Winning Poems for June 2016
Judged by Joan Colby
” … heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them.”
~ Herman Melville
I cross these tides to you – my beautiful
hearse that carries the corpse of desire
on your spine. We plow this sea together,
as the wake’s ribbon trails behind us.
Your harpoon-rope uncoils like a vine.
Below in the secret green, another tale
begins – not yours, nor mine either,
but the wild carol of a sleepless god
in his kelp nest, now risen to ask who
dares break faith with him.
I cannot separate myself from your pale
back, your bone burden. I ride you
groaning through the wet darkness.
Whatever lies we gave each other
in our youth, the salt has eaten them.
There is only a crazy boatman now,
sworn to own us both – captain of souls
who carries no one without consent.
Refuse him, love. Dive deep and take
me under too. Accept no sunless
river or frail death-vessel. We will claim
the whole ocean, circle this waterborn ball
a hundred thousand years.
This poem utilizes a haunting and effective metaphor that energizes the poem seamlessly to an evocative conclusion. Lines like “the wild carol of a sleeping god/in his kelp nest” are both visual and pertinent. --Joan Colby
When my father died my mother traveled
untethered as if he were the rope
and death the cutting blade.
One summer I pulled a buck knife on a boy
who bullied me. The black handle
a perfect fit for my fist, I flipped
the blade to let him see and hoped
my shaking was taken as passion,
as I do now, still. When the first girl I loved
dumped me, I walked through a plate glass door
and saw the white bone of my ankle
like a whispered secret. Years later,
she emailed from Guatemala to say
she was part of the revolution,
that I revolted her and should stay far away.
My mother phoned from Alaska to ask
if I needed a new winter coat.
When my father’s heart stopped, while he shopped
at the mall, the paramedics sliced
his down ski jacket from top to bottom.
I know because I saw it hanging
like a tired flag of surrender
in my mother’s closet that first Christmas
she spun out into the world without him.
Using the metaphor of a knife, the poem treats the subject of a father’s sudden death. The writer confronts the topic head-on, then takes us on a journey through repeated injuries and disappointments to evoke the “tired flag of surrender” that epitomizes the loss. --Joan Colby
The Writer's Block
Reports of trousered women and girls working underground in mines. Harnessed like
animals, they dragged heavy carts of coal . . . The greatest scandal was not the brutal work,
which damaged women’s health, but revelations that they worked topless alongside naked men . . .
Morning Chronicle, London – May 1842
He cut his way through the three foot six seam following its undulations down through
the years. Seven ton per shift, the owners call. He rarely met his bonus. He works
with candle set in cap. Scoring the undercut six foot long, wedge the top and collapse
the wall. His mate breaks up the coal, loads into the truck. The weigher measures by
mensuration, the haulier draws away the cart passing the women at level two, their
breasts shining with sweat as they pull carts by straddling the chains displaying their
cunnies through the slit in their breeches. His shift over he cadges a lift on the carts
along the five mile haul to the lift cage and ascends up to the light, to heaven, to
bird’s song and clean pure air that cools his lungs. He walks to the pub to consume
two pints of bitter then makes his way back to wife and home. He soaks in a zinc bath
in front of a coal fire attended by his wife and daughter. He allows them to wash the
dirt off his back, never mind the superstition of leaving one part unwashed. One day,
Sunday, devoted to worship, reading the Bible and Chapel. He had a day off once, he
had injured his thumb and took time off at the risk of losing his job. But Dai, his
fireman, said it was allowable bearing in mind his record. They caught a train to
Newport and visited the great covered market there. He remembered sitting at a café
and eating faggots with mash and peas. They drank small cups of coffee and he
wondered that people could dine so well every day in that great city. He often thought
about that day as he worked the seam, endless it seemed, but it brought him life and
riches and kept him out of the cold rain that swept the valley in winter, out of the
howling wind that killed so many on the land. His own Da dying at forty six years, his
Mam two years later. On the odd occasion he allowed his thoughts to wonder at the
beauty of the women on level two and the perfection of their bodies, glistening in the
faint flickering light. It was, he supposed, a sin, but then God had made them that
soft lovely way had He not?
He had fifteen years to go, if the dust didn’t take him. They saved for that day to avoid
the workhouse. Their wealth in the children and the children’s children, that was
their inheritance, to die in the arms of ones family. Sometimes when Dafydd was at the
end of the seam he would have a little weep, he had nightmares of the dark, alone,
entombed. Megan comforted him, understanding his despair. Ashamed to be so weak he
hid his fear and the tremors, embarrassed of thinking too much of the women, but glad too
that they gave him joy. He wished in a way he could confess to a priest, was it a
weakness that they confessed not to their pastors. Then he would pray and Ieuan who
thought all religion a sin would say, Come on mun, don’t dwell on this misery, we’ll
drink three pints tonight.
And Dafydd, who believed all good things came from God, thanked Him for his mate Ieuan.
The brutality of a miner’s vanished way of life is carefully detailed. “Candle set in cap” “soaks in a zinc bath in front of a coal fire” “eating faggots with mash and peas” “Ieuan who thought all religion a sin” The scene is rivetingly real. --Joan Colby
Wild Poetry Forum
I looked around to choose a star
and I found myself here,
a lonesome planet where
stars are scattered on every floor
Tip toeing across them,
we’d mask the scent of dancing
At school I felt the loneliness
every pariah feels-
Girls like me, boys like me, were
creeping panthers, silky and strong
prowling between hungry lambs.
As for them, the winners,
they had their small town sheriffs with
guns and secret links to the Ku Klux Klan
under lamp light
about their late night crimes
I tried, hard as I could, to not understand
Loneliness sought me
and I sought her
together we’d go places
the others never dreamed
We’d climb down a tunnel
to another world
A place so far from here
you could fly.
Outsider kids, those who are bullied, ignored and lonely, inhabit this ode to their escape “A place so far from here/you could fly.” --Joan Colby