Ache

by Michael Creighton
The Waters
First Place, October 2008
Judged by Hélène Cardona and John Fitzgerald


The year I turn 15, my father leaves me
with my just-widowed grandfather
and my first full-time summer job.
Each day in my lunch, I find fresh fruit

and a sandwich so fat it stretches
my jaw. Axe down, among rows
of old pine, I learn to love
the tang and bite of mustard on rye.

After work, I stay out with friends,
walking the town’s mile-long
main street, drinking cold soda,
looking for girls.

If he’s awake when I return
we discuss baseball,
the difference between jack pine
and white, or the pain

in my shoulders and neck.
He says, the Cubs haven’t won a pennant
since your mother was three
but there’s no harm in hope;

jack pine grows fast, but gives
poor wood–and as for that pain,
son, there is no cure for an ache like that,
save deep sleep and time.

Just once I come home early–
he is slumped in an old oak chair.
As he sleeps, his shoulders shake.
Dust hangs in sunlit air.


This was very close. It was almost a tie between first and second. We loved the rhythm of the poem, the story it told, and the conciseness of the writing. Its theme is both personal and universal. --Hélène Cardona and John Fitzgerald

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