Winning Poems for February 2017
Judged by Sara Clancy
I didn’t beat my father with a steel chain—
the welts from Mother’s tongue
being punishment enough.
And the ricin-spiked pork chop that killed
my neighbor’s endlessly barking Rottweiler
didn’t come from me—though I confess:
if any dog on earth deserved to die,
Spike was the one.
I didn’t set fire to Jane’s apartment on Brower Street
after she gave me gonorrhea,
then bragged about it to her friends—
but I did turn her in to the Health Department.
Though I ran across Eric Starvo Galt in Mexico
in 1967, when he was playing porn entrepreneur,
I was not the mysterious co-conspirator,
when, as James Earl Ray, he shot Doctor King.
I “borrowed” a friend’s Volvo while he was in
Namibia as a Peace Corps volunteer—
then something happened I can’t talk about—
but to this day Wally and I are buddies.
Though I’m old enough to have murdered
villagers at My Lai, that wasn’t me
who pushed a farmer into a well,
then tossed in a grenade.
At nineteen, I shoplifted a carton of Marlboros,
for which I felt no remorse—nor feel any now.
But as I look back on all the ugly stuff
I’ve done, or could have done, or had
someone falsely accuse me of doing,
one terrible misstep comes to mind for which
no atonement will suffice. And that is:
for a long dark year I wasted my life with you.
What a delicious, ingenious revenge poem! I just love how all the inventive things the voice admits to doing, or attests to not doing escalate into a darkly comic set up for the devastating actual regret at the end. I didn’t see it coming. --Sara Clancy
Desert Moon Review
“but if a girl were possible
as I am possible
then marriage would be possible” … Gregory Corso
I told her she was old with memories, but the truth was when
the moon sings with dreams and twilight her wedding veil,
I see her completely, as she is, and that is entirely alone.
She collected us like she collects butterflies or dogs, frames
and strange glasses, I think the world is blurred to her.
I think she likes it that way. She needs friends, not those
creepy painters. She needs her daughter to wave her wand
and turn her back into a mother. She is a monarch flitting through
an empty palace. The last time I saw her, during one of those wild
soirees, attended by vampires, she was bathing in the moon light.
From the gondolier she hired to ferry us around, as if we were on the river
Styx I could pretend for a moment she was young.
We were both the same age. I watched her rise from the fangy mooned
water, as if to leave her mermaid tail behind to join her tortured guests.
They cat called and waved her back into their amber lit lives.
It were as if she were hiding there among the bottles: a sequin
that had fallen off one of her tiaras or maybe she was a tear.
I looked at the watch she has given so freely from
her own hand and prayed for us both. That there would be time,
Sweet lady, when we could shrug off our tired human skin,
rattlers that devour the light. Then together, drift off
like one of her Chagall couples into a flame red sky,
a sailor’s best omen. Or like that apple that tempts us, leads us
instead into paradise. A place where time is simply a fool’
There are so many exquisite lines in this poem, I hardly know where to begin, but “She needs her daughter to wave her wand and turn her back into a mother.” and “Then together, drift off /like one of her Chagall couples into a flame red sky,/a sailor’s best omen.” certainly caught my attention. Truth be told, I like this better than the Corso poem the title references. Simply beautiful. --Sara Clancy
Our legs gone,
we have climbed for hours
behind a flatulent donkey.
The path snakes along
a canyon wall, vanishes
into a thick fog
of snowy air. When it clears
a yak stares back at us
from the middle of the path,
a border guard
not to be taken lightly.
from his nostrils, clings
to his woolly layers.
Our matted hair
and heavy robes
assure him that we
are brothers. Slowly
he drifts away.
A stone kicked up
by our donkey
splashes far below
in the Yalung
Straightforward and yet elegantly evocative throughout, but I especially love the way this one opened. An amusing detail that adds a jolt of authenticity and immediacy to this strikingly visual poem. --Sara Clancy
Here, in the glare of a lifeless moon,
beneath the dormant sycamores,
where snowdrops press to mock the snow,
and winter’s dropping thaw paints their petals white;
when seeds burgeon from hawberries
beneath the hedgerow as the town sleeps
through spring’s twitch, and badgers stretch in brittle
leaf litter; when the Earth’s tilt warms the air;
when the overflowing tarns release
a melody to the valleys and deepening lakes,
and blackbirds prepare to sing again,
I pray the sap will find a way
to fill these vacant veins of mine.
In a midnight voice, arms extended,
she read blues that laid the soul to dust.
She gave us her mother, standing in the ruins,
holding a bouquet of bloody music and a spear
she’d carved out of her lover’s bones.
A white woman in the audience, hands extended upwards,
moved her fingers, called the sky to hold these words.
Slashing, sinewy phrases testified to the stamina
of the first activists; her mother fought with the strength
that came from shotgun houses next to the picking fields,
grace earned through knowledge and the mission at hand.
Her poem was a freight train of rapid fire explosive words.
Intellect the weapon, unconcealed now, quashed the howling
and leers from whiskey veined faces in tobacco spit-stained t-shirts,
arms lagged leisurely over benches on small town median strips.
She testified to the cruelty, the barbarity, and every day battles
fought by her family, whose matriarch carried hurricane force.