Posted December 8, 2019.

2019 Fall Contest Winner: Traditional Form—Blank Verse, 3rd Place

Elegy for Hands

by Susan Morse

My hands are like a tree. Cut them open

Expose the rings. Take notice, I tell you!

Cupped upon my fingers, ten moons, each one

unique with its own spots, mapped with imprints

of this world, whole histories carved within.

My left hand the sluggard, unlearned—the right,

ambitious, pimp to my indiscretions.

In both my hands lives a whole city street:

the naysayers and doers, begging hands,

sad mimes juggling shadows upon the wall,

come hither hands with fingers traveling.

Like magicians my fingers talk, wag

tongues, harbor the stinging slights of others.

These are angry hands that scoff at good-byes,

sign in silence, wishing for a last kiss,

hands that feel coldness in an empty house,

recoil from the bitter breath of regrets.

In the brown bark of my hands, a parchment

of thin blue veins remembers broken nails

doing dirty work, howling blue midnight.

Prisons of caged fingers grasp at funnels

of air. I shudder, find these hands empty

at dawn, curled with sleepless fingers, cold weights.

My hands are bare trees. Hold them. Slice the roots.

Unfold the right, carrier of sorrows.

Raise pale moons, untangle bitter fibers.

In my left hand, plant your fragile, green shoots.

Judge’s comments

In this remarkable poem of extended metaphor, my sense is the meter is less underlying music than a guardrail to keep this frenetic voice from howling off into the darkness. That tension of seeing if the voice can be kept “in check” is a dramatic high-wire act. There’s a lively energy here and a sure confidence that the prosody will deliver the poem to its destination.

John Morrison

Poet bio

Susan Morse recently relocated from Maine to the Willamette Valley. She holds a Master’s degree in Literacy Education from the University of Maine, Orono, and completed a summer internship for the Maine Writers’ Project. She is a retired Language Arts teacher. Her first chapbook, In the Hush, was published by Finishing Line Press in May 2019. Individual poems have appeared in Cream City Review, The Mom Egg, and Willawaw Journal.

2 thoughts on “2019 Fall Contest Winner: Traditional Form—Blank Verse, 3rd Place

  1. I like the way this poem zooms from the small — finger tips — to the astronomical — moons, and the way it dances from left to right. Lots of energy grounded by the tree metaphor, which keeps returning.

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