all back, the black
rain. At the end of the evening, someone bowed to me

and gave me a lapel pin with a pink flower that said 70
years, and a packet of shrimp crackers from Hiroshima.

So today, I have no words. How can we plan these things
in the light of morning? How can we mock the sun and

actually teach it as history? Someone said Yes, go do this.
Someone named the bomber after his mother. And then

someone else looked up at the sky, saw the glint of
the approaching plane and thought, Oh, how pretty!

This spare and lovely meditation grounds its unanswerable question—how can we make sense of atrocity?—in poignant details. I admire the poem’s odd, memorable turns of phrase, especially “the day/ gathering itself into one bird” and “I do understand rain.” --Lesley Wheeler

Second Place


by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

There’s a name that takes on status after you’re dead,
but alive you walk among the trees, muttering
to yourself. How bleak, they missed all that: she believed
that damselflies had a smell, a witch’s cauldron rising over

the lake. She told them angel wings rattle in the forest.
Her poems were a failed writer’s “mistake.” Bleak, freak,
chic, oh well. Oblique, does a poem have a smell?
She could conjure, but never spell. Even her chums

with their cobweb noises. Oy, she heard those voices.
She keeps racking up words but never a pension. She makes
politicians cringe. There is an illness for what she has.
Words summon her to the fairy houses. She follows vowels

home like a crusty trail. She could never write prose or something
dignified. She had no lineage, her mother was a plumber,
and has no MFA. Sssh, you might have guessed, her best friend,
declares he’s: earnest. They praise her fast retort, the word

they couldn’t remember never mind utter. You must know her poems
were her children, a sordid clan, brats behaving badly.
As a last resort, they praised her ability to respond with this
or that quotation. Left-foot right-foot, through the forest. Aren’t you

tired, of this brief and meager hobby? Why couldn’t she be a lawyer
and make the trains run. Gnarly bending limbs, a rough line
here or there, a strophe bends low to the ground. Only the sky should
covet sound. She praised real poets, the cardinal’s chatter, she’d hurl words

hard and soft: chartreuse, aquamarine, pearl. A smoldering cinder
became a red thrush about to burst into flame. Listen, hummingbird rests
on his halo, his laurelled boa of light. After she died, they said, “even in silence
she is articulate.” Even then, we wish she’d give voice to angels.

I was hooked by these sound-rich verses early, but “She follows vowels/ home like a crusty trail” clinched the deal. Here a poet’s work develops aspects of a fairy tale quest. --Lesley Wheeler

Third Place

The Accident

by Kendall Witherspoon
The Waters

I’ll stand right here,
at the window,
until I know
for sure
if that piece
of shaggy bark
is really a snowy

Then I’ll call
my daughter
about her mother.

When big things happen to people, our perceptions heighten and we fixate on small things like a “piece/ of shaggy bark.” “The Accident” shows rather than tells us the speaker’s emotional condition, deriving power from vivid understatement. --Lesley Wheeler

  • May 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      I think of the colour purple
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Swimming in Twilight
      by Peter Halpin
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      In another country with strangers
      by Greta Bolger
      The Waters

  • April 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      Furiously Overcome by Stars
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Second Place

      Ides of March
      by Rachel Green
      The Write Idea

      Third Place

      Natural History
      by Antonia Clark
      The Waters