After Baltimore

by Ron Lavalette
The Waters
Third Place, May 2010
Judged by Fiona Sampson


(for fredda)

Sometimes there was wine at night
but there was never any money.
I don’t remember much but coffee,
hash on the roof at midnight
and one time drunk on Harry’s street
dancing in the rain. We pasted up
the underground news. They paid us
with rolling papers, incense,
sacks of welfare rice.

What became of you after that,
after Janicelli’s peyote wedding
and our own sad abortive love affair,
my sudden disappearance?

You looked well some years ago
-it was February, I think-
and you still look good to me now
occasionally
though I must admit it here:
I can’t always recall your face.


A subtle account of both a time and place and of a psyche, this poem grows and grows. The quiet, perfectly-managed diction isn’t ready-made, it’s highly-crafted even though it slips down so easily (note that “Sometimes there was… but there was never”). It gets more and more interesting – a fine crescendo – as we discover, in the first stanza, that these are people working for an underground movement; that there’s a sketched-in emotional history which would fuel a whole movie (2nd stanza) and then through the fascinating play and double-turn of the last stanza. This is a poem which tells everything (we are never fobbed off with vagueness or uncertainty), but without letting on that it’s telling… --Fiona Sampson

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