Winning Poems for January 2017
Judged by Sara Clancy
FIRST PLACEby Brenda Levy Tate
I search for him overhead – brilliant, unreachable –
taste his fire on my hair, his jazz in my flesh.
The infinity-strip of our story wraps the zenith
like an astronomer’s tape, hung on memory’s neck.
It measures all we have lost, swells with spring,
diminishes with snow. My sun binds everything, even
death. He cambered past the cusp when we parted,
traced a figure-eight to aphelion and back.
Once he glowed above me but now he shifts south,
slow but certain through this winter afternoon.
Past twelve o’clock already: his track lurches to dark
lands where lovers drowse; where widows dream
of solstice, warm in their longer light, unseeing
as the sky changes around them. If I rest too,
will he raise me from this frozen ground, lift my eyes
to the hills, blush my tilted face? Is he Apollo
now? No – just some sad wanderer whose ruts
cross themselves at midpoint, knot their bright noose:
the lemniscate, that keeps us both from heaven,
seals its forever loop – our burning tether.
It’s a somewhat obscure extended metaphor, but an absolutely gorgeous one, circling from the premise image to the relationship and back with elegant precision. I did not know the term, Analemma, before I read this stunning poem. I will not forget it now. --Sara Clancy
SECOND PLACEby Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review
Living is a horizontal fall. Jean Cocteau
Confession: I preferred the dark mystery
of a man’s body. The ox-horn, the bamboo, the phallic burn,
the saddle, the tamp of the mix. The jade of the fix, the heady inhale,
the sweet cloying scent, almost armpit, almost oozing rapture.
But it was a return to the rose that flattened me,
pricked my balls, it was a return to the stone bridge,
the herb garden, the cuckoo forest that finished me.
I never wanted to end. Each night like air, I denied the lavender
and sage, marjoram, saffron. I could resist all the temptation
sans amour dans sa vie, the slap of the dying rose. Wherever
she’s disappeared to I shall be that province’s bird.
The obvious blur of song that remains after she’s gone.
Beautiful, sensual and tactile, these images works on all the senses. I love beginning the poem with a confession and how the poem pivots from masculine to feminine at the herb garden, the reluctant voice following along to that perfectly realized and lovely ending. --Sara Clancy
THIRD PLACEby Billy Howell-Sinnard
His left arm hangs at his side
like the pendulum
of an unwound clock.
The right is getting weaker.
He’s breathing just fine,
but gets short of breath
because he knows the prognosis.
He takes a Xanax.
Legs turning to pillars of salt,
his wife worries he’ll fall again.
She tried to lift him above
his protests. He’s as much dead
weight as the left arm he moves
like a ventriloquist’s dummy,
or cuddles like a dead pet
he can’t part with.
I take him a wide velcro belt
that has a strap
for the upper arm and one
for the forearm. Otherwise,
it will flop around like furniture
on a ship in rough seas.
She wants to keep him home
as long as possible, her pain
as numbing as his disease.
I can only offer him meds,
a handshake to the remaining
semi-workable arm as I’m leaving,
and the hope I’ll come again
next week. His heart and mind
untouched by the glacier
moving through his body,
one day, buried alive.
So interesting how this poem deftly intersperses familiar images with the matter of fact language of medicine and decline. The effect is both compelling and horrifying; a pillar of salt, a ventriloquist dummy to describe a limb that can no longer move, the disease itself, a moving glacier. As I read and reread these poems, I kept returning to this one, clearly seeing this man locked into the progression of his illness with his Xanax, his worried wife and his arm velcroed in place. --Sara Clancy
HONORABLE MENTIONby Ray
Wild Poetry Forum
A phrase he chanced upon in Chapter Twenty-One
of Sense and Sensibility: a contretemps
between the exemplars of refinement
and vulgarity, centring upon whether
their host’s ungovernable offspring
were indulged overmuch or just enough.
He wondered where it is, the outside of enough,
imagined a circle of evenings such as this
when the Tranquilyn has ceased its focusing effect
and the Tourettish tics grow louder and more often,
when listening skills are forgotten and she pokes
her face into a prickle of defiance.
Thinking, this is where we live, what we’ve become
familiar with, somewhere beyond lies
the abyss that’s been occasionally glimpsed,
a fear that one day we’ll wake to find
the entire household contents pinched
and zipped inside her eighty-seven bags.
And despite the study days, comprehending
her condition and a wealth of experience
looking after awkward children, he hears a voice
insisting he could change his name and vanish
if only he could manage a semblance of self-murder.
The outside of enough moves off a little further.