Saying the Unsayable

by Billy Howell-Sinnard
The Writer's Block
First Place, April 2016
Judged by Joan Colby


Hands clasped behind his head,
he says something I can’t understand.

Morphine mixes words in a slow
gooey concoction soothing his pain,

blurring the days that are left,
the whys ungraspable.

The dog has gotten outside.
He struggles to remember her name.

“She’ll be run over like the last one.”
It’s a busy road that connects

to a highway, a shortcut.
His wife has run after the dog.

While she is gone he asks, “You
know don’t you, will this work again,”

pointing to his legs, the left one
amputated below the knee, the right

too painful deep inside the bone
to move. His question tentative

as if he knows the answer
has nothing to do with his legs.

I tell him what no one has said
about this last road he must cross.

Before the moment lasts too long,
the dog bounds into the room.


The writer confronts a difficult topic without sentimentality. The spare diction of the poem reflects the hard question the sick man asks, already knowing the answer. The metaphor of the dog reflects both acceptance “she’ll be run over like the last one” and hope as at the conclusion the dog “bounds into the room.” The writer uses verbs to his advantage: mixes, struggles, bounds and conflates the busy road outside and this “last road he must cross.” --Joan Colby

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