by Fred Longworth
Third Place (Tie), May 2012
Judged by Shara McCallum

Through my window, asphalt shimmers
as if the pixelation of the world were losing its grip.
In the gutter, clumps of leaves begin a ceremony
of decay. Umbrellas trudge along the sidewalk
shading blurred, generic eyes.
Cars blunder down the street, while collisions wait
in ambush. The rain comes down so heavy,
it’s hard to tell where the cars end,
and the space around them begins.
Even words surrender to the storm.

Eyes closed, I picture an enormous book,
broad as a mountain, open to the drenching sky.
What humanity has discovered in the odyssey
of a thousand generations is scribed within this tome.
The rain beats down. It strikes and slaps.
It wants to make the paper soft,
and turn the wisest ink to smears of mayhem.
There are no shrouds or jackets broad enough
to spare the fragile pages. All that stands
against this riot is memory.

This poem found its way inside me because of its images and the particularity of phrasing the poet uses to render those. “In the gutter, clumps of leaves begin a ceremony/ of decay,” is one example and a stand-out moment in the poem for me. I love the way the poet renders the image of the leaves as part of a grander “ceremony,” illuminating the desire we have to make even “decay” beautiful. This same gesture occurs again, fittingly, in the last line and half of the poem where the world’s chaos (“this riot”) is held at bay by human will, through the act of “memory.” --Shara McCallum