Eleventh Annual Narrative Poetry Contest Winning Poems, judged by Lauren K. Alleyne:


First Prize: “DNA Test to Identify Victim of 1944 Hartford Circus Fire”
by Jane C. Miller

DNA Test to Identify Victim of 1944 Hartford Circus Fire                                           

Lift from the bones I left
the day’s identity. Do you smell the smoke?
What cleaves to me is burn. In its remains
I am refuse and refuge for all the risk
               and hungers the Big Top could feed a girl.             

Search me for the roust-about,
the grease of his thumb like a forbidden liniment
on my ticket stub, for the trickle
of clay-flecked sweat from white-faced clowns,
their hoses freshening straw-dusted air. Search me
for the dunged dirt of elephant hide, for dusky peanuts
               roasting my tongue.              

Search me for the man’s sweet, sharp whiskey
tipped from a flask, for talcum clapped
from high wire by the Great Wallendas,
for crowded breaths we hold to behold them, for the match
               sulfur-struck, that falls and catches.

Before the spotlight fills with smoke & after,
as flames begin to lick, search me for panic
as fire-fed paraffin drips from canvas, scalding
               screams, un-skinning us.

Search in me for the corncob pipe & its lipless man,
for the fallen child, her clothes curling back
like fading petals, her eyes dark and uncomprehending
               as daisies, for the tent pole snapped like a toothpick.

Search me for what was or never:
the milky sweetness of a toothless baby,
the smell a man’s head leaves on a pillow;
               all is tinder. 

My vowels like penitence rise, though I don’t know
what I’m guilty of.  Search me
for the traces I leave,
my body sky-blue as wick to flame, a slurry
               like cotton candy, bubbling up & rendered.




Second Prize: “here” by Kristen Smith


 here the yellow light runs long

Harry sells screws and nails cheap
Jo styles women’s hair for dates
  that never stick
Emily owns the bakery
  says she decorates wedding cakes   but
  never has an order
Clive runs the antique shop that  lamp
  the stained-glass shade   always
  in the window
Elsie and Bob run the General
  rockers there
  for the smokers and gabbers

here the gazebo   the library   the green
               and the park

here the house
               where Dad worked with wood
                                      slept with   splinters
here the table where Mom
               in her blue sundress
where Dad arrives and swoops in for a kiss
               pulls her into his arms

maybe I heard
the two of them behind their door
he left that room   later
  fumbling with his belt   mumbling
               something about Billy’s
               and returning after sunset

here Mom sits at the table   mending
               her blue dress

here I lean against our front porch beam
               fingering   ashes of leaves
               in my pockets

here   between my fingers
               under my nails




Third Prize: “Summer of the Gods” by Ken Holland

Summer of the Gods       

You were at the drive-in theater
when the generational stars aligned themselves
above the black & white frenzy on the screen
and it seemed as if the constellations
had descended in all their mythic promise
the summer of Ben Hur, the summer of Hercules,
the summer of Jason and the Argonauts
and maybe you weighed all of sixty pounds by then
and couldn’t get your brother to stop twisting the skin
of your arm in the back seat of the car
as twelve-foot aberrations dressed
in what was no more than leather skivvies,
bare-chested and wild tousled hair,
lifted swords empowered by swarthy biceps,
grimaces spanning three feet in length when
the camera rolled up to their face, and
how was it a gladiator could have such perfect
teeth, how for all his sweat you couldn’t imagine
him carrying any scent other than celluloid
as you punch back your brother for the pain
he just caused you, bigger though he is,
older and more clever, your mother turning
as you pull back your fist and slapping you
once across your forehead, calling you
a belligerent little bastard, which is all your father
needs to hear, he’s got his own moods that
pump him up, that fill the screen of your fears
the belt he’s loosening from around his waist
like one of the writhing serpents plucked
from the head of Medusa, its supple leather,
its buckled head, the metal tongue glinting
in the wavering light cast from the death throes
of a winged dragon, the hulking bulk
of a one-eyed abomination, warriors of bone
and sword, light cast from the stars of Orion
pinned against the firmament.





2 thoughts on “Poems

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

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