Winning Poems for May 2020

Judged by Terese Coe

First Place

Burying My Brother

by Bob Bradshaw
The Waters

Last night we sponged John’s body
as if he were a small boy,
creamed his face,
his fleshy jowls–

dressed in a dark suit
unlike the t-shirt and jeans
he once raced home in–smeared with dust
from belly flops into second base.

Deaf as clay, he doesn’t hear
his neighbors’ peacocks,
their cries like mourners
who can’t resign themselves to grief.

Photos of his kids
lie scattered across his chest
like cards in a poker game–
a winning hand played out.

This has the shock of directness and tragedy, yet irony enters often (and gives little comfort). Numerous oppositions appear in its 16 lines: creamed to dressed in a dark suit / unlike the t-shirt and jeans; a body in death to he once raced home; Deaf as clay to their cries; Photos to a poker game; and death to belly flops. The seemingly offhand but strong imagery and sounds have a spareness and move quickly, shocking and forcing the reader’s senses deep into the funereal scene. The final two stanzas are alarming and intimate, like mourners/ who can’t resign themselves to grief. Resigning oneself to grief would be an extremity to which mourners cling out of helplessness. The children, the winning hand, remind us it is My Brother in the title. The imagery is unique and artless in the sense of unpretentious and occurring naturally. --Terese Coe

Second Place

The Asian man who walks past the balcony

by Daniel J. Flore III

I always feel more at peace when the Asian man walks past the balcony
he just walks in circles
and is ok with the fact that he’s not going anywhere
his face is like a scarecrow in the wind
and his hands droop on their sides
his feet keep puttering along, battling the parking lot as if it were some great mountain
I would like to smoke and talk to him
but I don’t know what I’d say
maybe -“How’s the walk today?”
“Good, good.” I can picture him saying back
meaning it more than I can imagine

The diction is colloquial, the tone both amiable and ironic. The speaker’s deadpan and absurdist imagination (as in battling the parking lot as if it were some great mountain) manages to stand apart from its classic Zen Buddhist precursors. If the speaker is seeking identity in another culture or religion, they may be equivocating and not essentially mired in their own history. The speaker grasps and is ok with the fact that he’s not going anywhere: that line recalls the elementary Buddhist lesson of Emptiness. There is plenty of emptiness and wit in this germinal self-portrait, and the final line may or may not be credible. --Terese Coe

Third Place

Five Hundred Yards from Home

by Richard Moorhead
Wild Poetry Forum

Metaphors of war
do not have empty villages
marked by closing notices
pinned to shop doors,
sun-dried paper, rustling
thanks and safeness.

Metaphors of war
do not have old folk
first in line for silence
on their usual walks, smiling
with a fretful friendliness

shy of their own fear.

Metaphors of war
do not say brief hellos,
to breach the distance
as if its silence opened us
to kindness with the gift
of gentle adult hands.

Metaphors of war
do not smooth the hopeful
paper, pull the ribbon,
open a fold in their heart
to keep a stranger
close for safekeeping.

This Pandemic poem hangs an elusive hopefulness on four iterations of do not. Is the Pandemic a war, a metaphor for war, or something else entirely? The metaphor/war rhyme is repeated and analyzed, and a triple rhyme comes to mind as well, metaphors for war. The sun-dried paper, rustling/thanks and safeness in S1 is the hopeful/paper in the last stanza. This intimates a forward and backward fluctuation much like that of the disease in spring-summer 2020 (and probably much longer). “Five Hundred Yards from Home” shows restraint and patience but the final lines are as enigmatic, contradictory, and lonely as the world’s attempts to isolate have been. Smiling /with a fretful friendliness/shy of their own fear contains profound emotional truth. --Terese Coe