Winning Poems for October 2021

Judged by Donna Emerson

First Place (Tie)

Anna and the Scourge

by RC James

“Rescued from captivity
we will preserve you. . .
mighty Russian word!”

—Anna Akhmatova

We memorized our poems
to preserve them from
winds out of the Kremlin.

My friends, in corners unknown,
now memories enfold you
in the raw weather of release.

As you walk down the Arbat
mind my ashes that remain
a sign of sanguine revival.

Dank cells offer only blank prospects,
a full moon illuminates your path,
promise opens to a peaceful sea.

Remember metal on metal at dawn,
the thud and crunch of boots,
shouts, and cries of the tortured.

Black Marias careened with human loads,
we consoled each other, understanding
that Russian speech was our homeland.

Delirium thrived; we walked by
the frozen grins of corpses,
chains finally unfastened.

Proud Russia writhed in the army’s grip,
I won’t allow emotion now,
a dark shroud protects the memories.

I remember your words and your faces,
there will be new sorrows, but I will
remember our time through them all.

If there is to be a monument, place it
in front of the steel doors where I stood
for hundreds of hours, and an old woman’s

cries echoed through us, where tears
now will flow from bronze eyelids
watching silent ships sail up the Neva.

The poet deftly captures the strident voice of beloved Russian poet and translator Anna Akhmatova (pen name for Anna Andreyevna Gorenko (1889-1966), and draws us to the historical center of Stalinist Russia. Stanzas are carefully crafted, clear and explicit, so that Anna’s humanity and generosity shine through. Even more, Anna’s devotion to Russian speech, her people, her homeland, stand here as a shining light in the face of well-described oppression and torture, significant now as then. ---Donna Emerson

First Place (Tie)

Mother Banana

by Christina Vanthul

Every morning I sip my Earl Grey,
watch your leaves sway in the morning breeze,
the newest reaching skyward as if to pierce
Florida’s royal skies. The others spill
towards the ground, mounded
and split from weeks of stormy winds.

You wear the oldest leaves like a coat of protection
from cold, though it’s summer now.
Those leaves brown and hang, drooping
to the ground until they become fodder
for you. And your pups. The lemongrass.
The cassava. The bugs living in the soil.

Beneath your leaves, pups grow tall,
bigger than you when I brought
you home a year ago. What a difference
a summer of daily rain makes, drops
cascading along the lines of your leaves,
clinging to the edges, diamonds in

the after-rain sun. The solitary wasps
which pollinate this forest hide from water
beneath your leaves, safe, dry for now.
Soon your fingers of love will emerge,
tiny and green, row after row above
a plump purple flower. I know

you will die then, after feeding my family,
your trunk and leaves food for yours.
Soon – another year, maybe longer,
I will sip my tea in the morning
alone, except for your pups.

I was captivated by this poem’s intimate, carefully observed details. Each stanza is image-rich, as all parts of a home-grown banana tree are recognized and praised, even its raindrops’ “diamonds in the after-rain sun.” We hear the life cycle of this tree which may evoke parallels in our own lives. The poet’s confident voice is calmed by even the end of the tree’s life, when the pups or buttons can be cut and used to propagate a new banana tree. ---Donna Emerson

Second Place


by Jim Doss
Wild Poetry Forum

A boy is born into a great country
Twenty years pass
Now he is just a dead soldier
Almost unrecognizable in desert sands
The same boy who came to our rescue
Carrying a basket of peaches up the stairs
And two or three fell out
Tumbled down the steps
Their soft sounds mingling
With the everyday sounds of the world
And we watched him pause for a moment
To listen to the songs
Coming from the stone birdbath
The different pitch in each voice

This succinct portrait of a boy who became a soldier initially sounds simple and direct until the poem’s surprising center, when that boy “came to our rescue.” We see and hear the peaches tumbling. We watch the boy’s tender attention to the many voices of the birds outside. The poet’s skill with word choice and pacing slows us to a stop, a place of wonder and reflection. ---Donna Emerson