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.
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
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.