Winning Poems for April 2020

Judged by Terese Coe

First Place

In the next life we were married

by Ken Brownlow
The Waters

Caitland is back from Charcoal station
she went mustering on the black soil plains
a year or more ago then did a season
packing apples near her mother’s farm
and mentioned something in a Christmas card
about feral goats out on the western downs.

Always in a country of the never mind
she rolls in like high tide across my balcony
with a six pack and a pizza box
and can’t imagine how it was possible
for me to go on blowing zeds
through all her thumping on my walls
and windows and the neighbour’s barking dog
when she knocked a trash can over.

Wants to know why the spare key
wasn’t in its usual hidey spot
and continues in a drunken lilt
how she thought for sure by now
some ritzy girl with painted nails
would be living here with me.

I shake a sleepy head then nod
and take the warm beer offered
but decline a slice of suspect looking pizza
draped across her fillet knife.
She strikes a look of wounded pride
and says ‘it’s vegetarian; I remembered
what an oddball kind of bloke you are’.

The affection and ironies in this cinematic poem persist and grow via the variety of emotional strategies employed by Caitland and the speaker to evoke or even wrench a response. Both immediacy and uniqueness are present, and an image or the supple diction can uncover mercurial aspects of character that are disarming and wry, as in the first two striking lines of the second stanza. The title, like Janus, looks forward and back: it could refer to a backstory or to the future. The characters are intriguing, original, and authentic: one wants to know more! --Terese Coe

Second Place

To a Wayward Son

by Ken Ashworth
The Waters

They say that when you die, the soul
snakes up, slips itself free and for
three mandatory days, sits in a pub
so that all who have aught against ye
can take tea, lay claim, and move on.

I’m sitting under an elm in the park
alphabetiizing a list of all I’ve loved.
Beginning with Anna from third grade,
one leg shorter than the other.
I’d joke about the sound her built-up
clog made on the wooden floor,
and she’d give me a shy pirate smile.

It was a straight up exchange, even
at that age I had a need to be wanted.
Look I never meant to hurt you.
Come, let us reason together.
Make your peace while I yet stand.

The instances of archaic diction do not detract from this poem’s contemporary appeal and candidness or from the speaker’s effort to settle grievances before time is up. The speaker is presumably the boy’s parent, perhaps his father. “Wayward” in the title is open to interpretation and intimates a degree of advance flexibility. The subject matter is inherently weighty: the nonsectarian virtue of parent and child making their peace before death. It is a warm, loving poem. “Alphabetizing a list of all I’ve loved” is very strong, possibly indicating the parent’s failure or inability to set up any other criteria or order for cataloguing his/her loves—as if it were a necessity. Clearly such a catalogue would arouse reveries and memories, not an impractical pursuit for anyone in a time of plague, or anyone near death, or perhaps anyone at all. What it says to the son or daughter personally will remain a mystery. --Terese Coe

Third Place


by Bob Bradshaw
The Writer's Block

Conjoined at the hip and chest,
we were partners in a slow dance.

Though our parents were divorced,
we never knew loneliness.

When talk of separation came up
we looked at each other

the way a pilot and co-pilot
in a piper plane do

when flying at low altitude,
and the engine stalls.

Our parents chatted up the joy
of jumping puddles, and weeks later

I awoke to my brother lying in a bed
next to mine. His full face

clearly seen for the first time.
And when Brady turned his back

and strode the hospital hall without me
I saw my future.

To this day I know when he feels ill–
I take to my bed. And when he’s happy

I’m happy. Brady remains
as close to me as my chest scar.

When I’m sad I run my finger over it
and imagine, again, feeling whole.

With profound ironies on the subject of trauma, wholeness, and independence, this poem also strikes me as somewhat cinematic. The diction is relatively simple and powerful. The final couplet is adept, using negative space to create an explosive epiphany. --Terese Coe