2021 Spring Contest Winning Poems for the Theme Category: Emergence
Judge – Rachel Barton
First Place: “Because You Asked” by Michael Hanner
Death is the return to the place we came from. Some say
it looks a lot like McDonald, Goshen or East of Eden.
I got here via my parents’ assault on the nothingness I was.
I got here on a bus from Ely, Minnesota. Never Gretchen.
I got here in a wet dream, a cavalcade of the disobeying.
I got here following Ursa in the sky. Gretchen is thinking,
“How did I get here?” I got here from the labyrinth,
through the French doors into the haze, the hazard.
From the foothills of the Andes, a thousand miles past
landlocked Mendoza, Buenos Aires waits dreaming
her chocolate eyes, her name thin as an ace. A doxology
is towed behind the bus. Remember the bus? (Ely)
So close. Edward Weston came by to shoot some nudes,
but Gretchen and her curves were wandering in the yucca.
Then the explaining, fiddling with the pantographs,
collecting newspapers for the war effort, much forgotten.
Perhaps it was reckless to pass the warning signs,
but no one spoke Magyar. We were caught in a cat’s cradle.
The seance is breakfast on the Twentieth Century Limited.
It’s an October lost in the Truman administration,
in the dining car there was salt and pepper. In the kitchen
tarragon, chervel and thyme. I see now how I got here.
I got here on a Greek ferry. Turn at the shabby maze,
(you could say, labyrinth, cock’s comb or Bathsheba.)
I kept coming back to the beginning; each time
the beginning was older, a little more fretful, forgetful.
The woman with the long neck is dancing with Gretchen.
It was Christmas again, baked ham, Dylan Thomas
and a goddamned goose. Gretchen is touching her
or she is touching Gretchen. This conundrum followed them
through the coyote years. The wind blew out of Montana
like the wrath of god or someone very like her.
Still it was a good Christmas, a sticky Christmas.
A few new cigarette burns on the kitchen table.
Since the freeway was built, and that was fifty years ago,
nobody from out of town drives through McDonald.
Sharon told me I was holding it upside down. It was Lydia
with her cat and she asked, Who the hell is this Gretchen?
Judge’s Note: This poem is the speaker’s answer to “how I got here” in which he transcends geography and time, wandering back to one “start” and another, touching on a few notable characters—Mendoza, the mysterious Gretchen (and the woman with the long neck), Edward Weston, Truman, Dylan Thomas, and finally Sharon who seems to be the recipient of this journey’s accounting. The poem is made enjoyable by the fact of the speaker’s discovery as the journey progresses (“I see now how I got here.”) We are permitted to enter the poet’s interior domain with its collage of information and experience to witness a kind of sorting. Nothing especially linear here. It is the reader who pulls the thread to a semblance of continuity.
Poet’s Bio: Michael Hanner is an architect whose poems are found in Timberline Review, Nimrod, Cloudbank, Mudfish, Rhino, Southern Humanities Review, Gargoyle and others. He is the author of chapbooks: Palm Sunday and Avenida Uriburu. Recent books are October, 2015 and Adriatica, 2016. and a guidebook, Le Bugue, Black Périgord & Beyond as Forbisher Mandangle. He loves Toni Hanner plus ceramics, sharp scissors, Esterbrook pens, travel, gardening, irony, English croquet, French cooking, Argentine tango and photography.
Second Place: “Habitat” by Ursula McCabe
eastbound the road
gets straighter by the mile
a bubble of anticipation
in sync with
something out there
mountains are shadows
perched on horizon
dreams waiting to happen
sagebrush blooms on all sides
I hold my breath
and wait for the fluttering sound
a clean clear cooing note
followed by a whistling pop
it’s a male sage grouse
with snowy white chest
from dewy mist
the speckled brown hen
she steps daintily
she is ready to inspect
his chest inflates
at my feet a bitterroot
is starting to blossom pink
Judge’s Note: This poem is tight. The speaker invites us to join in, our own chests percolating, vehicle motor chugging like a heartbeat, the male grouse inflating his chest. This is a captured moment where the perceived lines of separation between human, animal, and environment are conflated. The effect makes me catch my breath.
Poet’s Bio: Ursula lives in Portland, Oregon and has been published in the Avocet, Piker Press and Oregon Poetry Association’s Pandemic Anthology.
Third Place: “1969 Woods Creek Road” by Joy McDowell
A beggar at the start of life.
Sinew glistens in sun and oil.
Leisure subtracted from death.
Unlucky numbers send
young men off to die.
Heat clamps down.
One-hundred degrees. A transistor
radio jabbers. News and pop music.
The horse on the hill behind the house
now a gelding. Too feisty with vinegar.
Trees beside the stucco farmhouse
peel, their madrone bark red and raw.
Napalm rains down, skin blisters, shedding.
Electric noise floods an arcane jungle war.
Depression-era parents discover divorce.
Nothing in the canyon feels harmless.
Seven bodies sleep in one place.
A greasy mill worker pesters
for carnal attention. Bull snakes crawl
through dry grass keeping rattlers away.
Kindling Is shoved into an ancient
wood cook stove. Eggs and coffee.
Oak trees tangled on the ridge. Gun fire
higher up the road. Blackberry vines and
poison oak. Acid rock promises.
In the dark, a porcupine eats
the heads off roses.
Clean cuts from sharp teeth.
Buzzards own the flawless blue sky.
Always something dead up in those hills.
The radio cuts out half-way through
the noon news. Paul Harvey’s voice
brings it back. The days drain away.
August. September. The well is going dry.
Lizards own the high front porch.
Dust sifts from shoes.
Stars promise another punishing day.
A baby boy turns two and receives a tricycle
to pedal away. Escape from battle, from
bloody hills, from being gone at twenty.
Judge’s Note: This poem collects impressions from a specific time in our history with Viet Nam overshadowing all. The use of short choppy sentences combined with a greater number of fragments solidifies the impressionistic intent. This poem leaves me with nothing but splinters of what was once regarded as whole. The poem is ambitious and does not flinch at the gritty details— “always something dead up in those hills.” Paul Harvey, acid rock promises, and being gone at twenty.
Poet’s Bio: Joy McDowell is an Oregon native. She graduated from the University of Oregon. Her writing workspace overlooks the McKenzie River. She is inspired by the persistence of the river.
Judge’s Bio: Rachel Barton is poet, editor, and writing coach. She is a member of the Calyx Editorial Collective, reads for Cloudbank Magazine, and edits her own Willawaw Journal. Her poems have been published in the Main Street Rag, Moon City Review, Mom Egg Review, the Oregon English Journal, Sin Fronteras, and several other journals. Find her chapbooks, Out of the Woods and Happiness Comes on her website, rachelbartonwriter.com.