Winning Poems for January 2019

Judged by Ruth Bavetta

First Place

How the Wind Works

by Alison Armstrong-Webber
The Waters

Young boys in Maiduguri often test
how the wind works
by blowing themselves to pieces.

Aremu Adams Adebisi


And when they get to where they are going, the boys
bursting forth from within their own chests like flurries
of torn paper, or collapsible flowers – if the wind is
with them – does a lion lie down in the heart, then,
with a lamb? Is there time, for that emptiness

to shine wholly in splotches ripe as real berries
and for part of a shoe to be wet with something
like the wondrous, yearned-for rain? Can they see,
through the whisk of the wind’s borrowed trillion

eyes, how the universe was formed out of a perennial
blossom of light and an infinite mote of supreme
black,— how it all fits back together, red-black,
the pearl of splintered bone, the puzzle
of matter, and no matter.

I hardly know where to begin discussing this forcible poem. Tragedy with music. Surrealism that is realism. Beautiful images describing indescribable horror. A universe that sucks us in and repels us simultaneously. A song of beauty and wonder and death. --Ruth Bavetta

Second Place

Sleep Walker

by Brenda Levy Tate

The Milky Way runs dry and fades behind
a wool of overcast – close-hung for nights
and noons and nights again. I wouldn’t mind
if on this trek, I had no need of lights
but such is not the case right now. The sky
brings everything – a solace and a shield
against this bitter earth, against the cry
that rises thin and crystal from my field
where snow has frozen hope. I follow deer
because they travel crooked trails – like mine –
just paths through spruces. Should the stars appear,
I’d navigate by looking up – their shine
my guide. But no stars mark the map ahead.
Perhaps I’ve dreamed them all. Perhaps they’re dead.

Our fascination with the sonnet has wound through western poetry for hundreds of year and still remains undiminished. The form tempts us with the honey of the consciously “poetic.” It takes poets committed to the life and language of their own times to resist the lure of antiquated language and inflated images. This poet uses the fourteen lines, the iambic pentameter, the rhyme scheme, the turn, the ending couplet, all inherited from the past, but makes the poem unequivocally modern. --Ruth Bavetta

Third Place

The Woman Who Grew up in My House Finds Me on Facebook and Comes to Take a Look Around

by Antonia Clark
The Waters

It seemed I’d always known her, deep in the bone,
a long-lost cousin, sister, friend of my youth—
though we had never met, and never spoken.
Yet there she was at the door, apologetic, tearful,

a vase of peach roses, a scarf like mine. Like me,
Like me, the thought unbidden, my arms around her.
For her, time suddenly collapsing to the morning
she left here 50 years ago on her wedding day.

She moved tentatively from room to room, as if
testing her footing, like a child in the dark. How small
these rooms now, how memory had expanded them
to hold all of childhood’s wonder, drama, dreams.

Her father had built this square and sturdy house,
then married and raised seven children, counting
the oldest who drowned in the lake. We marveled
at what had changed, what stayed the same.

At every doorway, every corner, she could see
backward in time, the past shimmering with clarity—
Here the wood stove (see how the floor’s patched in?),
there the ice box, the winter boot-bin, father’s chair.

In this corner, a sewing machine, against that wall
an iron cookstove. The old ceiling’s been covered
with molded tin, floors with ceramic tile, the bathroom
once shared by ten tripled in size to accommodate two.

Her bedroom, with its attic door that once held
monsters at bay, now my small library. She stood
stunned or maybe stalling for time, reading the titles
of my books, neither of us wanting the hour to end.

Then she was taking a last look, everything both
old and new to each of us. And then we were parting.
A wind had come up. Leaves swirled at the open
door, where we hesitated, shivering, eyes smarting.

This poem speaks to connections—between contemporaneous people, between generations, between family and strangers. A deceptively simple narrative leads us to reflect on our own lives and the different houses, both actual and metaphorical, that we have inhabited, and the ways in which there are unknown links between us and others. --Ruth Bavetta