BEST OF 2003

BEST OF 2002

BEST OF 2001

BEST OF 2000





Winning Poems from 2002


January 2002
Judge Susan Kelly-Dewitt

First Place
The Butcher's Daughter
by T. E. Ballard
The Sharpened Word

It is the blood I remember,
not of the living or the dead
but of the ones who wait in the freezer
like old men grown tired of their skin.
My father removes their coats
and they stand whole, perfect.
All that is heavy falls to me.
I hold the bucket balanced on a knee.
A knee made bone, the same bone
which cries under my father's knife.

Heart, liver, four stomachs from a cow.
I carry and dump in the barrel
held for the dogs who are hungry,
who come in the night with women,
scarves pulled over their heads.
Ones who rummage and beg but do not speak.
It is all here. What I carry.
All that I need to piece together a great beast.
One perfect, drained of all that stains
my father red and I can ride her,
my creation, to a place
where little girls lie in their own sheets,
clean and unafraid.

Second Place
Last Weekend in Maine
by Hannah Craig
The Sharpened Word

Sleek fist-eared hounds
paddle home along the shore.

They bay from the bank,
like horns through
silvered slow ash
and fall-down basswood

I cant their names
as a ritual of protection;
row out for oysters,
cut clinging kelp
from dark-eyed stones.

I deny that there is ice
or even the memory of ice,
but my hands are blue,
stung by small stars.

The dogs shake
free of wet,
their deep-earth scent
thick as acorns and red leaves.
They lie down near the fire,
across a dream
where the sea
never ends.

Third Place
Dream Song 911
by Jim Zola
The Writer's Block

Love, the crack in the wall grew some last night. 
Don’t call. I won’t answer. I’m yellow 
as this legal pad. How did Miss P. 
take death’s dip? Not fast food and doughnuts. 
Poor heart, race. Pill bottles rattle 
in the cupboard, echo empty verse. 
Sugar, your placebo ran out 
just before you did. I doctor myself. 
Just me and a house that needs a pump. 
I roll my sleeves, pray. If I had nerve 
I’d drive the highway, do the big swerve. 
But there are doors to go through. Steps. 
It can wait. Come see me. Bring wine, red and cheap.

Honorable Mention
incarnate sorrows
Melic Roundtable

Within the harbor’s stilting light, there are two girls
within sight of The Veritas Maid, gone a day and full
within her quarter hold, of bluefin. There are two girls
above the Hampshire crags, the froth and fray below.
Above a swath of Pluto’s retching, there are two girls
above the violent hissing roar, waves defining waters.
Against horizon shorn, are flowers. There are two girls
against hard-light disguised as gyre gulls, in shadow.
Against a gale raveling cold unfurl, there are two girls
beyond fires’ breach, mutely standing: Leucosia, Ligia.
Beyond seaway passage, in reach of lightning’s fold
beyond claim, there are two girls. There are two

Honorable Mention
Heaven Forgive
by Jennifer Anne Beebe
Melic Roundtable

My son tells me he sees
heaven in his heart and Christ knows
I want to tell him it's true, he's right,
but I'm tired, weary, and I think
forgive me, I think just for one moment
I think, sure kid here's a quarter,
hop a bus see how far heaven
takes you, and I picture him,
my four-year-old climbing those big
rubber bus stairs with the grooves
so he won't slip if it's wet,
see him reach, slide his coin through the slot
as the driver, his mouth rounding o's, says
sit down while raising his eyes, whites rolling
up the rearview mirror as my boy walks
the aisle, passengers' mouths opening closing,
landed fish, hooks and eyes, the old
women, orange lipstick outside the lines
scaring him as he passes with no breadcrumbs
so steady, my son, so steady
as he finds a seat, clambers up,
sits so straight and tall and
alone except for his heaven,
his blessing before his mama breaks
his heart, shoos heaven like she does
a monster from his room, shoos heaven
out the window to some other child
safe and warm in the house he was born in,
his parents' steady
breathing from the bedroom,
breadcrumbs in the night,
heaven in his heart. 

February 2002
Judge Susan Kelly-Dewitt

First Place
by Claire Brown Bower

I expected something
like snow, perhaps--
soft flakes lulled slowly aloft
to float, crystalline,

and light soundless
among the dead
and the living, settle tender
atop the silver, leafy laurels
and shimmering branches
of the birch, its curling
winter coat clutching
delicate-cold to the edge
of the rocky ridge.

I knew there would be
no moisture, nothing wet to hold
anything together.

Logic told me that.

Still, somehow I expected snow--
a brilliant blanket.

But just
as the heavy lid lifted,
wind's bitter roar
dipped and drew you--
powdery, grey--
to disappear
above my gasp and high
into the great gap
of the Red River Gorge.

Second Place
Milk and Chapstick
by Tammy Turner
Post Poems

She used to be Viola, farmbred,
cornfed daughter of dirt.
Baby fat blonde jumped the nowhere
bus with a bootlace flapping, gritty
chapstick in her pocket and pasteurized
milk in her daddy's scotch thermos.
Fate est. 1977, she walked away on
rooted feet and now she

shakes a disillusioned ass at a
southbeach titty palace called
the Maraschino Cherry, screaming
red walls hung full of glaring
Warhol and Dali blacklights, polite
bouncers in business suits. The clientele
speaks of Paris, of summers spent at
Archipalego de Colon in knowing voices.
It brags like a regular Studio 54, but

it's just another downtown hard bar,
with the same coke zombies and drag queen
disciples all licking Kismet off squares of
colored cellophane, thier faces pulled in
grotesque passion. The stage pops and
snaps with faulty neon, the constant
crackle on charged air makes her think of
the spark chamber she saw once at a
county science fair, when she was still Viola,

baby fat blonde the crowds called Sapphire,
because it was spelled out behind her
on a black velvet backdrop in sputtering
tubes of violent blue. It spits static at her
bare back, bites at her skin with electric teeth,
drawing sweat that smells of blood and
friction. She sways, seductive on rooted feet,
runs a dry tongue over nervous lips and thinks
of chapstick, of warm milk in a plaid thermos.

Third Place
by Brett Hursey
The Critical Poet

The first time you say the word "fuck"
in front of your family, your sister's
pushing garden peas beneath her mashed 

potatoes, the Methodist church
down the street rings six o'clock,
and your mother asks, "Did you change 

the grade on your report card?"
That's when your mouth opens and the word
just happens -- you say, "Why the fuck...?" 

And time slows down;
stretching out so you can see --
in perfect, slow motion, 

Six-Million-Dollar-Man detail --
your mother's back stiffen, and the weary
disappointment your dad's been distilling 

in his eyes for the past two or three
lifetimes. And in some useless part
of your mind, you wonder if Einstein 

included the "fuck" factor in his Theory
of Relativity -- how time tends to slow down
around black holes, women who ask, 

"How do you really feel about me?"
after sex, and tenth graders who say
the word "fuck" in front of their mothers 

after forging fraudulent report card grades.
Somehow your mind can't resist taking
advantage of the temporary time warp, 

tracing the carbon of the moment
into your memory the way you traced over
your algebra grade -- dividing and rounding 

the D's hump into a respectable B.
And suddenly you have the urge to grab
your sister's lump of pea ridden potatoes, 

slap it on your back, climb to the top
of the Methodist church, and ring the bells,
ring the fucking bells until time loses interest
and passes you by.

Honorable Mention
An Afternoon in the Strip Mall
by Suzanne Griffith
Cafe Utne

We had the rains
that washed away winter. 

Now, mid-January, 

cherry blossoms
brighten the eyes,
of the woman in the title company
who visited Japan
and knows what they mean; 

blue sky
gladdens the heart
of the waiter
in the Thai restaurant
next door to the title company; 

and at home,
plum tree,

Honorable Mention
The Smell of Butter
by Selig
About Poetry

The butter was never sweet
It tasted of salt
I remember the smell
It was sour and seemed
to gather in pockets, so that
as I walked from one room to another,
I was sometimes overwhelmed by it 

The day they killed the pig
I lay on the kitchen floor,
feeling ill and watching her hands
She sang in gaelic about the winds
and the cliffs on the west coast
Her hands had no music in them
They slapped and slipped through
the bowl squeezing the curds 

"Sugar Nanna?" I asked
"Will you put sugar in?"
She gazed at me
"You don't need sugar in butter child"
My father called her The Last Drop
Never happy till she used the last drop
I watched him stare gloomily into his bottle
"The last drop" he said "is always the saddest one"
"Never waste anything" she told me
"you'll never enjoy things if you waste them"

In the afternoon heat
It seemed the only thing that moved was Nanna
She was the bustle
in a house of silence
And when I think back
She is the only image that remains
She is the chimney, the northern wall
The last thing standing
When life crumbled 

I would ask her if I could
If you enjoy something Nanna,
is it ever wasted?

Honorable Mention
Rain Snapshots at the Beach
by Janet Kenny
Wild Poetry

Pearl sky purples above dark rocks
as rain arrives to drench the beach.
Shadow now where sun was. A scene-
change for melodrama, with lights,
thunder, and rushing figures.

Addicted swimmers linger in hissing
waves as they greet the deluge.
Even Venus loafs in warm sea, careless
of wetness where elements merge,
her loose red hair dank seaweed-green.

Tall, bellied grandfather, stork-legged,
frets by the ocean edge, afidget
at children who stay in amniotic
security, more known than remembered.
He half recalls sliding in waters.

Sad fat man in black, soaked no longer
by sun, slowly rises from the sand,
and squelches, bubbling in thongs,
for solitary beer and fish. Always
another way to flee melancholy.

Sea and clouds latticed with light
subtly surpass public fireworks
but unsung, play to an empty house.
Stray worshippers applaud silently,
and smile recognition without words.

Nothing much has happened here
apart from things that matter.

March 2002
Judge Susan Kelly-Dewitt

First Place
Dear Wilfred
by Dennis Greene

. . . 80 years gone, and still they die like cattle,
their bodies buried under lounge-room floors,
their voices lost, like ours, in endless prattle,
their deaths a bland accounting, keeping scores.

We've made them warriors for the viewing day,
bit players in our thirty second wars,
a caste of extras, used, already paid,
the unseen dead, obedient to our laws.

we see their lives as short sharp stabs of light
too brief to read what's written on the walls
then flick to where some learned late night panel
explains and blames and leaves them to their plight:
their children starve until the starving palls
and we turn over to another channel.

Second Place
by Mike M.
Melic Roundtable

Lay me flat, naked, belly-up on a stainless-steel table.
Remove my watch, jewelry, place them in a rubber box.
Now raise my head by placing a wooden block
beneath my head. Take the surgeon’s stryker saw,
be careful not to cut your fingers as ear to ear
you make a scalp incision. Get hammer and chisel,
tap, tap, tap around the skull, pull my cap.
Gently take out my brain, examine it for lesions,
bruises, all the thoughts I carried of you.
Somewhere hidden is a snowy Vermont,
hemlock and spruce, a honeymoon on skis.
Log your findings, move on to my eyes,
examine them closely in their sockets,
or take them out. Dulled to no reflection,
still they stare only in your direction.
Open my mouth and look at my tongue-
Can you remember its truths, its lies?
The many, many times it wet your skin?
Keep going because I can no longer speak.
Pick up a clean scalpel, begin with an incision
of the left shoulder, descend, pass under
the nipples and ascend to the right shoulder.
Pull the cutanous piece upward and back,
now make a medium incision from the margin
of the previous cut down to the pubic region.
Cut through muscle, expose my ribs,
ignore my body’s shaking as you separate bone,
plunge your hands into my thoracic cavity
where you gather my heart. Press your fingertips
on its four chambers, each a house of love
and anger, remorse, inexhaustible desire
until now when all the livid blood is stilled.
Record some notes, move quietly down
the abdomen, touch the flaccid penis,
the shriveled testicles. Recall our daring
energies when we were young,
slow murmurs of pleasure, our children.
Now wipe your forehead and ask yourself,
is such dissection still the man you love?
If so, piece me together, stitch me tight,
take me home, put this thing to rest.

Third Place (Co-Winner)
Sleeping With Lou Gehrig
by Robert Jordan

Aunt Edith, up from DC,
where she burns dollar bills
for the Treasury Department,
took me out for a walk.

Everyone knew and commented on the fact,
she had once slept with Lou Gehrig.
That's what made Aunt Edith famous,
she'd slept with Lou Gehrig.

I wish I could sleep with Lou Gehrig,
just Lou and me,
lying down in bed,
having a nice nap
after filling up on hotdogs
with chopped onions and catsup.

Aunt Edith held my hand,
we walked down the street,
all the kids were watching us,
they must have known,
Aunt Edith slept with Lou Gehrig.
Down the street to Ajay's new barroom,
it was brand new with white tile walls.

We sat up at the bar;
Aunt Edith bought me a Coke
while she had a nice big glass of beer.
I was sitting next to Mr. Wallace,
I told him "This is my Aunt Edith,
she once slept with Lou Gehrig."
Mr. Wallace, he says real loud,
"Hey, did ya hear that,
Bobby's Aunt once slept with Lou Gehrig."

Aunt Edith pushes the hair off her face,
blushes a little bit and smiles;
while the men gather around,
want to buy Aunt Edith another beer.
They all forget about me,
I just sit there with my empty Coke glass
and wish I had slept with Lou Gehrig,
then they would pay attention to me too,
not just Aunt Edith.

After awhile Aunt Edith is talking loud
and the men they're laughing,
they're having fun and laughing,
but I'm not, I'm tired of sitting there,
staring at my empty Coke glass,
wishing I had slept with Lou Gehrig,
then I could talk loud and have fun too.

I pull at Aunt Edith's dress,
tell her I want to go home,
it's getting real late and I'm sleepy,
I don't want to stay in the bar all night
I don't want to sleep in the bar tonight.

We get up and leave,
Aunt Edith isn't walking straight,
and I have to take care of her,
make sure she knows the way home.

On the way home,
Aunt Edith stops at a store,
a store where they're selling flowers;
she buys herself a bouquet of flowers,
holds them tight,
and says she likes flowers.

Third Place (Co-Winner)
The Poet: A Trilogy
by Charles Semones

The Boy, Theron Banforth, Becoming a Poet--Before the Nettles of Fame 
Took Hold of Him, Causing Irritation

At sixteen, he wrote a verse his teacher praised
and told him he had the makings of a real
poet. Being young, and a badass to boot,
he told himself she wanted his body
and, poet or no poet, he'd make her writhe
and climb the headboard of the bed
until she came seven ways from Sunday.
That was a laugh. Nothing happened.
Finally his common sense prevailed,
and he got the message. She wanted nothing
but to nudge his schoolboy's talent--and made it clear
she expected a verse on her desk every morning.
Without quite knowing why, he delivered.
She read whatever he turned in, first thing,
and her face fairly blossomed with a new statement
over what he'd done, because of her prodding,
up in his attic room the night before.
He thought all his effort hardly worth the bother
now that he'd decided her motive was as pure
as a nun's or a crippled wren's. All her intensity
was entirely for the verses that he brought her.
Not long before that school year ended, she built
a fire--not in his cock, where he had enough
to do him with the town girls hanging around
(just as years before they'd done to Jimmy Dean),
but in his brain where words became obsession
and writing poems became as indispensable to him as fucking.
Inordinately cocky at seventeen,
fancying himself a wunderkind, a rustic sage,
he knew that any day might be the one
when he'd outdistance Frost and Stevens,
put Millay's "What lips my lips have kissed" to shame,
though she'd gone on her back all the way to Mount Parnassus
and come back with a bucketful of poems
you could wind your watch by. Never mind that she was
a fiery libertine. She wrote like a woman possessed,
and he was a little in love with her, though she was dead.
The whole lot of them--famous poets everyone, looking
serene, austere, immensely wise--swarmed through the pages
of his American lit book. How did such people,
some of them inclined to be jolly rogues in private,
manage their epiphanies, intuit the final word on forever things,
and get it down in sensible nouns and verbs?
And what of love? Could such as they sustain it--
and not only sustain it, but get it right,
now that Archibald MacLeish--the one whose
head was always screwed on straight--had taken leave?
(The boy thought "Epistle to be Left in the Earth"
was the pulsebeat of the universe, set to a transcendent music 
that only dead poets, possessing such language, could hope to master.)
So only in his twenties, armed with the M. F. A.
and his new Ph.D., self-congratulatory, obnoxiously full of himself, 
he meant to rescue modern poetry from its foes,
restore it to its rightful mind, and prove that old men,
careening out of control toward an ill-humored dotage,
were not necessarily best equipped to write it.

The Poet the Boy, Theron Haskell Banforth, Has Become-- Disenchanted, 
Disconsolate As He Approaches Middle Age

Keats he is not. Never was. Never will be.
But he's come a long way from that shut-down school
in a one-horse town he detested during most of his boyhood
The virginal teacher who inspired his zeal
for poetry, and thought she was doing him a favor,
has long been retired--a grandmother now of eleven.
He strides around, spiffy in his tweeds, and pontificates--
lectures flamboyantly on poetry to would-be poets at his classy college,
publishes his own acerbic verse in all the biggies: Prairie Schooner,
Ploughshares, Shenandoah and the famed Reviews,
Georgia, New England, and gets in Poetry
with much-to-be-admired regularity--
not to mention his well-received collections,
all still in print, some still selling now and then
on In certain circles,
his name is being bruited about as a natural
to be the country's poet laureate when Collins's
jig is over. Put succinctly, he's made it big,
and he knows it. So the fakery begins.
He tries to come across as modest, even
self-effacing. But some know how he bristled,
ranted privately behind closed doors,
and got falling-down drunk
when the fellowship he'd had his heart set on
went to another poet--whose first collection
of cliches the powers that be mistook for poems
had just come out. He was embarrassed, irate,
and went around surly and sad. Self-pity seized him
in places more tender than the one beneath his foreskin.
He would not be consoled. The fellowship
would have validated his entire career, he thought.
taken him out of the classroom for a year,
ensconced him in the Mediterranean's
pavilions of fernfell and exotica.
And now he's stuck. He reads the dreadful poems
his students proudly hand him every morning
(How he despises them!), does endless lesson plans,
chairs meetings with boring colleagues, abhors their whiny
peevishness, their airs, their childish put-downs.
Truth is, he sees himself becoming like them,
and hates himself--and his poetry to boot.
Having been divorced three times already, he eats out alone,
goes home to an empty house alone, downs Scotch
on the rocks alone and, before passing out,
bemoans the one noteworthy poem he knows
he cannot write--and go on living.

The Poet, T. Haskell Banforth, Past Middle Age, Full of Rage, 
Sharpens His Claws, Prepares To Do Battle, But Falters and Falls Back

It's true. He's accused of being tendentious,
and he does not deny it. Biased only
in favor of broad-mindedness, he does not
suffer those who are fools by choice in any
shape or fashion. No one but a day-old child
can claim that privilege with impunity.
To others, it's decidedly off-limits,
save for those afflicted in the mind who cannot
be responsible--those "pieces of God,"
as they are called in certain quarters.
As a boy, he gave no thought to such matters.
Boys don't. Boys seize their fun where they can find it.
Girls too, or so he supposes. It's a perk
bestowed on youth. But adulthood doesn't fool around;
it changes the playing field. One is, from that day
forward, obliged to honor the mind's white fire,
and those who live in the kingdom
of the sane (presuming any do) ought to know
not to crawl in bed with every fallacy the human mind's
conceived of in its more inglorious moments:
the one that's peopled with angels (mere figments of one's
imaginings) and the ones that flower darkly
into orgasm, however one achieves it,
only to conclude that the quirky posture
of sex is hideous, pathetic, and incredibly funny--
the body's getting back at the brain
to make the cosmos snicker,
then guffaw obscenely. In his indiscretions, he's heard it--
much to his embarrassment and repulsion;
he'd rather not remember his horny youth
in that jerk-off, jerkwater town he came from.
His poems have floated his boat to a stagnant
backwater of regret. He's made his home in a tree house
of thought, an aerie of the mind. He's looked down
too long, hating what he saw beneath him.
Now he quotes Robert Frost--"Birches"
and "The Road Not Taken." He wishes he had
written them. Frost lodged them where, to everyone,
they are most accessible, but can't be soiled
by human touch or lost to convolutions:
circumstances threading the needle of time.
He'd rather grab hold of the tail of Comet
Halley than to write the first words of a poem.
The ride at breakneck speed through outer space
would likely be less frightening
than going into the dark woods of himself
where the real dragons live. And that's what writing
a poem amounts to: sizing up his soul. It's the only way
of knowing who he is; not an easy thing, manifestly
most unpretty: a gallery of gargoyles
he's already been through, a gun-shy searcher
in spectral places, roaming among those phantoms
from earlier years when guilt became the diet
he ate and grew lean on by the hour.
Poor guy who, many a time, wrote a poem
rather than kill himself, though it hurt him more.
When, he wonders, did he become as "bitter
as Bierce" or quinine? When did his poetry
become a bane, turn him into such a malcontent?
He cannot know for sure. He can hope only that his talent
is tempered by some leftover sense of honor,
though he doubts it. Snared in a cat's cradle of words--
both caressed and cursed by what they mean--
he's had no choice: poetry's been his lifelong, adversarial god.

Honorable Mention
The Song of Rock Stars
by T.E. Ballard

"What a man," my aunt says
as she shoves a glossy image into my lap.
"Listen to my Kris sing," and I do
as he smiles up at me
like a father or a lost savior
dressed in beard and sandals.
At thirteen, my legs are white, cold;
I fill a chair my aunt has nailed
to the middle of the kitchen floor.
The linoleum cracks, fades
under her photos of bee-hives, waves.
I notice this and the smell of hair
caught in an iron. My smell
on the back of her hand.

This is the summer
she'll make a red satin dress
for the school play;
the summer I will lie and say yes,
my mother made it.
Between voices and demons, she took
needle, thread -- thought of me.

Later, my aunt will disappear
after what grandmother calls
an embarrassment of charging
my uncle with rape. "Imagine,"
grandmother will say and I do
while everyone sits at the table
covers the hole left by the chair.
A hole small enough for a girl
to fall through and she does
to the boy who waits after the play,
kisses the side of her neck.
Removes the red strap
without music or words,
just his hands resting on her back
in shape of a cross.

Honorable Mention
The Practice of Gliding Under
by Ani Gjika

The one in the nightgown...

In the little room,
beyond her childhood¹s sleep,
Xhilda daubs on perfume,
her senses loosening
before she loosens hair and legs
to the next gentleman at the door.

the one descending stairs toward you,
or the one constantly ascending in your mind
becoming the highest thought,

The young girl plucks a date from the date palm,
rubs it on her thigh, cuts it up and gives him half.
I want to show you something, she says,
and cracks the seed open with her teeth. Look,
she says, pointing at the insides, did you know
such seeds hide tiny forks and knives?

the one who can reach you
in your childhood with a kiss,

At the foot of a mountain,
surrounded by olive branches, a woman
recalls oil baths and the slippery spheres
of his tongue when the space beneath her
fingernails drowns in green-black
each time she picks from the olive tree.

the woman in the doorway barefoot,
or on the couch reading,

She leans over the crib to watch
her child sleep, then turning to hear
her husband snore in their bed, comes out
of the bedroom and without turning on the light
touches her baby¹s clothes on the couch
and knows what her house holds.

the one leaning over the balcony
to throw you a scarf some winter morning
when you leave for work,

They turn over their coffee cups to drain
on the newspaper, and minutes later glance inside them
as if gods looking down on life. Oh Monda,
one cries, you have a coffin in the family,
watching the other¹s face shrink
while today¹s news drowns in coffee silt.

the one writing in the dark,

After a bath, a young woman checks herself
in the mirror. She has lost some weight.
Yes, she smiles. On her left thigh,
up at the hip, she notices three or four
shiny little stretch marks. Oh, she thinks,
looks just like a touch from a fairy¹s hand!

the slap from a woman¹s hand,
from the one who can smell herself on her fingertips,
the fingers you may not see smothering you,

She cries silently as she prays,
like a baby forgotten in despair,
cries in her deathbed palms clasped
like a fly, clasped and waiting
for one more upend
of her life in God¹s hands.

the one right here

The cripple, on her bed,
remains the ballerina of her past.
She lifts her arms in the dark,
mutters a little song
and the arms dance all night
like evergreens in the wind.

and the one not there
when you turn

At the funeral of her eleven year old son,
the mother freezes, like Lot¹s wife,
in and out of time, cannot cry
when they lower the coffin in the dark,
only scratches her hands.
It's her flesh that cries.

is the woman gliding under
every woman you will love.

Honorable Mention
Without Sanctuary
by Hannah Craig
The Writer's Block

Lynched men hang sepia on silver lithograph;
bodies long and sweet in the stillness of a frame,
words ripped out by the seams,
documented in a footnote.
Take this postcard instead of a name.
In a beautiful poplar county,
a man dangles from a slow-flower tree
while the sheriff poses, hyena smile on gelatin print.
Pencil inscription on the reverse reads
please visit soon.
Bare thighs make me think of stoats,
weasels slick with sunlight,
mink near the ground, flush with
brown apples and milkweed.
He is the last dead branch
of the tree that holds him,
vanishing into the dark of spring-damp
almond bark.
A shutter drops black cloth over the scene;
the small round aperture blinks on without rhythm,
cracks on knotted wrists,
scored spine and knees.
Do not pity me, he whispers
through the shadow of long arms.

Honorable Mention
The Lighthouse Keeper's Daugher
by Ken Ashworth
The Writer's Block

Evenings, after cookfires dim
and the chatter of children subsides
within the silence of a conch shell,
she picks her way through salt hay
to a cliff's edge, draws a bow made
from her hair, plays violin to the sea.
Chin crushed to rosewood, face gentled
by a wash of light from the beam,
her fingers fumble then find their rhythm
as when spindling a shuttlecock.
Behind her, the laundry line signals
semaphore to nothing; sails furl and slacken
on the horizon, salt spume prickles
her bare ankles and she is loosed
for a time from her tether to the man
in the wingback tamping the throat
of his meerschaum with a yellowed thumb,
eyes the color of smoke and theft.

Honorable Mention
The Faith of Starvelings
by Lori Williams
The Sharpened Word

We are out of bread, soup and tea now.
My little sparrows, perched
on tenuous twigs, still hope.
Their faces bloom with too many bones,
and eyes implore

what is a mother for
but to turn a potato
into a pearl?

My fingers plait smooth hot salt
and the teaspoon of honey melts in a song.
Two figs and a promise with each sip;
mama shall walk on water

April 2002
Judge Susan Kelly-Dewitt

First Place
Mrs. Calabash
by Don Schaeffer
Salty Dreams

I walk
like a tap-dancer
with a joke
in my pocket
because I'm rhythmic
and untouchable.
I juggle
whatever I hold in my hand
making everybody laugh.
My hips go yah!
and yah!

Where is the dark
and the silent?

Second Place
He knows he's in deep
by Brett Hursey
The Critical Poet

when she nudges him out of a dream
at four a.m. to rub her tush.

"Why should I rub your tush?"
he mumbles, trying to slip
back beneath his warm, flannel

"Because I like the way it feels
when I'm lonely," she says.

And, of course, the illogic
of it keeps him awake:
the idea that loneliness
somehow migrates south --
a decade's worth of Saturday nights
and singles clubs
instinctively flocking
together to drift down her back.
It's like the way she's started
asking him to buy Kotex:

"As long as you're going out, pick up
some pads for me," she says, cutting
up carrots in his sink.

And he just wishes she wouldn't call them "pads"
because it spoils his memory
of high school football --
the image of him high-fiving the guys
in the locker room with Kotex taped
to his shoulders and legs.

So he finds himself crossing off
items on her shopping list --
not even coming close to the familiar
sandwich meat and frozen dinner sections.
And the check-out girls all know
what's going on -
smiling at the Betty Crocker
and broccoli in his cart,
and calling for price checks
on her extra-absorbent,
heavy-flow, feel-fresh-all-day "pads."
That's when he makes up his mind
to rip down her lacy curtains,

toss the curling iron and feminine
hygiene products out on the lawn
and change all his locks...
but when he finally pulls into the driveway,
the strangely inhabited look
of his house makes him wonder

where his own loneliness has migrated.
So when she asks why he's smiling
while he rubs her smooth, shapely tush
at four in the morning,
he says he's waiting for a genie to appear,

and listens as her laughter soft-shoes
around the room and makes itself at home
in their bedroom carpet

Third Place
Mulligrubs, March
by Jim Zola
The Writer's Block

Nothing disturbs the berm
as it aspires towards
a grassy knoll, the path

to your misgivings. I pocket them,
touch my freckled hollow, my whiffet.
Here, take a digit, an ounce.

I practice the reverse of no,
of knowing. My cock
points towards the moon.

Things fall off. I pick up
stones from wet morning grass,
wash them in my cheeks.

I speak of love and poetry,
rigmarole and poppycock.
Who is the you of this?

Not the wife I left,
caught embracing
the wide windows

of another man¹s life. I know
you are out there too.
I save my broken teeth

for when we meet,
your dress, bone-buttoned,
scrunched about your hips.

There¹s not much left.
I sit in the grass and count
the birds. I could name them

if it mattered. Sulky whiff,
cat bait, breath of my dark. I wait.
Nothing creeps closer.

Honorable Mention
Hunting Owls
by Peter Garner

She counts owls not sheep-

night vision picks out every one
she's ever bagged: the great horned

that woke her at three with resolute
hooting, the two saw-whets

one snow-covered November afternoon
only a short tramp through the brush
from each other, the hawk owl

that spent the winter on her street
strafing voles in the stubble out back,
the curious great gray

that flew down to get a better look
after she ducked behind a tree to reload,
a squall of snowies, most picked off
light standards or telephone poles.

She talks to barred owls before a shoot,
exchanging recipes and gossip. One chatted for an hour
after a solar eclipse, not realizing how late it was.
And she dreams of a barn owl,

so rare in these parts. Eventually, she'll pack
the lenses and fly south, but tonight
fantasy will suffice: a heart-shaped face

gleams at her from a sagging hayloft,
waits until she leaves

because the night is long.

Honorable Mention
Almost Home
by Vess Quinlan
About Poetry

My grandmother raised raspberries
white ones and black ones and red ones.
One Sunday, after my dad
and uncles had returned
from The South Pacific,
she and I picked
a basket of red ones
because my uncle Russell
liked them best.

Grandma climbed the steps
to a screened in back porch
with the rounded basket of berries.
I, a gentleman of five,
opened the door quietly
because Russell was there
on the day bed
But the screen door slipped,
the strong spring slammed
it shut like a rifle shot.
In one incredible motion,
The sleeping Russell rose
and caught his mother
by the throat.
Raspberries went everywhere.

Grandma was not badly hurt
except for ugly bruises
where thumb and finger pressed
and a sore stomach
where the sleeping Russell,
tried to disembowel her.
Later, Grandma joked,
"Beware of slamming doors
when Russell sleeps."

I know the story well
because Grandma explained
about Russell
so I would lose my fear
of him.
But I have only one
clear image of my own.
I remember watching,
in dismay,
from among the raspberry bushes
and wondering what to do
about my uncle Russell
hunched on the back steps
and crying.

Honorable Mention
I Stay With Mr. George
by Warren C. Norwood

I stay with Mr. George.
Been staying here for sixty years today.
Daddy told the preacher I was fifteen,
but I'm seventy-two and Mr. George is eighty.
After my first baby, I didn't want no more.

This evening all four of my girls
with my grandbabies will be here,
and both my sons.
They'll want to take pictures of me
hugging Mr. George in his wheelchair.
They can take what they want.
I ain't hugged him in forty years,
no need to start today.

Been staying here in this same house
all these years tending to him
like my mama told me I had to.
I wipe the oatmeal off his face
and clean him up in the bathroom.
The walls of this old house are so thin
I have to listen to him snore every night,
but I got no place else to stay--
and wouldn't want to stay no place else
'cause I'm used to staying here.

Mr. George don't bother me much anymore.
I sit him in his chair on the porch
and let the afternoon sun warm his cold bones.
Then I feed him and put him to bed
and I sit up and read those stories
my granddaughter brings me every week.
The ones I like the best are where
they kill the mean sumbitches in the end.

She gets them at the book exchange,
and sometimes when Mr. George can't sleep
I read him the good parts,
and so's he don't lose interest,
I add some good parts myself,
all the details about how the bad ones die,
until he waves his hand.
"That's awful stuff," he says.
"No more than mean folk deserve," I answer.
Then I leave him alone to wonder and sleep.

I stayed with Mr. George for sixty years,
best you believe we understand each other.
He'll die one day soon.

The choir at Antioch Baptist Church
will sing hallelujah over his coffin
when Mr. George goes someplace else to stay.
I believe I'll stay right here by myself,
sit on the porch, rock, read my stories,
and say my thanks for the peace and rest.

Honorable Mention
Upon Visting Sandburg's Homeplace
by Ken Ashworth
The Writer's Block

There's a turnstile where prize
roses once stood, and for two bucks
I can stand where you stood pissing
after a hard night of black
coffee and endless revision.

Presbyterians have joined the fence line;
an old umbilicus of Gloria Patri
refrains from summer youth camp.
The lake where you'd dance rainbow
from the tip of a hook before breakfast,
has a sign in knee-deep water:
"Use of Flat Rock Residents Association"

It is all gone- the heave and strive
of empire, sweaty, stripped to the waist,
ring of hammer on steel, the smell of coke
in the air, rails giving under
the weight of a passing freight-
gone, this brawling land you loved.

They tell me you watched inconsolate
from your veranda, rings of smoke
through pine boughs, Highland Hospital
burn as Zelda Fitzgerald danced
her best in rooms of fire.

The poet's heart in you was overturned,
refusing food or ink for days,
refusing now to leave this place,
these hills , you son of ashes,
you rusty ghost.

May 2002
Judge Sheila Bender

First Place
by Jerry Jenkins

I see America traveling,
the lurching prairie schooners like overcooked hotdogs,
the popeyed oxen, the hot frazzled women,
thin scrawny men with the bugs of the trail in their whiskers
(my pappy and me come west in '36, I was one of seventeen kids )
I see you tortured in vast summer heat
wearing your Prussian linsey-woolsey,
you pioneers scratching, a sound like a thousand of rasps on crocodile
And here is a dog, with dopey lugubrious eyes,
spotted and indolent, tan and white, baying at random, at nothing. 

The long line fades into mud trails, dry in the summer,
cracked and volcanic, dusty and choking the pack trains.
Your oxen transmute to horses, wagons to stagecoaches,
fat wooden churns, wheels splintered on corduroy roads,
lurching and tossing the passengers, (Hang on for dear life!),
advancing to westward, Shakegut Express, filling the air with curses,
loud lamentations, the stage capsizing,
once, twice, a dozen times. How the carpetbags fly! 

Out of the east I see your black-armored serpent,
hooting, filling the day with the lather of steam and black smoke.
I have seen torrents of buffalo, consternated,
thundering, waking the prairie dogs, whistle and bellow.
I have been passenger, I have endured your indignities,
putting out fires in the railway car, ash in my eye,
cinders and grit in my face,
I feel America jouncing. 

Out of the Spindletop, endlessly rocking,
the ceaseless pumps of the oil wells,
the mindless teeter-totters,
bobbing ducks sucking petroleum.
Their effluent fills these millions of cars,
thick as lice in the concrete seams of the highways,
maddened, thronging the shrinking roadnet,
the hot harried women, career mamas,
salesmen, nattering witlessly into their car-phones,
gibberish filling the bandwidth,
and quietly in someone's suburban garage,
the larval concept of the personal helicopter,
hatching, waiting to breed,
waiting for Everyman,
waiting for Everyman's skies.
I shudder.
America travels.

Second Place
Something Funny Happened On the Way to Reading Bukowski
by Didi Menendez

# 1 Don't Peel The Grapes 

Don't peel the grapes.
Just eat them.
That is what you do with Bukowski.
It is a sun and hamburger Saturday.
If I drank beer,
It'd be a beer and sun and hamburger Saturday. 

My son throws a rock in the air.
It lands on my daughter's head.
She bleeds on top of my white tee.
She bleeds onto a wash cloth.
She cries.
I rock her until she feels better.
Put the culprit in time out,
make him apologize endless times. 

These are what my Saturday afternoons are like.
Bukowski waits by the lawn chair.
I go back and eat him up.
He would have liked it that way. 

# 2 My Father Was A Poet 

Bukowski could have been my father. 

Had whores,
rolled joints,
smoked whole packs of cigarettes in a day,
stared out of his front porch in his underwear,
walked the streets of New York,
puked and took a shit at the same time. 

Went to the races,
bet his pay check on horse number 4,
had so-called friends that would have raped
me or my sister given the chance. 

Had a good wife that never did anyone any wrong.
Gave him his only children that we know of. 

Remembered her in one or two his poems,
gave them to her as if they were written with his penis. 

She has them stacked away
along with the lock of hair
his mother saved from when he was baby. 

# 3 The World According To Bukowski 

I had to drink red wine in the middle of the afternoon
to write this poem. 

According to Bukowski,
to write a good poem,
you must have:
1-Several bad affairs.
2-Been in love with a red haired girl. 

And some other things not worth mentioning. 

To be a good poet,
you need to jerk off a couple of times a day.
There is so much time in between
while you wait for that big one,
the one that gets put aside while
you contemplate the neighbor's cat
as it takes a shit by the fence. 

Or while you wait for the next whore to knock on your door,
the postman to bring you another invite to a poetry reading,
just so some groupie can rush to the stage,
screams to do it to her right there and then.
How could one man be so lucky? 

Throws up inside the strings of the University's only grand piano,
leaves knowing that someone will be writing about it long after he is dead. 

Something like what I am doing now.
Something like what I never want to be.
Let me be lousy.
Let me be one of those housewives
that writes while drinking red wine in the afternoon.
I finish the red in the cheap wine glass, 

wait for Jim to come home.

Third Place
How To Predict The Weather
by Christine Klocek-Lim

It's not the water that hammers the roof,
or the thunder that strikes sky
like a great stomping boot caked with mud and other debris
that tells me rain is here.
When I wake in the morning I already know a front is moving in,
passing thru, swelling down atop us like arthritis on an old knee:
cool air over warm, pressure dropping and popping the joints right out
of whack.
But we all creak eventually and I can't complain if my bones started
sooner than most
because I like the idea of clairvoyance.
Weather answers to my pronouncements.
And it's not the green clouds above
or ringed hazy moon of last night that tells me
hail is coming today.
You've gotta get old enough to feel it.
It's good storytelling.
It's about that old twister that blew through thirty years ago,
lifted the house right off the ground and set it down all crooked in the
the dog still in the upstairs bedroom barking and barking out the window
with grammom's pink lace curtains caught on his ear.
The kids like to hear about this.
They don't mind me creaking about the place muttering about hail on the
predicting loose winds and wicked drops of mercury and watching the sky.
They don't think I'm crazy.
They still like sitting out the porch counting the spaces between
Every second counts.
Only the very young and old can do it right.

Honorable Mention
Remembrance of Silence
by Ian Marlowe
Wild Poetry

I am positive I will misquote a deaf friend by writing
this, the same as I'll reassemble Einstein by saying
we can never declare abstinence from light, never
transcend the velocity of its particulars ˆ
we will never know the meaning of true silence. 

At a relevant point in time everything we love
becomes grounded in sound; even in death, nerve
endings become believers in resurrection, in the echoed
cadence of blood marching within oppressed veins. 

Life is never that forgiving. 

Stars will implode in less time than it takes us to answer
rhetorical questions unhinged from cluttered tongues.
"Do you love me?" takes on the din of "Do you want me?"
The context becomes lost between the dream and the awakening. 

Eventually we fall back on remembrance and how it felt
groping for wind inside the womb, how the agenda centered a
round what a hum would look like outside the skin.
We remember it as ghost chant through walls: the sweep
of palm against belly, the resistance of breath through
pores upon hearing the first lullaby rock light to sleep. 

Yet for all this ventless effort, we fear conformity
to solitude. We whistle a song to turn back its onset,
file "love" under "lust" in the process, confuse "sacrifice"
with "redemption." Everything else we swat at with brooms
as we would a bee trapped in some dusty closet of the brain. 

Always, we'll tilt our heads searching for the next buzz,
ponder how many fingers it takes to tune false ribs,
consider how mouths can hold more consonants than teeth.

Honorable Mention
The Trick
by Will Gray
The Critical Poet

The guy returns
with a warm washcloth
and towel
and cleans him off 

gently scrubbing
the detritus of their fun,
handling him
with masculine 

delicacy. He knows
his etiquette, looks
at the clock, says
"I should be leaving" 

the other does not disagree,
but offers "I'm going to have
something to eat,
you're welcome to join me." 

He dresses
while his host
puts on water and a robe.
They sit at the table 

sipping tea, sharing
a scone,
talking lightly, as though
they were casual friends. 

On the way
to his hotel
he reflects that the trick
to happiness 

is to live in the present
with a wall between
yourself and the absence
of any possibilities.

June 2002
Judge Sheila Bender

First Place
Homemade Soup
by Judy Lewis
Cafe Utne

Often it was about salvage--
saving that little bit.
I remember my mother
weighing a turkey breatbone
in her hand, deciding
it was just enough for soup,
let¹s not throw it out yet.

Flawed carrots followed,
scraped and pared,
whittling away the bad parts.
Celery, potatoes,
whatever was left over.
Waste not. She smoked
her cigarette to the filter.

I apprenticed at her elbow,
watched the careful sparing
of small scraps, agreed
the taste was richer than store-bought.
It stuck to the ribs
and also to the brain,
thrift became a holy principle.

Second Place
Communion with the Deceased
by MJM
Wild Poetry

Tell me something. What good could have come
from this? I'm prone in a wildflower
field in Eagle, Colorado. I have bourbon
in my glass and I don¹t drink. I feel queasy.

There is a gathering of people behind me under
a rented canopy, the white ones used for weddings
and times like these. All of them knew you better
than they know me. They carry canapés in their hands,

stories of your exploits on their lips, undigested grief
in that tender spot below the breastbone. I'm clawing
at the knapweed and they pretend there’s nothing
wrong with that because they¹ve already decided

I'm deranged. What could I have told her about her
late father that she wouldn't have already known?
That a blackball in the bloodstream is as inheritable
as your fear of water, your love of Escher, your proclivity

for laughter? That we ignored the risks of genetic disease,
birthed her anyway? What good could have come
of her being? Better to know we loved her well
enough to leave well enough alone. It is mid June.

The lupine are late to bloom this high in the hills
and there is no child who requires an explanation
of love and death. Nor to lose to them either. No stranger
at a wake need lead her away from a mother who lays

in the dirt. All this is easier without her
than with her. It is, isn¹t it? Speak to me.

Third Place
The Earth That Turns Away
by Rus Bowden

You blame the sun for going down each day,
then go to bed, close your eyes, and sleep,
not thinking of the earth that turns away.

You'd reach peaks, over clouds, and survey
great sights, if only the dark were not so deep.
You blame the sun for going down each day.

You toil and sacrifice for meager pay
and care for what you have and what you'll reap,
not thinking of the earth that turns away.

Friends and friendships die and loves won't stay,
your head hangs low, you hold your face and weep.
You blame the sun for going down each day.

Reflections show your youth replaced by gray,
and you surmise: buried with the past, to keep,
not thinking of the earth that turns away.

Twilight haunts and swallows each last ray.
The last sunset appears to you too steep.
You blame the sun for going down each day,
not thinking of the earth that turns away.

Honorable Mention
by Laurie Byro
Melic Roundtable

Before I make up the forest
I fill it with pheasant, with
a curious moth, apples and pecans,
and a wandering serpent
(who later becomes a troubadour)

I mop the forest floor, I hang curtains in trees,
I string cranberries and popcorn
in the limbs of the hemlocks above.

This is before the blight,
before thunder and lightning.

I pick your pockets, I brush out
your blond pony tail.
You take off everything but your argyles.
I hang your pocket watch off its long fob,
directly over our heads.
I kiss the pulse on your neck.

I want to say a word, a phrase, but we haven't
studied Socrates. I'm not even sure if we've
invented him, truthfully. We are consistent
with soft rain, with peacocks, and conch shells.
We scatter sea glass.
Of course there is a tortoise,
of course there is a hare.

But there are words you are afraid of,
in between sighs and cuckoos,
in between green mountains and hovering dragonflies.
All the lanterns we have strung, the grinning
monkeys, the silver slip of a moon.

You touch my lips with your finger
and tell me "no"
You thrust and sing.
The pocket watch swings
back and forth rhythmically
dropping minutes.

Honorable Mention
and his voice said five
by Dennis Greene

At five o'clock
he lay awake
and where he hadn't been
he was, and where
he thought he'd been
he hadn't:
and his voice said five.

At five-oh-five
he left his bed
and as the morning moved
from darkness into day
he brushed and cleaned
and shaved and cleared
the mess away:
and a voice said four.

At five to six
he wrote a note,
'I think it matters'
and having planned
for many years
for just this moment,
he rang the bell
and waited for the nurse:

And her voice said three
as the clock said six
and they went out and found
the rumored north-west
passage and his voice said
two and his voice said one
and in the end cold desolation
and the corridors,
two open doors
and all the rest is dreams.

Who would believe him any way---
the frame so tight that blood
comes through the pores

the drill a pressured presence
and the brain left open
to the air and no one there but him
can tell if they are getting anywhere,

don¹t put it there where I can see
that flicker of light, don't put it there
where half my body screws up tight
I am in pain, I am in fright
I lie awake and it is all a dream.
The rest is life.

Honorable Mention
Mothers Are Funny That Way
by Lori Williams
The Critical Poet

We wonder how it came to this,
smoking our cigarettes hard,
as if that inhale could shrivel the words
we know we'll say, as it does our lungs.

She hasn't seen her girl in three weeks,
thinks she fell in with a gang, drugs. I've had it.
I won't worry about her anymore she asserts,
hand shaking as she takes a drag. Detectives

have been to her home to look around, question.
She says they never asked if there was a father
in the house. Some things are a given. Most detectives
are men. Life is funny that way.

Our lips clasp the filtered ends like their mouths did
nipples once long ago, before we understood
what hopeless really meant. My boy called me a bitch
last night. Sometimes I hate him, truly, I tell her,

as I blow smoke rings toward a tall man's balding head.
The rings get larger, circling his neck, tightening,
until his tongue bulges purple and my ex-husband lies dead,
last words forgive me. Imagination is funny that way.

We talk tough, hands on hips, jaws set in a jut. Smoke hangs
in the air between us, like our lies. I see her wet, frantic
eyes through it, and I know she sees mine. We crush
butts under pumps and go back to work, breathing.

July 2002
Judge Sheila Bender

First Place
In Amongst Trees
by James Lineberger
Salty Dreams

Only time I ever saw him, he was shooting free throws
At that basket they used to have in the parking lot behind the Mt.
                             Moriah Church of God.
It was blackberry time, so hot the flowers drooped over on the bricks,
But he kept swishing 
Them in, fourteen straight shots while I stood there,
Sweat pouring off of him and the veins on his arms stuck out thick
                                                   as pencils.
"Better not get too used to that thing, mister," I said, "that hoop 
Is not regulation, it's three 
Inches too high, person that put it up was some kinda Mexican or something."
He went on shooting and didn't even look at me when he answered, like
                 I was a heckler messing at him
               from behind the bench.
"You blong to this church?" he said.
"No, sir," I said, "I live over on Harris Street, we're sort of Presbyterians."
"I thought so," he said. "Well, if you think I give a hoot for regulations, you are
                               sadly mistaken, and if you were
Any kind of Presbyterian at all, you would put 
Your faith in the spirit, not the law."
As if to prove it, he pumped in twenty-seven more, and not one of them so much
                                       as touched the rim.
"How many is that?" he said.
"Forty-one," I said.
"I thought so," he said, and he gave a tiny, private kind of smile and tucked
                           the ball under his arm, turning 
To look me straight 
In the eye. "How many you think I can do?" he said. "Think I can make 
it a hundred?"
"Mister," I said, "what I think is I know
A hustle when I hear one, and besides, all I got on me is some pocket change so don't
                                                               waste your time."
He frowned, but the smile hung there like somebody had pasted it on, and the flowers
Jerked straight up like scared 
Draftees, and a whole bunch of crows swooped down to strut in the trees, crying
Out worse than Knicks fans at the garden, and the sky,
                                     the sky, 
One minute it was
Clear and the next, it was lightning playing
                                                   from one end to the other.
"Be not afraid," the shooter said.
"I aint being afraid," I said, "it's just I'm having trouble catching my breath."
"Tell you what," he said, "I didn't come here to take your money, because this material
World does not interest me, so here's the thing: If I don't make it a even
                                                       hundred, without a break,
You can ask me anything you want to, and I will answer, cross
My heart, and if I win it won't cost 
You a red cent" 
                                               Behind him, a rainbow jumped up,
And the sun was rising and setting all at the same time. 
"What's the catch?" I said, but what I was really thinking was I wished I had gone
On to work instead of laying out and calling in sick. 
"No catch," he said. "But if everybody bleeved in me from the start, where
                               would be the fun of it?"
"Okay," I said, "only if you don't mind, I got 
to sit down cause it feels like my legs don't want to work right."
"I thought so," he said, and when he stepped back to toe
The line, dead bees
Started falling all around me, spattering on the blacktop like hail. By the time he had
                                     it up to seventy-three, I was burning 
With fever, and the goal kept wobbling like a mirage, like I was looking at it through
                   the flames.
Off in the dunes somewhere, I could hear
Him talking to his self, saying "What father among you, if his son
Asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent,
Or if he asks for an egg,
                                                           will give him a scorpion?"
"How many is that?" I said, because along
With everything else I discovered I had lost the gift of sight.
"Ninety-eight," he said.
"I thought so," I said, and Iaid back in the sand and started splashing
                                       it all over me, trying to break down the fever.
"You ort to see yourself," he said, "I seen some poor 
Losers in my time, but you take
                       the cake.
"Go on," I said, "get it over with, you take
Some kind of pleasure out of torturing people, is that it?"
All of a sudden, the air grew soft and balmy, and a breeze lifted up from Buffalo Creek,
And the sky, 
the sky 
Was so clean you could see way off to the bell tower at the university.
I stood up, and instead of feeling weak, I knew right off that inside
My body I was fourteen years old again, restless
And crazy, and so full of life it took my breath away. "Here we go," he said, "Ninety-
But as he went into that flat-footed
Wide-legged crouch
Of his, a jump-jet from Cherry Point came looming in over the pines, stopping almost
                               on top of us and twirling 
Around in a slow circle, so close overhead you could see the pilot, 
Glancing around inside like somebody that wanted to ask which way
was Charlotte.
The ball banged
Off the rim and caroomed into a lilac bush next to the Fellowship
 Hall, and no sooner did it happen than the Harrier lifted
Away again,
Wobbling off toward Albemarle with little puffs of smoke like something
                                                       from a Buck Rogers serial.
"Cheater," the shooter said, "anything I hate, it is a low-life cheat."
"Hey now lissen," I said, "I didn't have anything to do with that, that was 
the U. S. Marines."
"Liar!" he screamed, and he raised
His arms and called forth the 1812 Overture and serpents twining
                                               round my legs and whirling grackles
To peck at my privates. But it was all just a shuck
And he knew it, and when he saw I wasn't going to beg, he put a halt
To it right quick, and stumbled over
                               to the sidelines 
And sat down with his head on his arms. "Go on," he said, "I'm a man
Of my word, ask your stupid question."
"Well," I said, "there is one thing that always 
Bothered me a little bit and it's what happened there on Golgotha, if it isn't too painful
                         for you to talk about."
"No, no," he said, "that is my favorite part."
"Kay," I said, "thing is, if you were trying to die for our sins, how come you couldn't pick
                               something meaner
Than hanging on the cross?"
"You think that wasn't hell?" he said. "You just name me something worse."
"What about," I said, "a minié ball in your guts and you go down
At Gettysburg and you lay there for seventeen
                                                       hours before you give up? What
About you just been born and your mama throws
You in a dumpster with the
Wrapped around you and the snow falling in your face and you aint even got a name?
What about
You are the prettiest girl in your class and you come 
                                                               down with polio just
When they come up with a cure and you flop
Around for twenty-three years more dying every day of your miserable life? What
About you're trying to shoe your favorite mare and
                               she up and kicks your brain in on
The left side and you have to have somebody thereafter to change
Your diapers
Three times a day and wipe the drool off your face? And what
About, what say you
Get sentenced to 
Five years in Central Prison and on the very morning
You're supposed to be released, five of them that hate you and revile you and say
all manner of things against you
Manage finally to lock you up in the shower and butt-fuck you over and over not
Just with their
Dicks but with fists, with bottles, with sticks, and they leave
You with your teeth smashed out on
                                             the tiles
And your arms broke
                                       and you get infected and die from your own
Shit because this is a Friday
And the doctor don't even come around till Monday."
"Was that last one you?" the shooter said.
"None of your beeswax," I said, but the tears were going slow-motion
                       down my cheeks and some things it don't take a fortune
Teller to guess
What the truth is. "I thought so," he said.
"I'm terribly sorry what happened, but don't everybody think that their life 
Is the worst one of all? Where is the wise man? Where 
Is the scribe? The Jews demand signs
And the Greeks seek wisdom, but the foolishness of God is stronger than men."
"Is that your answer?" I said. "What kind of damn 
Fool answer do you call that?" He shrugged and pulled his sweatshirt back
On and gave out with a kind of loopy grin. "Let him who boasts,"
   he said, 
Boast of the Lord."
And he picked up the ball one last time and lobbed
In a three pointer from thirty feet out. "Drop around again sometime," 
he said, "we'll go a little one on one."
But he knew better
And so did I: what was the use? So I unbuttoned my shirt and let loose my wings
And they came unfolded like a pair of crossed 
flags, pinions
Pumping to vault me on high
                               way out past the eaves of heaven, back over
Yonder to Harris Street, where the angels and the serpents walk 
hand in hand
And the Sons of Man never have to pick apples 
Or eat humble pie 
And the unbaptized babies have a place to go home to when they die.

Second Place
Inside Out
by Laurel Dodge
The Writer's Block

July stumbles toward me in the dark, 
a drunk bumming a light I don't have. 
Anxious firecrackers interrupt a mutt 
howling at the moon's smudge.  Tentative 
fireflies flash, pretend they're stars. 
Two glasses of wine and I'm expansive 
as this humid night; sipping a third, I spread 
wider, expose my dead and dying light to the sky. 

Third Place
A Secret and Interior Art
by JB Mulligan

"A secret and interior art"
(Pope John Paul II, describing monastic life)

The contemplations of the rose
and weed are firmly rooted in
the only ground that either knows.
Each trembles in an equal wind;
the grip of fervor never shows,
the anchor set beneath the skin
of earth, external calm a part
of secret and interior art.

The hawk and pigeon each know air
as ground and wave, as waterfall
and rapid, and the battle there
is appetite unbound, for all
an intimate transaction where
the gain and loss are visible,
a clearly posted end and start,
not secret and interior art.

But one alone is seen as split,
sent to wander under the sky
meat and spirit separate
though chained, so neither can deny
the other's law:  arrested, it
gives no excuse, no alibi,
but must confess.  Can this impart
a secret and interior art?

"Can silence find a harmony
to match the song from sphere to sphere?
If blindness is the eye to see
that sky beneath the soil is clear,
then utterance of truth can be
the word beyond the mouth or ear
and echoes flood the hollow heart
in secret and interior art.

Honorable Mention
The Beats Are in the ICU and
They Can't Bum a Shock

by What the Cat Drug In

The beats are disintegrating while reentering the atmosphere,
their orbits decaying like frozen meat in a power failure, 

a fractured phonology spraying radioactive cracker crumbs 
over shuddering parents, pederastic profs, poets in training pants,

as spokespeople lips synch their own thoughts, tracing the erasing
the path on a fatalistic horizon, praying for an end with general relief.

The beats are flaking off like dry skin drifting away from an itchy beard.
They parachute down to fill the buck book box at the used book store.

Their black and white selves, each with a cigarette surgically attached,
hover there like Hamlet’s dad haunting the stage’s edges, knowing 

their last scenes are done and when they take off the costume and lose 
the paint there won’t be shit left. All the New York coffee bar sitting,

typewriter abusing, and amphetamine free associating into bugger all.
The beats are standing at the lecterns, arms spread in that universal

gesture of what the fuck don’t you get that I am Christ baby pose, 
while they threaten to crumble, like acid-soaked advertising drenched in sun. 

No well-meaning religion will ever conjure them back into a piece of true cross. 
The beats are just bouncing away, tap tap tap tap, like crap from a dropped box

of jujubes on the sinful floor of some forgotten pornographic movie palace.
The beats are tumbling to the ground in violent slo mo like rice at a wedding

everyone knows is heading straight to divorce, the legions of lawyers counting
every grain that’s falling to the ground, estimating their fading values.

The beats are collapsing inwardly, like pumpkins in the happy compost pile,
waiting for any damn Godot they can get, instead of this urban will-o-wisp. 

The beats are dragging to the sag wagon, falling like stalled erections 
that didn’t meet the pace when face to face with the wet, warm, desired place.

The beats are evaporating like shallow puddles on a sad and artificial lot,
like the rings of wet cups receding from imperfect circles of unfinished business.

The beats are all of this, and less, and ever more available 
in gilt subscriber editions of an echoing nothingness.

Honorable Mention
The Waste Land
Orson Welles

by Christopher T. George
Melic Roundtable


Hollywood is the cruelest place, breeding
anorexia in the brightest starlets, mixing
money and desire, stirring
dull talent with sharp aspirations.
Citizen Kane kept me sober, covering
Hearst's yellow journalism in black and white.
(Critics wondered if the film portrayed Hearst's ego
or mine.) My Ambersons were not merely magnificent,
they were sublime! To the merry sound of a zither,
on Vienna's giant ferris wheel, I said,
"In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias,
they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed,
but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci
and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love--
they had 500 years of democracy and peace,
and what did they produce?
The cuckoo clock."
I was on top back then as Harry Lime,
the world at my feet.

I loved funfairs, the crazy house
in The Lady From Shanghai,
the bisected bodies, the torsos
torn in pieces, the hall of mirrors. I loved magic,
I sawed a woman in half in a circus tent
on Cahuenga Boulevard. People said
I was like a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing.
As Othello, I almost throttled Desdemona for real.
When I left Hollywood in a hurry,
I forgot my fake noses
--I had them airmailed.
How I hated my small upturned nose.

"Wotzit anent Orson Welles?
Behind the cloak of his genius,
the hypnotic charm of his smile,
he nurtures a hidden madness,
which fanned by the flames of desire,
drives him to live his greatest sin."

You gave me the sled years ago;
I called it "Rosebud."
When I came back late from the studio,
you were drunk from high balls; you'd been seeing
someone else
--I smelled his aftershave in the bedroom;
knowing your infidelity, I was neither forgiving nor human,
you looked into the heart of evil,
my fists, the silence.
I said, "All women are dumb,
some dumber than others."

O Lady from Shanghai, you who were once
my wife--
I sawed you in half in the circus tent on Cahuenga
until Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Studios, put a stop to
--those studio execs always tried to put a stop to my
best pranks,
so I used volunteers, Johnny Carson, Marlene Dietrich.
Marlene and I recreated the trick in Follow the Boys.
I called my evil side, "Crazy Welles. . . Imperial Welles."

Unreal City
under the brown fog of an LA dawn,
a crowd flowed down Sunset, so many,
I had not thought the movies had undone so many.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying "Cotton!
You who were with me in Kane, in The Third Man!
The Magnificent Ambersons! Have we aged so soon?
Are our careers over so soon? Are we forgotten so soon?"


The chair I sat in, the burnished throne in Xanadu,
the gigantic shadows cast by a silver candelabra,
the table laid in profusion of sweetmeats.
Eat my darling! Eat! This sustenance is not poisoned
though paid for by ill-gotten gains.
The rise of Kane, barbarous king
in the democratic province
chasing the lucre that all the world pursues.

"She was one of those
black-haired girls,
skin as white as Carrara marble.
I had to rape her offstage.
I came on unbuttoned, dishevelled,
Having had my way with her."

O O O O that Eliotian Rag--
Under the Bam
Under the Boo
Under the Bamboo Tree 

"So what if he dresses in drag,
as long as he do it
when I'm not around?
So intelligent, so outre, so innovative!"

"I disliked him at first sight.
He wore a toupee, so obvious,
flat and yellow, not fitting close.
There is something phoney
about a man who won't accept baldness gracefully." 

And here in
Xanadu we shall play a game of chess,
waiting for the knock upon the door to boom down
the long hall.
The studio execs never call, never call, never call


Unreal City
under the brown fog of an LA noon
Mr. Goldwyn, the Hollywood mogul,
unshaven, with a pocket full of celluloid
With a wink and cufflinks of human teeth,
asks me in demotic Yiddish
to luncheon at the studio
followed by a month at Cannes.

The Hudson sweats
oil and tar
the barges drift
with the turning tide
a Commie sails
to leeward, swings on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
drifting logs
down past Ellis Island
past Lady Liberty's Torch.
Way late! Way late!
Way late! I weigh so!

Elizabeth and Orson
parked by the roadside
a Mercury coupe
scarlet and gold
wire wheels
"Moonlight Serenade"
on the radio
I sawed a woman in half
on Cahuenga Boulevard.
Way late! way late!
Way late! I weigh so!

"Her feet were at Long Beach, and her heart
under her feet. After the event
I wept. I promised "a new start."
Here in Hollywood
can connect
Nothing with nothing.
Star Faithful
Elizabeth Short
The Black Dahlia
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
Ooh la la 

To Babylon then I came
to Xanadu to Xanadu
a sled is burning
burning burning burning
O Lord thou pluckest me away from life


Star Faithful, a long day's dead,
forgot the cry of gulls, the foghorns of the ocean liners.
A current under sea
washed her pale skin in whispers. As she rose and fell
she passed the stages of her age and youth,
the nights in Long Island speakeasies, Manhattan hotels,
O you who turn the steering wheel and drive west
to Hollywood, consider Star, who was once as pert as


After the torchlight red on sweaty faces of the extras,
after the nights in the Florentine Gardens,
the smoke of Marlboros and Lucky Strikes
the packages that arrived in the mail
with cut-out letters.

The wind had risen again.
It came icily off the Danube
and whipped up the snow in the tiny square.
Harry Lime sat sipping ersatz coffee in the cafe.
He wasn't dead but he wasn't alive either.
In the corner, the telephone was ringing ringing ringing.

D. W. Griffiths' Hollywood
Falling towers
Jerusalem Rome Athens
Vienna London Los Angeles

At Maxim's, a couple were dancing gloomily.
At Chez Victor's, the heating had failed,
couples huddled in their overcoats.
Martins thought of the girl in Amsterdam,
the one in Dublin, the one in Hollywood,
he thought of Harry Lime,
dead Harry Lime, the racketeer
who made his money off children dying of meningitis.

At three in the morning,
Martins climbed the stairs to Anna's room.
She was in her pink dressing gown.
On the rumpled bed lay the script.
He said, "Harry was in a racket,
a bad racket, he was no good at all."
They embraced.

In the winter night, the thunder spoke over Vienna,
out of the ice clouds, the snow.
The giant ferris wheel swayed in the wind.
Then spoke the thunder: What have you given? 
What have you taken?


August 2002
Judge Christine Reed

First Place
by Brett Hursey

The first day she spends
alone at my house
I kiss her goodbye at the door,
climb into my car and think
about the Lost Colony --

the abandoned,
alone-on-your-birthday feeling
that always comes from loss ­-

the way Jamestown
lay like an unmated sock
in the Tidewater woods --
colonists trading woolen coats
for Croatan beads and buckskins,

or abducted by aliens
eager to learn the secrets
of cross-stitch and butter-churns ­-

the same aliens
who probably observe
with wonder the way
she systematically sorts through
all my possessions --
bravely spelunks under the kitchen sink,
and carefully catalogs the contents
of my medicine cabinet.

Working her way up
to photo albums and unpacked boxes
in the back of my bedroom closet,

she boldly presses forth
into my wildest bachelor regions,
blazing a trail through
an un-ironed, khaki forest

until she finally stumbles upon
Virginia Dare and the rest of the colonists
huddling around a campfire
cobbled from old love letters
and baseball cards.

Second Place
Scene At Ithaca
by T. Birch
The Critical Poet


Alone at the loom,

she has no helpful attendants

dressed in bright colored fabrics,  

no voices chirping

sweet, utter nonsense.  

Only a loom, battered and shining

with the oil from her hands,

and the smell of raw wool

that is constantly present.  


Each day, she weaves the threads,

her beautiful reds, the rib ache of her blues

and her purples, gold, silver, and ochre,  

and the rust brown that comes

from small cuts on her fingers.  


Each night, as colors fade in the torchlight,

she devastates her handiwork  

with meticulous care, reassembles the wool

into skeins for her morning’s work. 


She prays to the gods at sunrise

to stop the weaving,

shatter the loom, burn its wood,

send the room up in the flames,

allow her to dance circling the heat

of its yellows and oranges

and the gray ashes before her,  

feeding the fire's insatiable appetite, 

burning her reason,

pungent as incense.  


At sunset she pleads again

for the sweet paralysis of apathy,

to let her creation evolve out of its misery.

To say: I am finished. To say: It is done.

To shout to the hangers on,

the myriad drunken men: 

Here's the damned tapestry!


The gods do not answer (when have they ever?)

and she is compelled to follow their litany,  

a slave to a plot

to make her their sacrifice.  


She imagines the poet’s voice, 

the tale teller¹s eyes looking at empty space,

wonders why he takes delight

in her monotony? 

Over and under,  

under and through, day

after night after day

the same light, 

the same pinpricks of stars

in the night mocking her.  


It is not the husband she wants -

husbands are failures.  

And she cannot remember him

even to fantasize, even in the poet’s mind  

he is dead to her, dead as the dried husk of her sex,

her menopausal seizures, 

dead as leaves on the olive trees

in winter’s cold atmosphere, 

dead as her breasts

that point to her stone floor. 


In her deepest thought, discovered over and over,  

she dreams

of her son as her savior. 

The warmth of a boy’s skin,

the curve of his hips in her hands,

his face hairless and smooth without razors,

the sweet odor of breath when he speaks, his eyes, the pout

of his lips, his kiss on her shoulder.  

These are her treasures.  


A son is all to a mother,

dependent and rescuer.  

She wants him beside her

naked and pure, 

to bruise his flesh into hers,

drench herself in his lather. 

Wants to raise up a new king for the throne,

depose her absent deceiver;  

escape the shame of her nightly dementia. 


But this is impossible,

she knows her son

is no monster,  

it isn't the woman he wants,

only the myth of a mother.  

Merest boy, passively loyal, not the wolf

she desires,  

and she is their savior,

she barters for time, barters  

with suitors,

to save her own bastards.  


The poet is another man

to bargain with, another man

with a future  

where she is a stage prop,

a mere part of the chorus of praise for masculine sagas. 


She would 

be a killer, plot murders, hatch schemes

that billow in scarlet, dry into rust

in the dirt at her feet, 

coagulate as her choices. 


she waits to hear  


the birds sing the same songs each day,

the old dog moan in his sleep

each night the same,  

teeth stained and weak

unable to chew bones, unable to rest peacefully.  


It is madness, this

weaving, unweaving her tapestry.  

She curses her son, her name,

the old dog as it sleeps.  

Curses her odyssey.

Third Place
Impossible Grace
by T.E. Ballard
Wild Poetry

My neighbors are having a funeral,
firecrackers pop and boom. Laughter
reaches my window licks the frame.
It is strange to realize fire is pain.
Natives celebrate life with loss
and I think of the baby,
her tiny body thrown from a car like paper;
a bird of print floating down
to the road left behind.

She is fire, soft hiss of a match,
she is the tiny puppy on the grass,
the one bought for a sister who was driving
but who now sits, her hands reaching out
for wet puppy fur, tiny yelps of need.
I have heard of this before
buying life for someone who wants death,
pulling them back to earth.

A mother is in some hospital bed,
close to here, if she has a window, bends her neck
she will see light. My children are rope, two knots
that hold me down when nothing is left,
no choice but to swallow, continue on.
The mother and I are the same
and yet we’re not, she has entered a world
which haunts my sleep in shouts and dreams--
she is beyond loss.

People offer her strings of possibility,
she is young, they speak of stories
of women who grow from fire like trees
and I know this is what she fears. Life
without rope, and how
shadows and shapes are more real
than a daughter wrapped in tar,
a tiny figure of Grace flying away.

Honorable Mention
Some Chores I Gotta Get To
by Steve Sturdevant

Worms got to an edge
of the tomato patch.
I can see their shit,
holes in the leaves.

My son moving to New
York, for Christ’s sake.
At nineteen?
Wants to be a model?

Ten feet of drain gutter
hanging in front of this
window for weeks now,
since the ice storm.

His mother must have
filled his head with
that New York shit.
She’s never been there.

Got half a cord of larch
bucked up out back,
need another cord
before winter hits.

How to tell a nineteen
year old, a kid his age
in New York is sleek
leaf for tomato worms.

Too many plants to pick
bugs off every day.
Guess I¹ll have to spray.
Some years, you just have to.

Honorable Mention
by Tammy Peaden
The Sharpened Word

She takes the six-forty
everyday, a real zaftig mama
running register at the Slavic Grill;
slack tits and hair and broad, flat teeth
stick perpetually to cracked lips
like the biting aroma of onions and cabbages
sticks forever to her skin and

it floods the bus in sudden clarity,
passengers think of home, of sweet sausage
for supper and tired wives with tight asses,
angry husbands with hard hands and
nobody knows her name is Zinnia;
sour old maid but somebody's flower

and no one will guess
she takes the six-forty everyday
on a three-stop ride to see her daddy-man,
fat black butcher who strokes her heavy head,
kisses dry lips slick as they slap needy meat
together until their pores spit vinegar,
until the starving empty tastes onions, cabbages.

September 2002
Judge Christine Reed

First Place
kaintuck heaven
by Edward J. O'Brien

Banded by sawgrass and old, crusty willows,
the secret lies hidden at Jefferson's Pond,
where forged copper kettles spin wonders with sugar,
drip toxic nirvana in old Mason jars.

Stoked by a wood fire of hell-meat proportions,
Jefferson poked it with billows of iron.
At midnight, he tapped it, I took such a sweet sip
it foamed off my eyelids with kids of it's own.

Smooth on the fingertips, smooth on the barrel
rolls 'cross your native tongue, tightens your loins
metal on foreskin, it charms like a little
slug on a bottle, inchworming along.

Slathers of catfish still jump from the whirlpool
briskets with whiskers, cold, fresh from the pond
saute in butter and serve with a handful
of pan fried potatoes in parsley and lime.

All night elixir free-flowed from the bottle
and we were transported to regions beyond.
I dreamed of eggplant and lusted elusive
diaphanous maidens from all nearby farms.

Married by morning to Hayden Frock's daughter
a wise-made decision once I weighed the odds
Save me from bacchanal spent in one night of bliss;
save me from Winchester marital bonds.

Second Place
Crabbing on the Cheasapeake
by Tara A. Elliott
About Poetry

For Billy Collins, After "Fishing on the Susquehanna in July"

And so, I take you
crabbing on the Chesapeake in August-

Into the flat bottom boat,
the floor paint flaking old and gray;

Into the steady vibration of engine,
the diesel rising like broken wind against salted air;

Into the newborn scream of the gulls
which hover motionless above, as though attached by wire.

Into the heat of the sun, baking skin crisp,
until all you can smell is fresh sweat, old fish, cheap beer;

Until all you can see is the blueness of the shells
mounting, mounting in the tan bushel baskets,
the whiteness of the boat against the blue, blue sky,
the flat bottom rocking, rocking from side to side,
up one wave, down the other, into the early morning
wake of a thousand ghostly trout liners.

And there on the horizon where the sky greets the water,

you meet yourself

and know that always, always there will be this.

And in that moment, you turn to me,
grin with your cigarette pinned between your teeth,
and say

this is poetry.

Third Place
Trying To Break Out Of
Association Prison

by John Eivaz

Hortense watered my delirium
with her silk hose. Sudden and swift
I, the fetishist of late, appreciate
the dangle of heel, but not a mangle of rhyme.
Some other time.

Right now a lucky strike means
a near-perfect game, bowl a frame
with me, velocity of a dry run
will taunt you, your white shoulders shrug
a pale song. I sing along.

Wouldn't want you to be Veronica Lake,
I couldn't take the intrigue in your eye,
as if you were whispering the ugly truth
that war bonds a loose nation, that
voluptuous mystery is a dangle

of half of something as a big band
blows at 78 RPMs. O femme-fatale,
fast-forward through spastic rhymes
of smashing pins, in beer and Tabu,
with a poodle on every skirt. It couldn't hurt.

In the face of the enforced past
you of a time I can't dismember
are willing to sing along, those unassuming
bobbypins match your chocolate eyes,
a minor detail to savor the flavor of.

Hey Toots Sunshine Brianna-Brytnnii Rosie Riveter
it's your big palooka wavy gravy coming to take you
bowling again. We'll make it this time, Ronnie
and Donny and maybe Big Dick'll be there.
Love your hair, Hortense, and that cute poodle, Oodles.

Honorable Mention
*on Goya's El Quitasol

by Mitchell Metz
The Writer's Block

As a young man I learned to render
a reasonable facsimile of emotional landscape.
Over it I conducted my life.

Such were the demands of love
that I stroked pigment with mannered gesture

onto prepared canvas. Passion
became a study in shape and form, light and dark;

principle an iteration of found triangles
coyly contrived to invite audience

and consistent with the needs
of some artist holed up inside me

drinking tea. Then one sunny day
I spilled Emma onto the world

and that fragile, twiggy, half-
accidental thing

cried out in organic counterpoint
to the elaborate folds of smug.

She burped landscape up from flat
to fine focus, seized

my composition as her own
and informed it
beyond my practiced art.

Honorable Mention
by Caitlin Palo
About Poetry

I could see in the depths of her eyes
Thoughts too dark for words.
Images of other eyes, glazed over, encrusted with dirt
Causing her to tremble on the verge
Between understanding tears, and confused questions.
Wondering if the prison sealed with rain and small roots
Is really a prison at all,
Or if it is only a place where the man inside
Is no more a prisoner
Than the laughing white daisies are jailors.

She walks beside me,
Wide-eyed and silent.
Until we reach the sea
And I explain to her with my hands
That, like the sea birds with wings of air,
The light in her grandfather's eyes
Has flown towards the sun,
And their blue is now part of the sky.

Honorable Mention
Early Hours of Sky
by TE Ballard

Last night,
while you were sleeping,
stars hung like small children
on their father’s coat. I flew,
my collarbone pressed to glass,
a window bigger then my frame
and I believed for the first time,
allowed myself to let go.

Angels came,
ones who did not know my name
and there was no fear,
no need to pretend. Naked
on the 27th floor of some hotel,
I entered this world again.

Small and white,
silent without waking a lover
or demons who fall from me
like stone. I entered the world
with a single breath
and I remembered god,
eight days of wonder, creation.

I remembered
that before he began, god
cupped his hands together,
this old man who had never lived
called out-- I am, I am
and he was.

Last night, I did not wake you,
even though I knew
you'd understand--
an upside down sky, silver towers
of trees. I did not wake
but flew to you instead. 

October 2002
Judge Christine Reed

First Place
The Bike Ride
by C. Nolan DeWeese
The Writer's Block

Love begins as theory, like capitalism.

a. I rode my bike
b. (I don't have a bike)

to a little bar in Kipton with a Pabst sign on the window.

She was all shiny chrome and big honks, her wheels
used to suburban asphalt, not tree roots and potholes.

Wind sashayed with heat, cornfields melting to cacti,
the horizon repeating itself over the never ending equation of Ohio.

We woke on the bike path
a. where the landscape never seems to change
b. where the trees wrinkle from holding up the sky.

The path was wet with rain, but bike tears are only oil.

Caffeine and alcohol dripped off our frames
heavy as greasepaint. They burrowed into the ground.

It's ok to fall in love with a bike
just keep in mind that it will get stolen or rust.

a. This bike was my safari,
b. this path was the quicksand.

Wheels spin with water. I dreamed
wrenches and handlebars, trees dropping the sky.

In the morning
a. everything was pure with shine,
b. everything was clouded, sweat and mud.

a. We fell asleep on the bike path, trees buckling
under the weight of all those precious stars above.
b. We fell asleep like superstars
on the cigarette ash floor of a marginal hotel.

Hope knocks on the door
a. like room service,
b. like a hit man,
c. like the cops.

There was a fresh pot of coffee when we woke
above bottles filled with rainwater and bourbon.

I had a bike but no lock.
Still, the past tense hurts, as do most theories.

Second Place
Who's On First
or the Mystery of Harper Lee

by F.C. Black
The Writer's Block

Who savors the essence of infield grass,
relishes the random breeze of the swung bat.
Shadows crease the alley, crowds hush thin.
What sports a pissed mug, shuffles pontoon dogs,
puffed cheeks dribble brown. The battery marks time
with gentle lobs and signs no longer secret.
They meander. Who sits on the dusted bag,
thinks about how I Don’t Know , guardian
of the hot corner, gently pounds his glove
kept oiled all winter, rotating the shoved
ball perfectly in the pocket. The board
blares goose eggs, bleachers echo ennui,
a wave without beginning or end.
Tomorrow fingers the pill’s seam,
contemplates. Who tips his cap to Why
and Because in left and center.
Right remains a mystery. Could be
Miss Harper Lee for all we know, peppering
the opposition with innuendoes,
shyly graying under artificial light,
dedicating her next shoestring catch
to Mister Capote, who’s dead.

Third Place
Painting the SS America
by Carole Barley
Wild Poetry

I paint her like this, from a low angle, waterline;
she towers in cobalt and a potion of ultramarine
and vermillion;
devoured by darks,
dazzle-disappearing in light.
She glides towards me, I feint and play,
brushstrokes suggestive of a New York dockyard
past midnight.
She is there and not, dismissive of the tug
that braves the nearness of her bow,
she is here yet gone, ethereal and beribboned
in autumnal mist, funnels reflected red in
the deep and surge of pthalo blue, faint memory
of almost white where water, sliced , shows angst.

Born into turmoil, sleek lady greyhound of the Atlantic,
elegance and quiet power.
I am creating a sky without stars in my homage,
glint of floodlights, a full tide and the ever-open gates
of horizon.
My hands are marked with your colours,
involuntary stripe of pigment over cheek;
I create you again and again, art deco years ago
until now, as you sway imperceptibly in the reef
you chose to be your home.
Broken but unbowed, your port tilt of dying
Overflown by gulls,
overseen by the painter whose bones will rest
someday near your own.

Honorable Mention
five ways you dreamed the world would end
by Tripp Howell


with a traffic jam,
in an ellipse and not an exclamation,

every person on earth
trying to escape the facelessness

of a warm cloudy day in september,
sitting still with eyes searching

like treed prey or starving prostitutes
on deserted streets

until one driver leaves his wheel
and jumps off a bridge
to show everyone how it is done


a recall is issued on everyone
who is not you and they begin
disappearing one by one by one
until your loneliness swallows
the ocean, the land,
the last cloud
in the sky


you are put in charge of the committee
that oversees the constant survival of the planet,
you stay out too late celebrating and oversleep
on your first (and last) day on the job


some god with a gambling problem
puts it up in a game of poker,

feels good with three kings
until some creature with a woman's head

and a shark's body turns over
five aces and flashes a toothy grin


it's late summer, you're five years old again,
you're crunching leaves beneath your feet

waiting for your dad to get home from work
and tell you a story, show you a magic trick,

but he's in his car across town, sitting in traffic,
cursing, opening his car door, and stepping onto a bridge

Honorable Mention
Planter's Moon
by Ken Ashworth
The Writer's Block

I plant my feet in knee-high corn,
twist stalks like Krishna jerking
a top knot, toss all in the burn pile.

Now that drought has killed
any chance of harvest, the sky
stumbles in drunk with rain.

What fusarium won't wilt succumbs
to nematodes; being a planter
is enough to drive you insane.

Like the celery farmer next
county over who lost his wife
to root rot: years and years

of failed crop, sleeping in fields
with a shotgun to hold off the mice,
Pig Latin running through his brain-

He buried his children until
only their heads broke ground.
This is the time for turning under.

I cleave a worm with my spade,
watch its parts writhe and wonder
how the other half lives. 

November 2002
Judge Christine Reed

First Place
The Difference
by Laurie Byro
Melic Roundtable

Trees are talking again.
Hemlocks, elms, maples whispering
their sugar to me, their lullabies,
saying “Time to go.”

No surprise that he hears them, too-
insisting they compete with him for work,
telling me the hounds in the neighborhood
crouch outside our windows begging
for a drink.

I am alone with this, alone with these chattering
trees, these demons that call him to join them
in song, to dance to their fire.

Tonight, outside their circle, he dances barefoot.
I watch him strip down.
Elaine and I pretend to ignore it.
We hear the fall.

She wonders should we go to “Emergency.”
Blood pours down a face I kiss night after night.

“It looks worse than it is” I warn her,
wanting to scream “Emergency” for two years.

If this is a disease, why
do they meet in the basement of churches?
If the trees are whispering again, why
can’t the others hear them?

Listen,” I repeat, opening the window
to let in the settling autumn-
“Much worse….”

I walk around his body, make my way
to the stove, turn down the flame
dancing to its own tune.
I stir rapidly, hope
I can save the potatoes.

Second Place
by Lori Williams

She wants to rip her tongue out
slowly, with pliers or maybe
the sharp knife from her kitchen set
slicing down the layers to the first one,
before the unforgivable,

the skin of pink that licked
his father's dick with her eyes closed,
wishing she were somewhere else
but she was there and that night
a seed of fear was sown

in her womb, vodka-drenched
and salty. She tried to make it work
with yellow and teal borders for the nursery
that she did herself. She scrubbed her stomach
in the bath and hoped for a girl, olive like her,

nothing hanging between joy and despair. A boy
is what she had, and she loved him, kissed
his penis with open eyes - he was hers.
The tongue of seventeen years ago has flattened
and there is no plumping of it - he's gone away

and she is left with knives and pliers,
a limp mother's tongue,
wishes of death for dads and moms
and olive skinned children.
Forgive her.

Third Place
Slaying Philistines
by Jim Tilley

“When we are no longer children,
we are already dead.”
                              - Constantin Brancusi

Perhaps it’s a story of happenstance
that begins with a village carpenter
and ends with a master in his dusty atelier,

always the unschooled shepherd
who harbors no ambitions
to lead an army, but dreams
of a magical bird, the mythical Maiastra
lifting him to perch with her
on a boulder at the edge of space
where they’ll cajole a falcon’s wings to stillness
and wax them with the sun,

or perhaps it’s about a boy’s hunger
to mold a piece of goat cheese,
whittle branches into wands, massage shavings
between his thumb and fingers, rub toes
against a stream’s smooth stones,

for how else can you explain
an old man hunched over
a rhombic block of marble, carving
plainsong into crescendo, chiseling away
the husk, struggling
to liberate a creature’s spirit?

Honorable Mention
by Michael Workman
Salty Dreams

Behold the convenience of the sun.
In a desert inverted,
Some dropped glass eye of a lion,
Assuming everything about the cold
Intentions of dirt, beneath,
Mumbling conjurations to the tall star.

Desperate as children's arms, corn stalks
Stalk leaning towards blue moons
Or oceans or beasts or men
Or something so free and soggy and
Washed, or bubbling fiercely and strange
Like a baseball game or a naked
Woman's dress.

There's little can be done but
Roll my neck under the heavy
Drylights, feel like eggs hatching,
Promise myself that I'm no million
Fucking years old like a dog
Or a coal truck and not
On fire or golden or dreaming

Honorable Mention
Sugar Shift
by Tammy Peaden

They lived in the sin of a perpetual past,
three dim, heat-heavy rooms
encased them in the crumbling husk
of a brownstone on a forgotten side
of the city.

We ran suicide shifts down dead streets,
and some midnights found our pulsing
red and white outside their stoop,
spinning strobes slapping brick with
bright kisses.

He was the Phantom of the Opera, and
she was his Christine. She would rush us in,
blue eyes wet, wide in a thin plane.
Her scent reminded me of tabbouleh,
scallion sweet.

He was ancient, breath like smegma, face
like a leather mask. Cirrhosis of the liver ate
his body, drank his mind, accompanied by
strains of Wagner, low and unrelenting
drones of death.

While we worked, she hovered, a frail wasp
patting his brow, grasping his hands, humming.
I saw her hug herself, her saturate fingers
dripped panic down her back like slow,
crawling, sweat.

He was a wicked Raoul, hateful in his extremis.
He struck at her, called her a brainless zygote,
rotten whore. She gave him the radius of
her smile and crooned "Papa, papa,"
in dulcet tones.

We lifted him to the stretcher, stage direction,
take left; she cried when we strapped the
belts and clutched our sleeves with nervous
desperation. She made quiet, pleading noises
in a strange tongue.

They had been someone once,
He a producer of this, she an actress in that.
She had worn diaphanous gowns that clung
to her mons veneris, danced in hot abandon
for his pleasure.

We left her standing in the doorway on that
last night of our acquaintance, calling papa
in a pitiful litany that was at once beautiful
and sad, a picturesque recollection, another
shift on sugar hill. 

December 2002
Judge Susan De Witt

First Place
by Mustansir Dalvi
Desert Moon

Babu Genu Dagadphode shells peas,
dropping the husk in a radius about his feet.
Unconcerned by stares in the 8.39 to Belapur,
he thinks of his wife and picks another pod.
Babu loves his Sumati, and she him,
or so he hopes, but has never verified.

De-leafing a cauliflower,
pulling strings off French beans,
his homecoming flurries drive the train on.
Which gives him greater pleasure?
The soft Pok! of a pod,
peas exploding on his palm in green orgasm,
or uncovering a misshapen pearl, tiny,
succulent, that he tucks away in his mouth,
with a scarce thought for his Missus.
By the time he is home, Babu Genu

will deplete a third of his load,
ring his doorbell with green fingers,
and greet his wife with emerald teeth.
Sumati sees, but just the same she loves her Mishter
for his trivial traveling kindnesses.
She thinks he loves her too, but has never verified.

Second Place
semi-blank verse
couplet thing

by Jenni Russell
Wild Poetry

Downstairs the blister of popping bacon 
and toaster-spring prod sleepy feet from bed 
to hardwood. It's the trance of flared nostrils.
The soap stars never live this way, they wake
in business suits with pineapple slices
relished on bone china, daisies, and fresh
ground coffee served courtesy of Miguel,
the butler. Nikki Newman never wiped 
a snotty nose or toilet trained toddlers!
Her dawn unbuttons slowly, like a silk blouse,
not a cotton bathrobe. Varicose veins
and chapped lips don't exist, that's too mundane
for tales from Genoa City. Just once,
I wish she'd run out of toilet paper.

Third Place
The Other Life
by Jill Beck

Buckeyes blossomed. Clicks of crickets
through the manzanita campsites
sounded summers. By the lamplight
we found firewood in the thickets.

Sparks of campfires snapped and glittered
as if heaven's eyes were peeping;
spikes of sooty flames were leaping
and tired children teased and tittered.

Lights across the small creek flickered
as cars drove beside the water.
Peace prevailed; small sons and daughters
slept well, having fought and bickered.

In our tent, time seemed unhurried
as we, languid, lay and listened
to the night, the plunk of fish and
small nocturnal scritch and scurry.

Other times, I feared the night things:
snakes and spiders. He would zipper
fast our tent, he laughed, and gripped or
stroked my hand. Some summer eves bring

back those safe sun scented times,
when canvas kept the future out,
when what we had to think about
were ospreys nests, and wind in pines,
deep water holes and fishing lines,
damp bathing suits, and specked Trout.

Honorable Mention
Promise of August's Renewal
by Maryann Hazen Stearns
Wild Poetry

A brief glimpse of her in the market
the flash of recognition on her face
and the time finally came when I remembered

She deliberately turned away as if
I would hasten to strike up a crisp conversation
the tart apple of her eye her lips puckered tightly
on an ancient misunderstanding of the worst sort

her four-year-old son in my inexperienced care

that quiet summer day that after-nap changing
the warm drone of bees and katydids sifting
through the screen the fresh green ivy pattern
of white lazy quilt in the upstairs bedroom

cleaning gently his small boyness the tissue bits
that clung persistently to his meek damp skin
the ineffective powder lumps my exasperation
my tsking tongue the sigh of a whimper as I looked up
the tiny forehead creased below a wisp of blonde wavelet
my heart as it wrenched to stone
the terribly soft young voice whispering
the obviously rehearsed dialogue to say in such a situation

please don't touch my private place

my hand jerking back my lips which muttered incessantly
oh sweetie I'm sorry so sorry sorry hands shaking uncontrollably
as I tried to replace a clean diaper regardless
of tissue bits, piss or private parts the heart pounding blur
of that horrid afternoon until five o'clock pick-up and finally

the phone call next morning her curt voice which informed me
she'd no longer be needing my services the instantly dead
phone cradled in my limp hand before I'd had a chance

to explain the unexplainable
that no good parent would believe
the undeserved shame I felt
the anger at feeling defenseless

and then out of the blue they moved away

and time went on and on the memories and mysteries
the moment-to-moment minute-by-minute years until
her face turned away in the market today
and the face of a young blonde man at her side
turned and held my eye like a warm ripe peach
in a hot August orchard and smiled

Honorable Mention
Of Water and Fish
by Marie Eyre
The Critical Poet

My mother presses me,
from behind the closed bathroom door,
to fetch my father, somewhere in the yard.

She is pregnant and sick and water
spilled, from her, in the living room.
I am eleven; I am afraid;

I don't understand the water.

She's away for days in the hospital.
My father stays with her, and grandma
watches over my brothers and me.
I expect my mother will be back

soon. One afternoon, I come home
from school, and my father is crying;
my grandmother is crying, tomato
soup steams from bowls on the table.
We must eat and go back to school.

Grandma says, 'don't tell them yet,'
but my father tells us anyway. We sit
numb at our lunch; I hear my father
tell grandma that the baby died too -
that it looked like a fish;

I don't understand the fish.

And I hurt terrible, in a place
that is not made out of my body,

but I do what I'm told
and eat my soup.

Honorable Mention
by Tammy Peaden
Melic Roundtable

She is always Oletta,
ejected misconception
of a white trash traveling man,
trading bibles and bastards
at another highway diner
some thirty-odd ago and
now she works the same table
where mama bought
a good book and a good time;
serving eggs, pouring joe
for the good ol' boys who snigger
behind stained cups,
they snicker hey bright nigger;
high-yeller piece
with a white gal's face.
Their eyes finger her wet-suede skin,
curl themselves in umber coils
springing from her head;
her shoulders itch
as they watch the rounds
but she is still Oletta,
goes home nights,
room 12 at Queen's motel;
she signs the slips in pencil,
pays rent by the week because
things change, don't they;
maybe she'll pack it up,
move to London or Paris
where skin like wet suede
buys you benedict and latte
served on silver trays,
houseboys in black-tie
draw baths laced with Vouvray
and now the tub is full;
good ol' thoughts float,
shed layers below her breasts.
She thinks of traveling men,
sees faces without features
beneath her lids and wonders
where the names went; what happened
to the traces left behind?
She listens to a TV preacher
saving souls through the walls,
glory halleleujah, the refills
aren't really free. Time leaves
footprints in rings, dead trails
growing cold with the water
and she remembers
she is always Oletta.

Honorable Mention
Three Nails
by Joyce Davis
The Writer's Block

The children of survivors give themselves over
to righteous meddling, clear the rubble
and rehearse their creation myth:
how two timbers fell as a burning cross
and glowed until the sacristan found them
before collapsing into charcoal,
how a congregant salvaged three medieval nails
from the ruin, and wove their melted writhings
one around the other around the other
to form a second cross" a symbol, the Bishop said,
of the healing the new cathedral would dispense.

Only you invited the dead to the party
and forced the living to listen. Hot and cramped
(but not as cramped as they might have been)
the powerful sat through hours of argument
that would later cast a pall over the roast beef.
You'd be damned if you'd let them get to a point
without hearing from the unlucky witnesses:
the untouchable boys, the soldiers, the dispossessed
who wander your diminished no-man's-land.

One grows into the other, and every chord
is a trinity whose members crucify
the listener with tritone blows. The call and response
from plane to plane to plane
consecrates this space with tongues.
The key you hung from a tenor's sigh
opens your hope that the separate penitents
might earn forgiveness through execution.
The new nave is built of blood and air,
buttressed by the tension of these voices
straining to build new unity from the shards
of ritual, reaching across the trench that divides
the unthinkable from the unspoken.
Conflict is what we have, and out of it
you wove an envelope that wraps the broken
pieces in a fragile skin of peace.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
That one of our number built out of breath
a tabernacle that destroys and raises itself
again and again and again
to keep what is holy suspended before us. 

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