Three poems from “The Nomenclature of Small Things” by Lynn Pedersen

Sheila Margaret Motton Book Award, selected by Jennifer Militello
Honorable mention: Lynn Pedersen, The Nomenclature of Small Things

 

The Birth of Superstition

It’s not hard to imagine: my ancestor—a dry season,
                    dust like chalk on her tongue—mixes
                                        spit with clay,

traces a river on rock. Next day: rain.

                                                                                Why shouldn’t she believe
                    in the power of rock and her own hand?

I carry this need for pattern and rule, to see connections
                    where there aren’t necessarily any.

                                                                      After my first miscarriage,
I cut out soda, cold cuts.

                    After the second, vacuuming and air travel.

After the third—it’s chalk and spit again. I circle rocks,
                    swim the icy river.

                                                  And when my son is born, he balances
the chemical equation that is this world.

                                                                                                    And logic?

Logic is my son’s kite, good so long as you have
                    wind, string,
                                                            something heavier than hope

                                                                                                    to tether you.

 

How to Speak Nineteenth Century

Forget about the nomenclature
of the moon: lunar impact craters, rilles; your voice
translated into fiber optics or beamed pinpoint to pinpoint
on the planet. Here, all words are spoken to someone’s face.
Earth. Seeds. Thresher. Plow. Timber’d.

                                                                                So unnerving, you say,
having to look someone that long in the eye, just speaking
your mind. Or too involved, in the first place,
the five-mile walk to your friend’s house,
your skirt catching on the field grass.

You need to know not hydrogen, oxygen, H2O, but
water: where to find it, how to dig
for it, how to keep a well from running dry.

Not chlorophyll and photosynthesis,
the word is harvest—the hard “t”
uncompromising as hunger—

sunup and sundown, light.
Forget meteorology, you need to know
bird migration, insect hatches, animal hibernation—
what the falling leaves tell you.
When the blossoms of the apple tree fall, plant corn. In short,

the world is still whole to you.
                                        Each molecule. Each syllable. Each grain.

 

At Forty

Pattern or absence of pattern, the way a jet flies
into blankness
yet leaves a clear trail, I expect time
to reveal an underdrawing,
hatching of shadows, some rough plan
visible through another spectrum of light.

          Once, at an ophthalmologist’s office,
through an accident of mirrors, I saw the interior
of my own eye, the retina’s
veins like roots or a web, and then again

ten years later, this time in an astronomy
book—galaxies, clusters of galaxies, superclusters
of galaxies strung out
strands of a cosmic web, the redness
of that image, the light extending like roots
13 billion years in every direction.

          Michelangelo could see a figure
in a block of stone, waiting to be freed.
I want his vision when I look in a mirror,
his mathematical principles for depicting space,
his ability to translate three dimensions into stone.
First I’m in two dimensions, a photograph
glued to the glass; then three—I’m somewhere between
the glass and the background. All my houses, friends
come and gone. How would he sculpt me? How far out
of the stone have I come?

 

Lynn Pedersen
Lynn Pedersen is the author of The Nomenclature of Small Things (Carnegie Mellon) and the chapbooks Theories of Rain and Tiktaalik, Adieu. Her poems have appeared in New England Review, Ecotone, Southern Poetry Review, Slipstream and Nimrod. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, she lives in Atlanta.

Three poems from “Marvels of the Invisible” by Jenny Molberg

Sheila Margaret Motton Book Award, selected by Jennifer Militello
Honorable mention: Jenny Molberg, Marvels of the Invisible

 

Marvels of the Invisible

          With your new Microset Model I, you will discover marvels of the invisible.
—Instruction manual, 1950s

The night I find my father’s toy microscope
in the hospital-cold of the empty house,
I dream of him, a boy in 1964. He crosses the yard,
kneels beneath the sprawling live oak,
and fills his specimen jar with fire ants.
His father, in the garage, sings softly in German,
mounting the head of a deer shot
that winter; its antlers blossom like capillaries.
My father is six years old. The light
spills in as he bends over the microscope
and folds a single ant onto a plastic slide. The body,
almost sickening in its translucence,
curls into itself; the bright red thorax, close up,
is butterscotch. Pressed beneath the plastic,
the antennae shiver and are still.

Half a century later, my mother’s breasts
are removed. In the waiting room, my father
takes a pen from his white coat pocket,
and clicks open, and clicks closed.
When someone in the family asks
a question, he takes a walk. I go with him,
and we wind through orange-tiled hallways.
He shows me the room full of microscopes.
I imagine his eye, how it descends
like a dark blue planet,
and his breath as it clouds the lens.
He shows me the refrigerator
where they keep the malignant tissue.
He shows me the microtomes,
the biopsy needles, the organ baths.

In the recovery room, we listen
as my mother’s new systems of blood vessels
shush through a speaker in the room.
My father comes in quietly,
places a white orchid beside her bed.
The large white blossoms are hands
cupping the empty air. Suspended there
is everything that came before this:
the day my parents met,
the wedding, each of the three children
so different from the last. His hands,
that know, like breathing, every inch of her.
He matches his breath with hers,
as they do each night
in the slow river of a breathing house,
and beneath her skin, her blood blossoms.

 

Chrysalis

I want to see, somewhere,
the hot, cocooned unfolding
of metamorphosis. The caterpillars
are flown in from El Salvador,
or New Guinea, and inside
the dewed glass, shadows
of men in white coats cloak
the tic of emergent wings—
What of the future do you hold
inside yourself? See: if you take a scalpel
and puncture the chrysalis,
it will explode—yellow goo
of cells, burst cells, amino acids,
proteins, here a bit of gut,
here a bit of brain.

A thing builds a shell around itself,
dissolves, becomes another thing.
The way, when you are wrecked
with love, you take only what you need,
you, liquid version of yourself,
all heart cells and skin cells—
here a trough of heart,
here, gutter of liver, channel
of hearing or touch. What remains,
as with the caterpillar, is memory.
See, we melt entirely.

I have been a child, a lake, a glacier,
glacial pool, woman, river of woman,
another woman, an older one.
The oldest scientist asks, If we are all
creatures of transformation,
if we are never quite the same,
what are we
when we arrive at the moment of death?
It is easier to think in death
that I am me, but dying. See: 1668.
The Dutch naturalist Jan Swammerdam
dissects a caterpillar for Cosimo de Medici.
And though we now think
everything ends,
turns to soup, to river, to ash
and what’s passed is past, he unfolds
the white sides of the insect and reveals
two wing-buds, tucked
tight inside the skin.

Now, as I watch the knife
pierce the chrysalis,
a river of cells swelling through
and out, I remember
what my father once said,
that what you see is only a fraction
of what you can believe,
and against the edge of the chrysalis,
embryonic half-wings twitch
without a body, waiting
for their slow decay, and then
for the next body
that opens itself
to the risk of flight.

 

Matryoshka

1

When you take away the children
the mother is empty. Her round head
shrouded in red, her lips thick
and pursed, her cheeks rouged
with big circles of flush. And her eyes—
she is keeping her inside secret.
The matryoshka’s arms, creased
with plump, hug
a glossed rose. Sprigs
of cornflower and baby’s breath.
If you look closer, a thin line
cuts the rose. This is where
the mother is broken.

2

I have discovered the mother
inside the mother. Her eyes
are dark like mine. She doesn’t want
what is inside her. Her arms:
thin. Her collar: drab.
Her lashes: straight.
Her flower is not a rose. This mother
fits better in my hand. When I pull
her open, she creaks.

3

The last mother has no arms,
no dress, no collar.
But she is smiling.
She breaks willingly.
I twist her open
and find myself. Each mother
becomes my daughter and I become
each mother. I hold myself
in my hand. This is my secret—
I have seen how small
I can be. I will put
the wooden child back inside me.
And the woman inside me. And the woman
inside me. And the woman inside me.

 

Jenny Molberg
Jenny Molberg’s debut collection of poetry, Marvels of the Invisible, won the 2014 Berkshire Prize (Tupelo Press, 2017). Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, Poetry International, Best New Poets, and other publications. She teaches at the University of Central Missouri and co-edits Pleiades.

Three poems from “Words on the Street” by Anna Rabinowitz

Sheila Margaret Motton Book Award, selected by Jennifer Militello
Winning Poet: Anna Rabinowitz, Words on the Street

 

THE TIME WAS THE TIME

Torn by worn-thin profits stitched to
                                                                      the excess access of the brilliantly clothed

          when Greed
                    was our national pass-time

Of Purchase, Plenty fashioned The Holy Scripture

          a clutch of lust bespoke Currency
          trapuntoed with gold,
                                                  stockpiles of Excel sheets dense with deceit

Unbridled riches galloped the streets
Rabid appetites hungered ceaselessly

We were helpless
We wrung our liquid hands

                                                            ~~~

                                                            This Time was the Time the Future

                              undreamed itself

Our leaders declared

                                                : THE END OF PENDING

Infants hugged their afterbirths

Children, like troublesome details, were marooned
          within gaps of being with nowhere to turn

Adults counted their leg-lifts, folded up
                                                                                and plunged to the sea

Ever on its way, language dispatched well-worn
                                                            slogans to refresh the old finery

The official Wampum, streaming falsehoods and cant

Scavenged for needles, thread, insider seams, scraps to patch
                                                  frayed cloaks unraveled by Crave

Our bodies once gravid with Eros and Be
now Bodies Prosthetic, bewitched by Procure and Amass

                                                                                ~~~
Outrage

                                                  out                                                  out                                        rage
                                                  day and night
                                                  we had ignored the barbarian

                              gross, groping, gaudy, green-eyed Greed

day and night                                                            fair game

                              we played the game

          too late                                        Rage                                                            too late

Plenty neither satisfied
                                                                                          nor derailed the Great Reckon

                    Time out                                        it’s time                                        this time

                                                  WHERE                              TIME

 

EPISTLE TO THE OMNIVORES

WHAT’S FOR DINNER?

…O belly, O stinking bag filed with dung and corruption.
At either end of thee, foul is the sound…
                                                                                                    Spawner of Sin

          Gula, voluminous voluptuary, never gets her fill

Too soon, too delicately, too expensively, too greedily,

                                                                TOO MUCH

                                                                                                    Spawner of Pride

Haggler, tippler, intriguer of feast

WHAT’S FOR DINNER?

Be not among winebibbers: among riotous eaters of flesh. For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.

                                                                                                    Spawner of Sloth

Gula,* worn by hungers

Fullness of bread
          neither sates
                                        nor placates
                                                  nor abates

Food and drink, with thee she schemes to live

                              Crapulous and unfulfilled

Discharge, phlegm, mucus running from the nose, hiccups, vomiting and violent belching…The increase in luxury is nothing but the increase in excrement.

                                                                                                    Spawner of Greed

And like a Crane his necke was long and fine,
With which he swallowed up excessive feast.

                                                                                                    Spawner of Lust

Flesh made safe

                              Death tied to the stake

Gula plays hostess at tables laden to groan

SO, WHAT’S FOR DINNER?

GREETINGS!                   WELCOME!                   TAKE A SEAT!

                                              Qmnivores

THIS LETTER TO YOU!

                                        Break bread with malignant maggots
                                                                      gnats and flies

                                        ~~~

                                                  Beef gleams in the feast’s corpulent dusk

                                                                     trout bathe in béchamel

                                                            succulent hens bask in béarnaise

                              pots de crème                   triple crème                   crème Anglaise

                                                  legs of lamb adorned with mint rosettes

                                                  pork roasts recline on polenta cakes

                                                            crustaceans wade in bouillabaisse

                              stuffed tongues                   boned hams                   breasts of veal

                              tureens of consommé                   bordeaux and beaujolais

                                                  sausage ropes coiled like salacious snakes

                                              Omnivores

THIS FEAST IS YOURS

                                                            SAY GRACE

 

*Gluttony

 

NAVIGABLE LIGHT

Father, is it because there was nothing
                    to combat your desire to lie down

                    because we couldn’t render you
less spent by the relentless
                    drone of duplicate days,

because only an infrequent
                    visitor or a brief interlude
at the radio for the latest news
                    could distract you from submission

as you mounted the soft mound
of your bed and sank into sleep

Is that why
I misremember
                                        some years
remember not at all

the anniversary of the day
you curdled in the dry silt
                                                  of flesh

archived forever in the want,
                    the lascivious, lustful
want, the insatiable succubus
                    that had pursued and
                                                            finally seduced you

What was it — that lovemaking,
                                                  that invincible consumption

a search for a splendor nowhere to be found

                    a pose repeated and renewed
                              in the ineffable
posture of diurnal sleep

                    a rehearsal for death

                    a ploy to gain entry
                              sooner than assigned
to the wickless night

                    How could we, —
                    at five, at eight, at thirteen, —

invade the ur-nuptial bed
                    how make our presence felt
our need known

This morning when the grackles arrived
I lit the Yahrzeit candle, a week late this time

                    and as it puddled in the glass
observed the raucous, chattering birds

Father, they apprentice themselves to survival
clutch their perches, contort
their heads into impossible arcs
                    to snatch seeds from the feeder
                              incessantly peck and explore the garden

From a distance they appear jet black
But if you take a closer look
They glitter in navigable light—
blue to purple, green to bronze,
a blaze of golden eyes.

 

Anna Rabinowitz
Anna Rabinowitz is an NEA poetry fellow and librettist. Her fifth volume of poetry is Words On the Street. Two previous volumes, Darkling and The Wanton Sublime were re-visioned as a chamber opera and an operatic monodrama, respectively. Darkling has been translated and published in German. Anna is now creating a theater piece based on Words on the Street.

Three poems from “How Her Spirit Got Out” by Krysten Hill

Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize, selected by Sara Backer
Winning Poet: Krysten Hill, How Her Spirit Got Out

 

This Mouth

Never your bird, never finch,
never graceful feathered thing.
Maybe litany molting
what it can’t heal. Maybe pinwheel
started with breath, whispering
I love you or today, I will try. Maybe knife
to core the apple of my eye, a blade that wants you
blind. Maybe red kitchen where the kettle is hoarse
from heat underneath, where I boil my tongue
to be rid of its stutter, maybe humming
while it sweeps the bodies of dead
wasps from its windowsill, but never your bird
sitting pretty and ornamental.
Maybe a well-lit room that hurts your eyes
before it swallows you, or an opening
of skirt holding onto the hips of a woman
that wears it well, or a cavity
in the yard where I want to lay
the language of better love, but never
your canary, parakeet, sweet
feathered thing that lives
just to sing for you.

 

Acknowledgement: “This Mouth” originally appeared in Word Riot.

 

Women Who Go Missing

I.

I’ve watched women leave with nothing
but love in their full-roomed eyes.

Walk right off their porches
dragging their nightdresses into a night
that knew how to mimic the dead
they loved more than themselves.

I’ve seen them abandon their gardens
not because they failed
to coax the hearts of plants
from the ground like magic, or because
they didn’t know what they neglected
would overgrow and strangle, but because

they knew if they didn’t leave, they’d kill
what they couldn’t afford to nurture.

II.

Nothing plants you deep enough.
The soil you’ve grown in is too much

Mama’s smothering face. You gasp
in the mulch of her strewn guts.

Some days it’s easier to stare into the violent
swinging dark and take it.

You want to stop writing to what disappears,
open windows that look like the outlines

of black women who go missing. You understand
Hurston’s shaky shelf of fragile things,

and also what falls from it. You wish
for Lorde’s throwing knife

to hide in your hair. This world is full
of weapons. It’s hard to take care of

what comes to flower, scatters
after a mad wind. Even your mean
great grandmother who lived to be difficult
never knew the trees she made

from the seeds of her body were better
than any strangled sonnet, clenched harder

than any hand working against her.
You come from a braided clan of women

who held their tongues with their teeth.
You tasted their blood in your sleep,

women who planted their visions
on the tongues of their daughters.

III.

On Askew Street, didn’t she have a garden
in the middle of concrete teeth and sirens? Didn’t
her husband sigh when she put on her boots and short-shorts
and with her ass out toward the street give
the marigolds a drink from the hose, fix the slouch
of tulips? Even Mrs. Eddy tried to outgrow
the hips of her roses, but didn’t know how
to make her soil the right kind of dress.
Didn’t the neighbors say, How country, and Who
this heifa think she be? Didn’t she just go about her business,
smile at their husbands, call them ladies by their first names?
Weren’t they always a temperament of color
she could curl her heart around, softening what made living hard?
Wasn’t it the one thing she didn’t need us for? Weren’t we jealous?
We kicked their heads apart, dyed them in motor oil, blamed stray cats.
Even then, didn’t she say Girls, I want color at my funeral?
Didn’t we keep our promise? Didn’t your purple dress
stun the mourning out the day? You were always her Iris
standing against a dull brick house. Sister, I couldn’t tell you then.
Aren’t we here, remembering how even the bees were drunk?
They wandered into the house like displaced uncles. Hell, the flowers
didn’t stay put in that small plot. Snuck out at night
into our own kitchen windows.

IV.

Women in my family do not trust their dead
to plots and cherry wood coffins.
They play them on the inside of their eyelids when they pray.
Projectors run their memories in blind, white light.
Spirits fall out their mouths in scriptures.
It’s hard to tell who’s speaking. They keep them in

glass jewelry boxes locked on coffee tables.
Frame photos of their open caskets and call them
Mother and Father. Wear their second sight to bed.
Converse at 3am. Call this counsel.

What the women in my family do with the dead is their business.
My aunt married a corpse who built coffins in my heart.
Told me I didn’t want his dead man sadness.
Sometimes, caught him with white marble eyes
he let me borrow from time to time.

The women in my family give the dead
to their daughters. My mama gave me
her dead mother’s name. I’ve drowned in her
dresses, tried on her smile. My mama is looking
for some stronger dead woman in my eyes.

I don’t tell her that Grandmother comes to me in dreams.
Grants me time in the garden of my childhood.
Collects fears that slip from my eyes.
They’re withered peach pits when they fall
into her waiting apron.

She shows me a place to bury them,
near a dogwood where I buried my baby teeth.
She promises they’ll come back
as something I can eat, a fruit so plump
it will feed me a lifetime.
We stare at the disturbed earth and wait,
but I wake before the harvest,
the squirm of trees rising in my stomach.

 

Are You There, Plath? It’s Me

You frigid, New England diva of death
with your affected tea-time voice hanging
around like a nasty Boston winter,

how exactly do I eat them,
men I mean? Is this safe?
Can I eat women too?

Your kind of woman is a spreading jaw
around the boy I like in gym.
When I’m daydreaming,
I imagine eating him
like snakes eat mice on TV.

Yesterday, the pet constrictor in Biology
mistook my teacher’s hand for a man.
It clamped its mouth and wouldn’t let go.
The teacher just stood there, dumb
and nobody ran for help.

My love would be large like your Ted in my stomach.
My body would stretch around it like a garbage bag.

Sometimes, I dream of baking
my mother into a pie. Do you?
What kind of fruit would you use?

A group of us made a book club of you.
We blew out our voices
to sound like you.

We were wondering if we could be
your debutantes coming out in the season
of our simmering self-hate?
Our volcanic tempers
only a mother could blame when we went off
and found their good knives in their clean kitchens?

Can we come to your debutante ball
in pristine beekeeping suits?

Our fathers are big bastard bees who never raised
their heads to see how we’d grown.
Our mothers are pitchers of fatigue
that never stop pouring their dreams into our glasses.
Our houses are too quiet.

Can you teach us how
to make grief a swarm that stings?

O Sylvia, when your poems poured
from blue tongue into our mouths, we took it
like big-headed baby birds.
We wove your cynicism into our vocabulary
to exhaust our underpaid English teachers.

O how we filled the weird wells
of journals to be as wounding
as those overreacting poppies in July.

And our mothers,
our poor, poor mothers who cringed
when they saw you, with your tight, mummy mouth
on the back of The Bell Jar
that we tucked under our arms
like cute leather clutches.

O you prim lady of gloom.
You white, crazy moon.
We are hooked hearts thrown
into the sea that catch everything.
We are an army running for the tide

          who cry:

                    We want to polish vicious!

                    We want murderous throats!

                    Affairs that resemble bright birds in death spirals!

                    We want our hurt star-shaped on the top of gaudy Christmas trees!

                    We want to name our crawl spaces after our mothers!

                    We want parades of swollen papier-mâchéd cadaver floats,

                    to sit on top and wave like Miss America.

 

Acknowledgement: “Are You There Plath? It’s Me” recently appeared in City of Notions: An Anthology of Contemporary Boston Poems.

 

Krysten Hill
Krysten Hill, educator, writer, and performer, has showcased her poetry on stage at The Massachusetts Poetry Festival, Blacksmith House, and other venues. She received her MFA from UMass Boston where she currently teaches. Her work can be found in apt, Word Riot, The Baltimore Review, B O D Y, Muzzle, PANK, and elsewhere.

D.G. Geis, “Psalm 152 (A Song of Ascent)”

Firman Houghton Award, selected by Sam Cha
Winning Poet: D.G. Geis, “Psalm 152 (A Song of Ascent)”

 

Psalm 152 (A Song of Ascent)

Dying of Parkinson’s
my mother’s handwriting
grew smaller.

As if determined
to erase themselves,
the words conspired
to see what late crumbs
could be shaken loose.

How at the end
her mind faltered,
                              grounded
like an engineless plane
or a misbehaving child;

and lovely Lois
got mean,

the kindness stuttered
right out of her,
          a resentful tremolo,

too old and far gone
to renege on any deal,

neither continent
nor competent to choose–

                    the microscopic postcard
of her life
not even worth
the stamp it took
to mail it.

And mistaking me
for my dead father,
                              complained
about their sex life,
the loss of her studio,
and her inability to paint–

not to mention
the ingratitude
                              of her children.

And how God,
like an inattentive husband,
half-listening, had yawned
at her Fred Astaire lamentation

the way sleepers on waking
rub their eyes,
                              rollover,
and go back to sleep

It was no substitute, her prayers,
for the real thing;
like an alcoholic’s
                              sparkling water,

it only pointed
to the greater loss.

Like my poor father, predeceased.
Glad, I’m sure,
to finally be rid of himself–
his catheter snaked
                              into the darkest corners
of his bladder,
a urological Frankenstein
                                        cobbled together
from mismatched bits
of a jigsawed stomach,

haunted by the shadow of a tumor
large enough for a radiologist
to tell time by—

grateful, I’m sure,
for the whole mess
to go up in smoke
                    like one of his cheap cigars.

My parents
sparred for 65 years,
familiarly and without ceasing.

Their rope-a-dope marriage
went the distance–
                              a draw by any honest referees’
reckoning.

To love, I learned from them,
is to contend
                              even to the bitter end.

Bookended now,
they can have their barbed colloquies
without rancor
                                        and in peace.

At last a meeting of two hearts,
                    two minds,

                              blended perfectly.

He in one cool corner
of their columbarium niche;

she wedged, quite comfortably,
in the other.

 

D.G. Geis
D.G. Geis is the author of Fire Sale (Tupelo Press/Leapfolio) and Mockumentary (Main Street Rag). He divides his time (unequally) between Houston, Galveston, and Dublin, Ireland.

Hilde Weisert, “Ars Poetica”

Gretchen Warren Award, selected by Donald Vincent
Winning Poet: Hilde Weisert, “Ars Poetica”

 

Ars Poetica

“I learned to talk from my mother,” I said,
and was startled: Doesn’t everyone?
But “learned from”—
as if it were playing the piano,
or making the sylsalat at Christmas?
But it was: Her speech,
invented for me, her patience
letting my mouth and tongue
work the vowels, open
and open, then clench consonants
hard in my teeth, all nibbled edge,
and me still making of it a gibberish,
a babble; a glottal soup,
a drool;

My answering nothing but a rhythmic rumination
of nonsense syllables. But she kept on,
now a whisper, now a song, and in a while
the words became words: Epitome
and punctilio, modicum
and masterly; plenty of slang
like vamoose and delish, and play
in the “Ditto” that either one
could say, and smile (a secret).

This language of the days
of our small world, dangled from,
rolled in, colored and toddled,
and finally slept on, a pillow,
the sun,

Is now so many vocabularies ago, fields
of cultivated speech—

But with this odd sentence I remember
what came first,
the ravishing world she made
me take, word by hungry word,
and how much more there is to tell
in our original language.

 

Hilde Weisert
Hilde Weisert is author of The Scheme of Things (David Robert Books, 2015). Her poems have appeared in such magazines as Plume, Prairie Schooner, the Cincinnati Review, Southern Poetry Review, the Wilfred Owen Journal, and Ms.“The Pity of It” won the 2016 Tiferet Journal Poetry Award. She lives part-time in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. www.hildeweisert.com

“Ars Poetica” was originally published in Mom Egg Review.

Leslie McGrath, “Encountering Franz Wright Along the Way”

Gretchen Warren Award, selected by Donald Vincent
Winning Poet: Leslie McGrath, “Encountering Franz Wright Along the Way”

 

Encountering Franz Wright Along the Way

I had been dawdling I don’t know how long
In the placid dark after the rash of day had receded.
I found an anvil-shaped stone in a field overlooking the road
And thinking I was alone, made audible the speech
I knew not to share with any person for fear of frightening them.
I lay back on that stone, turning away from the trees, away
From their ceaseless industry, toward the everything I could not see
But pretended to. He appeared on the smooth cheek of the sky,
The raw edge of a raw edge, alarming the stars into stillness.
“Don’t be so much at the mercy of things”, he boomed
But as I began to utter a polite fuck off, the sky behind him
The night sky, flashed emerald. This, his lucid recognition
Of the unabating shame made flesh in me. If he said more
Before he meteored away, I don’t recall. All I heard was mercy.

 

Leslie McGrath
Leslie McGrath is the author of Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage (2009) and two chapbooks. McGrath’s latest book is a satiric novella in verse, Out From the Pleiades (2014). McGrath teaches creative writing at Central CT State University and is series editor of The Tenth Gate, a poetry imprint of The Word Works Press.

“Encountering Franz Wright Along the Way” was originally published by Academy of American Poets as a Poem-a-Day feature.

Len Krisak, translation from the Latin of lines from “Pharsalia” by Lucan

Der-Hovanessian Award, selected by Chloe Roberts-Garcia
Honorable mention: Len Krisak, translation from the Latin of lines from “Pharsalia” by Lucan

 

LUCAN: PHARSALIA (The Civil War), Book III, 1-35

As Auster bellied out the sails, it sent the ships
Off knifing through the deep, the eyes of all the men
On lookout for the waters of Ionia’s sea.
Pompey the Great alone kept Italy in view—
Its homeland ports and disappearing harbors, too,
Along with cloud-clad hills and misted mountains he
Was sailing from and knew he’d never see again.
At length his body fails him and his spirit slips

Down into sleep. There, through a cleft gashed in the earth:
The dismal face, the dire image, of his wife,
As Julia blazes like a Fury from her pyre.
“After this civil war began, they dragged me from
The blessèd fields, the region of Elysium,
To Styx, to join the guilty. There I saw the fire
Of the Furies’ torches, lit to kindle strife.
There, Charon on the burning banks prepares a berth

To Acheron, where endless souls make Hell expand
To take them in. The Parcae’s hands can barely hold
The threads that weary them; the work will not abate.
Magnus, married to me, you triumphed as a prince.
But with your new mate, Fortune turned. And ever since
Cornelia got you—as a mistress marked by Fate—
She’s rushed to bring you down, my pyre not yet cold.
Let her cling to your flag, at war on sea or land,

As long as I can roil your sleep with stress and strife.
And let there be no time for Love, which shall forget you,
As Caesar owns your day and Julia your night.
Husband, despite what the erasing banks of Lethe
Have done, your memory will live; the kings of death
Still let me haunt you. While you’re in the war’s worst fight,
You’ll see me in its midst. Magnus, my ghost won’t let you
Ever forget that Caesar’s daughter is your wife.

Your useless sword will never cut our marriage ties,
And civil war will make you mine.” Her spirit flies
Off, melting through the vain embrace her Pompey tries.

 

Len Krisak
Len Krisak’s latest book is a complete translation of Rilke’s New Poems. With work in the Hudson, Sewanee, and Antioch Reviews, he is the recipient of the Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, and Robert Frost Prizes, and a four-time champion on Jeopardy!

Stephen Massimilla, translation from the Italian of “The Hitlerian Spring” by Eugenio Montale

Der-Hovanessian Award, selected by Chloe Roberts-Garcia
Honorable mention: Stephen Massimilla, translation from the Italian of “The Hitlerian Spring” by Eugenio Montale

 

The Hitlerian Spring

“Nor she who turns to see the sun…”
—Dante (attributed), in a sonnet to Giovanni Quirini

A thick fog of maddened mayflies
swirls around dirty lamps and over the parapets.
Underfoot, they form a shroud that crackles
like sugar. Spring slowly frees
the nocturnal frost
from caverns, ghosted gardens
extending from Maiano to these shores.

Up the street, an infernal messenger just flew by,
flanked by curdling cries of Heil! Concealed
like the Wagnerian orchestra pit
at one of his mad midnight rallies, a mystical gulf
lit up and flagged with mangled crosses just embraced him,
gulped him down.

This evening all the shop windows
are shuttered—
though even these are armed
with cannons and little military toys.
A man has bolted his gate. He is a friendly butcher
who would garland the muzzles
of slaughtered goats with grapes:
Easter rite for those still unaware that the blood
has utterly changed. Shattered wings
and larvae on the banks; the water goes on chewing
at the shoreline.

What we had was all for nothing, then? The Roman candles
at the San Giovanni festival slowly whitening out
the horizon, and our pledges and lingering good-byes—
binding as a baptism in the mournful presence
of the horde (though a budding comet rayed the air, distilling
on the ice and the rivers of your New World shores
the angels of Tobias, the seven, yes, the seed
of the future)
                              …and the heliotrope unfolding
from your palms—all scorched, sucked dry
by this pollen that hisses like fire
and bites with the teeth of a blizzard…
No one is blameless anymore.

                                                            This ulcerated
spring is festive even if it freezes
all this death in death! Look again:
up there, Clizia, lies your destiny, you
who keep love so unaltered in its alteration
until the blind sun you carry inside you
can bedazzle the Other and explode
in Him, for all—or for you,
at least, at least.

Maybe the sirens, the pealing bells
that saluted monsters
at their Sabbath, are already dissolving
in the celestial sound that—unleashed—descends and conquers
with the breath of a dawn that tomorrow may rise again
for all—bleached, of course, but please without swarms
of gnawing terror, in the parched river bottoms of the south…

 

Stephen Massimilla
Stephen Massimilla’s new volume Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016) won the Eric Hoffer Book Award, among others. Acclaim for his previous books includes an SFASU Press Prize; the Bordighera Prize; the Grolier Prize; and a VanRensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch. He teaches at Columbia University and The New School.

Rhina Espaillat, translation from the Spanish of “A Bout Rime Pair of Sonnets” by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Der-Hovanessian Award, selected by Chloe Roberts-Garcia
Winning Poet: Rhina Espaillat, translation from the Spanish of “A Bout Rime Pair of Sonnets” by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

 

Sonnet I

To Celio, who, unregarded, does not wish
to seem forgotten.

You say that I forget you, but you lie:
it would require thinking to forget you,
and nowhere in my thinking have I let you—
even as one forgotten—saunter by.
My thoughts are far—so far—from you, that I,
focused elsewhere, as if I’d never met you,
have no idea what thoughts of mine upset you,
or if your absence from them makes you sigh.
If anyone could love you, one could, yes,
forget you: what a triumph that would be,
affirming your existence; none the less,
you are so far from such a victory
that you’re eclipsed, not through forgetfulness,
but sheer rejection by my memory.

Sonnet II

Celio, employing the same rhymes, refutes Clori’s
hyperbole, with his own even more ingenious truth.

You claim to have forgotten me, but lie
when you say, “I’ve forgotten to forget you,”
since clearly, thinking so, your mind won’t let you
forget forgotten me, and keeps me by.
If your thoughts differ from Albiro’s, I
suspect you’ll come around, for since I met you
it’s you who think the thoughts that most upset you,
saying things you don’t mean that make you sigh.
You say that I’m not lovable, but yes,
it’s you yourself who prove I well may be,
so all your arguments profit you less
than they do me; since to gain victory
you keep forgetting your forgetfulness,
I’m not rejected by your memory.

 

Rhina P. Espaillat
Rhina P. Espaillat’s 3 chapbooks and 10 books comprise poetry, short stories and essays in English and Spanish, and translations. Her work appears in numerous journals and over 80 anthologies, and earned national and international awards, including the NEPC 2006 May Sarton Award, several honors from the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Culture, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Salem State College.