1st: Anthony Purdy, “Mariupol” | Runners-up: Charlene Boyce, “Glimpsing Mom”; Christina McRae, “Nightfall” | Finalists: Susan Drain, Katie Feltmate, Melanie Hobbs, Beth Ann Knowles, Anne Lévesque, Allison MacDonald, Shepherd Moorhead
- Citation from judge Matt Robinson: “‘Mariupol’ is a beautifully short and simple—yet really engaging—poem. Two short stanzas; twelve tightly broken lines. Its language is concise, and absolutely everyday in tone, but there are still subtle echoes and rhymes that whisper across the entire piece. The stark, juxtaposed statements of each stanza/fragment (and their darkly weary, after-the-fact nostalgia) unravel in heartbreaking fashion. This is a poem, a kind of bleak postcard, from a place to which we all hope never to travel. It’s really well done.”
we sighed when it rained
and the bus ran late
and the nurses caught Covid
and we had to wait
Now there are
no buses, no nurses
and we wait for the rain
in the theatre of war
to cleanse the stains
left by bloodwork.
Nightstand: a Bible,
A cherished hand-written card,
A spare lighter to inhale
the first smoke, make ready to
face the slop-eyed sweaty man, slurring, stumbling.
Tucked behind the Bible,
The Happy Hooker. Dog eared.
Inside, a girl smirks at her GI in black and white, one breast bared.
The gate on another day clicks shut
and all the small animals of my despair
turn in the circle of themselves
and try to get some rest.
We sleep with the doors unlocked—
all the monsters are inside,
and then inside again.
Who knew they could hide so well?
1st: Elizabeth Collis, “How to Separate an Egg” | Runners-up: Nayani Jensen, “Neetha”; Gina O’Leary, “Alongside” | Finalists: Carmen Dunn, Monica Ebsary, Jamie Farquhar, Geraldine Glodek, Monica Graham, Jill Martin, Ian Sifton
- Citation from judge Jessica Scott Kerrin: “All three top entries read to me like paintings, with their textured settings, fully rendered characters and tension brought to the surface with bold brushstrokes. As to [Elizabeth Collis’s “How to Separate an Egg”], I might never crack an egg again without thinking of that steady mom delivering heartbreaking news to her child in the kitchen.”
How to Separate
Mom taught me when I was seven. We were making a Victoria sponge cake. She cupped an egg in her hand and poised it at the rim of the mixing bowl.
I heard the crack before I saw the jagged fault line across the eggshell. Then, in a fluid motion, like an illusionist, she brought both thumbs to the crack and revealed the grey-white clinging to the yolk. She prised them apart, alternating each half of the shell under the egg contents until the glistening orb settled in one and the viscous white wobbled in the other.
When I glanced at her face, she was staring at the egg with such intense concentration it frightened me.
“That’s how you do it.” Mom said. “It takes practice, but you can separate the egg and none of the white will be left. We only need the yolks for the cake.”
Mom let me try. I ruined a few eggs. She said not to worry. Then as we beat the cake batter, she told me she and Dad were separating—like the egg. Each half complete and still my parents, but not together. A fissure zigzagged across my heart.
I thought my mom was magic, that she could re-form the egg with a sleight of hand. I asked her to do it through my sobs, pointing to my failed separation attempts.
“Oh Sweetheart,” she said, reaching to hug me, “we’d just have scrambled eggs then.”
“You see that field?” my mother said, on the walk to school. She pointed to a patch of gold among the rice paddies. “Never go there. The grass is taller than you are. It’ll be a nest of snakes.”
“Yes, Amma,” we chorused.
That was the first day of school. The girl sharing my desk was skinny and ferocious. When I moved her books off my side of the desk, she brought her fist onto my thigh like a pestle into a mortar. Her name was Neetha.
When we were ten, Neetha’s mother died. She came to school as hot and angry as ever.
“She was reincarnated as a snake,” Neetha told me. “I see a snake around the house sometimes.”
I said nothing. I was still afraid of her.
It was the first thing I thought of, later, when I found the chair next to mine empty.
That day, I walked out to the gold field. The tips of the grasses were level with my eyes, and I watched the sky as it deepened and filled with bats. It was beautiful, the way forbidden things always are. I did not see any snakes.
As I turned to go, a great ibis rose out above the grass—long-necked, dark, shimmering. Its eyes were fierce, and I felt the wingbeats on my cheek as it passed low overhead.
My mother was waiting when I got home.
“There was an accident,” she said. “A cobra.”
But I already knew.
I came alongside the day he was born. I hadn’t yet seen the sparkle in his eyes, but I glimpsed his chubby cheeks, that crown of dark hair. His heart unbalanced, without an anchor, a harbinger of danger.
I saw the hopeful, worried, warm faces of his parents; together but alone. Their boat adrift in rough seas tossing them to and fro, so far from home. So I stayed alongside to help chart the course.
They held fast to our lifeline. The seas calmed. We watched as he grew stronger. Smiling and wise, his eyes sparkling with mischief. Each precious milestone cherished like a rare pearl.
Eventually I came alongside less often. Each meeting a time to hold our breath and wait to see what the next wave might bring. Our boats bobbed along like this for weeks, then months. We parted ways and reunited countless times, always happy to fly our familiar flags.
And then the storm came. The waves overturned their tiny boat. They held on to the wreckage, but so focused on their own survival, it was I who held their boy and watched as the sparkle left his eyes.
After the storm, I watched with sadness as they sailed away in search of a safe harbor.
A message in a bottle came two years later. They were blessed with another son who had the same sparkle in his eyes, but this time, a healthy heart ready for their long voyage together.
1st: Robert de la Chevotiere, “Prayer” | Runners-up: Christina McRae, “Barren Beach”; Matt Robinson, “Median’s up-bunched, glut-hunchy tumult”; David A. Wimsett, “Undeniable” | Finalists: Jill Martin, Lisa McCabe, donalee Moulton, Sandra Phinney, Anthony Purdy, Catherine Walker
- Citation from judge Michelle Elrick: “I was impressed by how [Robert de la Chevotiere] combined the complex yearning of a cultural moment with playful syntax and musical rhythms. I loved the taste and touch senses they brought in, and the reduction of the original yearning to ‘patience / And matches’ in the final phrase. This poem does much in a few words.”
Robert de la Chevotiere
My spirit is wanting
To light candles for you
So we can pray
For Earth days
For more songs
More saltine crackers
Melting on our tongues
For more soul quenching conversations
But for now
Just a prayer
I want to lie under a sun of forgetting.
Close my eyes to face the sky
and keep turning til every bone
is bleached and hollow and I am light
and thoughtless of all but the smell
of summer on my skin.
Median’s up-bunched, glut-hunchy tumult
of just-ruined sod—in dusk’s dun sleight of bland, fading light—
is a drive-by mistake eyes make on behalf of mind’s baffled racing.
Kentucky Blue’s corkscrewed ruse-rumple? Porcupine’s quill-hackles
wheelwell-centrifugaled—tread-catapulted—to frizz-stolid huddling
embossed across late day’s fall-ruddy hellstrip, its haywired circadians
and fading endviews.
David A. Wimsett
Looking through old folders in forgotten drawers;
A note from you,
Not long ago;
“Don’t work tonight”,
Signed with a silly name as we often gave each other;
A lingering weight fell from my eyes to my chest,
As something known became realized.
1st: donalee Moulton, “The woman sitting beside me” | 2nd: Leanne Schneider, “Roots and Ropes” | 3rd: Charles “Gus” Doiron, “The Wolfman” | Finalists: Rhian Irene Calcott, Fiona Chin-Yee, Barbara Darby, Joanne Gallant, Rose Poirier, Jennifer Reichow, Syr Ruus | Judges: Alison DeLory and Jessica Scott Kerrin
The woman sitting beside me
The woman sitting beside me in the theatre — seventh row, sixth seat — leans in, smiles conspiratorially as if we have shared a singular connection. “Is it almost over?” she asks, her body frail, sered, slightly antiseptic. She is bored or making polite intermission conversation. She glimpses my husband, nods mannerly, one stranger to another. “It’s only act one,” I whisper.
Her shoulders fall — gratitude, acceptance, resolve perhaps. In profile she reminds me of my mother, grateful for a night out but wanting to be home with her tea and her dog, content to know family is only a phone call away.
The curtain is about to rise. Act two will take us in unexpected directions. I glance at the stranger next to me in G6 eyes intent on the stage, upright, a slight fidget. She feels my gaze, rests her hand on mine, fleeting. I spy hearing aids, wonder if they’re working or if this quiet restlessness is simply boredom borne of a desire to be elsewhere or merely acceptance of more of the same. I offer her a mint, unwrinkle it for her. She looks at me, at the mint. “Do you like the play?” she asks. Memories of my mother return. This would be her way of saying the theatre sucks, when can we go home.
The delicate woman beside me returns to her program. I wonder if this woman would have liked my mother. Would have liked the woman she once was.
Roots and Ropes
My roots in this town go as deep as the roots of the tree she hung herself from. The tree in the cemetery, that the full moon shines on and the locals use as a landmark. The tree that is so old it casts the longest shadow at dusk. If we cut it down, I wonder how many rings would be inside.
My roots in this town are as long and strong as the ropes they used to rip his body apart. After they tied his limbs to the chrome bumpers of two trucks and drove in opposite directions. Late at night, at the end of a dirt road the locals use as a point of direction. Found his head in another County.
My roots in this town go as deep as the ocean where the lobster pots are cut from their ropes and left to sink to the bottom. My roots, as taut as the ropes securing fishing boats to the wharves and set on fire because they belong to the wrong nation. The First Nation, whose roots in this land, go deeper than mine. Whose Mi’kmaq words the locals use as names for villages.
My roots and ropes are intertwined, securing me to the ground, keeping me from floating away. They are strangling me, choking me, tangling me, burning me, tying me to a place I love. A place that it hurts to love because of the roots and ropes.
Charles “Gus” Doiron
The bulbs on his mirror are so bright they are almost audible. He powders and primps, pastes and glues. Proper accents are key for the needed effect. The lighting in here is unforgiving, but it will be easier when he’s performing.
First one ear, then the other. He can already hear better. The claws hurt more coming off than going on. As his teeth set he notices a drooped eyebrow. It will have to do.
He can hear people outside. Murmurs or screams, it all sounds the same.
On the surface he is in chaos, writhing and contorting as the transformation takes place. On the inside he is calm. This room joins the conscious and subconscious. Neither knows it exists.
A smell, not entirely unpleasant, wafts in. He has soiled himself again.
All part of the act.
There is a knock on the door and it opens. Mayhem.
“Showtime,” she whispers before gently closing it back.
He looks in the mirror one last time and grins. His skin is stretched and peeling but will look fine covered in blood and away from these lights.
A small part of him is afraid and he has to remind himself he is the reason everyone came. Lon Chaney would be proud.
He gets up, walks to the door, and takes a deep breath. He looks up in the direction of the moon if he were outside and howls. He fixes his eyebrow before leaving.
He is The Wolfman.