by Greta Bolger
The Waters
Third Place, February 2016
Judged by Lee Slonimsky

The unthinkingness of it is obvious in retrospect, a Just Do It born of cocktail camaraderie and the next morning, we were handing over multicolored currency for the chance to die one way or another. Those green forms that look like certificates of achievement? Waivers, pal. Our guides – Pedro, Jorge, Andres, Miguel – lead and followed us up the mountain, over swinging narrow bridges strung above hearse-sized boulders. Only Amy, a plump young asthmatic, struggled more than I, got off the trail sooner, took the lower lines. As in the eighteenth hour of labor, the ninth day of travel with a couple that bickers ceaselessly, the third year of marriage when viscous silence makes it impossible to breathe, the question how in the hell did I end up in this terrible mess echoes inside each urgent gasp for more air, more air. And then we’re there, above the trees, Lake Atitlan and Panajachel far below, all of us grinning, harnessed, carabinered to a cable, heavy-gloved hands overhead, the extra-leathered right palm to brake when the yellow flag flaps. A half mile in 90 seconds. Hang over the ledge and let go, flying at life speed: beauty and amazement, terror and surrender.

This intense reminiscence brims over with moody commentary and startling phrases like “cocktail camaraderie,” “carabinered to a cable,” and “flying at life speed,” the latter an apt description of the poem itself! “Hearse-sized boulders” is another memorable phrase where the metaphor is as compact and hard as what is being described. The contrast between the desperate traveler’s regret expressed mid-poem and the intense narrative that follows immediately exemplifies the wild twists and turns the trip must have taken. A poem as visceral as its subject matter is always an achievement. --Lee Slonimsky