Poem of the Year:
May 2008-Apr 2009
Judged by Xeufei Jin
Desert Moon Review
Grandpa scales the fish before
he removes its head or slices
a thin line up its belly, spilling
blood and water. He lodges
his thumb deep in its throat,
between gills — clenches
his fist around the skull.
Jagged tool, a spoon with teeth,
tears shimmer from flesh:
a rainbow ripped from the soft
air that lingers after morning storms.
The tail curls toward the sun. Lidless
eyes, still moist, leak disbelief.
This is death. Gills flare like butterflies
fanning purple wings. I ask
if it hurts. Grandpa says
Little bit, just a little bit.
The poem is marked with clarity and concreteness. The lines gleam on the page. The child is troubled by death, which is embodied by the fish the grandfather is cleaning, but the child doesn't know how to frame the question precisely for the old man. As a result, the grandfather's answer remains ambiguous, but amazingly it is also right. The ending is full of beauty and ambiguity. --Xeufei Jin
Desert Moon Review
Cotton mouthed, hung over, I wake up in my sooty dress
somehow ashamed to be seen in the utter waste
of daylight. The barbecue with all those mint juleps
on the verandah was intense but I strayed too long on the edge
of a glass. I long for a quiet train trestle, wood and paint
chipping off, not those city lights where I am one of millions.
I’m not fooled by the low murmurings of the river,
cattails to luxuriate in, but danger in the deep-throated
baritone of frogs. Damselflies are entirely self-involved
and bossy, known to eat out of their own behinds. Never mind,
there’s safety in numbers. A neighbor has an easy split
in a porch screen and as I’m on a tear of wild nights
before I die, I’ve set my sights on their cathedral ceiling.
In the sway of tall grasses his youngest cups her hands
around me to pray. I am coveted in the moist chapel of fingers.
Tonight, I’ll hang around until they are all half lidded-drowsy.
I’ll skitter down to her favorite blanket where she’ll wish
upon me like I am the last star falling, the last creature on earth.
A very imaginative poem. Though personification is a trite device, this poem manages to become intimate, dramatic, and wise. --Xeufei Jin
Desert Moon Review
I must get the details right. How stones warbled
to her from the garden for a fortnight or so. Troublesome,
intrusive, they trilled while she weeded anemones. Beneath
the ease of roots and thrust of new growth, they ingratiated
themselves to her prodding callused fingers. They knew
her sister was the lucky one, the one who skimmed flat-brimmed
lake stones with the children. This one lay on the couch
with her eyelids peeled back, mushroom capped stones rattling
in the crèche of her eye sockets. Stones were faithful
as vowels; they didn’t let her down. Night after night,
her husband begged her to push them back into the gully of silence.
Last night, she overturned another patch of fertile earth, brushing
off the smooth and round. She pictures the summer table noisy
with anemones and her sister’s brood. She is washed out, a little
brown thrush. “Drab hen, frump” her sister will urge her to over
come the day’s exacting brushes. I must get the colors right,
melt down her charms to the bare-bone mauves and ochre.
The stones will do their job shortly. Aggressive reds need to be
given back to the soil—to the bridegroom river. We must empty
out all the flecked mica chips from her pockets, the cloth’s blood
stained lullabies, the stones last sweet songs.
A poem set in a painting of natural/domestic surroundings. The speaker as a painter describes the process of creating art. Stones are presented as a natural element, like soil, that connects both the living and the dead and binds them to a place. The tone of voice, charged with music and feeling, celebrates this unity. --Xeufei Jin