by Alison Armstrong-Webber
The Waters
First Place, August 2019
Judged by Lois P. Jones

It would take more than blood had I lost that much

I would need the hillside of ivy
                              ~ Allan Peterson

The chanticleer, every greenly dusted Cieneguita morning,
-Cieneguita meaning, once was swamp- bends his comb
to the boy’s toes bared, his body slanted across
the guest bed. The boy has been dreaming
for such a long time, he needs to wake up.

One small nip will do it, but he gets five or six
in quick succession, one for each of the realms
he might be lost travelling in. The chanticleer’s
name is Rover. He is well-named, not
displeased with the joke, roves freely

in and out of doorways, and through the yard
where the women outside hang their washing
on bamboo fencing. He does not mind so much,
the gangle of the spoon clanging on a soup-pot,
when he roves too far, for the mistress is someone

he recognizes from another life. He doubts her threats,
the last he saw of her, she had been repenting of
every sign and omen she had ever misread, and only
came to embrace the happy surprise of
being proven wrong: by a slant of light

on the thrust lip of a tiny flower out of season,
by the call of a bird sounding like laughter
in the upper sky, after the thought of having been
wrong, — by, at one point, everything seemingly
saying, yes, you were wrong, yes, you
are a dream, and no, we cannot do without
you. The chanticleer has woken the boy.

from his bad dream. He has done his best
morning work, and now he will begin to perfect
the way the shadows fall and twine between
inner rooms, turning them more blue, and the blue
more violet, and he will look up—only inwardly—

to the painted birds sleeking from billows
of gold rimmed clouds in the dome over
the grandmother, and the grandson, visiting.

Don’t think he doesn’t know who painted those birds,
and how she came to be there—visiting. He didn’t
nip her toes. Not even as a joke. Or, that he doesn’t know

who cut his throat, another time, another place, when
he saw the hillside covered with ivy, the way
the sudden sky cracks open, the last thing

he consumed—and his heart said, as his eyes
closed, So, here
it is, finished. Again. I love you—
I have forgiven you—

What a clever figurative and literal reincarnation of the Chanticleer rooster whose connection to the Canterbury tale might be in name only. Nonetheless, this poem has the charm of a freshly hewn fable striking the reader on several metaphysical levels. The protagonist rooster (now Rover) meanders comfortably through its grounds, ably familiar with his past and the irony of his present incarnation. No mere rooster, he’s a mystic, able to animate his world as the poet animates the reader with language twining between/inner rooms, turning them more blue, and the blue/more violet, and he will look up—only inwardly—to the painted birds sleeking from billows/of gold rimmed clouds in the dome over the grandmother. Beautifully imagined with a denouement that’s more than a twist of grace – it’s a study of compassion and the enduring power of love. --Lois P. Jones