Winning Poems for December 2016
Judged by Richard Krawiec
Suppose fate lay down and froze in the snow
and the world found a place for the next god
by the very nature of things, by the way
the peach tree takes on the sun even when
it doesn’t need it. The way it holds it
in its branches waiting for the fruit to call it
to its next life. Suppose the bird sits alone
on the branch or the chair facing it were the rain
and the way it goes. Suppose the way it goes
was all a god could muster
and that was the life he left you. How you never
really disappear because arrival and departure
are an operating table, and when your body leaves
the room you are still there with your secrets exposed.
Suppose a doctor is a preacher
with a knife and you have let your feathers fall
in a pattern of despair. When your brother sits
in a chair of iron suppose he never really left you
and the day begins with this wind in the branches
and never ends. Suppose your fingers were the flame
of a life you were still living and the man you wanted
came to you as if you were a house built
just for dreaming. Suppose your house caught fire
and you lived this way because it’s the only way
you knew. Suppose the world kept spinning on its stem
without need for plucking. Even when it glistened
like a ripe fruit and all you could do was come back
and try again to taste it.
It’s hard to put ‘fate’ in the first line of a poem and make the poem work, but this poet does - by having fate immediately freeze to death to be replaced by the next god. So our expectations of something eternal, about fate, about gods, is immediately dismissed, which makes us pay attention What is this world we’re entering? From the clarity of ‘the way the peach tree takes on the sun’, to the surreal transition of a chair into rain, to the supposition that even gods can’t do much more than accept ‘the way it goes’ to the realization the poem contains a center where someone left, or died, or both, nothing in this poem is what it seems to be on the surface. A doctor is a preacher, feathers fall in a pattern of despair, fingers become flames, life is a ripe fruit that you can’t pluck, but you still attempt to to taste. The poem leaves you wanting to read it again. --Richard Krawiec
I love the way you come to us—
tentative, slow, in your threadbare
dress, muted, undone, hands
cold, eyes warning of snow.
I love your dwindling, the whisper
of sadness in your passing.
You give us pause, brief stillness,
respite before madness.
I love your hymns and pilgrims.
Your frost moon, high and fair.
Your mackerel skies. Morning rime.
The winter in your hair.
I love your ballots and flags,
rows of white crosses, a clasping
of hands, every bowed head
thankful, despite our losses.
I love your wet gravel, bare
branches, damp bark. The last
chrysanthemum. The gathering dark.
Hot chocolate, toddies, cider, rum.
I’m frazzled and ragged. You’re
woodsmoke and rain. Welcome
home, old friend. Sit here a while.
Wrap me in your soft gray coat again.
The personification of a month - one that, for many, has brought sorrow and death - into something warm and comforting is well developed through strong imagery. The poet tells us she/he “loves” The threadbare dress, dwindling, whisper of sadness...then we move on to more obviously loveable items - hymns, frost moon, morning rime. Through the events(ballots) and harvests(cider) of the season, the poet comes to recognize the warmth in this old friend, the woodsmoke with the rain. --Richarc Krawiec
The Write Idea
What colour was the war to end all wars?
We’ve watched as men, in grainy black and white,
go o’er the top to face the chomping jaws
of curtain fire and shrapnel’s iron bite.
And when the muted thud of gas shells came,
the battleground transformed into a field
of jaundiced mustard, searing like a flame
those lungs that breathed it in and never healed.
Survivors and the dead alike lived on
in washed out shades of sepia which left
a photographic record once they’d gone
to join Death’s roll, or soldier on bereft.
But most of all the war to end all wars
is poppy-red, a hue to give us pause.
I feel this poet accomplishes what he/she set out to do. Write a compressed anti-war poem without being overly didactic, although the message is clear from the start. This poem may, stylistically, harken to an earlier era, but what is most admirable about it is the control of the rhythm, line, and enjambed rhyme. The tightness of technique makes it clear this has been worked on, but done so well you don’t notice it. --Richard Krawiec
Desert Moon Review
“I want them to see what they have done to Jack.”
So she wore her blood-stained pink
Chanel suit all the rest of that day.
She cradled his bloodied head in the helter-skelter ride
to Parkland: Jack’s glorious brow, storied crown
of a king. She knows Camelot is no more,
watches LBJ, uncouth Texan, seize power.
Jack’s corpse is covered by a white sheet,
a naked foot exposed—she feels blood drain
from her face, aware she is being watched;
everyone is silent, everything is different.
She takes his foot in her hand, kisses it gently, then
lifts the sheet to expose his face and shoulders,
recalls as a child no older than John John falling on the path
and how the nurse always kissed her better;
she returns to kiss Jack’s foot once more,
and through the sheet, his leg, waist, chest,
finally his lips. Now he is perfect again.