Winning Poems for March 2021

Judged by Nicole Greaves

First Place

What if the Wages of Dying is Love

by Jim Zola
The Waters

I’ve always been amazed by gravity.
These days it is obvious in the way
my features droop, making a mockery
of youth. But it’s not just gravity
to blame. I imagine Newton beneath
his apple tree. Every body
in the universe is attracted
to every other body. Such a burden.

On the night my first son entered the world,
swimming casually into our lives,
I left the hospital in the pouring rain,
exhausted and exhilarated.
In love. Arriving at our rented hovel,
I found our Samoyed Anna
had too given birth, six pups, nothing
more than fluffs, in a muddy puddle,

a hole she dug in the weedy yard.
She let me carry them in a box
into the house soon to be confused
by different cries. Now my son and his wife
are expecting. My wisdom falls on deaf
ears. Just as I ignored my father.
Somewhere my mother climbs ten steps
and is praised by the physical

therapist who looks at her watch
and wonders when this might end. I think
of my Norwegian grandmother, Gunvor,
standing on the docks, Port Authority,
in her long black coat with fake fur collar
and matching hat as she waves to no one.
She reminds me of a blue heron
standing so still in a tangle of gravity-

bent branches, arrowwood and sedge,
the abrupt edge, as if to make us believe
It is another kind of plant, feathered
and majestic. For no reason,
beyond the winds shimmer, the heron
suddenly takes flight, wide-winged,
just barely skimming the pond’s surface.
And too, my grandmother, just as

suddenly, for reasons I might know,
perhaps just in defiance of Newton,
lifts into the fumy shipyard air
and flies away, leaving no one
behind, leaving the wages
of dying, which is love.


Each time you read “What if the Wages of Dying is Love,” you see a little more, and that is a testament to a good poem. Underneath its sentiment of our generational connection and joy in parenthood, there is a different layer, one about our burden of interdependence, or the “weight of it.” Gravity keeps us grounded, but it pulls at us and wears us down, just as our relationships do. In Cesare Pavese’s poem “Ancestors,” the speaker talks about how he realizes that as he gets older he finds “company” in the men before him, “men who were steady and firm, lords of themselves.” His poem, like this one, has that second layer, one where it addresses the burden, specifically of the women of his family, who give and give yet aren’t credited. “What if the Wages of Dying is Love” gives more of a female perspective, and there is strength in that recognition. The most tender moment is when the speaker comes back from the hospital to find that the dog has given birth as well. The speaker tends to this mother, like tending to the self, pulling the pups from the mud. In the end, the speaker conjures a grandmother who, in defiance of this weight, leaves, waving to “no one.” The image of the grandmother as heron as a plant itself in a kind of camouflage that uproots and lifts from this weight but just barely is gorgeous and the heart of this poem that stays with you like a pendant. --Nicole Greaves

Second Place

The Heart is not earthbound

by Michael Virga
The Writer's Block

1/ Brontë on the rocks

Strong will
winds rains moors crags —
definitive high rock
opera before the art went
hi-tech.

2/ king of pain

Heathcliff:
Novel study
on the keen scent of male
grief – the wuthering howls – reign of
mad dog

3/ kindred Spirits make guest appearances

Stoker’s
Count Dracula
inspired after Brontë’s
Heathcliff. Real super naturals
don’t die.

4/ the soul mates never out of print

Brontë –
beyond bound books:
In creating Heathcliff
Emily’s reincarnated
her self

5/ Art imitating everlasting Life

Heathcliff:
“Would you like to
step out into the air?”
Cathy: “Always.” Promises are
“Always.”

6/ The Heights beyond the wuthering

He wails:
“Cathy, My Love,
come back!” Instead, their Heart
forwards the 2 out of the house
for Home


What a playful and humorous poem. Each section is like a series of postcards that economize language yet burst with spontaneity. The subtitles themselves read like taglines for a relationship; the postcard-like script deepens the mystique and humor. If we read, characters stay with us, especially the exaggerated and Romantic who help frame our passage and “never die.” In a less print world, or a more “hi-tech” one, where images move past us, we are less apt to find the drama in the texture of the landscape or “reincarnate” ourselves through our craft, or that is how it can feel. Though these are fairly clipped and conversational in tone at times, like in a found poem, they bring us in, like fragments do, as in Sappho’s, still you in the lens with that sense of “always.” --Nicole Greaves

Third Place

Ode to My Ears

by Bob Bradshaw
The Writer's Block

Could I hope for better silent partners?
than my ears? Skilled censors,
they filter out excessive noise.

Otherwise, I’d be overwhelmed,
like a man caught in an open field,
the sky everywhere a waterfall.

Who gives me the pleasure of music
but those recording engineers,
the ears? Music soothes me more

than a walk by running water,
my stress dissolving
like sugar spilled into a creek.

Who do I have to thank
other than those dears,
the ears, for staying alert as I nap?

For picking out my boss’ voice
approaching my cubicle, a sound
harsher than that of boots

on gravel. I have a small
coterie of employees
–hands, feet, elbows and more,

all queuing up for employee of the month.
My ears often the winner,
especially in my youth

when music was a language shared
by all my friends. Even now
I wonder how I can acknowledge

their value. I recall when Valerie
looked straight at me and whispered
“I love you”. I didn’t need to know

how to read lips to know
I’d often be the reason for Val
being late to work. Ears,

how can I ever repay
such a debt?


Poetry has long included a celebration of our bodies. When we think of such poems, we can't help but think of Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric” that celebrates the body in its many forms and ultimately reminds us how the body helps to establish a sense of a soul. Seamus Heaney’s “Digging” reminds us how our body parts help us accomplish our tasks, our vocation. For Heaney’s father, it was hands that planted potatoes, but they helped him write. The body connects the thinking to the doing and the doing and the thinking. In “Ode My Ears,” the speaker celebrates his ears adeptness to “censor” and “filter” out the “excessive noise.” As this speaker notes: “Who do I have to thank / other than those dears, / the ears, for staying alert as I nap?” This clever poem is like Lucille Clifton’s “In Homage to My Hips,” where the ears like the hips possess power that moves beyond the speaker. They take on a life of their own as the humorous “silent partners” who know just what the speaker needs to hear, like Valerie’s “I love you.” It's our ears that often makes our mouths smile or heart rise. Feel. Indeed, how do we ever “repay such a debt?” --Nicole Greaves


  • March 2021 Winners

    • First Place

      What if the Wages of Dying is Love
      by Jim Zola
      The Waters

      Second Place

      The Heart is not earthbound
      by Michael Virga
      The Writer's Block

      Third Place

      Ode to My Ears
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Writer's Block

  • February 2021 Winners

    • First Place

      Other People’s Cats
      by Mike LaForge
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Hollyhocks
      by Billy Howell-Sinnard
      The Writer's Block

      Third Place

      Hobo Stones
      by Laurie Byro
      Babilu