Winning Poems for August 2020

Judged by Ron Singer

First Place (tie)

Sixth Street Psychic Walk-ins Welcome

by Mike LaForge
The Waters

For twenty dollars she said she’d tell you
what you’d been or done in the past,
and not the past that you could remember
on your own, what would be the fun of that,
she was talking about the you that lived
before this you arrived and got your name
and face, and not about the face you had
before your mother was born,
that’s different, she was talking about
another life, a previous life, maybe
in a different century, certainly
in a different body with a different name
and face, and so she takes your hands in hers
and leaps back in shock, says you have enough
personal vital energy for three people
and you could be a cult leader in this life
if that’s what you wanted, but you don’t,
and then she says what you have paid her
to say, that you lived a fascinating life
before this one – and what did you get?
My brother got
French Madame in a Paris brothel, I wanted
Indian Brahmin, or Buddhist Warrior Monk,
but I got Undertaker in a time of civil war,
so disappointing, so gruesome, so very me.

This rich poem adroitly marries form to thought, using many enjambments to wind its way back and forth in time, from the present to the near past, to the revealed, more distant past (after the question mark). The poet gets us past the hackneyed tropes of the old “visit to a fortune-teller” (“enough personal vital energy for three people”). He/she sets us up for the surprise ending (“Undertaker in a time of civil war”). And the final line’s confession (“so disappointing, so gruesome, so very me”) is one of those surprises that a moment’s thought turns into an “of course!” Yes, we realize, the narrator’s imagination may well be a bit “disappointing” and “gruesome.” We certainly get our $20 worth! --Ron Singer

First Place (tie)

Houses Houses Houses

by Mary MacGowan
The Waters

We humans like our houses,
but we want to sit outside of our houses
on squares of cement we call a patio.
Or balcony. A stoop, a park.

To build a house, first you dig a hole.
Then it must be covered up and thus
you will live on top of the hole. Then
you will sit outside of your house.

How Trudy and I laughed at mom
saying, Houses houses houses!
for her continual chatter: Look
at the clouds! And that time she

suggested I memorize the sky
as I was lying in the hammock,
in case I went blind someday.
Didn’t all moms do this?

It seems that she was sincere, not
trying to terrify. There was,
perhaps, an article in the paper

about a woman who liked
houses and clouds just fine
and then she went blind, just
like that. It could happen.

And if it did, wouldn’t it be
nice to have
remembered the sky?

But what about


of the mind?      Mom,

was that it

                about you?

Is your parting gift

                                a dark and terrible


This poem explores the idea of home with originality, wit and aplomb. The adolescent narrator (“j.k.”) rings changes on her ambivalence, from the opening idea that we like our houses, but try not to stay inside them, to the last, stark description of “aphantasia,” of an inherited “dark and terrible/ blankness.” The lineation is apt and interesting. The first four stanzas are quatrains that have a traditional look, then; a transitional tercet, and a two-liner; and finally, wispy fragments that reflect that dissolution of the idea of home –which, from the start, was not all that solid. This is a strange, original poem. --Ron Singer

Second Place (tie)


by Doug Pugh
The Write Idea

horn nibbed, auger and augury
a little black number
is its only dress

and more than one
in a gathering
is simply

This is a poet’s poem: economy (23 words), sharp description (“horn nibbed”), an original conceit, the raven-as-vamp: “a little black number,” “simply murder”), even a bit of sound play (“auger and augury”). --Ron Singer

Second Place (tie)

Who knew you would become a comet

by Bob Bradshaw
The Writer's Block

streaking away from us, our family
a trail of dust?

How could you jettison
15 years of marriage
and a daughter?

I am over you,
having burned
our wedding album

and tons of photos.
I ignore rumors
of your engagement

but Julie misses you.
Every day she checks her phone
for your voice–

a voice that
may take years
to reach her.

The conceit of desertion as a comet is original and apt. It works well in the first four lines, and then again in the last six. The detail about the voice mail that “may take years/to reach” the daughter makes for a strong ending: surprising, but totally apt.
--Ron Singer