A SPLASH OF NAUGATUCK RIVER REVIEW
SOME POEMS FROM THE CURRENT ISSUE
Fourth Annual Narrative Poetry Contest Winning Poems, judged by Pamela Uschuk:
First Prize Winner – Diane Lockward
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
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.