Winning Poems for August 2018

Judged by Kathleen Hellen

First Place

The World Is Moist in the Morning

by Terry Ofner
The Waters

The morning is a thunderclap of light.
Moist light, because the world is moist in the morning.
I’m in it the way water worries, the way the creek
keeps asking the same question: When do I rest?

I’m in it the way certain entities enter a story then leave it—
desert creatures, dry and honeyed and locusted,
like John the Baptist come to moisten the morning head
of his Master, losing his underground shortly after.

The morning is a thunderclap of light. I’m in it
but light-blind and bone-idle, the way the creek slows
in a tunnel of shade looking for a low place to hide—
a Jonah, his ship storm-stalled: O, just let me sleep.

I’m in it. The morning is moist. The morning is too bright.
I’m in it. I’m standing in the way of my own light.

Sourced in the title (“moist,” “morning”) these lovely repetitions of sound and sense wend their way through the three quatrains of the poem, through the narrator’s dark passage of doubt. Along the way there is the “thunderclap of light”---a repeated call to awakening---comparisons to the water-prophet John, the bellied Jonah, until we reach the shore of the final rhymed couplet, which is the poem’s epiphany---its “own light.” --Kathleen Hellen

Second Place

My Epitaph

by Guy Kettelhack
Wild Poetry Forum

I’ll never have a son or daughter.
I slaughtered any likelihood of that.
It’s not just that I’m gay. There are other
ways to foster progeny than through
the customary man and woman family plan.
But I’m content to be the witting beneficiary
of unwitting chance: the coupling of a father
and a mother in the sanctioned pleasures
of the ancient dance, which however by some
measures failed by not producing others through
new fathers and new mothers to the line.
My brother’s sexual proclivities reflected mine.
Venus never met our penises: Mars perhaps
too often has. And yet I’ve known a kind of jazz
epiphany through procreative sexual abandon:
libidinizing life – as if that were the apparatus
of a wife with whom I’ve peopled my New York.
(Blake sat naked in his London garden, singing
to his progeny of poesy, heralded by angels
in his trees.) I am among this city’s legacies.
New York is my spouse and child; I am its.
If I have a generative purpose, here it sits.
But am I only apparatus? Do I have blood?
I dream I’m standing with my father and my
brother in a downpour of precipitating mud.
Solipsism drops in dollops of itself, discarded like
denatured coffee grounds, forgotten by the pot.
My epitaph’s a rueful laugh: “I’m all I’ve got.”

Both full and sometimes slanting (“line”/”mine”/“jazz”/“apparatus”) these interlocking rhymes drive the ironies in this meditation on the deficit of sons and daughters. The narrator’s voice (“It’s not that I’m gay”) delivers a wry self-analysis of “sexual proclivities” against personal choice, like Blake’s, the poem insists, “singing/to his progeny of poesy.” The rhymed couplet that closes the poem seals this “rueful” epitaph for a self “denatured.” --Kathleen Hellen

Third Place

I kissed a tree

by Alison Armstrong-Webber
The Waters

remember, in May,
the rough crack bark
of a certain tree?

My mittened hand
was a furred glyph,
on the scarred runnels
of a certain tree.

How I loved thee.
The small, carmine roses
that overhung the walkway, for days,
all scissored

the lamentation
of steel ribs
in the water garden,
the overturned
rebuke: canoe

the bent aluminium

How we all
brushed past
one another,

the night
of a blood moon
in late July.
And we did not know

how great
was our

and our
– in which I kissed
a Tweedsmuir tree –
was the self same.

In this poem addressed to “Mari,” there are earfuls (“scarred runnels,” “scissored” roses) that underscore the “lamentation.” The reader eavesdrops on the memory of a summer, the beloved “certain tree” among edenic images of “ribs,” a “water garden.” In the tension between “laughing”/”jiggling”/”peace” and what was “brushed past,” what “we did not know,” the poem rises, returning to the certainty of the kiss, the tree. The self that is the “same.” --Kathleen Hellen

  • May2020 Winners

    • First Place

      Burying My Brother
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Waters

      Second Place

      The Asian man who walks past the balcony
      by Daniel J. Flore III

      Third Place

      Five Hundred Yards from Home
      by Richard Moorhead
      Wild Poetry Forum

  • April 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      In the next life we were married
      by Ken Brownlow
      The Waters

      Second Place

      To a Wayward Son
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Waters

      Third Place

      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Writer's Block