Ninth Annual Narrative Poetry Contest Winning Poems, judged by Kaveh Akbar:

First Prize: “Wisteria” by Gail Thomas

Thick trunk knotted around itself, a dozen rusted pipes struggle

to hold the weight. Opulent globes drip, a purple curtain

that rambles toward the house.  In its shadow

I posed with our first-born wrapped in white wool.

We poured our youth into this stone shell that tilts

over the road in a village tucked between

cornfields and the Kittatinny Ridge.  Vowing restoration

and authenticity after running water, electricity,

and heat, we plastered cracks in horsehair walls,

sanded plank floors, scraped decades of paper and paint, caulked

six-over-six window panes, mortared the chimney, shimmied

a claw foot tub up winding stairs.

And another baby came.


We dug up a cabinet buried in an outbuilding, cleaned it

with a toothbrush to uncover a painted tin ad for horse

medicine.  This we haggled over in the divorce.

At the general store gossips told of two maiden teachers

who lived in this house without plumbing,

created a fairy garden of random flowers

among the grass. One woman was seen on hands and knees

each week cutting the lawn with scissors.

At public auction, their goods on display,

I bid on a somber brown velvet quilt they may have slept

under. Years later a wistful fragrance draws

me back to find the vines sparsely

bloomed and running rampant.


Unshuttered and painted the wrong color, the house

lists closer to the road.  I want to peer into a deep

window to see the young mother who locked herself

out one night after choosing a truer skin. The future wandered

ahead, trailing sweet tendrils along stony ground

and yes, she followed.



Second Prize: “Dedicated to Neda and All Who Died” by Scott Beal



Dedicated to Neda and All Who Died           


Neda Agha-Soltan was one woman shot in the chest

for daring to step into Karegar street

on a day of raised voices

with her music teacher, who held her

and repeated her name as she bled,

one woman who happened to die

in light captured by cameras—for days

people watched her breath evaporate above,

her blood pool below, the coaxing of her music

teacher who couldn’t help her shape any of it into song,

the blast of the basiji bullet opening the coda

into silence, and closing it.

Her music teacher

having offered her comfort before so many eyes

would flee the country, as would a woman

misidentified, her photo published in newspapers

as the victim, and no ceremony was permitted,

men on motorcycles chased weeping cousins

from the funeral, her parents were forced

to remove the black mourning cloth

from their home, the grave desecrated,

tombstone stolen, funeral portrait

chiseled with bullets, no one in Tehran

was meant to remember her name—tell me,

what can any song do?

Imagine you’re banned

in your own country, a musician where the only word

allowed the sound that nourishes you is blasphemy,

and the penalty for blasphemy is death;

whole sonic densities spiral around your spine,

so new chords crunch each time you shift

in your seat, your fingers and lips

implacable. Kept inside,

the song can only die,

and since it’s the part of you most secret,

unwritten in the pious lie across your face

each time you greet a stranger in the street,

if the music inside you goes mute in the vise

of your clenched jaw, what’s left to kill?

What can’t singing do then

but save your life, even if

it can’t save anyone else’s?

When you dedicate the song

to Neda and all who died that June in the Tehran streets,

you know you’ve called down every stroke

of lightning, you’ve put your name to a target and said here

is where to burn the rest of me away, the shell

that settles underneath the song I raise

(or upload past the censors into the void)

into the sky—




Third Prize: “Lives of the Saints (Flatbush, ca. 1967)” by Aaron Fischer


Lives of the Saints (Flatbush, ca. 1967)    

At 15, I wanted to be a saint, an odd

preoccupation for a gawky, bookish Brooklyn Jew,

head full of Ginsberg, head full of glue,

more in love with Dylan and Hendrix than God.


The miracles were window dressing: St. Martin

touching the choking boy’s throat with a cross.

Francis regaling the rapt birds. Even Lazarus,

waking to the abrupt light, still in his cerement.


How they tutored me in renunciation,

those penitents who broke their epic fasts

with water by the thimbleful, scraps


of stale bread. How I courted starvation,

the way it made me feel clean, the way

each time I stood the world darkened and swayed.









2 thoughts on “Poems

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

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