by Jude Goodwin
The Waters
First Place, February 2010
Judged by Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar

if each of the world’s 6 billion people
wrote one poem today
on a single folded sheet
and stapled it each to the other’s,
end to end. The paper chain would reach
around the world twenty-one
thousand times. Earth, the tenement,
with six billion poems flapping
like bedsheets in the air
above our streets, some blood
marked, some greyed
by the smoke from our frankfurter
stands, most white
like belly feathers and we all
have to look up. Is it time
to cut the poetry loose?
The news
papers cry and the people
pull out their scissors.
The poems launch themselves
upward, it takes only half of them
to link humanity to the moon, the rest
carry on past,. We watch
with our telescopes
and iPhones until they are gone.
Well that’s that then isn’t it ?
the poets of the world
might say. They’ve known all along,
about the numbers -

We hear this kind of calculation used everywhere today: If you lined up all the polystyrene foam cups made in just one day, they would circle the earth. If all the glass bottles and jars collected through recycling in the U.S. in 1994 were laid end to end, they'd reach the moon and half way back to earth. Every day, Americans use enough steel and tin cans to make a steel pipe running from Los Angeles to New York and back again. (Not a bad idea, if you put a bullet train in that pipe.) This poem uses the same conceit, but for poetic purposes, making a paper chain of poems strung like a clothesline above the tenement of the earth. It's a poem about poetry, but also about humanity and art, struck through with humor, and ending with a nod to reality. --Joseph Millar and Dorianne Laux