by Carla Conway
The Critical Poet
Honorable Mention, May 2007
Judged by Bryan Appleyard

“Life begins unless you interrupt it,”
the old man said and what, inside a womb,
is any kind of isn’t? There’s no room
for nothingness, not anything on earth
is nothing: only tiny, timid, not
ready yet, but moving. Whether want
attends it, still it is: it makes no matter
until the metal sharpens, comes to scatter…
then, the remnants leave because there is no room
for lifelessness inside a mother’s womb.
It wasn’t: I was disposed to disagree
but then it was, though maybe it would be
a cunning seahorse? Next time that we met,
it had gained a head and stunted limbs and yet
it maybe wasn’t – somehow, I supposed
I’d love it if it were. They found its nose
and something pulsing: heart. I started looking
for missing parts, each little finger crooking;
each foot unfurling. What a dreadful eye –
like a raisin, baked – are we sure that it’s alive?
It tested waters just as I would do,
pushing boundaries – now it was a “you”
to whom I crooned as it paddled around the place:
here be monsters. Soon there was a face –
     Are we sure that it’s alive? When did desire,
     all by itself, create? When did despair,
     all by itself, destroy? I tell you never:
     life/death, plus or minus, the endeavor
     needs a being. We are sure it is alive
     but life is a pinpoint, not sure to survive.
and soon there was a need to hurry out
of the straitened quarters. Both of us grew stout.
This small world couldn’t hold him, mama’s girth
stretched tight, horizons cracking. This is birth:
what starts as frail as smoke attains a crown –
his head, his little body cloaked in down –
triumphant as a king. His little hand
finds my fingers finally.
                         I finally understand.

A dramatic meditation in being, this holds the reader with a serious of gentle surprises. --Bryan Appleyard