Gretchen Warren Award, selected by Donald Vincent
Winning Poet: Hilde Weisert, “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,
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,
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 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.