Winning Poems for November 2021

judged by Terence Culleton

First Place

Cycling Across t’Bridge

by Ieuan ap Hywel
The Writer's Block

Wending my way agin wind and wet weather
wearing oilproofs and yellow sou’wester.
Astonished to see Nona waiting for me,
straddling the bar of her dad’s rusty bike.

Oilproofs flapping I look up to see
wind whipping water up from the weir.
Her dress draping over her boneshaker bike,
spray splashing onto her long chestnut hair.

The wind whipping water up from the weir.
Proud, standing tall, red-knitted cardigan.
Fizzing white foam spraying onto her hair.
Standing sedate, top button undone.

Proud, standing tall, tight-fitting cardigan.
Weaving my way agin wind and wet weather.
Statuesque, standing tall, top button undone.
Non at the bridge, wistful, waiting for me.

A key to the sureness with which this poem realizes the musical structure of the pantoum form is the fact that there is only one main verb in the entire piece. The poet cycles a single remembered image through carefully crafted quatrains in such a way that, with each return of any given detail of the scene, there is not just a recognition, but a re-realization. The language is always fresh and musical, filled with assonantal and consonantal textures, and it’s often surprisingly inventive, as in the second quatrain’s reference to “her boneshaker bike.” Every quatrain of this poem resonates with both loss and recovery. The charged moment is fixed in the past but brought back into the present again through the offices of the poetic imagination. The merging of past and present, memory and desire, loss and recoupment is the exact remit of the lyric mode and the key to its hypnotic power. I could read this one again and again—and will. --Terence Culleton

Second Place

Now Hear the Word of the Lord

by Jim Zola
The Waters

I can recite the names of all the bones
in the human body, two hundred and six,
a parlor trick I practice at parties.
When drunk, I rap them in cartoon voices.
carpus and tarsus and zygometric.
The other night while making love
she stopped and laughed and said
I have an ambulance in my head.

But the ambulance was in the night. Flashing
lights played tag around the bedroom walls.
Good neighbors, we uncuddled to peek
from behind the curtains, curious to learn
which old man was shuffling closer to god.
Dem bones dem bones dem dry bones
This morning I watched a scattering
of starlings tossed against the permanent sky.

The last two lines of this poem lift it deftly away from itself and, at the same time, open it up and outward. The image of the “starlings tossed against a permanent sky” rises above the very entertaining oddities asserted in the first stanza and the self-amused narrative of the second to pose the timeless question the poem thus far has been both approaching and avoiding. Further, the poem’s movement is realized with extraordinary efficiency through juxtapositions, contextual shifts, and ironic realizations, and the language and syntax are clean and direct. No wasted words or even syllables. It’s a very satisfying, and memorable, read. --Terence Culleton

Third Place

Opening the Letter

by Jim Doss
Wild Poetry Forum

The heart at rest after its last beat.

The words still clutched in hand
squirm and stagger
through their awkward emotions.

It’s always this way.
No matter how many times the paper is unfolded,
the scene played out in imagination.

Outside wild turkeys glean corn stubble,
scratch their hieroglyphs into moist soil
for the young foxes to decipher.

From the back of pickups
hunters spotlight anything that glows back,
teaching their sons how to be men.

Bats dart between the glittering insects
to where night flows like a river
into an infinite abyss.

The moon spills its blood
across yellow pine floors
where cold feet lie in laceless boots.

And you are lost here, lost
within the memories of an unworthy survivor
searching the graffiti-filled catacombs of your mind.

Somewhere amid these lies you’ll find an everlasting truth.

The indeterminateness of the narrative situation is counterbalanced by the vivid language of the third through sixth triplet stanzas, which are tight and evocative, achieving a powerful interplay between imagery and statement. The stylistic performance in these stanzas is grounded in nouns and verbs that are concrete or metaphorical, rather than abstract. Turkeys “glean corn stubble” and “scratch their hieroglyphs.” There are “pickups” and “glittering insects” and a moon that “spills” blood around “laceless boots.” The writing in these stanzas is particularly fine, evocative of a sadness and confusion that are deeply felt. --Terence Culleton

Honorable Mention

Help Wanted

by Mary MacGowan
The Waters

I taught myself to type
on a small orange
typewriter ($35)
with a library book
designed to prop open
for practicing. 45 wpm
was the minimum
required for a secretary,
learned in a weekend.
(A job was much needed.)

One job was at a law firm,
each page had 3 carbon
copies, blue, yellow and pink.
Bottles of white-out,
also in blue, yellow and pink,
sat next to the Selectric.
The long pauses
for fixing mistakes. The pain
that manifested under
my right shoulder blade.

One job was for a small family
business on Park Avenue
that sold dictating machines
with their tiny cassettes.
One of the owners,
the son, had me sit in his lap
on a late afternoon, the sun
slanting in the shop windows.

Not long after, a job
in San Francisco,
where I used a headset
to listen to men dictating
business letters, probably
on a Park Ave machine.
I earned just enough
for airfare to get back home.
I bought a woman’s ticket
listed for sale in the Times;
we could do things like that
back then, names mismatched.

Later, when the babies came,
and it was my job
to stay home with them,
and newspapers still had
Help Wanted ads, and when
they were napping, I’d pour
myself a cup of coffee
and dream. Ohhh, I could
be a receptionist at
The Chatham Club.
Welcoming guests, smiling,
Right this way, I’d say,
my voice positively filled
to the sky with smiles,
and the stapler
was happily married
to the kleenex box
and the paper clips
ran away with the spoon.

Honorable Mention

Ode to a Hummingbird

by RC James

Tiny twin
      fluttering fans
  dart up to hover
            just there,
    beak fronting,
        losing its length
            to bud inside.

        Wonder of airs,
    elite sharp
            drawing sap succulent,
        stand we aghast
              at the seminal speed,
                    by powers
                            so small,
      whoops a daisy,
              oh my oh my,
    who can say
              so quickly?
                    we watch
            and marvel aghast.

      But where are…
                    oh where?
              The wings are only a blur,
          speed redundant,
                          so smooth
                slick colors apparent.

Silent whirring
          subconscious twirling,
                  right there,
      catch the miniature sign
                            of rapidity
                      coursing through.

          What we know
              we can only dissemble,
          fully performing
                      this wonder of stutter flight
              alive to us,
                        it goes,
                                      it goes,
                      into imagination
                                    bereft of action
                    for the next sighting,
                          to its quicksilver promise.

Honorable Mention

Sizing Up

by Paul A. Freeman
The Write Idea

A house that’s been constructed on a plot;
a city nestling in a sovereign state.
A continent-encircled, blue-white dot
inclined upon its axis, and oblate.
Our planet, one of eight, goes round a star,
a G class sun, a master puppeteer
conducting rocky asteroids from afar
and thawing frozen comets as they near.
Outside the solar system, if you stray,
like Voyager, you’ll traverse a cold, black pond
that’s speckled with the dusty Milky Way
and billions of galaxies beyond.
Our universe! Did chance or God create
this space-and-time constricted figure eight?