Tenth Annual Narrative Poetry Contest Winning Poems, judged by Allison Joseph:

First Prize: “Ode to the First Time I Wore a Dress & My Mother Did Not Flinch” by torrin a. greathouse


Ode to the First Time I Wore a Dress & My Mother Did Not Flinch     

My palm still recalls the shape, crushed

velvet’s soft-jagged pull that makes

my thin jaw ring, my teeth a row

of tiny bells, how it stained my skin’s

silhouette the color of a newborn

bruise, before first-puberty made

mayhem of my skin, unbraided

genes to watch their blueprint spill,

moth’s unfinished body from split

cocoon. In my mouth boyhood was a fawn,

stomach lined with nettle blooms, a dog

retching grass, bright red of a silver neck

-lace torn from my throat by a boy who bit

small moons from his fingernails

& told me all the ways he could break

my body & no one would even

notice. He left my mouth dry as velvet,

scrubbed from a buck’s bone crown, rouge

across a tree’s pale face & I loved him

for it. Wanted him to love me back like any-

thing other than a boy. Window. Perfect

pebble. Shooting star. Pen knife. Painted

pair of lips. My mother helped me tighten

the straps, lent me her smallest heels,

& watched me dance with a violent boy’s

gentle name on my tongue. I can’t

imagine how both of them will see this

velvet slip as nothing more than tender

skin to be shed bloody from a boy

to make from him a man.




Second Prize: “Skeleton in the Bittersweet” by Scott T. Hutchison

Skeleton in the Bittersweet

He can’t be that old—evidence of rodent gnaw
and peck along the hardened bones–but he’s mostly there,
hung with the tatter of decaying clothes. He’s centered
in a sitting position atop a deep woods stone wall, his back against
hundred-year-old hickory—bittersweet vines
twist around arms, torso, legs, green glossy leaves
laughing through the teeth. I’m familiar with this ancient invader:
superior in adaptation, bullying a wide variety of environments
and weathers, pushing away all competitors, both the innocent
and the fierce. Its name has been cursed for centuries. People try
to cut and chop and burn and spray—but animals
and birds love the yellow pods, the red seeds,
eating and dispersing a glorious climbing poison
with deep immutable roots stretching all across the world.
Winding its way around this old boy. I try to see what he saw:
a hardscrabble mountaintop peeking over the tree line. Vernal creek
in light cascade. Honeysuckle, fox grapes, red-hearted cedar,
the lichen-crumble of granite walls humans carefully stacked
into boundaries. I will surely find my way back and tell someone–
but for now, sitting beside him and taking his hand crystallizes our moment
in this quiet pause and sanctuary. The acrid ways of the race
teem far away–time forgets us for a brittle while—as the bittersweet
flowers bloom, brushing greenly against my cheek; a chipmunk
dispenses with fear and advances, sits up, joining us
in waning sunlight and softening shadow,
surrounded by the chuckling battle-cries of crows
dark-winging in, knowing and eyeing the scene.




Third Prize: “A History of Marriage” by Samuel Piccone


A History of Marriage

               Real genuine marriage can only be found among birds.

                                                                                          -Alfred Edmund Brehm

When I was twelve, I killed a sparrow with a pellet gun. It fell from a fencepost into the creek the way a brick breaks a window and disappears into void. My father told me to climb trees until I found the empty nest—good tinder for pit fires. He said it would burn hotter than gasoline and light up the entire meadow; a man could see five miles in front of him with those flames.


There are no songbirds with bright plumage; a voice can be enough to attract and keep a mate. But should the female disappear in the night, the male will pluck his feathers down to the barbs and quit singing altogether, as if hoping to become a different kind of animal. Sometimes the trees can go silent for weeks. Ornithologists call this the period of helplessness.


My mother took off for good but I kept listening for her voice as my father sent his empty bottles flying into the rifling bluestem. I heard the whine of nestlings over the droning tips of the fire, and that’s when he snatched the gun from my hands, started firing into the cottonwood grove. Again and again, the cock and pull, unable to silence the awful sound hollow makes.








2 thoughts on “Poems

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

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