2008 Inglis House Poetry Contest Winners

Contest Winners

Below are the winners of the 2008 Inglis House Poetry Contest. There were two categories in this year's contest. Category 1 was open to all writers and the poems had to have some connection to disability. Category 2 was open only to writers with disabilities and could be on any topic. For each category a first, second and third place prize was given as well as three honorable mentions. This year's contest was the most competitive yet, and many of the excellent poems that are not seen below will appear in a chapbook which will be released at the end of August.

Category 1

First Place

Ellen LaFleche
Northampton, Massachusetts


Estella is going to lose her hair
but she comes in anyway
for the weekly Kut And Kurl special.

Brenda ties the plastic apron around Estella's neck
with the brisk efficiency of an x-ray technician.

Estella slouches in the beauty chair.
Not as roomy as the padded chemo
recliner, but it's good comfort along with
the strawberry shampoo and sweet coffee in a Styrofoam cup.

Estella wheezes a little, she chokes.
She hasn't got the hang
of it yet: breathing
with one lung gone.

Brenda's lean fingers pleasure Estella's head.
They probe the patchy scalp skin: already
the balding has begun.

Hair pins bob up and down on Brenda's lips.
I'm going to pouf up your curls.
Make your hair look thicker.

Brenda spits out the pins for a puff of cigarette.
She turns her head, careful
to exhale the toxic stream away from Estella.

Brenda throws in the dye
job for free. She spins Estella
to face the mirror. The lighting is softly
flattering but Estella flinches
to see the blow-dryer aimed
squarely at her temple.

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Second Place

Jade Gibson
London, England


My Granddad was here because of the ladder
That refused to take his feet to the top of the wall
That he had decided to fix during his retirement.
Since then, he had stayed bound to this small room
A TV before him, hands curved and arthritic
Body still. He had a stroke since, said
The nurses, so he can't move much.
His eyes saw me enter, his head slightly turned
Momentarily from the TV. Football, as usual,
Still a fan of Manchester United, but not
The shouting and roaring I remembered from childhood
Only silent appraisal; who knew what went on within?
I brought you a beer, Granddad, I said, low sugar
Because of your diabetes. Granddad grinned
As much as his silenced mouth allowed,
Thank you, came the whisper, a hoarse throat.
We stayed in silence, watching the men run up and down
The screen together; I remembered childhood, when Grandad
Had taken us to see his work football team
And while muffled in an overcoat too big for him, had screamed
And jumped up and down as goals were scored.
I spoke anyway; of what I had been doing,

Of how College was going. Did he hear me at all?
Finally it was time to go. I will see you Granddad,
Sorry I haven't come more. It's been busy,
And the train journey's far. Then Granddad turned
His head slightly, opened his quietened mouth and whispered,
Thank you for visiting. It was very good to see you
Again. And then, I saw it. A tear, forming
At the corner of cataracted eye, escaping
The frame of thickened National Health lens, its thin
Transparent line tracing a paper wrinkled cheek.
Outside, the nurse said, his mind's as sharp as a razor, you know,
He still beats everyone at dominoes,
Including the staff, and any visitor who challenges him,
Pity about the stroke, he thinks he's going back,
But there's not much chance of that. As I walked away
The path of Granddad's tear traced my footsteps
Remembering the times I danced, foot on foot,
On my Granddad's feet, held his hands and laughed,
Its translucent river bonding like memory,
With the closeness a hug never could;
Transient, insubstantial,
But everything that ever mattered.

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Third Place

Stephanie Noggle
Appleton, Wisconsin


I was born of an old man's lustful cough
And a trapped woman's joyful thighs.
But then God turned off
The legs, the lungs, an arm, the brain
And said-walk little thing. I fell.
Scrambling all the mismatched pieces
And said-look at the mess I've made
While trying to dance in my sisters ballet shoes.
For me there would be no
Synchronized flight.
Some believed me a divine castigation,
The sins of the father
These spiritual eyewitnesses looked at me
And said-what a courageous punishment you are,
But a punishment all the same.
So men in white lab coats
Cut open
My lungs, my legs, my back, my side
A crucified body rebuilt,
To resemble what man calls woman
If only from the inside.

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Honorable Mention

Louise Mathewson
Eden Prairie, Minnesota


No one knows
how hard I struggle to find words
to convey thoughts
in my mind - not just words, but thoughts, ideas.

No one knows
the mood swings that happen all day long inside my brain -
tears that come out of the blue,
a desire to pull back from life, yet connect with life,
but little spirit to hold that paradox and follow the positive side.

No one knows
how it feels to be troubled over little things in life.

No one knows
how hard it is to live with catastrophic thoughts
that invade my brain all day through the day
for no reason.

No one knows
how hard it is to know my hard drive crashed
and try to reconstruct it with pieces missing.

No one knows
how it feels to have the old software of memories removed,
precious memories gone, stolen in the night.

No one knows
how it feels to have thoughts about death when my life is blessed and I know it, but the
thoughts persist.

No one knows
how it feels to have been taken away from my body, to come back,
but not be all the way in and not be able to force myself in.

No one knows
how it feels to not remember what was just said,
to have memory that selects of its own accord,
with no regard to my wishes.

No one knows
how it feels to listen to someone speak, while trying to make sense of the words and find
a hole in my brain, where the processor is down,
maybe forever.

No one knows
how it is to have fatigue and know it's my brain that's tired,
nothing in the vessel of my body operates well
without my brain's assistance.

No one knows
what it is to have one's sense of God suddenly skewed,
and not understand or know how to repair the warp.

No one knows
how it feels to have to recreate myself, my life at fifty-nine, with less brain power.
When I'm all done with this new creation,
I hope I like the new me.

I will!
Because it contains my essence.

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Honorable Mention

Eric Gadzinski
Sault Saint Marie, Michigan


If you must be tortured
you ought to be talented.
Madness per se is not attractive -
pissing yourself, babbling,
screaming, afraid
of the window, the voices,
or drinking until you're
a wobbling, weeping embarrassment -
the wards are full of them,
they stink, they're scary,
and nobody goes there
except the bored nurses
or once in a while
some friend or relation
who says something like
"Hi Bob, how are you?"
too loudly and leaves quickly.

No, what we approve, what we admire,
what makes it worthwhile
and makes all the young bunnies
want to go crazy or get some disease
is when agony can dance the pentameter,
flay the sunflower, or thrill
the piano with a million fingers
and sing like a bird on a burning bough,
then dies so we don't have to
deal with the asshole, but
safely tut-tut about the pity
and applaud "The Triumph
Of The Human Spirit"
squeezed from its tube
by an angry fist.

*Previously published in Breath & Shadow

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Honorable Mention

Ellen LaFleche
Northampton, Massachusetts


Once I walked these grounds,
a white-robed angel with my butt exposed.

I worked in the rose garden. Fanged creatures
lurked in the blooms. They pricked my fingertips.
The white petals drank my blood like surgical gauze.

At night, while the nurses dozed,
the angel in the water fountain
began to dance. Her cement wings
unfolded. Around and around
that concrete cherub spun.

I joined in the waltzing. I wore my evening
jacket. It was wedding-white, and kept my arms
locked tight. Around the groomed grounds
we danced, my angel and me,
we danced.

Before the sun came up
my angel-statue scurried fast as Dracula
back to her fountain.

Water sluiced down my her wings,
ran like sorrow down her cheeks. Heaven-music
wafted from her harp.

Three times a day
the nurses pushed pills of every color
down my throat. The pills bounced,
pinging against my stomach, a crazy
pinball game.

But all that medicine couldn't stop my angel-love
from dancing.

In the shock therapy room my scalp sizzled.
My bones bent to the juice. Still
my angel-lady danced. We danced and danced.
We laughed.

Now I take one pill with my orange juice.
The group-home counselor shakes it into my palm.
I put it on my tongue and I swallow it down.

My doctor says
the new drug is working wonders

But my angel does not dance.
She holds her cracked skull in her hands.
Her cement lips are parched, so parched.
She is cold, cold to my touch as a bone-yard stone.

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Category 2

First Place

Sandra Gail Lambert
Gainesville, Florida


Sometimes the tears come so quick, I'm shocked.
I mean, I'd had a really great day,
Then surprising me as it should not
The exhaustion fell, ending my play.

I mean, I'd had a really great day.
Watching cranes cross the prairie at dusk
The exhaustion fell, ending my play,
Making me mad, betraying a trust.

Watching cranes cross the prairie at dusk
Infused with the glory of evening,
Making me mad, betraying a trust,
Tiredness came, body pinned, mind slowing.

Infused with the glory of evening
I hear my voice, clear, happy, and then
Tiredness came, body pinned, mind slowing.
Gravity ends choices once open.

I hear my voice, clear, happy, and then
Surprising me as it should not,
Gravity ends choices once open.
Sometimes the tears come so quick, I'm shocked.

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Second Place

Paul Kahn
Auburndale, Massachusetts


What will become of me
when my rivet of flesh
no longer bonds me to the earth?

Will I float off, a ragged paper bag,
kicked and twisted
by the winds of alien space?

Sometimes I don't like having a penis.
It smells. It messes up the pristine sheets of pride,
and pokes a thick, red tongue
at order and propriety.

But, at least it's reliable, like gravity,
the long arm of an existential law:
I lust, therefore, I am.

A good-old-boy mammalian male -- that's me.
My member gives me membership
in ordinary life.

And, it's endearingly naïve,
a cock-eyed optimist, always taking stupid chances
with my time and peace.

The only coin it makes me wealthy in is metaphor,
piles of dull ones, one or two new:
rivet, member, tongue, arm, worm, horn… Ah, horn!

Behold this stubby hunting horn
that burbles forth "Rejoice! Rejoice!"
and can't get enough of the whole
cherchez la femme, cliché-ridden chase.

But, even I can't mock at consummation—
the roaring in my blood
that overwhelms the temporizing voice,
the light that blinds the rational eye
and showers diamonds on my folded lids,
the heat that melts the boundaries of self.

Maybe that's all I'll ever know of bliss --
a few, precious seconds of being
too stunned to ask: what will become of me?

And, maybe I won't disappear after all,
just dematerialize. I'll shed my sticky skin
and turn into a quaint familiar of the bed.

With no needs of my own I'll enjoy being kind.
Then everyone will love me,
Jolly Old Saint Prick!

On my low, nightly orbits of the earth
I'll bless all mortal couplings,
from the first, furtive fumblings of youth
to the last, desperate and tender handholdings of age.

A little nostalgic but not tearful
as I peer between the sheets.

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Third Place

Kobus Moolman
Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal
South Africa


At night the mountain
is a sky, cold and blank.
The mountain is the memory
of a face departed,
washed out from the loud
drum of day, day's hard
blade of blue. At night
the mountain is a silence
hunkered between
absence and feeling;
the swelling sound a voice
makes through the mist
of longing, the mist of
remembering. The mountain
is a sky, a memory, a silence,
a voice climbing out from
the black air.

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Honorable Mention

Sheila Black
Las Cruces, New Mexico


As if she was severed from me in the surgery
itself, I immediately began to refer to her in the
third person—the girl, the girl-with-the-torqued-
legs, the girl who could not walk without
staggering, crip girl who was and was not me.
I pictured her peering in windows, appariating
in mirrors. Invisible on any corner. She knew
the color of rain against smoked glass, blew
bubbles at the fish in their silent aquariums. She
was me before I became so fallen. Sneaking
Salem cigarettes with the other girls on the fourth
floor bathroom. Trying so hard to fit in you could
see that desire—a sheen on my skin. The year I
learned to walk again—a wheelchair, crutches, crutches
discarded, everyone said how it was a miracle, so
wonderful, such a great, great thing, as if I could now
be welcomed into the club of people. A door closed
somewhere, and she was behind it. I pictured her
staring down at her left hand, uncurling the palm
to study the lines. I pictured her building a map, a
way out of this place and back to me. And when I
first saw the painting, Los Dos Fridas, their fingers
laced together, the blood line leaking between
them, I knew what that picture meant: Here she is.
Look at her; Look at her and love us both.

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Honorable Mention

Marie Kane
Yardley, Pennsylvania


Pressure against my eyes under the tight cloth;
      my hands lie flat, my breath loosens

and I know that this is meant to relax us, drive away all thought
      of the world. Flute and sitar fill the sightless

mind—breathe in, breathe out. Scents pass under, around us,
      water drifts down the face of a sheet of rock

near the massive Buddha who sits, sightless himself, inscrutable.
      What do we look like?—this semi-cirde of blindfolded women

sitting on the floor all with our hands flat on thighs,
      all breathing in and out and far past

the age when being blindfolded was fun.
      Panic begins at the base of my throat

in this dark that is as black as a coalmine,
      or as black as the sudden plunge when lights fail.

I think of my youngest daughter who used to fear the dark-
      Now in her twenties, she needs no night light nor

hall light seeping under her bedroom door to remind her all is well.
      All is well, I repeat to myself in the smooth, fearful dark,

as instructions are given to place hands at our sides, and
      lower our bodies onto the mat. I do so with difficulty,

lugging my useless leg, not knowing what to do with
      the left side of my body, wishing to take this damn thing

off my eyes. I hear my daughter after the last thunderstorm—
      It's just the dark, the lights will come on soon.

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Honorable Mention

Ona Gritz
Hoboken, New Jersey


She walks as if favoring a sore foot
and her one hand can't distinguish
coins from stones. Mostly, she imagines,
no one knows. At last week's dance, a boy
with sleek hair kissed her in the corner.
Tonight, her youth group is doing a yearly
good deed. Leaning on a wall, she watches
guests crowd the gymnasium in wheelchairs.
Skewed legs wrack with sudden currents.
Arms lay folded and stiff like cooked wings.
Her friends hold the twisted hands in their own
then sway, grace among the wheels. She'll choose
a partner among the palsied strangers
when there's a song she can get lost in.
It will be like dancing with her secret self.

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Special Recognition - Young Writers

Caelyn Vandermeer (10 years old)
Landenberg, PA

Rolling Downwords

I walk into my classroom
and sit down at my desk.
The teacher points to the words
up on the board
and asks for a volunteer to
to read them.
The room is silent.
I do not raise my hand.
As she tells us she's going to pick on someone
I feeel like a marble in a bowl of porridge
slowly sinking down into fear
and the gooey mess.
I can not read it.
I cannot see it.
But yet the words are perfectly clear
I begin to drown in my bowl of porridge
sinking deeper and deeper
and if I ever get out
the porridge will stick to me
like dry ice
and I will have to carry it
all my life.
I just can't do it
my mind screams.
I just can't do it.

For comments about the contest winners, please contact us at inglispoetry@hotmail.com.

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