2014 Pangaea Prize Finalists

Alison Palmer

The Birds Are Bells
In memory of Eric Van Cleve
 
I.

The birds are bells after you die.

Every bird in this park
needs to be shot down to silence.

This way, I don’t see you fly above
the bench where I sit pretending to read.

If you weren’t so present, I’d be
able to enjoy the sky today. Instead,

the sky is littered with you, winged
and beaked and searching for food.

II.

Meanwhile, the clocks are ticking,
the day, something monstrous

as it leads me to think how soft
your head was on the pillow

before your last breath. And the birds
do nothing but tell time by the sun.

I wonder, if I had paid attention
to you more, would the sky forget

what it would miss, and leave you
to me, bells signaling your return.

 Contributor Notes

Theodora Ziolkowski

Song for Ariel

No matter the beckoning of a drowned sailor’s smile,

a lemon shark’s eye in the sun —
I try to remember you only just

emerged from your bath wet-headed,
drowsy, your skin a wash of salt and plum.

Some believe certain animals cannot be contained.
And you what do you dream of?

The shore is being combed
for the cockleshells considered safe

in your room while you stand
at the edge of our island, under

the arbor of a thousand roses.
A diver ascends with a net

packed with black scallops.
Down the hall, you tread the line

to your room. There are covens
of others outside, all longing to take

your place, to memorize even a trace
of you. Somewhere you still have that costume,

all scales and nylon mesh. You must
remember your hairbrush,

darling. Here: your towel.
Now rub the soap from your eyes.

 

The Looking Glass

Once you heard the windowpane creak — the thump,
you said, of a dodo when you flew into the garden

to wake me. There is a sketch of us made on that sunny
day — you golden, restless, kicking from a rail in your

checkered smock. After you were born I spent the night
awake in a hotel off the coast, dreamt of you waking

and stepping into the dark as I felt your breath against
my hair, my pillow. Darling, you were covered in hearts

when I wanted to row us into the ocean or strap you
in your chair, pedal into a snow bank and see if all the white

would wake you. In another version, a ruby red queen tries
to break you, but nonetheless it is this afternoon while

clipping our roses back, I mistake my clippers’ flash for rain
and all our fruit begins dripping — the peaches erupting

in the trees, the grapes spitting from the vine
and Alice, look — the cherries in your lap.

 Contributor Notes

Kelly Scarff

My Mother Does My Waving for Me

My mother has shaken me awake. She hovers
over me until her light rattles its way out.
My mother is over my head. She is behind me. She is inside
my belly. My mother is shaking and shaking her way out
of my belly. My mother is all religions. My mother is the absence
of anything religious. My mother is speaking in tongues.
My mother has taught me to talk myself out of love.
My mother is not Mom or Ma or Momma. My mother
has curlers in her hair. She folds my father’s laundry.
My mother is laundry. Clean and dirty and clean again.
My mother is a road sign, deceptively large
and glowing. She watches me from the window as I tackle
the bus steps. My mother does my waving for me.
She cooks me breakfast, recites parables as I cool down
my oatmeal with small puffs of breath. My mother is breath
– deep ones and shallow ones. My mother is all mothers.
My mother/is my mother/is my mother.

 

Missing Our Matriarchs

It takes two empty bottles
before I can mutter,
I miss her, my gram.
But it takes him a few more glasses, face sinking
toward the table, before sharing,
Yeah, I miss my mom.

So here we are, missing our matriarchs,
wine bottle number five,
and the sage

in our garden
will not die. Even after digging
at the roots,
even after holding the dead half
in our hands.
Rosemary, too. Those remaining
evergreen tendrils
ignore our shovels, the refusal of water,
our distracted talk of
we’ll plant fresh

in the spring.

And what is it that you want, you
howling wolf, you nibbling rabbit,
you dying garden bed of women?

You reawaken us
every spring
with the excitement of something new,
the rapid remembrance
of something lost,
demanding some role in our home:
the stuck door of the laundry chute,
the apples that rot too fast on the counter,
the light in our bedroom that turns on inexplicably.

We have nothing to offer you in this home we’ve built
except these slurred words across tables,
the freshly dug wombs in our back yard.

 Contributor Notes

 

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