Judges Comments and Winning
Poem of the Year
I am really arrested by the natural magic suggested in this poem, with
the visceral, image-rich detail. The poem moves from a sense of the
cursed to promise as if we're swimming through a spell. The language is
ripe with authority, confidence. The author invokes a whole perspective
with a light touch, as if the subtext is huge and looming.-- R.T. Smith
by Sarah Sloat
When I could not get with child
I swallowed the egg of the meadowlark
who eats the daylight,
the mother of untangled grasses.
A long drop, the egg bore its root
in my foot, it stitched me
together with grain.
I am patient now; I am not damaged by waiting.
Languid as a coming rain, stalks
inch alongside my veins to the tips
of my fingers. A grassland has thirst,
so does a fire,
the color of dough,
so while I sleep the moon creeps
between my poised teeth to feed
and flood me with moonwater.
When I speak, the scent
of lengthening wheat overwhelms me.
Shoots rise straight up
and don't droop as tears,
don't fail like questions;
they get on with growing.
I hold a handkerchief
over my mouth to veil the clover
and bees that tickle my throat,
but the angel
who's due at my tent
won't catch me laughing.
A kiss would do it.
One sprinkle of milkwhite salt
and I'll break like bread at your table.
Penelope and the Bird Man
This is an ambitious poem that stretches across several octaves,
negotiating between received myth and newly-minted myth. It is at once
exotic and very immediate, very refreshing, especially considering how
shopworn these Greek references might be in a less accomplished hand. --R.T. Smith
Penelope and the Bird Man
by Laurie Byro and Ivan Waters
And it is this battle of the giants
that our nurse-maids try to appease
with their lullaby about Heaven
Afterwards, unsettled, I travel
for days. The moon's bone, thin and curved,
points to a new paradise. I sweep the forest
floor, cast fishing nets into the pines
above our bed of needles.
I fill the forest with favourite things:
marmots and chattering bats. Of course,
I will add turtles and rabbits. We read to each other
by the glow of wolves' eyes, a string
of starfish, varnished fireflies.
The earth hardens beneath our backs.
I lay this bed among lady slippers and ferns.
I make him discard everything but his Argyles, loop
his pocket watch over the twig above. Bedtime,
we thrust and sing. The watch swings
back and forth, dropping minutes.
In the sleep of trees owls devise
a plan to furnish him with wings. Each morning
he sifts piles of dead birds. He doesn't fear death,
but nor do jackdaws, I'm told. Some birds
flirt with suicide, fling themselves at oak or ash:
titmouse, nightjar, bullfinch, crow.
My lover promises when his work is done
he will return to me. I will knit Argyles and wait.
Birds have given up breath for him. Among their feathers
faith now thickens, and I rinse away
their sticky blood.
It's easy to see that his purpose is love.
He unstrings the beads of time in the sun.
It's easy to see that his purpose is death.
He sings to an implacable fire.
His mother was a lapwing, his father
part kite, part nightingale. He carries her
cries back to him, as if they were coins
to unspend time, to unpawn summer.
I envy you the bite of heaven
as I lie cradled in the earth. I saw
deer today. I glimpsed a falling
star and wanted to show it
to you. I will be faithful. I am a firefly
captured in your hands, and the forest
floor is carpeted with the dead.
The stars hang from cracks in the ceiling.
How can I be so cold in the summer?
I saw a snake today, a brown
striped viper. I found a broken shell, and blue
was the blue of the sky. And periwinkles
were my lover's eyes, and you are free.
And I have had to let you go.
And I have let you go.
There was a spider
in the lighthouse, a dry web
on my face. And you have gone
to steal your father's eyes,
to put the moon in a wagon, the planets
on the backseat of your old Fuego. She waited
for you in Rapallo, she is waiting
in Dunbarton. We are all
waiting to see you drown.
up the gallows hill.
Dear Peregrine, don't fall.
At night the earth shrivelled and you whispered
stories in my ear. They were not fairy tales.
If I had been truly hungry for you, if jealousy
had been a chain I'd fastened around your neck,
then I'd have coveted every hour you spent without me.
You recounted the story of a bird who started as a boy.
He set off to bring back his masterpiece.
You asked me to accept this. You wanted me to lie
under a juniper tree and wait for your return.
I am sorry you had no Ariel to carry you
home in her arms. I flinch to remember the magic
your father fed you. I was your lover, your mother,
your sister, your whore: the wine you were looking for
was locked in my pantry. I gave you as consolation
two strangers telling stories among gossiping trees,
together forging an epitaph, their happy ending.
on the griddle of the sun
our dreams melting like butter
and when you leave me
to sleep my eyelids will flutter.
This really efficient poem manages to construct (and share) a private
rirual extracted from a public rite, and I'm impressed with its concise
evocation of a somewhat ominous family dynamic. Thrift is underrated,
and here it results in pure ore, no dross. --RT Smith
by Lauren Leatherman
The first time I fell back,
hit my head on the pew.
No more than a plum-sized bump
but Mother dragged me down
to the empty bathroom,
woke me up with icy water.
From then on, overcome,
the world often spun.
At the children_s Christmas pageant
I watched my younger sister lead
the winged procession to
a little Mary, veiled and expectant.
My father struck a match
and lit his cigarette. Outside the car,
snow fell white and fast. Night
closed waist-deep and held us.
He called me histrionic.