Winning Poems for August 2012
Judged by Troy Jollimore
by Fred Longworth
When I counted elephants — one, two, three —
I usually got the same number
as the next guy. And when the woman
in the halter top proclaimed, “That’s an ibex,”
I was reticent to say, “No, that’s an Angora.”
But then one day, without a mutagenic
kiss of lightning, without even a drag-line
of miracles tied behind a VW Jetta
like a string of tin cans, I suddenly knew
the forty tessellations of a tortoise shell.
And the next day, why meerkats often clan
in groups of twenty.
I’d be standing at the rail, as the Siberian tiger
paced across his enclosure,
and I’d turn to the woman next to me
and launch into a vivid tale of how the tigers
attack and kill adult brown bears.
Usually she would turn away,
maybe even saying, “Go bother someone else.”
Sometimes she’d flag a zoo employee
and complain about the strange man
who wouldn’t shut up.
Would it surprise you to learn
that one afternoon a zoo-keeper locked me
in a cage with a python that liked to gamble,
and I lost sixty dollars arm wrestling
for cash before the keeper let me out?
He later said it was a prank. I wonder
if Socrates’ hemlock cocktail was a prank.
Did I tell you that toucans are frugivorous
except when they aren’t? Just like I love
the zoo, except when I don’t.
Besides, nowadays it’s only in the off-times
that they’ll let me in.
It’s hard to make humor work in poetry, and when it does the reader is always grateful. There’s no way for a reader to get to the end of this poem without finding himself longing for the bits of information referred to but not offered: why do meerkats often clan in groups of twenty? Is that even true? I, too, have often wondered whether “Socrates’ hemlock cocktail was a prank.” This poem would have won even without it, but in keeping with my practice I awarded 50 bonus points for its highly effective use of the word “frugivorous.” I might title my next collection “Frugivorous,” come to think of it. --Troy Jollimore
The Battle of Lac Baptiste
by Brenda Levy Tate
On the stillwater, two loons are baiting an eagle.
Their hoots and wails ripple over the current
until I am tangled in sound, like an ondine
drowned by the weight of her own hair.
The raptor swerves in his search and hangs there,
fans the mist, thinks mostly about himself,
bored by that woodwind chorus from below.
He gathers his anger - vain lord with a knife
in either fist. When he drops, his pinions cry
thinner than a reed the wind riffs through.
People tell me how eagles scream, although
I know we hear only the air’s edges.
A whistle-fall from cruel heaven slices
each of us. Some other bleeds in our places.
What really won me over here were the final four lines: “I know we hear only the air’s edges” is extremely good, as is “Some other bleeds in our places.” There is good stuff in the rest of the poem too – “woodwind chorus from below” is nice, and the fact that this chorus bores the raptor doubly so (how many bored raptors do we encounter in literature, anyway?) – and the overall impression is somehow both pretty and menacing. There might be parts of this poem that are still waiting to happen, but I like what is here. --Troy Jollimore
On a Line from the Collection “November” by Sean O’Brien
by Rick Storey
Desert Moon Review
This hell of time, unbroken
by amnesia or lies, contains
all history, all conflict, all amity.
History that does not, as yet
exist and cannot run free: from
what sea coast shall those
warships slip their moorings
depart upon those burgeoning
tides of time that act
to separate war’s darkness
from the light of peace, and
running from the dark
gaze upwards to see
the countless archipelagos
of stars scattered upon
the black cloth of the night
sky whose relative motions
like that of drifting continents
appears in one human lifetime
so slow as to deny their reality –
velocities ranging almost
up to “c” the speed at which
time ceases to exist and hell
itself freezes into an eternal
present having no recognizable
past or future, no beginning,
and no end, no truths nor lies.
This is a nice, quiet poem with regular short lines that builds, in its modest way, to a fairy resonant conclusion. There are good phrases throughout, though nothing that really stands out from the rest; the poem rewards attention without necessarily grabbing it. It’s like a gentle, beautiful song that you don’t notice until about the fiftieth time you play the album, and then suddenly it’s your favorite song for a while. The last couple stanzas are unexpected, and especially good. --Troy Jollimore