The Penitent

by Ken Ashworth
The Writer's Block
Third Place, October 2018
Judged by Jeanette Beebe


Water from the blowhole
falls like a tepid rain.

The great unblinking eye,
the lateral roll,

scissoring of its jaw
and I am his.

Arch of rib and vertebrae,
icthyian cathedral, massive

heart like a hammer,
I can hear blood rush,

the billow of lungs expand
when it rises to the surface.

I trudge the barnacled
tongue to suck gill-slit

elder fish caught
in a sieve of baleen.

Three days in the bowels
of Sheol, I am disgorged

like a coughed up
choke bone, all-foured

in obeisance. I lift my eyes,
set my jaw toward Nineveh.


The word choice in this poem is so rich and full of sensory detail. These flourishes feel fresh: "to suck gill-slit / elder fish" and "a coughed up / choke bone, all-foured." The most satisfying moments are when this spirit of attention plays with sound. Phrases like "lateral roll" and "sieve of baleen", for example, are a delight to imagine and to hear. --Jeanette Beebe

  • August 2021 Winners

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