Alison Palmer – Winner
The unfortunate ones never know how to hold on
to the image of what
could be great—
I’m still here with you. Inside morning,
birds rise to meet the sun; everyday,
we speak of the birds, as if their future
is our future.
Jen Karetnick – Finalist
At first, Anonymous was a crack in the bark, identical
to the others running up and down the trunk of the tree.
Just by looking you couldn’t tell it apart: one smile
in a maze filled with mirth. At first, Anonymous was
a grain of rice, a kernel of wheat or corn, the hull
and the embryo, the bran and the germ, the horny
endorsperm and the pedicel. Anonymous was a flower
on a panicle that held thousands, where all but one would blow
away in a wind that had no bottom or top, it only had sideways,
the single remaining blossom a missionary, hanging
at the tip like a drop of semen, anticipating the anointment
of porcelain. At first, Anonymous was ceramic, stone, tile,
a bone, a pale sliver of spare rib curdled with back fat, bacon,
a hook to tie to a string that was so much stronger than it looked,
a totem to wrap around a limb, digging in, scarring it so the fruit
would be that much sweeter. An invention, it was a wheel
to carry the cart, to be manufactured in its own image
until Anonymous was as infinite as a galaxy, and as silent.
Then Anonymous never existed but will always live on,
the mother who did not give birth, the sister who is not
a sibling, the daughter never given life, the lover for whom
there had never been desire and no given reason why
but who fucked and got fucked in return. Then Anonymous
continued to march in place like a band practicing on the football
field after the players had left; Anonymous was the preen gland
on the tail of a duck, manufacturing oil to ward off the water
with the underside of a beak and keep the vessel afloat.
Later, Anonymous tried on a different body, a braver
face, a heavier moniker. Anonymous pointed a shaft, held up
a stiffer shield. And later, Establishment was accused. Who was
responsible? Not Anonymous. Later, Anonymous was hanging
by the tool belt, bumped off the wagon when the jailors
had their heads turned. Anonymous was sentenced to the electric
pencil sharpener for noncompliance, to the needle, inserted
like a pen, to the eraser. The choice amounted to what was
the quickest way to go when originally created by an echo?
Katharyn Howd Machan – Finalist
Botany For Beginners
You have to leave the city first:
don’t let those new ghosts detain you
with their mystery grins up through
cracked pavement, lurid patches of paint
on stained walls. New York. Boston.
Chicago chewing lake air like fat.
Even Louisville with its horsy hay,
New Orleans’ stench of high water.
Carry seeds—or better yet take
just a sack and find them as you
journey greenward. Ignore pigeons. Crows
will start casting their wide-winged shadows
as soon as you pass your first field.
Think of Jack and his milky white cow.
Think of bold Johnny’s firm apples.
Exactly when you can’t walk anymore
find the blackest earth you can reach.
Use a finger. Use a stick. Push down
through the ground’s broken bones.
Then steadily plant what will split and erupt
and yield what you’ve risked and survived.
You’ll never go back. You’ll wait to harvest,
forgetting the rust of bricks that scrape sky,
the black eyes of rats drowning hungry.
Teresa Sutton – Finalist
The Moment Before
Now earth spins away from the sun.
Grief oxygenates and burns
through grapevines you planted
that stretch towards the night
we will know you only as electric indigo.
Soon you will be rain streaming from me,
a dogged echoing of bird calls,
a twinkle of graceful bravery,
an explorer we dread to go after.
Whatever is left from your days
of weeding a world of forests,
it will not destroy you or us as you stand
at the small end of a telescope.
Spring snow has passed between us
and now there is a door.
Breaking Newton’s Laws
He wants space and time
to bend to his will and they do.
Reclining in his leather chair,
Dad is an object at rest.
But he drives through corn fields
in Kansas before the Korean War
taking a dead man’s turn on two wheels
nearly tipping his Jeep―
next he releases the brakes
of a trolley car. He doesn’t stop
until he and his brother are halfway
to Manhattan. He laughs until a cop leaps
on board and pulls the lever
for the emergency brake.
He’s a child calling out:
again, again. And he joy rides
through the past whenever he wants,
speeds up steep grades, decades later.
Dad breaks Newton’s laws.
In dementia, he’s found the ultimate
time machine. Summer and winter swap
places with ease. Elevator doors open
and close on moments of his life,
as he rides up and down, unable to exit.
Dad is boxed into his father’s room,
a place he’s feared since his dad
pulled IV tubes from his arm,
walked out of a hospital at midnight
into a snow storm.
Snow melts and his father’s river
overflows. Dad’s swept up,
caught between inertia and velocity.
The rush pulls him along the channels
of his nightmares, to the exact space,
where he always feared he’d drown;
He bobs along in unplumbed currents.
The force of every memory changes Dad’s velocity.
Force in his case is the red eye and gummy grin
of love torn from scrapbooks and tossed aside
into random piles, leaving only remnants
of bright ribbon dangling from faded spaces.
Every memory is a new assemblage of rivers
that slips down smaller branches and catches
somewhere, becomes a picture and then decomposes.
Each image is filled with monsters and marvels
that paint over moments in dulled shades.
Here stories combine and redouble.
The force of every memory changes dad’s velocity,
plus time and place, a curious pattern that defies
Newton. Here a door opens. Here he trips
and falls on two pies during the Great Depression.
His mom gives him a fork, not a beating.
Changing velocity generates a new force
and there are many terrible days ahead for him.
There are days in which nothing but dead fish
float by in these crooked channels, days
in which no matter where he turns, he’s facing a wall.
Here he has to climb an apple tree to get something
to eat. He digs for clams and takes a bus
to market to earn nothing except a pocketful of coins.
Here economic recovery can never take place.
Velocity in his case is a series of radio static noises—
loud, muffled, soft, underwater—
and clear notes that skip with fluctuating volume
passing station to station, wildly trying to tune in.
What might have been done differently buzzes
the same way. Here he steps on a fatal broken bottle.
A shard of glass embeds itself in the arch
of his foot. Here is a locked door.
His galactic slide rule no longer tells him
how to deflect rocks headed his way.
Watching the skies for wayward asteroids,
he can’t dismiss the voices pulsing
through his blood as apocalyptic nonsense.
He examines the galaxy’s shoreline
to locate sanctuary for himself
and everything that swims
toward some kind of insurance
against cosmic ordinance.
Clobbered with pebbly debris,
he gives dark matter a good hard shove
to change its trajectory
and discovers that air tastes as you imagine
it would in windswept dunes.
It is terrible to survive loss,
more terrible to survive love
and walk a fine line expecting every action
to have an equal and opposite reaction,
disappointing to instead find yourself
peering through telescopes filled with snow.
He is blindsided by the altitude
and hovering at the edge of a trap door
into which a million suns will fall.
Our mutual eclipses prove that he is Pluto
and I am his moon, Charon, his only daughter,
his ferryman ready to help him paddle down river,
the one that divides the worlds of the living
and the dead. Seated in this boat
we are gravitationally locked to one another.
I am here to instruct him
that eclipse means darkening
of a heavenly body—downfall—absence.
I am here to interpret for him the echo
of the frozen sea. I am here
to keep him from drowning in the frills
of my First Holy Communion Dress,
to help him feed stale bread to ducks
on Sunday mornings of my childhood.
I am here, but I am not here.
For him I am always somewhere over there—
in an adjacent room being pulled
from mother’s belly with forceps.
I am hiding behind blueberry shrubs
with my brothers in the sixties,
smiling through mosquito netting
that covers my baby carriage.
I am an insignificant stone at the fringe
of his solar system, a chasm deeper
than Grand Canyon, a jagged scar
somewhere in the southern hemisphere.
We do a complex gravitational dance
beside a pile of starched white shirts
that evokes his absence.
In the rear view mirror, there is a complexity
of mourning that requires both
remembering and forgetting. We are
obscured from one another.
He is whistling in the dark.