Winning Poems for April 2016
Judged by Joan Colby
The Writer's Block
Hands clasped behind his head,
he says something I can’t understand.
Morphine mixes words in a slow
gooey concoction soothing his pain,
blurring the days that are left,
the whys ungraspable.
The dog has gotten outside.
He struggles to remember her name.
“She’ll be run over like the last one.”
It’s a busy road that connects
to a highway, a shortcut.
His wife has run after the dog.
While she is gone he asks, “You
know don’t you, will this work again,”
pointing to his legs, the left one
amputated below the knee, the right
too painful deep inside the bone
to move. His question tentative
as if he knows the answer
has nothing to do with his legs.
I tell him what no one has said
about this last road he must cross.
Before the moment lasts too long,
the dog bounds into the room.
The writer confronts a difficult topic without sentimentality. The spare diction of the poem reflects the hard question the sick man asks, already knowing the answer. The metaphor of the dog reflects both acceptance “she’ll be run over like the last one” and hope as at the conclusion the dog “bounds into the room.” The writer uses verbs to his advantage: mixes, struggles, bounds and conflates the busy road outside and this “last road he must cross.” --Joan Colby
The shepherd flinches
when a Herdwick tup twists
its horns. His fingers and flexors
tighten as the suck of fluid
pre-empts the snap.
hooves thrash oil-stained cobbles;
eyes shoot and through a stupor
of muted agony a tongue spills.
A yardhand pins its neck
and screams above the clatter.
He knows the fleece is shagged.
Lanolin hands haul the scruff-shite
upright, blindly sheering gashes
into balls and belly.
A spray of iodine
and a kick on the rump
sorts the frenzied shambles.
The bleeding tup scrambles
through the holding pens,
rams a huddle of lambs
and headbutts an iron gate.
He totters, trembles, drops.
The Laird sniffs and bristles,
curses like a scullion, bellows orders
’til the crew stands still.
Knackered men stare and spit
at the prick in tweed,
reach for his lordly arse
as the shepherd asks him
to knock it off.
Reminiscent of the poetry of Seamus Heaney, this vivid poem of sheep shearing bashes the reader with the violence of the task. The words are well chosen to reflect the scene: thrash, shagged, scruff-shite, gashes, shambles, scrambles, headbutts, bristles, scullion, bellows and not a word is wasted. The lines also break on powerful words: cobbles, clatter, rump, orders, spit, arse adding up to a piece that reverberates with action. --Joan Colby
Wild Poetry Forum
Maybe entire cities are sculpted by jazz musicians,
but me, I prefer the cowboy bars
magenta lights tingling: OPEN
Girls over 40 in cowboy-rocker boots
slide close to men with sideburns,
so she can almost pretend it’s me.
I resurfaced here after a brief spin
in the faraway land of lonely hearts,
the place where guitars play one, long note
That goes through the center of you
makes you vibrate like a string
as you close your eyes to a warm flush of stars.
I came back to walk dusty Nashville boulevards,
gospel store front churches, old, white mansions,
and one room chicken-shack farms, with determined old hound dogs
coming up to sniff me, then barking in surprise
and running away whining, when they realize
there really ain’t nothing there.
Elvis is deftly presented as a ghost in this adroitly written poem with its “magenta lights” “cowboy-rocker boots” and “one-room chicken shack farms” in “the faraway land of lonely hearts…where guitars play one long note.” The lyrical image of “a warm flush of stars” is offset by the pragmatic ending “there really ain’t nothing there.” The poet’s choice of language suits the subject and the triplet form provides both visual and aural satisfaction. --Joan Colby
Desert Moon Review
It was never my intent to care for corpses;
I came to Greece to study classical literature.
Nonetheless, I’ve become a soother of the dead:
refugees who arrive here in flimsy boats, too often
fail to land either alive or whole — parts wash ashore;
yet, whole or part doesn’t bother me — I bury them all
according to Sharia law. Do the same for a foot,
wash it tenderly, shroud it in white cotton cloth,
pray facing Mecca: “Allah forgive our living
and our dead” — shaded by Sappho’s olive trees.
In this poem, the author chooses an atypical narrator to address the plight of the Muslim refugees arriving in Greece, too often”failing to land either alive or whole.” Following the burial precepts of Sharia law, he becomes “a soother of the dead.” The poet presents the grave digger without embellishment; we know only that he came to Greece “to study classical literature”, allowing the reader to participate in the poem “shaded by Sappho’s olive trees.” --Joan Colby
For DH Lawrence
Why does the fox that divides the grass tempt me so?
Hasn’t the black whip of the snake hardened my heart?
Left behind, I seem to have a knack for abandonment.
A coven of vixen skulks from its den, stealthy and mad
as dreams. They are a brown crust of sleep that fades
into red-ribbon sunrise. These feral children summon
me; my soul is a dark forest. Like any forsaken creature,
I lap up my philosophy of blood. I have no conscience:
I seek out these scarlet whores as I name my unborn children.
And you, Fox about to disappear into mist, a red gash
of autumn still asleep on my chin. You have charmed me into
embracing my savage self. They call me the disciple of Rasputin,
the Godson of Caliban. Is love such a fiendish discipline: my beard,
pelt red, my dog’s head throbbing scandal, my heart drenched
in Holy wine? I am beguiled by sly brides. I have been reluctantly corrupted.
Oh, to be surrounded by vixen in the seductive tapestry of trees.
I have not confessed my intent, nor left my warm bed
of dreams to meet them among a sentinel of fir. If you examine
my crooked heart, you shall see I am both beast and master,
gamekeeper and vixen, a rifle and a thieving fox.
Lawrence’s animal poems are invoked in these lyrical lines in which the poet embraces the fox, the snake, the dog, and feral children to, as he puts it, “examine my crooked heart.” --Joan Colby