Khaty Xiong – Runner-up
PORK RINDS, WATERED RICE
It seemed a powerful thing my mother being a chili picker
withstanding the burn of broken chilies hotly licking her fingers,
stomaching the only meal for the day: pork rinds and watered rice,
a warm can of Pepsi, a bite of a Thai chili plucked along the way,
the summer heat to melt the rest of her being, the day ending with
440 lbs, her pocket stuffed with $66 in cash.
In late evenings, she’d remove from underneath
the carpet flap of the bedroom floor, a thick white envelope
(not so mysterious), my little self waiting for her
to count, to look over, eyes instructing. I had never thought
her lonely for the act—perhaps when it seemed her body was
her only friend, the way she spoke to those hands unlike with me.
I’d watch her undress, think only of her torso, how tired
she looked, how much I loved her, the nightly ritual
in the bathroom—talking to her hands, the sound of
running water to mute the conversation.
Theadora Siranian – Finalist
When is enough. When. When is it still.
When does the procurement of memory
become tedious, dangerous.
For days and then weeks I asked
the mornings for respite, finally realizing
how futile, selfish, how human
of me to beg such things. I keep
promising myself a poem with the line
let me surprise myself with the ability for forgiveness
but always end up with ones like this.
When does a promise to oneself
become like a promise made
to other people, like the kind made to you
by the person you whispered softly to on the back
porch three years ago: please just don’t hurt me.
When do you realize that, like an appeal
to the earth’s turning, such requests are ineffectual?
An animal not unlike my former child
lives in my elbows; pain pools
there in the evenings, ten-hour shifts
and belabored personal confessions ebbing
and flowing and finally just curling
into standstill. This sudden violent angle
of our world is wearying. The forsythia is acid,
everywhere, bright even in the dark. When
was it ever so bright. When is enough, too late,
yesterday, last year, a trip to Providence,
a walk to find Lovecraft’s grave and October again
so sweet, such weather, such sunlight.
When was it before we were this,
when we were different than now.
In the vast scope of the universe
this question is inconsequential.
And yet it’s the magnitude of the small that crushes:
the sudden brutal tilt of a room,
curtains motionless in winter, a candle burning
beside a vase of white tulips. The small world
of intimate space suddenly sliced in half
like a piece of summer fruit.
Kathleen Kilcup – Finalist
Windows down, I drive
past long rows of empty,
unfolding fields, burnt grass and yellow
dust. Heraclitus said the dry soul
rises, is a “wakeful watcher
of living men and corpses.”
I am not dry,
not in any sense of the word –
one foot in the river,
the other on the gas.
My organs bloat from heat
and diet coke. They ride above the straight-shot
blacktop, south, in this sack
of skin, in this steel carriage.
I flick a cigarette into the brittle wind,
insisting on myself.
An armadillo lays shelled
and blackened in the dead weed,
no longer fatted or cumbersome.
Miles ahead, in Odessa,
there is a watering hole
with a neon sign, where drivers
come to nod at their beers
and bow in sleepy piety.
Dust drives at my face.
This land would have me
empty as a snake skin
and as free.