history of the kite riff

by Steve Parker
Second Place (tie), June 2010
Judged by Fiona Sampson

little boys under the tree in ragged shorts legs rough with stings at night the sheets
heavy almost wetted with damp walls thick as dawn hillfog stifling the sheep
cries six layers of wool blanket and the mortar falling out white and limey porridge
every morning the range coughs up a stirring mother thin as a wooden spoon
cracked down the middle from want a boy in a hammock our only toy a net
laden spinning between trees stop it he cries at night mice on your chest so tame
you can pick them up but not the rats my brother gets his thumbnail bitten off
waking to a big one you smell them under the floorboards rotting with the Warfarin
can’t drink it burns them deep but you can’t dig them out goddamn hippies dancing
up there on the hilltop drugged as rats in head-high nettles just think what they
are doing in the mist Granddad on the roof making his last kite just imagine she said
miles it went out across the valley far as aeroplanes we never knew such kite flight
as this RM Ballantyne rescued from a burnt house scorched but wild dogs the coral
the stitched sacking you know how many rats in a hay barn gather they cry now
with pitchforks the last bale lifted they start running a tine through the middle they
hiss and bite like overdone porridge bubbling its last bloody geology the woman
stands impervious to hot spitting thin and surrendered martyred, spooned out mother

Stunning, vivid, exact and taking no hostages. The only reason this didn’t win outright is that it’s easier, after all, to write a piece like this as prose poetry – and I’m not quite sure why it is in that (very specific) form. I like the detail of the Warfarin and the “damp walls think as dawn hillfog” – terrific reversal of the simile! The demotic, the refusal to lower the stakes at any point, the headlong rush into grief. Visceral and terrific. --Fiona Sampson