What more could I do with wild words?

by Judy Kaber
The Waters
First Place, December 2014
Judged by Philip Belcher

                                        Title taken from the poem “Morning”
                                        by Mary Oliver.

In the white shell of morning, I could scramble them in a bowl.
I could take them like pills, oval and still in a plastic bottle.
Throw open the window, let them wing toward town,
skim with eyes riverbound after fish, dart quick in water.
I could sprinkle them like petals at a wedding, toss them
in a bouquet, sing them as a Glory, Hallelujah.
If rain peppers the drive with its blue eyebrows, I can
use them as an umbrella to comfort me. For you,
I could sew them into a Mayan indigo shawl covered
in faceless birds dancing. If I were really lucky, really
responsible, kind, given to the malady of hope, I might
parachute them from planes in the middle east, wrap
them in bread and lay them at the feet of homelessness.
I could use them to tell you the perfect things that sit
in my kitchen. I could use them to tell you that my cat
is dead, buried beneath a stone in my side yard.
I could engrave them on spruce, on pine, my hands
sticky with them. I could lay them in the gravel and watch
them move, black ants of letters, spelling one hundred
impossible things. I could ride them, a lone poet on
a white horse, calling, Hi ho! Hi ho!

Surprise and image drive this poem. The poem grabs the reader in the first clause with the evocative “white shell of morning . . . .” By the 7th line’s rain peppering “the drive with its blue eyebrows,” the reader is hooked and a little disoriented. Not every poem can get away with these flights of imagination, but the poet’s command of diction and image demote sense-making in favor of pure enjoyment of the language. The poem is also ambitious. It leans into the political when it describes hope as a malady and references the societal ills of homelessness and war. The poet’s decision to touch on the political and not linger there saves the poem from devolving into a rant. The strong closing returns to a focus on words themselves and leaves the reader wondering about the power of language. This is a fine poem. --Philip Belcher