2017 Fall Contest Winner: 3rd Place, New Poets

I Went to School Today


Salvador Dali was instructing, painfully, the concept

of relativity. “Everything is relative to something else…

this chair is relative to that corner. And the corner is relative

to the clock on the wall as well as the room down that hall.”

Einstein was sweeping up after the children’s lunch in the cafeteria.

The chemistry lab had been converted to a plant for recycled bubble

gum, so the kids could learn the importance of making tires.

I asked Dali something about black holes, and he told me,

“You must paint something like that with white; break it

into parts first.” So I drove home, prepared to apply

my new-found knowledge to the canvas of my life

in the suburbs. I parked the sedan in the driveway

and looked heavenward.


I see the sky is the color of your eyes before it rains but

after you’ve been crying. You meet me at the door, your heart

dripping on your sleeve. Furtively you look out the door, then

beckon me in. Your cheeks match the color of the rose I’m holding

out for you. I step over the threshold of a dream into my life. Inside,

the walls are the color of a peeled hardboiled egg, where the

yolk appears yellow just under the surface. I reach into my

pocket and find the ticket from the movie we saw last night—

now just a stub of time.


Judge’s comments

I thought a lot about meaning as I read these poems. I thought about how language creates meaning, how humans create language, and how, despite how frail the letters words are made of, how inadequate the sounds of words are to represent the wide world, still meaning is made by one person who makes marks on a paper and understood by another person who looks at those marks with her eyes. It was a pleasure to read every poem entered and respond to the images, sounds and intent of each one. “I Went to School Today” immediately unleashes meaning from its tether. The first line, and Salvador Dali is teaching relativity to a class of students. Later in the poem, the heart of the speaker’s lover drips on her sleeve—all imaginative language that opens the cloak of expectations and lets a wild nakedness out. That’s one way to create meaning!


James Merrill is a Salem poet who moved to Oregon to teach at Chemawa Indian School in 1999; he retired in 2014. He holds an MFA from the Naropa Institute (1992), where he received tutelage from Beat writers such as A. Ginsberg, G. Snyder, Wm. Burroughs. His most recent book is titled Blues Fall Down Like Rain, available from Amazon.

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