by Ray Sweatman
Salty Dreams
First Place, February 2009
Judged by Elena Karina Byrne

We’re having a menage a trois on the kitchen table,
the lobster, the light and me, the sun no longer
a voyeur but a live and willing participant.
And I was just saying to the lobster as I stroke
his soft sacrificial flesh with iridescent butter:
‘You see it undulating in this bottle? All I got
to do is put a cork on it and it’s mine forever.’
But as soon as I try, the bottle spins and I’m
in the closet edging closer and closer to lips
that whisper, ‘Make the most of it darling.
Your 7 minutes are almost up.’ And sure enough
1978 is 2008 and the gal in the closet is just
another mistake trying to escape, singing
‘Excuse me, while I kiss this guy.’ Which
I heard as ‘Yes I’ll marry you and we’ll
live happily ever after.’ Meanwhile, my
brother storms in the room booming his best
Jersey soul, ‘When i find my beautiful red
watch!’ He keeps right on looking and singing,
under the bed, in the creases of the couch.
While outside, they’re trying to paint
all the yellow school buses red as if time
could be stopped in a brush of inspiration.
And all the signs have been changed to read:
‘Other than fish, no pets allowed.” When
at the door, it’s both Merriam and Webster
come to exchange all the old words which have
lost their meaning for the lanky promise
of brand new ones. ‘Instead of love, happiness,
bliss, hope, time, war, death and peace, I think
it’s time you try these: pescatarian, norovirus,
mondegreen, prosecco, soju, endamame, dwarf
planet, dirty bomb, wing nut.’ ‘But I’m still
trying to figure out the old ones.’ Merciless,
they leave me to my hot tub, which is starting
to boil like a tourist in a Jimmy Buffet song
who just stepped on a pop tart as I try a few
of those new words on my tongue and the light
cackles like all things that won’t be held captive
when a tremendous hand reaches out to grab me
like a hungry Adam longing for a rib in the Sistine
Chapel. ‘Endamame! Endamame! ‘ I shriek…
But there’s no one there to hear me
except for the Captain of Noah’s Returning
Ark, who looks like a cross between the dwarf
on Fantasy Island and the dude from Love Boat
back from a long journey with solo animals
who lost their mates along the way. Oh and
Ulysses is there too, telling fresh tales
from divorce court. ‘What the hell? Did
you think I was gonna wait forever while
you have your fun with Sirens and Cyclops
and whathaveyou!’ And he’s leading the animals
in a singsong: ‘Prosecco and Soju for everyone!’
But I’m beginning to think it’s just another stretch
along Giraffe Highway, blue tooths, moon roofs
and long necks lost in their respective mental safaris
straining to see the goldfish in the trees
and hear the muffled shuffle of strange folk
walking crustaceans in the mondegreen horizon.

This month's winners, oddly enough, all have something to do with sound and song and the process of seeing. The subjects travel synaesthetically. The first place winner, "Mondegreen" is a raucous wonderful rant that reads a little like a Philip Levine poem with a Barbara Hamby and Andre Breton flourish: it is a seeming narrative which picks up momentum and makes sudden surrealist lyrical turns as it moves forward "like all things that won't be held captive." It's a wild, dark-humor ride in a rowboat on the ocean with no oars! --Elena Karina Byrne