Fourth Annual Narrative Poetry Contest Winning Poems, judged by Pamela Uschuk:

First Prize Winner – Diane Lockward

Original Sin

When Karen told my father I’d pulled off
my rabbit’s tail, he asked, Did you? And I
said, Yes, though in truth it was Karen

who’d grabbed the tail and tugged and tugged
until it came loose in her hand. My father
slapped me hard, then said I’d been cruel,

and asked why I’d done it. I confessed I didn’t
know and took the strap for Karen’s crime.
In the days and weeks that followed, I never

questioned or accused Karen, and she never
acknowledged what she’d done or apologized.
We did not speak of her lie, or mine.

One morning at summer’s end I found my rabbit
dead in her pen. Her sweet body, already stiff,
lay among the uneaten carrots of atonement,

and where the tail had been, a small red circle,
an accusing eye, reminded me of my deception.
I wondered then and wonder still why I took

the blame for hurting the pet I’d loved. I only know
that once Karen said I’d done it and my father
looked at me as if I had, I was guilty,

as guilty as those unbaptized babies
in Purgatory. I must have understood even then
that I’d been born bad and the only reason

I hadn’t yanked off my rabbit’s tail was because
Karen got it first. Some part of me, the part
already destined for Hell, had wanted

that soft talisman that promised luck, wanted it
in my own hand, and wished I’d moved faster.


Second Prize Winner – Doug Ramspeck

Idle Signs

He claims he is not a superstitious man, but when his
son began to stutter as he spoke, the words a cranking

engine not quite able to turn over, my neighbor
admitted imagining a primitive, formless shadow

drifting toward him in a dream, veiling the world as
an occultation. And if the mother blamed herself at times,

the father watched moonlight whispering after dark in
another voice, floating in a formalin of clouds. Or say

the black tongues of grackles at first light, singing out
of the dark stain of feathered chests. Or imagine a blue jay

feather falling into the river and floating there as an augury
or promise. The mother believes that her fragile nerves

are a shadow, the hours and days a discipline,
a wheel that no one invented, this breath of her son

that wants to be beauty but settles for shy repetition.
In my neighbor’s dream his house has its casement

windows kicked out, shards of glass pricking skin,
a red welling to a single earthly drop. And since his son

stutters each time he speaks, and since the birds in the field
call out in the language of idleness, carving secret

messages across an unforgiving sky, he loves his boy
the way we dream nightly of new worlds, the way light

at day’s end has its imperatives—or now their
son at dawn on the back porch in his pajamas,

offering peanuts to the swooping jays.


Third Prize Winner – Bianca Diaz

In an arid grumble, the fire digests
chair legs, stout branches,

jags of floorboards,
the occasional crushed can.

Above us floats the moon
we forgot existed.  Stars shine

like oily nickels.  Joe laughs
to himself.  I want to ask him

what it’s like to be a ruin.
Near the cooler, he’ll make eye contact

and call us kiddos.  This open yard
and gasping fire make me nervous

for the dogs, running and panting,
their tongues like live things—

steaming and swollen.  Beeno unfolds
a cribbage board the way a believer

opens a bible.  Bats rush in cursive
above the tree-line—I’m charmed.  How much

of love is putting a spell on someone?  This
northern existence pleats us together.

It is a delicate logic to hold onto.
The woods surrounding us are full

of frantic, whispering life; soft exhalations
from the foxes, raw-eyed mice tearing

through apple skins.  Joe lets the dogs
bow their heads into the cooler—

furious gulping as if they are trying
to realign their cells.  The moving firelight

makes valleys between their ribs.  Joe’s
philosophy is simple enough: road sodas,

a devotion to the Allman brothers,
cocaine & gutting deer as a platform

to the divine.  The dogs collapse beside me,
fall asleep for a while; they dream,

make little sounds—cries cornered
in their throats.  The blood-true reason

we gather out here is to be close to heat;
closer, even, than when we are enveloped

in fever.  After a time, the fire before us
loosens our parameter of skin;

matter becomes porous.  We are new
animals, bearing heat like another pelt.

Hours from now, the enchantment
will be gone.  The moon will lose pieces

of itself, embers will shroud this ground
like scar tissue.



One thought on “Poems

  1. Pingback: Diane Lockward Part II on Three by Five | Vicki Hudson

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