Lucian Mattison – Winner Selected By Final Judge Lawrence Eby
Vines and Marrows
Six years ago, my senile
tía Leticia stood at a dinner party
and recited Tango verses about a crookneck
vine that bore sundry marrows.
One of the two remaining sisters
of the 13, husband gone, solitude
sprouted into the air
around her. The dinner table
welled up with her tears. She produced
a silence, so palpable, we bathed
her in a nonplussed applause.
Her eyes, a pair of calyces and brindled
irises, were wide open
like a newborn’s, as if she were
desperately refilling them with cimarrón
dust, a pitcher of red wine,
cognac and oranges, the faces
of a family she could hardly recognize.
I see my mother, twenty years
from now, companionless, her bones
like cast-iron and her heart a heap
of eggshells. She shuffles inside
her pristine home, cooks for four,
and recites fragments of Neruda
to herself –Comer solo es amargo–
as she stirs a nickel spoon in a bowl
of mariner’s soup. She prepares
her yerba mate, twists open a bag
of lard pastries when she phones
to remind me that it’s November,
that she invited the whole family
next month. She’s already planned
every meal, rearranged the furniture,
swept out the guest bedroom.
I have to switch off my phone at night
to keep from picking it up the fifth time.
The last of the sisters, Utto, died last month,
each woman alone in her last years, my blood
telling me that husbands expire before their wives.
I look to my left atrium to see my father’s
heart failures, on the other side the genetic
disorder of my mother’s maiden name, Diaz
—Parkinson’s buried beneath it.
I don’t want to vanish a decade early
like all the men in my family. I wish
to have a woman who swells like those
on my mother’s side, her skin hardened
like a winter gourd, a swallow’s song emanating
from within until her last breath.
I want to pass around the yerba mate, sip
from the silver straw, catalogue the family with her,
a grandchild’s birth like refilling a bowl of tea
with steaming water, my hands around a steeping
bloodline, drawn from the same calabash gourd.
Steven Blythe – Winner Selected By Final Judge Lawrence Eby
It’s best to let them run, to tire, that’s the way it was said
and there I am holding my son’s shocked shoulders
so I used his thumb pulled back the release on the reel.
The rod sprung the line ran the salmon ran the others shuffled
their manliness out of our way the boat pulling, the shifting,
our whistling line grabbing at everyone’s attention.
The silvers will do that
to a small boat like ours,
the excitement of it!
They all helped sling it onboard, so many,
all hands and I held down my son’s fish
while it tried to flounder under my grip,
knees burning on the deck veins rushing,
the salmon with arched strong upper beak
jawing, the flash of colors gulping.
I heard the rod go loose from its holder,
still hear the scrawling across the commotion
gritty upon the stern all eyes on the fish and the club
was somehow handed me through the crowd
of wet jeans and rubber boots now sloshing.
I clubbed it again and again and again
in the spray, smashed its head and the scales,
luminous scales and bright red blood of fish
hitting the cold air, hitting my freshly-whiskered
cheekbone pounding hunched over beating the life out of…
Opalescent essences oozed from their cheering.
Then I was left holding
such a gorgeous silver gasping air.
I look up at him proud of myself,
proud of us all but, my son was gone.
Liz Casey – Winner Selected By Final Judge Lawrence Eby
it’s very easy
to avoid detection
to divert the lustful stares
of men in the street
to be looked through
instead of at
like my bones and flesh
simply gain enough
and cross from “dewy nymph”
to “ghost” in the attic
the place where faces won’t turn
a gap where eyes avert.
all it takes is 50 pounds
and a stealthy lock of grey
to loosen from under my hat
a prominent hip that
takes too much space
a belly that droops
and I easily,
Kathleen Kilcup – Finalist
For many years God has been absent.
If this is not the modern condition, I don’t know what is.
Walking home in the dark, I am alone again. Pine trees line the road.
A man in a parked pick-up is shouting into the black
that he will not come. He will not come with you and your slutty skirt.
I look around. No skirts. I am wearing jeans – same jeans
five days in a row. He is looking down the empty street
in the direction I just came from, hollering, now, obscenities.
Good thing he’s parked. For a moment, I stop clicking my nails against
one another, stop making mental lists of states, types of noses, foods,
Christmas things, as my therapist suggested I do
when the absent hand has my throat or is squeezing my ribs.
I am looking into the tomb. No one is there but this man,
crazy, drunk, drug-addled, screaming at something invisible.
A list of Christmas things: tinsel, tinsel, tinsel,
pine, wreaths, empty womb.
Lucile Blanchard – Finalist
Not your paintings on the wall,
not the sculptures among the dusty books,
but the air that holds you still
in this room, the very molecules
vibrating from the voice that died,
the pressure of your glance only
now releasing the Japanese print,
the head our daughter carved in clay.
If technicians applied their magic dust,
your fingerprints would show on the walls.
Your pheromones are caught on the windows.
If I lick the glass I’ll draw
the smell of you onto my tongue.
Jen Ashburn – Finalist
When I remember that night, I can’t recall
if we had pork chops and broccoli for dinner,
or ham and beans, or fried blue gill
with stewed tomatoes. I don’t know
if we watched TV or sat on the back patio
listening to crickets. I can say it was summer;
the evening light soaked everything
in the color of plums—not the skin of plums, or the flesh,
but that deep orange-red that bleeds in between.
She was gentle at first, my mother. Then she said,
“This is how they restrain you in hospitals.”
She tucked the sheets hard under the mattress,
trapping my arms, legs, shoulders, my surprised ribs.
How old was I? Strong enough to untuck the sheets
and crawl out of bed, but I didn’t. Into the night
I listened for her return footsteps and startled
at every old-house creak. What I remember
from that night is this: my mother’s unsteady eyes
behind her thick-rimmed glasses, and squares of light
gliding across the bedroom wall. Light through the window.
Light from the station wagons and pickup trucks
that said, so patiently, there is a road. My mother
was breaking. Even the light on the wall knew.