Winning Poems for September 2018

Judged by Kathleen Hellen

First Place

Let Me End the Way the Dinosaurs Began

by Guy Kettelhack
Wild Poetry Forum

Carl and Alice now reside beside each other as small
piles of grit – sieved into the brass receptacles that
bear their names; my brother Bob is similarly packed
in brass two thousand seven hundred ninety miles away
insensible to masses he once led and prayed in at
St Thomas’s Episcopalian Hollywood Boulevard array
of granite grey occasion for haute Anglican gesticulation,
three minutes’ amble west of Grauman’s in L.A. –
my parents in a backroom of St Mary’s Anglican brown
shingled nineteenth century Long Island edifice devoted
to not worrying about obfuscatory Soul. My brother
Bob’s dust lies inside an obeliskish Monument (though
maybe not, I might have made it up) etched letters
in its stone in praise of him as priest. He tried but couldn’t
break the least blip in the spell of AIDS. These are
the passing grades Religion gives to those who don’t,
as I will, throw myself as is my wont upon the upstretched
angry spears and blades that wait to rip my consciousness
to shreds, crush the mess into small bits of carbohydrate,
protein, mineral and fat that I’ll exactingly have told
executors to roll into soft pellets to regale descendants
of the dinosaurs, particularly those ferocious sparrows,
fierce as wanton arrows, who don’t give a flying flip
if any other sparrow gets a share. Let me end the way
the Dinosaurs began, as evolutionary oddity whose
single efficacy would eventually be to let their dead
collective rotting body fertilize and nourish antecedents
of what in three hundred million years would turn
into a German mother’s embryo that would become
the man who’d engineer the Autobahn and drive
as fast upon it as he’d dare. No speed limit there.
I’m not sure. Did I just write a prayer?

The confidence of form---8 quatrains with interlocking rhyme---serves as striking counterpoint to the ambiguity of the final couplet. The narrator’s long view (LA to Long Island to Germany/“three hundred million years” to now) is part elegy to others (“Carl and Alice,” brother Bob, parents) and part to self: The anticipation of a “ferocious” end that is a “mess” of “soft pellets,” fertilizer for “antecedents”---until the very human question at the end: “Did I just write a prayer?” --Kathleen Hellen

Second Place


by John Riley
The Waters

The past is buoyant and soft,
billows a sail full of charm
if you’re alive—but we dead
have past as present, no time
raises a head to say “I’m
the current and this day should
course through you like a breeze.”
Stones fly, fire excites each hour,
suffering can never be surrendered.
We walk along the ridge suspended
without support cross the bay
that lures the passing ships
to dock with their doom and unboard.

A collective of the dead---the “we” of “no time”---addresses the living in the tight syllabics of this poem, buoyed with references to water/wind (time is the “current,” day is the “breeze”). They remind us through the culminating metaphor of “ships” that we are passing through “stones” and the “fire” that “excites.” They tell us suffering can “never be surrendered” and wait for us to “dock” and “unboard.” --Kathleen Hellen

Third Place


by Brenda Levy Tate

Dusk deepens, and brings stars. I wait for them; pray to see them.
They cancel my need for sleep. When they appear, rivets in a curve, I wander 
under their patterns, count myself blessed. Avoid the crammed shelves
above my bed where photos glare, those downlooking ones who knew me
before I ever met a midnight sky. Beneath my heels, the dark lawn springs 
eternal, like resurrection. No matter how often I cut it down, grass returns 

with a clover scarf gently laid, and bees with emerald sparkles on their heads. 
I think of how they borrow themselves from space. Their starfield, I can map 
and travel by day. Their wings, I greet fearless. But they are torpid now – 

the only part of remembered noon that sings above the noise of ordinary light. 
The galaxies excuse me. My camera grants absolution. Its lens gleams,
a fisheye in murk where I swim forever, suspended between sea and heaven. 

Out here, no dreams ripple the surface. I consider nothing of myself, neither sin 
nor sorrow. I hum to the quiet dead as I map their universe. A husband carousing 
with Jupiter. A lover stung by Scorpio. A brother raising his arrow to my throat. 

No power in consciousness. Only with slumber do they punish me. I am perfect 
this night, barely human. The void which bore me from ash, the roiling bubble 
of failed promises, spans every hour until I go. This is the universe I have inherited. 

Mars hovers above the lake; earth swings toward morning. No more frames 
are possible, but enough have been captured: holy fire – burning in the prison 
of my glass. I scuff a trail through wet blades, drip on the kitchen floor. 

Collapse tripod, remove memory card, connect reader. In my bedroom, 
faces wait, but they are patient. I stir a creamy nebula – instant coffee 
to hold off sleep just a little longer.   

Rendered in tercets, this narrative relies on binaries (earth/sky-day/night-waking/sleeping) to provide background for its restless movement through a night of stars, its liquid phrasings (“rivets in a curve”). The camera serves as trope for framing what we see: here, the “quiet dead” (husband, lover, brother). It grants “absolution” in a subtext that begs “to hold off sleep just a little longer.” --Kathleen Hellen

  • March 2022 Winners

    • First Place

      September Heat
      by Andrew Dufresne
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Second Place

      At the Cancer Center
      by Terry Ofner
      The Waters

      Third Place

      At Last Ghazal
      by Greta Bolger
      The Waters

      Honorable Mention

      Died Last Fall
      by ieuan ap hywel
      The Writer's Block

  • February 2022 Winners

    • First Place

      Grand Central Station
      by Christine Potter
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Back Stage
      by Siva Ramanathan
      The Writer's Block

      Third Place

      by Billy Howell-Sinnard
      The Writer's Block