2015 Theme: Space
Evelyn Conley – Winner
To the Ghost of the Sibling I Never Had
You blew through a crack in my window
while a black dog breathed a cloud of warning
from the ground below.
You dropped in, a stone plunked into a bowl,
and lived under my bed
as a mandrake root.
I brought you many ordinary bowls of blood.
This was after mother tended to you.
She gave you to the earth
and sang for you. She left you there.
Father crouched above your stone –
a peddler whose head was bent over
the unleavened bread of you.
You never named yourself, but I could sense
your aspiring eyes reaching up at me through the box springs
and mattress. Some nights I heard
you scrape your rooty limbs
against the hard wood floor,
crawling out to breathe, some nights
to pretend for a moment that you were me.
I never looked, but could hear you
as you read my books and left your grubby finger
marks across the pages.
When I remember you, I think that it would be
ideal to climb up above the roof of our childhood,
so I can see a world beyond you.
From above, I see a garden filled with rune stones.
Some of the stones say memento mori.
Some of the stones say turn me over.
Lisa St. John – Winner
There Must Be a Science to This
There must be a science to this—an improbable equation
or a Fibonacci sequence that refuses to spiral into madness.
These are not my memories. I reject this gift.
When I was thirteen they put us in a P.O.W. camp….
Perhaps a little of this drink and some of those pills and a few hits, some greedy sex, and—
I will be fine. I will not accept your nightmares regardless of the remuneration offered.
I refuse this guilt you silently pronounce as mine.
I read that suicide is for those people too gentle for this world.
It must be the equal sign that’s missing. Either that or your forgiveness.
I never was any good at math,
where the answers are always the same.
I waited for the new and improved mom to come back from the hospital
each time, but the solution must have been made of imaginary numbers.
Your situation had too many variables for me to try and balance. But your stories stayed with me as memories of things I had never seen…. There must be a science to this—
a sign, a symbol, a proof worth solving.
When I was fifteen a soldier took me to a hotel room and….
I will find the puzzle’s missing piece and eat it in remembrance of you.
I was not made to be complete.
D. Ellis Phelps – Winner
i gave up
(—my feet my hips
captives of a southern
baptist slant on sin)
we didn’t dance
he tried to understand
never said an ugly word
does a young girl
she is told
i was not
allowed to attend
the apartment party
where he died
stairs he was
such a beautiful
i loved a drunk
of the things
i’ve given up
of a slow day
i don’t give a fuck
it was scotch
i had to learn
to like but then
i liked it
way too much
& i started dancing
on the table
without my clothes
because the thing is:
i was flying
was going to stop
(his go to hell
(her if you don’t stop
i’m going to tell your daddy)
not the preacher
over the crowd
Libby Kurz – Finalist
I am just a woman
on a plane–
all other associations
in the recycled air,
in the thousands of
open feet between me
and solid ground.
If you could be anything
what would you be?
is the question I considered
as a child,
long before I learned
to stack my ambitions
side by side like books
displayed on a shelf,
long before I learned
to compile volumes
of self-worth and titles
to label myself by.
And now here I am
paused in space
as I brush forearms
with the people
to my right and to my left,
wondering in silence
what they are moving towards.
For now all that matters is
whether to choose
tomato or cranberry juice,
whether we will get
peanuts or pretzels or
anything at all.
For now I can
sit back and fly
like a weightless shell,
hollow-boned and free
like the bird I wanted to be
as a child.
Flower Conroy – Finalist
Facts about Trees & Aliens
They are afraid of butterflies in the larval stage.
Also, dogs & elephants.
Rings. Of rings. And ringing.
If you cut them—even if you believe them dead—
the blade sears like gamma ray. Their screaming
occurs just beyond the absolute threshold.
The infinite breadth of their knowledge fits into a seed.
Actually, they’re blue in color, & sensitive
toward human feelings. Only due to atmospheric
refraction do they appear greenish.
They manipulate our air.
If you possess: a thermos of plutonium;
a Theremin; 13’ of 9 gauge copper wire; a foot
of PVC pipe; 2 rolls of duct tape; a lemon
& a paperclip; a mirror, a cow, & a bottle of vodka,
you can make a device with which you can
communicate with them.
They have been worshiped since the beginning.
Some are covered in down-like fuzz, others, scabbed,
Neither carnivore nor herbivore nor cannibal;
rather, they feast on solar energy, charged
like calculators by dhopp or its byproduct.
Between antennae they communicate.
From it, all life. From them, all life.
All song. Especially, the violin.
Exoskeleton eyelid. Shell-faced. Ichor flows
They shy from cities until they ensure a total power
blackout. Then they display themselves, sweet
pandemonium, against the stark.
They are fluent in many languages, including
Solresol, E-Prime, Lingua Ignota, Enochian,
God made them—& if not god—then iGod,
resplendent beyond compare, & if not iGod,
Or they were brought to earth by meteorite, & took
Nikki Paley Cox – Finalist
Go. Steal out early, creep downstairs, click
the door latch, slip the front porch
fast. Slide outside, cross two streets
under apple trees heaving with humidity
filling pores in leaves – leave that house,
heavy with punishment, tight with fear,
leave bare, unclothed, no discussion,
no fanfare, just run your body to the harvest
canopies under a 40-watt spot of moon.
Hurry to the unrushed honey field
of shredded corn silk strands, standing stalks,
fallen flaxen husks, sunburned kernels –
let your whole body breathe like
you’re the first free girl in town.
Shifting slates of westward sky
cross aside for the sun, now bathing grain
in light, that cultivated kernel, tortured
beyond itself, unrecognizable to its ancestors.
Martha Snell – Finalist
we climb over each other, slipping and catching the other’s
hands until our feet are steady. We check eaves, clear leaves, smooth
wrinkles in the casing, then fall to the heat of our slate-‐shingled skin.
We are a choir, ensemble of song, just two mouths earnest in
harmony. We make mice in the walls weep, our voices pound
tympani, take captive the inner ear of all who stand near.
We are Isabella Bird in Kurdistan, Nelly Bly circling earth, Marco Polo riding
Mongol empires. We navigate by planets and stars, by the dark pulse of our
organs, by pupils meeting pupils, grasses’ murmur at our feet –
With no permission, seven decades in, we hike up stairs, climb to highlands,
walk inclines foreign to our peers, heights newly reached to see Bar-‐headed
Geese cross the Himalayas four miles up, to hear a bank of trumpets shout.
We scale high level étage, Mares’ tails frozen above, countryside
spread out like a toy town, gray and brown squares, dots of green, living
bodies too small to see, some wet in wombs, some soon to die.
I turn on the radio
will myself to hear the news –
only stories of us.