A SPLASH OF NAUGATUCK RIVER REVIEW
SOME POEMS FROM THE LAST CONTEST ISSUE
Eighth Annual Narrative Poetry Contest Winning Poems, judged by Tara Betts:
First Prize Winner – Destiny O. Birdsong
Heavy is the head
of the welfare queen.
Though my mama is the only one I really knew,
until she got the call from Atkins Elementary.
It would be mornings of waking at four. Walks
to work, most months in the dark, a baseball bat
for the dogs and who knows what else was lurking
around the overgrown tracks on 79th.
Long days on the cafeteria’s slimy floor.
Baker’s burns and swollen calves I would rub
with green alcohol. Old shoes I would re-
polish white, then white. Food stamps still.
And a case worker who said
she had a chip on her shoulder.
But even so, she shouted Hallelujah
as the receiver clanged against the base
Like a tambourine. Her gold tooth glittering its open-
faced corona, the ceiling fan with its missing blades
marking time, a rickety metronome
for our procession into a new life.
Except it wasn’t that new. Handed down like our
summer clothes. T-shirts emblazoned with the names
of other people’s vacations: White Sands.
Galveston Beach. When I was in eighth grade,
she quit without notice, spending mornings
watching “The A-Team” and doing my makeup;
mauve lipliner like she learned at a church seminar.
Stepping back to double-check her work, she’d say:
“I love it when a plan comes together.” Which didn’t
mean anything then. It would take years
to untangle each thorny detail from my scalp:
the manager’s coats she brought home, had me unstitch
some embroidered name from the breast pocket,
but never wore. My therapist would call it
a disorder. I’d do a similar thing
after remission and call it Sabbath:
look what the Lord hath wrought. My mother
would confess that any metal can poison
the blood. There’s always the threat of insurgence.
So many concessions for this kingdom. So many
crosses lined up like railroad ties.
Seems like somewhere besides my mama’s mouth
I’da found a crown.
Second Prize Winner – Kristi Carter
One orange streak of day
is resigned against the darkening sky.
In this moment, under rain, we cannot distinguish
weather from nightfall.
This is the same riddle
that has haunted me most of my life:
what should be routine and what should be sacrifice
mimic each other, painful to peel apart.
Soon we’ll sit in a room full of in-laws who take me
in spite of my feral body, close to the ground.
Favor despite uncertainty
is something you, beloved, call family. To learn this
in adulthood is like growing a new limb
because I fear the lesson will fill a hollow.
And I held like religion to my fear,
to the belief it will siphon my marrow so I can ascend
from any snare. As if isolation
preserves me in amber.
As if to tread on a vast grey sea
is a substitute for standing still.
At times, I still believe to take your hand
ensures I will sink.
A hawk glides to land in a field
as we navigate beneath this sky,
now more abyss than night.
We don’t know whether she descends to kill,
or to rest her own light skeleton.
Third Prize Winner – Howard Faerstein
Perhaps you had come by to speak of war,
of the women who suffer most from war,
of a terrorist’s mother,
& we drank a glass of soave
and talked of the concert
we heard in the noon hour
& you stepped to the window
when you thought you heard
& when I rose to join you,
oak, not fir from the back porch,
not pine from the trees out back
but a shard of red oak
from the living room floor,
met my flesh on an angle,
thrusting beneath my big toe
so deep it disappeared.
Barbed hook, slim harpoon,
thickness of beetle antenna,
Imagine pain caused by
almost nothing—by a splinter
that didn’t enter into my heel,
but the sole.
Or perhaps I was rubbing
the ears of the cat
sleeping atop the couch pillows
when a perfect sliver
of a speck of a fragment
broke off, penetrating
the calloused surface.
How quiet it became.
It’s the only way to describe it.