Winning Poems for November 2018

Judged by Jeanette Beebe

First Place

Radium Girls

by Ken Ashworth
The Writer's Block

Once was a question
We never asked.
It was a job needed doing.
There was a war on.

We worked at night
to better see the dials
and watch face, tipped
camel hair to our lips
to make a fine point.

Painted luminescent
hands and Roman
numerals on altimeters
tipped iron gunsights,
color of old moonlight.

For the boys in France
plugged in some ditch
or bunker behind the
Hindenburg Line.
A hundred years their
ghosts have ranged
Flanders Field and
Belleau Wood on the Marne.

We are the beacon
the light of home,
and beckon mildly
them to come mingle

with our bones. Our lips are warm,
the radium girls
still glowing in our graves.

This poem moves through time with a magic that serves its subject: the legacy of the women who worked with self-luminous paint for radium-lit watches in the early 20th century. Many women fell ill from radiation poisoning, which led to workers' rights lawsuits. Framing the poem in the collective voice — especially "We are the beacon / the light of home" — is a powerful choice; the poem would have been harder to grasp if it told the Radium Girls' story of something that happened to "them." The poem also does a good job of using language in a confident, economical voice: "It was a job needed doing / There was a war on." The final line — "still glowing in our graves" — is an especially strong image, a signal about the impact these women left. --Jeanette Beebe

Second Place

The Unreliable Narrator

by Andrew Dufresne
Wild Poetry Forum

I once killed a man said he could fly.
He was a liar who could only whistle.
I’m going to swim the Irish channel. Why?
I’m constant as a North Korean missile.

My lovers bake cakes edged with old barbed wire.
They send them soaked in high-test gasoline.
I have this null affect. I have this fire.
But I can’t burn because I am too green.

Come with me where flies sing lullabies,
Taught them by inch worms. Worms of guile.
The one who never fails? He never tries.
The flies pretend. The worms defend your smile.

Look over there. That’s the important thing.
Truth is for the wealthy. You get lies.
You’ll understand this better when you’re king.
But I am now. Look deep into my eyes.

The voice and tone of this narrator is arresting and strange, and the poem wraps around and explores the edges of its titular idea compellingly. The syntax is shrewd and punchy, which works well. The rhyme scheme enhances the experience — especially the turn of "guile" and "smile." It truly beguiles. --Jeanette Beebe

Third Place

Birds 2

by JJ Williamson

When the robin’s
brazen chitter
early evening’s

the golden billed
forget to trill
about love

Fuck the singing
cawed the crow

Voice, voice, voice. At the end of this poem, I laughed out loud — and sometimes, that's exactly what a poem should do. The "never / forget to trill" is subtle and complex. The line breaks help the rhythm flow so the final couplet ends with a bang. It just works. It lands well. --Jeanette Beebe

Honorable Mention

Too Late

by Billy Howell-Sinnard
The Waters

When I came down from the mountain,
I saw you with him. Everything I touched
broke. It was cold up there. I was alone,
except for other lonely men in knotty
pine bunks a few feet apart. Everyone
held their tongue. The stars so close
the light almost unbearable as if the beams
were thorns digging into tiny, delicate bones.
The coffee was never hot enough. We took
turns cooking. Eggs. Bacon. Potatoes.
The man who thought he was a preacher
read verses aloud from the Bible, got drunk
every night, smelled of aftershave. Piles
of chopped wood surrounded the camp
like barricades around a fort. Our only heat
a small wood burning stove in the center
of the cabin. Early to bed, up before sunrise,
ghosts feeling around through the fog of our
bodiless breaths. I came down from the
mountain early, with a fear, caught a ride.