by Judy Thompson
The Town
Highly Commended, August 2009
Judged by George Szirtes

It was the goal in the center
of everyone’s summer;
you sat on a rock in the sun
thinking, I could do that now
and all at once there you were
with your toes in the water, mind made up.
The air tingled in your nose
as you struck out past the dropoff,
further out than you had ever been;
the lake bottom disappeared beneath you
and where the water a moment ago was filled
with sunbacked shadows now it was
dark, cold, a glimpse of what infinity
must look like. You saw hints of drowned stumps
impossibly far down, tried to ignore
the voices calling you back–
the only thing that gave you
courage was one strong voice saying, “Let her try,
for Christ’s sake!” and when you clambered
onto that far piney bank winded, arms aching,
you suddenly understood
what halfway there really meant

A straightforward tightly written but sensuous narrative that depends on realizing the detail and allowing the reader to feel the power of those drowned stumps. The you is effectively internalized for the speaker for whom something is clearly at stake - or was at stake. Recounting an event of this nature - an initiation or encounter with infinity - carries a slight risk of inoculating the reader against risk. We know the experience is over and are left to wonder why we are being told this now and how much weight 'halfway there' carries.