Winning Poems for April 2021

Judged by Sarah Carleton

First Place

What If I Wasn’t Born as Much as I Fell Out

by Jim Zola
The Waters

Here’s to the biggest baby born
in Brooklyn, my father’s claim to fame.
It’s in the telling. The Irish
barmaid, Grandma Z, who weighed

90 pounds, a home delivery.
The punchline being he was an only child.
Of course. She lost her mind,
or that’s what they said back then.

Now I work incessantly
on my family tree. So many
branches, Lord So-and-So, oodles
of kin. It’s no longer just a tree.

Pulling up roots it walks down the street
terrorizing neighborhood dogs.
Perhaps I’m overcompensating
for the lack of actual cousins.

Fourteen pounds. When his own father
passed a year after the birth, people
waited for things to fly out of
the Church Street brownstone windows.

Years later she said she didn’t remember
a thing. It was May in Brooklyn.
1923. The year the Cotton Club
started serving prohibition beer.

The air was filled with hope I suppose.
And a baby’s cry. And I, father of three,
raise my glass now, a toast to all forgotten,
the biggest baby born in Brooklyn.

"What If I Wasn’t Born as Much as I Fell Out" gets better every time I read it. That first line grabs my attention like someone clinking a class to make a toast, and the story that follows, with its twists and exaggerations, has the ring of a tall tale shared with a tipsy crowd. The piece is carefully crafted to give the sense of spilling out rather than being labored over. The middle stanza lets us know this is larger than a piece of family lore, with the tree taking on a life of its own in a fantastic surreal twist. The poet combines words in unexpected ways too—my favorite is "oodles / of kin." And with very few words, he conveys a sense of the century and place and leaves clues about his own life, with references to Brooklyn, Prohibition, and his three children. The poem is delightful and original. --Sarah Carleton

Second Place

Sycamore Dreams

by Terry Ofner
The Waters

When the rain dreams,
it rises into the perfect light
gathering storms and haze and fog
into mind.

When the cat dreams
the house stills,
the ductwork holds its breath,

In the carpet’s dream,
it lifts the dreamer
and the dream.
Puts them down again.

When the horse dreams,
the man kneels.
The man lifts the horse
and the dream on wings.

When the sycamore dreams,
she loosens her grip, puts down
her skin. Lifts white limbs.
White limbs. White limbs.

"Sycamore Dreams" has the rhythm of a sleeper's breath. This lyrical poem does a beautiful job of mirroring the random associations of the dreaming mind within a simple organized structure. Each stanza conjures a different dreamer in a way that's strange yet makes an odd kind of sense. The poet uses language of rising and falling that feels like inhalation and exhalation—the rain "rises into the perfect light," the ductwork "holds its breath," and the sycamore "puts down her skin." The repeated phrase at the end—"white limbs. / White limbs. White limbs”—is a lullaby, cutting us gently loose. --Sarah Carleton

Third Place

A Clear Crisp Morning

by Kenny A. Chaffin
Wild Poetry Forum

The street racers are gone.
Only black marks and donuts
on the asphalt. Someone died
here last night. But you’d
never know.

"A Clear Crisp Morning" bundles a whole scene and backstory into five lines with wonderful sharpness of imagery. The poem is as brief and evocative as a skid mark. I love how the title makes us see early-morning sunshine and how each subsequent line takes us deeper into the story, moving from "black marks and donuts" to an ominous finish. A perfect little poem. --Sarah Carleton