Lucian Mattison – Winner Selected by Devon Moore
We tried to start a proper war,
send a number in the tens
of thousands to be culled
where sand grit cripples watch gears,
and for a while we hung a rifle
above the mantelpiece. As before,
the soil was tilled, beginnings
of carrots and corn sprouted
in the backyard. What we didn’t see
was the battle, how it was over
after a few weeks. Too few came home
in coffins. Somewhere in Virginia
with unsold burial flags, sextons
refilled Arlington’s graves
with blank promissory notes.
The panic was so widespread,
we took down our rifles, locked
our doors and for years, searched
every square foot beyond
our windows for a culprit.
Did we expect fireworks, telegram boys,
open arms for those returning home
with prescriptions in their pockets?
What is addiction but a country
of young men winding stopped watches,
glassy eyes fixed on a minaret,
collection of rifles propped up
by their bedsides? They sleep
with a drool spot below parted lips—
pools on pillowcases the longer
they are away from action—
and still, we patrol the corridors
of our own dark houses, follow
a familiar scent, unwilling to accept
what we smell is our own scent.
Kathleen Kilcup – Runner-Up Selected by Devon Moore
With Tarsal Claw
Every separation is a link.
Once, a broke-winged bee landed on my arm
and held my hair with tarsal claws.
Black ribs, yellow ribs, dark thorn against a pale field.
I watched this small accordion labor
headed, who knows where –
some oasis on the eastern edge of desert.
In Kirkland, Washington, my grandfather arrives at the eastern edge of a desert.
His many estranged children are there, stuffing ice chips into his hot, dry mouth.
He didn’t know why we hid our eyes, and into his eighties pressed family
portraits on us, as though we had simply misunderstood his purpose. Suppose we had.
Soon and very soon, the ice chips will stop circling his tongue,
and all will be forgiven –
I have never told the truth to anyone I loved.
Adrian Potter – Finalist
Excerpts from the Guide to Modern Survival
Learn to sidestep the truth,
discuss the weather and nothing more;
ignore chances for conflict floating
between you and the stranger who agrees
that yes, it is indeed hot enough for them.
Sporadically dole out the human equivalent
to doggie treats, adoring scratches behind ears:
forehead kisses, free beer, workplace donuts,
flowers, high fives, undeserved compliments.
Mistake potential lovers – despite appearance,
charisma, or pristine reputation – as threats;
follow suit with do-gooders, their favors
and genial banter like traps, like IOUs
they’ll undoubtedly attempt to cash later.
Then confuse friendship with intimacy.
Then confuse intimacy with control.
Reserve time for self-gratifying activities.
Play video games, gossip, masturbate,
practice fade-aways until nightfall
on a deserted playground.
Don’t allow a dream to loiter idly,
gathering dust like a pawn shop banjo.
Remember where recklessness has led
your predecessors: scorned, ostracized,
forgotten, splintered into fragments
that never quite fit back together,
lonely in small inconsolable rooms.
An Insomniac’s Lullaby
You must learn how to ignore life’s internal rhythm
coaxing you to remain cognizant, the blaring neon
of nocturnal thoughts and dissonance-driven distractions;
you have to turn a deaf ear towards the lowdown lyrics
of loneliness; you need to become indifferent to stillness,
and welcome noise as if it’s an unrequested blessing,
acclimate your soul to an alternative version of silence;
you have to manufacture sleep from nothing in this city,
taxis and trucks careening through the tollways of your dreams,
perceiving night sirens and stray dog barks and infant shrieks
as de facto music; you must become a composer, an understudy
to overtone and acoustics, stitching together splintered intervals
of time, tempo, harmony, an apprentice to the blues scales
that continually bring you down like gravity; you must
remain unafraid of the redundancy felt after midnight,
aware that any restless explorations of restlessness might
induce further restlessness; you need to block out everything
within the crowded room of consciousness except sleep,
your oldest friend, who lulls in the corner and calls you in
step by half-step with no compass but the blues, no company
but the uncertainty of the journey, of all that you hear, of arrival.
Sometimes insomnia is an alley too shadowy
to stroll through safely. There’s a flooded field
in my thoughts, inundated by the inexorable
march of digital numbers pressing forward
on the clock. I secretly yearn for a night’s sleep
that doesn’t feel like drowning. Full moon tonight
and the dead are restless, reincarnating themselves
in my dreams. Desire is always a hazardous thing
to reveal. Words so readily betray what they’re
meant to represent, a disappointment so familiar
it almost feels comforting. Maybe I hear the blues
or maybe I don’t. This is a choice I‘m always making.