Winning Poems for January 2018

Judged by C. Wade Bentley

First Place

You Arrive Like Fall, Suddenly

by Bob Bradshaw
The Writer's Block

leaving my heart thumping
like a banging shutter. You missed

the bigleaf maples that hung
like mid air vineyards in spring,

their long racemes
of yellowish green flowers

heavy as grapes. Now
they have the anemic yellows

of leaves folded
like handkerchiefs waiting

to be pocketed away. That alone
should have alerted me to loss.

Haven’t the blow-wives long lost
their beautiful heads of white hair

to shearing winds?
Still, there’s hope you’ll stay, right?

Like the woolly mule’s ears
with her long blonde hair

you too feel at home
in the cool air,

one moment clinging to me
like a monkey flower to a fence,

as if intent on staying.
And yet the next moment

I sense you don’t need roots
–that like a moon jelly,

there isn’t a rock
or a patch of soil or a man

that could ever
anchor you.


I enjoyed the cascading couplets of this poem, like vines twining down an arbor, with nary a misstep in the voice, nothing to get snagged on. I was engaged from that delightful first metaphor, the “heart thumping like a banging shutter,” readying for a storm. Of course it’s not a new idea to see autumn as a foreshadowing of loss, but this poem refreshes the trope with concrete, sensory images. --C. Wade Bentley

Second Place

Waiting for the Second Coming

by Jim Doss
Wild Poetry Forum

The cattle are lowing
but there’s no baby in the manger. Christmas day
dawns cold and bright without a star to follow
or Wise Men who come trudging over the whitened

hills. All I see are the swaying backsides of Guernseys,
tails flicking flies out of habit. They waddle
like old ladies answering the call of church bells
weary from lugging oversized purses

filled with life’s necessary nothings.
They stare in wide-eyed astonishment
that I’ve left the warmth of the house, presents
unopened under the tree as the others snore

snugly in their beds. The sucking sound
of my rubber boots in the mud draws them
closer. I lead them one by one into the stalls,
smear antiseptic on the udders, attach

the metal fingers. Liquid rushes through tubing
as the gentle massage begins and the collection tank
fills. I listen to the whir of the vacuum motor,
unthinkingly replace one cow with another.

If there’s a Messiah born on this day,
surely he would be here, nestled dryly
in the loft, adored by his teenage parents,
who fled their own Caesars and Herods,

I want to rise from this damp straw
that smells of dung, urine and sour milk
to behold the radiance of his face,
the peaceful reassurance that miracles await.

But I’m afraid all I’d find is two scared children
holding a screaming baby, the bloody
afterbirth matted in the hay, a beat-up
Volkswagen hidden behind a clump of evergreens,

and their eyes begging the blessing of my silence.
As the last udder is emptied, a halo
of light descends from the loft window
to circle my thorn-crowned head, and it is finished.


There’s a Ted Kooser quality to this poem, which is high praise, in my book. The voice feels entirely authentic and confident. I believe the sucking sound of the speaker’s boots in the muck. I believe he/she knows her/his way around a milking barn. As always, for me, I need the poet to ground me in a place, give me a chance to look around, or else I am not able to listen to any grander ideas the poem might present. And this poet does so, beautifully. It’s the “oversized purses,” early in the poem that allow me to accept the “thorn-crowned head” at the end. --C. Wade Bentley

Third Place

Homeless

by J.J. Williamson
Babilu

The tiny mouse that lived inside
my dry stone wall is petrified.
Her body couldn’t bear the frost
and there she lies, preserved and lost,
inside my dry stone wall.

The pygmy shrew that found a heap
of brittle leaves falls sound asleep.
The snuffling mite consumed his last
then snuggled down to face his fast
inside the heap of leaves.

The jenny wren that settled in
the ivy quilt is plume and skin.
Her shivering frame has acquiesced
because she hadn’t built a nest
inside the ivy quilt.

The feral cat that prowls around
my broken fence slips on the ground.
The frozen earth defies his claw
and winter’s knives have sliced his paw
around my broken fence.

Now I sit in my cozy house
to think about the tiny mouse,
the shrew, the wren and feral cat
then place some balls of grain and fat
outside my cozy house.


I always admire a poet who can pull off a heavily-rhymed poem without making it feel heavy. The enjambment breaks up the iambic tetrameter, the rhymes are clever and fresh, so that we have a strong pulse pulling us through the stanzas, and yet the danger of doggerel, that sing-songy quality, is side-stepped beautifully. “The jenny wren that settled in”—lovely. --C. Wade Bentley

Honorable Mention

When I Go Out and Then Come Back

by Guy Kettelhack
Wild Poetry Forum

When I go out
and then come back
with my psyche’s sack
as packed with the city

as all of the rest of me,
I’m coming back to New York
of course. Like the mane
is the horse, andouille

would not be but for pork,
and I am made out of New York,
not just in it. I’m a pure-grained
example of what New York

does to the unwary soul
in that famed New York minute.
It swallows you whole.
Even my iPhone colludes

in the business of keeping me
conscious of this, block to block.
When without mercy I’m shunted
from corner to curb in Manhattan

and seize up inside
from the shock, my iPhone
reliably counsels:
‘press home and unlock.’

Since I’m always and already
home, pressing home doesn’t
ever require a key. I press home
and unlock when I know there was

never a lock to begin with –
just me and the city and me
in the city and me as the city
and . . .


“ . . . my psyche’s sack/ as packed with the city . . .”—wonderful. Skillful use of sounds and repetition throughout. --C. Wade Bentley


  • February 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      Nebraska, Summer
      by Greta Bolger
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Goldback Fern
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Writer's Block

      Third Place

      Negotiatin’ Wi Demons (For wee Rabbie Burns)
      by John J. Williamson
      PenShells

  • January 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      You Arrive Like Fall, Suddenly
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Writer's Block

      Second Place

      Waiting for the Second Coming
      by Jim Doss
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      Homeless
      by J.J. Williamson
      Babilu

      Honorable Mention

      When I Go Out and Then Come Back
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum