near winter

by Dale McLain
Wild Poetry Forum
Second Place, December 2013
Judged by Kelly Cherry


In November the dock is forsaken,
silvered boards and spider webs,
dull little birds beneath the pines.
I hate the fucking sound of the water,
how it shrugs against the bank, lazy
and cold. In fact I hate this lousy lake,
this non-ocean and these clotted clouds

that foul the sky. Look, I’m happy,
okay? Don’t worry. I see rose hips
and flagstones where the house
once stood. The well is uncovered.
I lean over it, whisper “snow”.
It’s a dare. The fence wants its picture
taken. Time makes one of those jolts,

a little sideways move. Remember
how that makes you all wobbly?
I slide my hands in that awful water
just to make them ache.
Now the sun threatens some theatrics,
an exit for the ages. I don’t want it.
I want it to slip away like a penny,

like something no one will ever miss.
The lake is glad for nightfall,
greedy for dark upon dark, colder
now, a place to drown. Someone
comes with a lantern and I go
with the geese, on wings the grey
of battleships and rain.


I usually want to understand the whole of a poem; I am not drawn to fragments or riddles that can't be solved. "near winter" ends with three lines I can't make sense of in context, but the rest of the poem is composed with such authority and precision that I have to give it Second Place. Descriptions of the dock, the water ("how it shrugs against the bank"), the grim clouds, the "rose hips / and flagstones where the house / once stood," the well, the fence, the sun are vivid and anchoring. There are fine lines ("Now the sun threatens some theatrics" with its personification, "silvered boards and spider webs" with its sibilance, "dull little birds beneath the pines" with its alliteration). The author's adamant voice and desire to escape the scene rivets the reader. --Kelly Cherry

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