A SPLASH OF NAUGATUCK RIVER REVIEW
SOME POEMS FROM THE LAST CONTEST ISSUE
13th Annual Narrative Poetry Contest Winning Poems, judged by Destiny O. Birdsong:
First Prize: Kevin Neal
let the bones guide you let the bones guide you, he says. thick as cotton in his mouth. his tongue stuck in a way that he can’t make any good words. the little catfish flapping; a bird unaware it will never fly, Case knife blade slips into its soft yellow underbelly—guts pop like streamers. he extracts the mud vein careful as a surgeon. the hopeless gnats beset his painted hands with their brave or dumbest. this is the deal i made, with this god, shirt filthier than a sweatrag, cutoff jeans—stinking. he always stinks real good in the heat. get a good sharp knife, he says, and let the bones guide you. the cicadas get going now, cycling like mowers, you can feel them celebrating the kills we’ve made. the good meat floating in a pail of saltwater. a mourning dove on a wire in the distance, praising us with its hollow throat. the piles of discards swarming—halfway to rot. i thread my catfish off the stringer. in all this, something sincere; its eyes hold the glint of knowing death is close, the red prick hole on its mouth from my hook already closing, the sudden stillness when i lop off its ventral. and our surprise, even though we know it coming, of its pink flesh blooming in the sun.
Second Prize: Joanne Epp
After Work Liese Pauls Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1935 That’s me, there in the middle, second row from the back. These are all the girls who come on Thursdays, our half-day off. We have our little Bibelstunde and we sing. Then coffee and fresh Zwieback, our talk relaxing in the familiar German: Tina says her cold is better, Nettie’s sister has another baby; Anna—as always— says what a nuisance her mistress’ youngest boy is (not like the big boy, he’s such a good one). And I tell about my employer, the doctor, how he took me to his office last Thursday— no regard for my day off, what could he want with me? The girls go quiet then, look down, stop stirring coffee. Until I say, the eye doctor, that’s where he took me. To get glasses. I explain, it must have been his wife who saw me darning socks, bending close over my stitches. The girls still say nothing. They’re speechless as I was— fumbling over what to say, how to answer this kindness. Translations: Bibelstunde: Bible study (literally, “Bible hour”) Zwieback: small double-decker buns made from a rich yeast dough
Third Prize: Janet MacFadyen
Petitions from the Alzheimer's Ward People wander the lit hallways muttering in stocking feet, asking for the way out. They pad into the room where I sit and doze and sing to my dying mother — pick up the bed stands, wring curtains hazed in unnatural light, their past lives welling up like a murmuration of starlings. I have heard them at the edges of sleep, milling about like customers cordoned off at a bank. Their voices jolt me awake, a whine in my ears of mosquitoes asking for money or blood. One entreats me for the passcode, one weeps inconsolably in the corridor, one strangles me with my own purse until I cough up some ancient tale in a guttural tongue. Now there is no unhearing these messengers. O my bewilderers, my flesh and blood, I sing the only songs I have, shielding my eyes with my hands, I the sleeper, I the usherer, I the water-minder. Under my watch the hive has lost its coherence, the fine root networks of the elders tear from the earth, compassion broken, hearing broken, accountability broken, as we drift in the eddies of deep forgetting. How can I reach the old mother who yet still lives, out there on the shoals of a sea, calling, calling her children home at this late hour to teach them how to grieve?