The Penitent

by Ken Ashworth
The Writer's Block
Third Place, October 2018
Judged by Jeanette Beebe


Water from the blowhole
falls like a tepid rain.

The great unblinking eye,
the lateral roll,

scissoring of its jaw
and I am his.

Arch of rib and vertebrae,
icthyian cathedral, massive

heart like a hammer,
I can hear blood rush,

the billow of lungs expand
when it rises to the surface.

I trudge the barnacled
tongue to suck gill-slit

elder fish caught
in a sieve of baleen.

Three days in the bowels
of Sheol, I am disgorged

like a coughed up
choke bone, all-foured

in obeisance. I lift my eyes,
set my jaw toward Nineveh.


The word choice in this poem is so rich and full of sensory detail. These flourishes feel fresh: "to suck gill-slit / elder fish" and "a coughed up / choke bone, all-foured." The most satisfying moments are when this spirit of attention plays with sound. Phrases like "lateral roll" and "sieve of baleen", for example, are a delight to imagine and to hear. --Jeanette Beebe

  • December 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      Avaricious
      by Judy Kaber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      To James Bulger, aged 2, murdered February 1993
      by two boys aged 10 in Liverpool, England
      by Christopher T. George
      Babilu

      Third Place

      Dr. Pachango’s Mango
      by Jim Fowler
      Babliu

  • November 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      Notorious RBG
      by Laurie Byro
      Babilu

      Second Place

      To My Old Age
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Waters

      Third Place

      Beggar’s Lice
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Writer's Block