Judges Comments and Winning
Poem of the Year
While I Wrote My Dispatch: A Sequence
1. “While I Wrote My Dispatch: A Sequence” is a remarkable series of meditations that envelop the reader in sentiment without becoming sentimental. These short segments, narrated by a correspondent who has witnessed terrible things, rise from the “Front” at the back of a mind entangled with regret and beauty. They do not report in a traditional journalistic sense, instead they give rise to metaphor that is both cinematic and nostalgic.
- Peter Murphy
While I Wrote My Dispatch: A Sequence
by Robert Bohm
One Leg of a Return
for Janice Kijenski
As I leave: the old moment’s cathedrals,
a blue sky’s supposed perfection. What
was Krakow’s sorrow like, when
it still knew sorrow existed? And should it
matter to us, who haven’t ever
lived here? Like someone
digging clam flesh from the shell
with a little fork, something’s pulled
from your belly. The soul? In
another location a maple leaf flutters
into the distance, a disconnected thought
on the American asylum’s grounds
toward which the cops drive
the ostentatious rebel, 1964. Months later
while you play the piano
he hasn’t heard yet, the asylum’s flowerbed
of withered tulips mocks him, hiding
boy-like in the nurse’s shadow
while the world closes in
around him. Eventually he leaves the place
forever. That of course
was then and this is now. The silence
with itself – yesterday
in Srinagar in Kashmir, today
here, tomorrow near Brush Run. Moments from one zone
or another: a child’s legos with which I build
a history of mornings
just for you. They
are what I am. Feel
the light. Gentle
as your husband’s breath
upon your neck, day
The swan’s soaked belly, a secret, rises
from the pond in a chaos
of beating wings
deaf Ephram doesn’t hear. Trees, throwing
flakes of burning ash
into the air, die
as he watches. When I walk him home
to Janice’s, we pass the old papermill, one wall
a pile of rubble. The chill wind blows
harshly along the rowhouses. Ears
reddened by silence, his head aches.
Beyond Brush Run
Near the civil war cemetery, apples
rot in an orchard
not far from where doe and fawn bound
through cold rain into
the underbrush, hides soaked
with the impalpable. Having lost track
of Katherine and not knowing how many years ago
she died, I look
through the broken window at a corner
in which I once passed out, drunk. When
I came to, she asked
“Do you understand now?”
while spaghetti boiled in the kitchen
at the dirt road’s end where my father
would one day stand
in the doorway, hat
in hand, awed by the old woman
telling stories about the storm-swollen Arno
as the rain
then as on so many other days and now
beat roof and walls, drumming
but not loudly enough to drown out
the fox with fractured leg yelping
in the steel trap
in the silence between two words. Only today
do I finally understand the drenched soil’s
smell, as the earthworm’s bristles
penetrate bright dark. In another place
where she once showed me a dead swan
coated with oil, I sat
on a flat roof in my soldier’s uniform
and talked with her at dusk. That
was the year DeGaulle almost fell
from power and Brown’s leg was blown up
in a paddy north of a mangrove swamp
where the water’s silence
like a stranger’s held breath at the border
of a small town at night
was louder than the unknown’s prelude played on the piano
by Katherine’s friend’s daughter in a parlor
years later. The rain
froze that evening as she played, then turned
to snow, which by morning
anywhere you walked.
Dusk Mist Years Ago
Where the branch juts out from the maple trunk,
it disappears into mist.
The ducks on the pond, noise
Even I, walking here, am only
an absence’s motion, to anyone
more than a foot away.
Still, I thumbtack a message
for Katherine on the gatepost
of the horses’ grazing field.
What will it mean to her? She doesn’t know yet
that I’ve returned. Or from where.
In all respects, I’m the mother
words desire, except
I abandon them when they’re born.
Years later, their crying haunts me.
Tonight I listen to ducks that aren’t there.
You whispered once, “Tell me who you are.”
I answered, “I’m the message that I leave.”
Mist touches stone.
In the rain in the meadow
east of Katherine's house
the wind pummels aster stems.
Leaves matted on his boots
he trudges through soaked grass
down the slope.
Where the trail
cuts through the woods at dusk
Later, the wind dies down.
The rain stops.
No stars tonight. Or moon.
Miles from Indian Caverns
Under the fern,
tomorrow’s absence. A raven’s
the possible, lies on the path. Time: fat
and burrs stuck
to fur. From this
the wolf’s warm breath,
paw prints in snow. The mind, owning
no bow or gun, follows. Later
with one quick move, a flash
of animal fury, it kills its prey
with its teeth. Wind hisses
over creek rocks and through
dead weedstalks. Hearing
the unclear clearly, I find
beyond the thicket
a shack, falling apart, snow
on the floorboards, and sit
on a dented bucket, already
hungry for another meal.
As part of the return, I fed
the stallion an apple in the stable.
More than haysmell brought me there, brushing
my cheek against its mane.
Listening to the sound from the east meadow
of mist touching pond, I remembered
Srinagar, nothing else. A building burned
while a woman scratched for food in a stony place.
Thick as afterbirth, animal slobber dripped
from my hand. Later, the noise of ducks
flapping wings. No, that was different:
a year ago, one morning. I awoke. You weren’t there.
But she was. The woman grubbed for edibles
in the dirt inside my head. Behind her, an explosion
rocked the city. I could have saved her
but while I wrote my dispatch, she disappeared.
Where my fingers
end, the air
says nothing. An absence
of paradox begins. Oak
bark’s rough feel. Leaves rot
field stalks. Prophecy
is like this: a simplicity
so simple it’s
complex. Old Connelly,
name carved here in stone,
decayed long ago, but now
his rot rots also. A cold front
comes in. The wind
shrieks along Smith Mill Trail. What
clarity. The pond
turns to ice, the night
To Go Miles In
2. “To Go Miles In” is a poem which takes us into the choky air of a coal mine where the narrator is aware that the work he does is killing him. Even the light he needs to survive fails to provide. -Peter Murphy
To Go Miles In
by Charles Cornner
There is fortunate air tonight. Not a hint
of choking gas; canaries sing
that truth. Earth rumbles the vein,
creaks the locust poles that stand
between us and the world.
We cough black dust and prophesy.
Helmet lamps dim our sight
and narrow our view. At dark day's end,
the squeaking elevator lifts us to the night,
to dump our pickax and shovel in a box,
and walk to the company town to close
our eyes to still more black.
Study of Absences
3. “Study of Absences” is an understated sequence of three sections which tries to describe the stain of what is no longer there. “I admit, you bent my bones into new angles,” broke my heart, wholly.
Study of Absences
by Letitia Trent
The burglars slit open Christmas gifts,
impatient as children. Appliances were ripped
from the walls so hastily cords trailed
from sockets with their wiry guts
frayed out, plastic skins burst.
I inspect the squares of grime where things once stood,
the bugs and dust are collected like shadows
cut loose from their substance.
I hear my feet slapping solo
on the cold linoleum. Coffee settles in the press. I can't drink
it without you, the effort echoes old paths of movement; coffee
to table to kitchen, hands from cutlery to your forehead,
to your slick hairline, to your sticky eyelids. My body
must learn new directions, break the old
deference your absence renders unnecessary.
I set a glass of milk down, and though alone,
cross my ankles at the knee.
I admit, you bent my bones into new angles,
and I cannot stand to break
the bad knits
and take the itch
of the body stitching
them straight again.
As you walk away I watch you receding,
watch the dark nestle deep in your ribs and the dips
in your shoulders, watch it clamber over your back
and swathe your flesh like a sweater. Now
you are lost in the dark of distance.
All little movements echo the big ones.
Time is the shadow clawing up your ribcage,
it is static that blooms between us.