I think of the colour purple

by Alison Armstrong-Webber
The Waters
First Place, May 2019
Judged by Melissa Studdard

There is no cloud inside a cloud
There is no tree inside a tree.
there is no man inside a man.: Sri Moojiji

I found the second spigot, on the side
walkway where the tree slices are
erupting, from gravel. Javier says this
is natural, the several earthquakes. and now
I can water the garden of my sister,
with separate, and shorter hoses for back and front.

I eat a crosshatched, flayed mango
skewered on a stick, salted with chili. Elizabeth tells me
about her mother slowly taking off a glove, and gently
drawing it onto Elizabeth’s hand, and then taking her hand
and placing it on the cadaver’s chest.
“The hand that would not move.” How wonderful,
we marvel, that she did that!

I think of my sister who wanted to read
her goodbye letter to our father…and how I
learned later about false tools, so
I forgive him when she said in her letter

I sat in your lap— and he laughed and
quipped, I was your first lover.
And then he said only, I forget.
I am crushed when I think of that
woman I was, when he was dying,

and he told me, “i’m not like you”
and called me “my other princess”
goodnight, and wanted me
to wheel him to the fifth floor to have a smoke,
and before that, help him take a piss.

And leave the snow on. The soaps, all night.
And massage his weeping legs,
because they damnably itched.

I think of how he appeared after he said, If I find out
there’s anything out there, I’ll come back
and let you know, and how I said Stop,
when the phone rang and hung up, and the lights
flickered, and bulbs burst out.
And he appeared one night, soon after,
while I was alone in the bathroom, dreaming,

and I picked him up by the scruff of the neck,
without any emotion and dashed him
against the wall. And saw, with wonder,
how he emptied his body in a little heap
of cinders, and I nearly shrugged, something
in my body said—Okay.

Turn by turn, this poem surprises. From the strange and delightful opening declarations, to the cast of mysterious characters, to the dilating and contracting syntax, there’s really no way to know what to expect next. Yet, it’s all cohesive, and somehow the leisurely explanations and descriptions feel deeply of the same voice as the sudden, gruff outbursts that are also, actually, beautiful. The entire final stanza makes me feel, to quote Dickinson, “as if the top of my head were taken off” and poetry was poured in from a jeweled pewter stein. --Melissa Studdard