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2021 Poetry Contest Winning Poems

1st Place

Safe Harbor by Steve Rose

 

Hannah and I discard the basement refugees

unneeded in the new place.  It will be smaller. 

So are we; we’ve aged.  Our cupboards have grown.

The shelves now demand we stretch tiptoed to reach

the wine glasses. Our hallways:  long enough

to host kingpins, the upstairs steps, Olympics.

 

Behind coon traps and such catacombed in cobwebs

lurk crockery purloined from my last marriage,

beige as that union, the pattern as forgettable.

My ex and I once traded for them with Green Stamps

redeemed inside the Safeway where we shopped.

 

My children’s bumpy tongues labored over the stamps.

They smudged them in place with the heels

of their hands, creases mapped with ink.  Those scamps,

my lieges, used to press at my side,  each begging

to be the knight errant:  the right to bear home

a paper sack with the piece-of-the-month wrapped twice.

 

Our flotilla grew: six dinner plate cruisers,

as many soup bowl destroyers, coffee cups floating

at their sides, even a gravy boat submarine.

 

Now the fleet has changed alliances, as if boats were

ever loyal.  Our street curb is a beach, and someone

will find them, hoist the box into his trunk, sail home

victorious to his kin, a pirate safe from penalty.

 

Hannah and I will find safe harbor, all of one level,

shelving at the proper height for elves, or the elderly,

plumbing pristine, hallways short, to the point.

 

We’ll drydock without the hope or worry of repair.

 

1st Place (Tie)

Bedroom by Steve Rose

 

Ellie moved first, taking Sarah’s old room.

At last her nights were free of my snoring,

safe from my cold feet sliding glacially

until they found the islands of her calves,

 

away from my dreams where I still fought

the purchasing department—dimesucking

bastards that they were—although

I’ve been retired near thirteen years.

 

Our master bedroom felt like a storage locker

without her; I didn’t want to be a cardboard box.

So I took Sam’s room, empty this century. 

It smelled of ball gloves, motor oil and bong hits

 

Then Ellie’s nights ended.  A flu settled into her heart,

chewed it to silence. The children visited

then left, their cars packed with grief and trinkets

I moved back to our room; the chasm matched my mood.

 

From our bed I look at her mirror.  I used to watch her,

my eyes over the cover of a book, a thief scaling a height;

she’d let a necklace fall on her neck to sparkle while

her hands moved behind her in a ballet, locking the clasp.

 

Tonight, the chandelier dances across the mirror,

uninterrupted by her presence, mimicking jewels: 

emerald, ruby, sapphire, topaz;

green, red, blue, gold.  So many choices

she never had.

 

2nd Place

After Life by Ellie Janda

 

It’s true you can’t take it with you

but consider accumulating a few collections

So if your possessions are divided up

or when the estate sale comes

people will enjoy knowing

how much you loved ceramic unicorns

or felt cactus magnets with googley eyes

and music boxes shaped like food

Perhaps they can wonder

about a confusing number of yard sticks

or pickle jars filled with left handed scissors

and well preserved bottles of old soda

Because what you can’t take with you

can become a treasured memory

for all of the people you leave behind

to smile and giggle at for years to come

 

3rd Place

The Farmer’s Wife and Her Knife by Charlene Neely

 

It’s still here, in the drawer to the right of the sink.

It’s been there in every apartment or house

I have lived in since I left my parent’s home.

A ten-inch blade, tapering from the handle

to a sharp point. I use it daily to cut onions,

carrots, peppers, slice cheese. I have other knives.

Knives made just for slicing cheese or bread

but this one fits my hand, feels good

when I bring it out of the drawer.

I was chopping onions at our café

when I told him I needed an operation.

it was in my hand when he replied,

but who will take care of the kids,

who will scrub the floors at close,

who will cover all your hours?

And before I could form a response,

I found myself circling the butcher-block table,

round and round much like the ‘farmer’s wife’

in the song the children sing, wielding my knife

as that blind-mouse-of-a-husband

ran in circles ahead of me, yelping,

until he fled out the back door.

And I put the knife down, went out front

to refill the coffee cups of the old guys

at the big table who did not say a word.

Years later, husband gone (natural causes

they said), the knife still waits

in a drawer to the right of the sink.