Winning Poems for August 2022

Judged by Doris Ferleger

First Place

Sodom by the Sea

by Ken Ashworth
The Writer's Block

Fire was the god of Coney Island.
At night, the search lights on
the tower of Dreamland could
be seen for fifty miles at sea.

Topsy the elephant was a bit
rogue. The promoters billed her as
the first American born elephant,
but even that wasn’t true.

She did kill a man who gave her
a lit cigarette to eat, picked another
up with her trunk and threw him
after he jabbed her with a pitchfork.

Her handler got drunk, rode her
down the streets to the Police
station and she almost broke
the door in. That was the end.

In 1903, Edison’s men ran two
leads from the powerhouse. Topsy
would not comply when they tried
to lead her to the arena where
people paid a quarter to watch.

One of the first movies, Edison’s
men filmed her electrocution
with the newly patented motion
picture camera. For years, parents
mock- threatened their children
with being “Topsyed”.

* This was during the “Current Wars’ of the early 20th century, between AC and DC pitting Edison vs Tesla.

This finely-crafted, evocative, and memorable narrative poem, is written in contained quatrains for the first four stanzas that end in the powerful, foreboding short sentence. “That was the end.” The last two stanzas wisely switch to quintains that can barely contain the harsh reality that Topsy is to be electrocuted on film by Thomas Edison’s men. The title is provocative and fitting. Sodom, ancient city destroyed for it’s “wickedness” by God’s “rain of fire,” hints of the poem’s story of fiery destruction and retribution. The retribution by Topsy toward those who traumatized hurt her, and retribution against Topsy for her acts of violence that came from her trauma, is remarkably captured and set free in this poem. I appreciate that the Sodom of this poem, is ironically Coney Island, dreamland of beaches; and fire is “the god of Coney Island.: I admire the ironic tone, turns and twists. I was compelled to research Topsy’s terrible fate. --Doris Ferleger

Second Place

Good Omens

by Christine Potter
The Waters

The blue heron, always the blue heron
flying overhead, barking in her strange,
torn voice—but especially whatever it
was that made you look up just before

she spoke. You were living your small
life and she waved the wand of herself
over it. Noticing is what makes room
for a gift, is the thing that translates it

into your language. A little gold-filled
circle pin from the Fifties that fell out
of your mother’s bed when everything
she’d owned finally had to be cast off,

all of it gone, but you were useless with
sorrow you didn’t expect to feel, and your
sister saw it glint—a turquoise pebble
set in it—and she said, You like turquoise,

here. An actual good dream you had, just
before awakening: an airy, Edwardian
house you’d once taught in was suddenly
yours to keep, all three floors of it, and

the light in every room danced with the
Hudson River in all its windows, heron
blue, pebble blue. So you made yourself
hold on to it. You made yourself remember.

The blue heron, always the blue heron/flying overhead, barking in her strange, /torn voice—begins this quietly evocative, meditative poem that contains such beautiful images that entwine with a touching narrative. This is an intimate and honest poem, a revelatory poem: “You were living your small life” says the speaker addressing herself. It is a philosophical poem: “Noticing is what makes room/for a gift, is the thing that translates it into your language.” It is a generous poem, one sister to the other. The good dream is a dream of new light filled river filled dance filled spaciousness for the speaker. The heron is brought back in the last quatrain as a color of the river. I was thoroughly held by the poem. Thank you. --Doris Ferleger

Third Place

Isaac and the Apple

by Rus Bowden

Hi Isaac, can you hear me?
I know your name
because the elder human
in whom you received your pollination
called you that
from the doorway
of your habitual abode.

Her voice echoed off that hill
to your left
and the one straight ahead.
Did you notice the split second delay
between when your name
left her mouth
and when it bounced off my tree trunk
against which you sit this fine morning?
Isaac, I am right up here.

Listen to me.
If next time you come,
you could bring along a stopwatch
plus a quill and a pad
on which to record our measurements,
together we should
calculate the speed of sound.

No response? Leaving?
You can be so like fallen leaves,
drifting around the grounds
until blown against a perpendicular
or into a puddle.
Anyway, talk later.

Hi again Isaac, can I call you Bud?
Sorry, bad joke,
nothing to do but think,
but gotta laugh while out on a limb, right?

Listen, do you recall that rainstorm
we had a few days back?
The sun came out afterward
and its rays refracted into a rainbow.
Which means that white light
is actually comprised of a spectrum of colors.
Write that down.
What, no quill and pad?

Anyway, some time before that
our pink petals were falling in with a cool breeze.
It was like they should have plopped
straight down with gravity,
except the air particles
that ease their falls on still days
made them change directions
and ride the currents.
Like, see that fluttering leaf . . .
Okay, see you next time the wind blows, Bud.

Hi Isaac, since you have been away,
we in the tree have been decimated by squirrels
and a cat got stuck up here too.
All this activity though
beats hanging out
with my fellow potatoes of the sky, as I call them,
who think they are perfectly spherical
and believe the sun rises
and sets around them
mesmerized by their comely exocarps.

Anyway, you and I are both gaining weight,
and I surmise that we would
freefall to the ground with a thud
if not for the large lower limb
you have climbed onto this afternoon
and my supportive branch up here.
Like, to stay where we each are,
the force of the tree acts to hold us up
and that very force must
be equal and opposite
to our respective weights.

Otherwise we could not remain this still.
We would not be able to visit like we do.
How can I put this in human terms?
Look, that is why your bottom gets sore
and boy, I am getting a stiff stem.
Careful jumping down big fella!

Hey did you see what I just saw?
You accelerated as you dropped.
If only you had quill and pad
you could write down
that force equals mass times acceleration.
Could you just remember “F=ma” please?
It means the higher you are
the bigger the bruise from a fall.

Aah! now I am dropping to earth too!
The sudden release
of your downward sitting force
has caused my mother tree to shake me off.

Hmm, and while the moon is in orbit
I am about to land
what only appears
to be straight down
onto your crown.
Which means . . .
the moon is falling!
The moon
is falling!

Just as I predicted.
It is simple mechanics.
Let’s call it “deciduous physics,”
shall we Bud?
Did you get all that down?

Would you pick me up, please
and plant me somewhere with a good view?
Or just throw me over there.
I need to get away
and roll around.
Isaac, stop biting!

I found this to be a thoroughly fresh and playful persona poem, a monologue in an ironic “dialogue” form. I love the way the “deciduous physics expert” apple speaks in artless language and puns and heedless Isaac Newton will, as we know get all the credit for the discoveries the apple has made in the poem. I enjoyed thoroughly how, in the end, the apple’s wisdom can’t save him from being bitten into by Isaac who apparently stole the apple’s intellectual property. --Doris Ferleger