Posted June 2, 2020.

2020 Spring Contest Winners: Poet’s Choice: 2nd Place Winner

Arachnidæa: Line Drawings

Stephen Pollock

I.

Extravagance at dawn  —

your finest threads are strung with pearls

and you, a brooch with a clasp.

Magnify the shiny spheres

to divine that each conceals

a miniature, an image

of struggling wings, of life undone.

Pass at the critical angle,

and they flash and snap in the sun.

II.

These haunts are hung haphazardly

with votive offerings, each sucked dry;

paper maché sarcophagi,

cruel chrysalis for moth or butterfly.

III.

Serial killer. 

Insecticide, the skill

in which you specialize.

Can we call it murder if nerves connect

not to brain but to canister, chain and gear,

if the dumb drive to survive directs

your every move?  Or is it fear

that fuels your addiction to others’ pain,

a numbness spreading through the vein

as you rehearse, again, this ritual play ¾

bind and consume in your quick, kinetic way.

IV.

A stickler for particulars,

you’re helpless to repel

the pull of perpendicular

the lure of parallel.

Do lines and circles insulate?

Can order keep at bay

the random drafts that propagate

contagion, death, decay?

The cords are taut.  You draw control

from patterns meant to thwart

unraveling, but the tension takes its toll

on the mental weft and warp.

V.

A concert in the round!

Divertimenti scored for eight short hands

will be played by the maestro

for adoring fans.

The fine fretwork glistens.

The strings tune and go still.

Once in motion,

you dazzle in the parts for pizzicato,

leap with ease over fourths and fifths,

scuttle up scales to a dizzying height

then plummet, by octaves, to the sublime.

All are amused, for a time.

The circle is crossed by chords,

point to counterpoint,

illusions of balance, of words.

Listen to the last mournful strains

murmuring a requiem for the days.

VI.

The hours molt and fall away;

the year grows late.

Your web’s worn watch face ticks in whispers

and you pray that you will hibernate but briefly

and somehow wake.

As if by grace, the breaths of winter

fog the panes,

leave no trace

of love

or joy

or even hate.

There are, in the end,

only the frayed strands of time,

the failing light

and you, splayed at the center,

condemned to wait.

Poet Bio

Stephen Pollock received the Rolfe Humphries Poetry Prize in his senior year at Amherst College. His poem “Syringe” was shortlisted for the 2018 Live Canon International Poetry Prize and was performed as part of the awards ceremony at the Greenwich Theatre in London. Subsequently, his poem “song for us” appeared in the Poeming Pigeon, and his poem “Steel Refineries — Gary, 1954” was published in Ink to Paper.

Judge’s Comments – Lynn Otto

Thank you to all who submitted poems. Reading them while practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I felt connected to humanity in all corners of Oregon and beyond. I was surprised to see that the three poems that rose to the top of the stack for me all made use of patterns of rhyme and rhythm. “Arachnidæa: Line Drawings” (each section plays with rhyme and rhythm a different way), poem feels like a carefully made gift, not some fussy frou-frou thing, but the result of a real craftsperson’s sensitivity to language and high regard for the reader. The poem’s form suits its subject, a close observation. These poems’ images are strong and memorable; and each poem felt consistent in quality from beginning to end.

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