Sailor and Young Wife

by Judy Kaber
The Waters
First Place, December 2015
Judged by Barbara Siegel Carlson

In the photograph my father’s fingers sink
into the fur on my mother’s jacket. It’s 1942
and he stands in his sailor’s uniform, complete
with hat, at what might be taken for parade rest,
one arm neatly tucked behind his back, except
for the fact that his other arm holds my mother
tight, as if to steady her, to steady them both.
She smiles fiercely, leans close, clutching
her purse, her eyes slits against the bright
autumn sun, against the newness of marriage,
against a war that seems like it will never be
done. They’re not alone. A shadow thrown
to the right might be someone drinking
from a can or cup, and bottom left the anonymous
photographer, now long gone, awkward bones most
likely buried in some bowl of earth. My parent’s own
shadows truncated, falling off the curb onto the road,
already moving with the sun into the unknown.
Above them, a streetlight globe like a blessing,
across the street a brick archway, apartment entrance,
what might be two children, standing alone.

Emotionally complex and powerful. The tension and contingency are created through the tightly woven form, echoing sound patterns, off-rhymes and sharp concrete language. Lines are arranged to heighten the contrast and irony inherent in the themes of love and war. Enjambed lines propel the relentless future forward and create a sense of urgency and loss. The final turn offers a degree of hope and stability juxtaposed against the innocence and helplessness of the image of the couple as children. This arresting poem resonates on so many levels. --Barbara Siegel Carlson