Winning Poems for June 2020

Judged by Terese Coe

First Place

Escape at the Speed of Transience

by Peter Halpin
Wild Poetry Forum

Then we all batten down the hatches,
stockpile food, ration alcohol and post pictures
of our mundanity on Facebook. Some entertain
with vignettes on YouTube, some amusing,
some, not so much.

We’ve rallied together in isolation, distance
ourselves, wash hands, wear masks and dressed
as germ crazed bandits we plank the curve.
And like springtime gophers, poke our heads out,
but scatter at the first sign of a cough or sneeze.

We crave closeness, but shun hugs and mark
out our space, yelping like feral coyotes.
Have back-fence conversations, pontificating
on “internet facts” like they came
from the mouth of the prophet and listen
to careless and greedy politicians talking
about“opening up” like the Ringling Brothers
bringing their circus to town.

We watch in shame as our old folk die,
locked up in nursing home prisons, staring out
windows like ghosts from Belsen; we praise
health care workers struggling to make do
with promises never fulfilled or dying
because that’s what they do.

But this afternoon sun entices me out of my hovel
as I make a run for it, take shelter in the arms
of the gentle breeze and let fear of humanity divest me.
As the rapture engulfs, I want to rush into streets
of familiarity and dance in close proximity or run
naked into a warm crowd of friendly strangers.

This touches on both the irony and tragedy of this Covid time. It begins in media res and continues with admirable spareness: “We crave closeness, but shun hugs and mark / out our space, yelping like feral coyotes.”
. . .

“We watch in shame as our old folk die,/ locked up in nursing home prisons, staring out / windows like ghosts from Belsen;”

The speaker retains a healthy degree of detachment with refreshing lightness of treatment, for the most part. The final stanza allows for hope and “rapture” in the company of strangers, as if the constraints of isolation could be left behind, somehow, in the imagination. It is a ray of light.

--Terese Coe

Second Place

The Palace Hotel

by Paul A. Freeman
The Write Idea

Atop a manmade hill,
the safe side of a steel-barred fence
stands the Palace Hotel;
it’s a dun box, surmounted by domes,
a living mausoleum
in these days of Covid isolation.

Within lies the luxury of Arabia;
fountained floors and swirly-scripted walls,
a cavernous atrium,
a vending machine dispensing bars of gold
that are neither edible
nor a Dutch uncle’s borrowed ear.

Guests are holed up inside,
their lives in suspended animation,
seeing out the pandemic
on caviar,
and exotic flavours of ice cream.

I peer through the railings from without,
a humbler Homo sapien than the residents,
uncaged for a two-hour walk, once daily,
on a viral planet,
at liberty to succumb as I will.

Face to the bars,
I crave the marooned expanse of the hotel grounds,
where pared trees pepper undulating lawns,
the grass blades as smoothly spliced as a sailor’s crew cut;
where a mirage of palm trees circles a landscaped oasis;
where, on a beach of synthetic sand,
rolling dunes are topped with an enigma of boulders –
freshly thrown dice
strewn by the deity that reads our misfortunes.

On the shoreline walks a Robinson Crusoe,
an escapee from hospitality’s confinement.
He’s searching the sand for Friday’s footprints,
a castaway with a bottomless purse,
but alone all the same.

The Palace is not a hotel but a “living mausoleum,” a repository of tombs. The poem gathers up surprise, appeal, and provocativeness, as in “where pared trees pepper undulating lawns . . .”

“Seeing out the pandemic” is hopeful (or not—at least it sounds strangely hopeful), and stands in opposition to “at liberty to succumb at will.” The latter might refer to the current trend of partying in the streets and outdoors, which may or may not be safe, depending on numerous factors:

“rolling dunes are topped with an enigma of boulders -
freshly thrown dice
strewn by the deity that reads our misfortunes.”

The final stanza is enigmatic as well: “an escapee from hospitality’s confinement” is dodgy and contradictory, much like Covid-19, but far more enjoyable.

--Terese Coe

Third Place


by Mike LaForge
The Waters

I remember the rusted bus and the dry cattle, dog lost
on the hillside above the green lake. Her rough throat
when she charged down the trail just after supper.

Fish were there, flexing in the clear pools,
but we couldn’t catch them. I dive down,
eyes aching in the cold, unconcerned.

It burned in the driveway, my whiskey hidden
in the couch, garden hose chuckling up bubbles,
drenching the pine tree next to the car-port.

Dad built all of it, injured and cursing
in the oily basement; none of us helped.
Mom took sleeping pills, just to dull the itch.

I remember green gallon jugs of white wine,
stacks of sci-fi on the shag carpet, smoked oysters
and the sour pearly scent of spent potential.

Tents didn’t figure in. That old school bus
housed us across the Rockies, ignorant
of its arsoned future, yellow in the dawn.

Those camping days were just enough
to blunt the burnt edges of childhood. Mostly, though,
just blazing dysfunction in a dead suburb.

A remembrance with sharp and penetrating images, this is also musical in its way, with phrases or lines that could suit a rock song. The cattle, the dog, the fish are sketched easily, fleetingly, yet they stick. The same goes for the whiskey, Dad, Mom, and the Rockies. The “sour pearly scent of spent potential” jars a little at first, but has something magical in it. This is work that grows on the reader, and I expect the poet has much promise. The final lines are searing.

--Terese Coe