Winning Poems for December 2019

Judged by Laurie Byro

First Place

By Waterloo Station

by Paul A. Freeman
The Write Idea

By Waterloo Station I sat down and thought
(on a bench not too far from the turbulent stream)
of Edwardian London’s once dominant port,
and of trains puffing by, empowered by steam.
The air was redolent of sulphur and soot,
the era of hansoms and carts would soon pass,
the populace mostly traversed upon foot,
while cars were the realm of the privileged class.
Of headgear – like toppers and bowlers and boaters –
the age of King Edward the Seventh was known;
its corseted women aspired to be voters
and seeds of a world conflagration were sown.
This city of spectral, historical shades,
no matter its present, its past never fades.

I have to be consistent in my last month of judging in that I feel the mastery of a sonnet deserves a first place in the winner’s circle. This poet has been paying attention, as this is also about travel and nostalgia. I was happy to read "By Waterloo Station" as it has all the elements that make a poem (and given the added difficulty of fixed form) an outstanding first. A charming tidbit I read about Shakespeare years ago was that in his last folio of plays (meaning he was older and knew he was nearing the end of his career/life) he wrote 3 memorable plays Cymbeline, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale but insisted on a happy ending. Like Prospero and perhaps Ariel, he wanted to end his career with romance, comedy and not tragedy or sorrow. In the same way, I wanted to end my stint as judging, this December, with some light. In this sonnet, we also smell the mist of the steam train, and somehow to me, it brings the tidings of the year’s end forward as inevitably (with a bit of a history lesson) we race towards the next decade. All while contemplating the past, on a bench by a "turbulent stream.” I am delighted by this poem. --Laurie Byro

Second Place

Patagonia Lost

by Sylvia Evelyn

In many ways I’ve left behind friends and loves
I cherished most, and yet as years go by the word
adios is bound to me with sounds of austral doves,
of unreal Patagonian skies, where a circling bird

swoops to snatch a creature fleeing in the brush;
of trails Tehuelche stalked in bygone days,
of firelit camps remote from noise and rush,
when armies hadn’t sliced the steppes with railways

built to traffic guns, or white man purged
boundless plains of jaguars and ñandues.
Concrete dams and pylons emerge
on cactus lands, now bones shed lucent hues

on tablelands swept dry by singing winds.
Thus memory is laced with images
of childhood pastures, as well as tender things
the mind will not let go despite the ravages

of time and loss. So to the present day I smile
to think of worlds I lost, of red horizons
receding in a cone of southern light, while
myths and spirits summon me from pantheons

of Patagonian lore. Yet in the mist of fading
thoughts that grip my heart, or force an odd grimace
to peer from phantom walls, I cannot bring alive the swaying
poplar trees, nor speak to you, nor touch your face.

"Patagonia Lost" has wonderful imagery, end rhymes, but also gorgeous internal rhymes. It is masterfully done, so much so, I had to go inside the poem upon reading it out loud a few times, to catch some of the subtle extra music. Consider: most/adios, guns/plains/concrete dams/cactus lands and a killer last line: "I cannot bring alive the swaying poplar trees, nor speak to you, nor touch your face." We have the pleasure of being in Chile without leaving the comfort of our chair. I do believe these careful word choices took some effort because of the added attention to half rhyme and rhyme; we benefit from the carefully observed memories. --Laurie Byro

Third Place

I just wanna come home dad

by Daniel J. Flore III

I remember the big green weeds
when I asked if I could come home
“I’m right down the street at Don’s couldn’t I just come home?”
the answer was no
on the way back to Don’s I wrapped my body in the big green leaves
and smashed through the chipping white painted walls and exposed brick
right into the house

Because of its compression and also a memorable and poignant transformation, I was excited to read "I just wanna come home dad." It says much in a few lines. I would consider punctuating it to emphasize this reduction. This is a poem I have carried with me, almost haunting in how the estranged son enshrouds the house. Like the gothic story, The Yellow Wall-paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, it is subversive regarding powerlessness and madness in a troubled relationship. I might replace big green leaves with ivy for more specificity, as the crawling ivy might work to further emphasize the detachment between father and son. Ground creeping ivy is the image I got from the metonymy used here. --Laurie Byro

Honorable Mention

The War Bride

by Ken Ashworth
The Waters

In ’44 my mother took a year
from college to fly B 29’s
from the Army proving grounds
to L.A. for war in the Pacific,
took the train back.

There were no scholarships
for women; a girl had to do
what a girl had to do. She was
president of the Literary Society,
member of the Homecoming Court.

The next year, she met my father.
In six weeks they married.
She dropped out because
he wanted a housewife.

In the wedding photo she is 19
I want to go back in time
as my future self, part her veil,
hand her a white rose and say,

“Don’t do this. You don’t have
to do this. “

"The War Bride" is a feminist delight reminiscent of Sharon Olds "Strike Sparks." Not much to find fault in this wonderuflly told anecdote. I also give her and it a white rose. --Laurie Byro

Honorable Mention

Beethoven Dying

by Bob Bradshaw
The Writer's Block

I held my old friend’s trembling hand
as he spoke of better times.

He hummed an unrecognizable tune,
and spoke of a work that would be like no other.
For weeks he had wrestled with it, never
writing any of it down.

Gripping his pain-wrenched gut,
Beethoven fell back into a sweat.
My wife mopped his brow, and he smiled
before closing his eyes.

That was the last time he was aware
of others around him…

Legend has it thunder
rumbled outside his window
two nights later,
when he defiantly raised his fist

at the darkness awaiting him,
but then his hand fell to his side,

his hair
a gray and black storm of curls
strewn across his pillow,
and his jaw set, as it always was
when he had work to do
and a long night

"Beethoven Dying" needs to be given a nod as I love persona poems. Beethoven's gray and black storm of curls is well observed and satisfying. This poem made me want to read more, I wish the writer could have brought some of the weird facts (as for example Beethoven may have lost his hearing because he liked to immerse his head in water before a long night of work) but the important thing is the poem leads us to want to know more. --Laurie Byro

Honorable Mention

Ain’t Got Time To Die

by Christine Potter
The Waters

The hospice nurse tells us things have changed now we’re aboard
whatever it is she drives so confidently; blood pressure isn’t really

relevant, or weight, or exactly how anemic my mother is or isn’t today
or last week—or has it been a year since the lab technician called me

at 2 AM, sleepless himself after reading my mother’s numbers? She
should be in the ER, he said, but I didn’t wake her up to take her there

and frighten her. The next day we repeated the test, it came out better,
and we went out for hamburgers. Strong woman, said the doctor

who released us from Dobbs Ferry Hospital and I said, Yes, she is,
as she rattled ahead of me on her walker, happy about lunch, but

he pointed at me. That makes me cry now, not because my mother
is dying—she’s been doing that for years and I’m used to it—but

because I am such a coward. I crash into things, leave their
wrappings everywhere, and try to stuff all the mess into two

line stanzas. She’s ninety-five. She doesn’t understand. She’s
forgotten everything but the sun on her kitchen’s yellow walls.

The hospice nurse tells us morphine is a good drug, a safe drug,
that people treating the dying shouldn’t be afraid of it, that it will

be measured out so it won’t be hard to administer, and my sister
jots it all down in a three-ring binder that smells of bananas.

Forgive me, she says. I left a banana in my bag and forgot. I’m
too busy trying to keep the world from turning into a kaleidoscope

to even pack snacks, and that bothers me about myself. I wonder if
I need a three-ring binder. My mother sleeps in the next room. She

is the loneliest person I know, but mainly just wants to get things
right. Still. She was often cruel as a young woman, sometimes to me

but also to my sister, probably because she was overwhelmed as
I am now. The angry husband, the dinner to cook, the steno pad,

the piano neglected, the 5:20 train, the damn milk box. Outside,
kids from my old high school round our corner on their way home.

"Ain't Got Time to Die" deserves a nod for lines like "binder that smells of bananas" and "try to stuff all the mess into two line stanzas" as we get the impression the mother is not quite ready yet and perhaps the poem itself is not quite ready yet as this poignant ending unfolds. --Laurie Byro