by Jim Zola
The Waters
Second Place, June 2016
Judged by Joan Colby

When my father died my mother traveled
untethered as if he were the rope
and death the cutting blade.

One summer I pulled a buck knife on a boy
who bullied me. The black handle
a perfect fit for my fist, I flipped

the blade to let him see and hoped
my shaking was taken as passion,
as I do now, still. When the first girl I loved

dumped me, I walked through a plate glass door
and saw the white bone of my ankle
like a whispered secret. Years later,

she emailed from Guatemala to say
she was part of the revolution,
that I revolted her and should stay far away.

My mother phoned from Alaska to ask
if I needed a new winter coat.
When my father’s heart stopped, while he shopped

at the mall, the paramedics sliced
his down ski jacket from top to bottom.
I know because I saw it hanging

like a tired flag of surrender
in my mother’s closet that first Christmas
she spun out into the world without him.

Using the metaphor of a knife, the poem treats the subject of a father’s sudden death. The writer confronts the topic head-on, then takes us on a journey through repeated injuries and disappointments to evoke the “tired flag of surrender” that epitomizes the loss. --Joan Colby