The judging for the of the 2010 Inglis House Poetry Contest has been completed. Finally! This year's contest was the most
competitive so far. Below are the contest winners and their winning poems. This
year's contest had two categories. 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. Many of the excellent poems that are not seen below will appear
in a chapbook which will be released at the end of August.
At dawn, I wake alone with a start
—crutch quietly with precision
like my first drive alone in the Escort:
the carpet foreboding as rush hour traffic,
the furniture fierce as intersections,
the tile sneaky as ice. Stepping so gingerly
my brace, sleep sweaty, does not move,
my aluminum crutches lift up and up.
We labor toward the kitchen.
It takes twenty minutes, these twenty odd paces.
All the bags shoved into the ugly black can reek
of decomposed chicken carcass, sanitary
napkins, and other rank food stuffs that
cannot wait until the next collection.
The can's belly is less than the width
of the door, but how to move it?
I can't heave it up and march to the curb.
It thuds when tapped at its base
by my crutch's toe. It won't budge,
and pain shoots down my back, down my legs.
I live alone. I live alone in an alley
in a shitty apartment.
Two hours until pick up—
two hours to get this can to the curb.
Kicking with foot, shoving with knee, sliding
with chair and crutch, I curse and cry
and pop Vicodin and eat a granola bar.
Frustration floods my pores, the sweet sweat
I remember from childhood when Mom flipped
flash cards for mathematics, sitting parallel
to me on the hard dining room chairs.
The trash can finally looms on the threshold's lip,
ready to stumble down the stairs.
I duct-tape the lid, so it won't spill in flight.
Crutch cocked like shotgun, it leaps toward the
Spent and beaten, I'm a young woman who witnesses
ugly can, launches it with furious chutzpah,
down the steps, and there the ugly can lay, unbroken,
at the bottom. Muscle spasms seize my back.
what random accident can do to flesh and bone,
who is patched together with medications,
elastic, velcro, metal, wires, hope, who's incapable
of domestic chores so simple as taking out the trash.
Later that morning, this young woman crutches
forty minutes from her handicap spot in the closest
parking lot to work, thinking of the trash can,
lying lifeless on its smooth unscuffed belly
on the cracked sidewalk, like the dead kitten
she'd found after school by the curb in front of her home.
She feels her sweaty, chafed armpits moan,
wipes them with paper towel after taking
thirty minutes to pee. Then, she smiles at co-workers,
says, I'm great. Thanks for asking.
St. Charles, Missouri
FOR MY DISENGAGED INTRO TO POETRY STUDENT
I watch you in my early morning class:
twitchy with boredom, the yearning
for the opiate of your I-pod written on your face;
I can almost feel your fingers’ itch
to text someone, anyone, on your waiting cell.
This, while I yearn to have you understand
how even half a poem might knit a heart, explode
a head, memorialize the very hair of the dead,
of be the breaking news.
Later from my office where I am grading your essay,
I see her – also early class, front row – wearing her heavy
book bag, working her way across the snowy lot
with her awkward gait. Not far from her car she slips and
over-balanced, tips like a bowling pin and goes down hard.
Minus sound, the scene seems slowed. At first she flounders
as she tries to rise – there’s no one near – and I can’t hear
if she cries out, can't hear the sound of her prosthesis
on the pavement.
Soon she rights herself, leans briefly on the nearest car,
as I turn from the window like a voyeur
and wonder how, tomorrow I might tell you
before you amble from my class,
that hers is the poem you have yet to read.
Her missionary voice beams from some NPR studio across inaccessible stars and blue-black space while I drive on
in the coming dark, anxious to arrive home before my vision fades, before my leg brace constricts my calf, before leg
spasms. She crows - I have no MS symptoms and haven 't for ten years - and credits rest, healthy meals,
acupuncture, and reflexology with her symptom-free life. Why, she feels protected from that evil, eating fruit and whole grams and resting with her feet up on a cushion (sometimes she just HAS to stop and rest), while I grimace and regret the ice cream, rue the wine, lament those missed naps. No daily or weekly shots for her; steroids are hideous and the hope of stem cells? (Stem cells - uttered like a loathsome curse.) Well, she hopes research halts before anymore innocent lives are taken in the name of science. I can envision her heeled shoes winking as her rose-tipped toes slip in before she is launched back home to ride Byron, her show horse. (The riding, she asserts, fights fatigue and stress.) Then I am yelling at the radio, pounding the steering wheel at that nail-driven-home voice so much like the roaring page, the bastard blues -1 want to propel Byron through an unlatched gate, his tail a free flag in the wind, push that smiling voice down a flight of stone steps until the
jeweled shoes fly, and punch my hand through her smug assumption that she knows exactly how to manage MS, never
acknowledging that my MS might be a different animal all together. Finally, lights on our cedar trees appear and disappear
in the growing wind; I turn onto our gravel driveway, silence the car, clamber awkwardly out, stand supported by my quad
cane and leg brace, and admit that I so desperately want, oh how I want, oh, oh, with my heart in my mouth, oh, how I want to be her.
Silver Spring, Maryland
My wife is in the kitchen making
kitchen sounds, odd arhythmic tunes
she’s always played: the skillet slide
across a grate, the counter thump,
the scrape along a carrot length,
tunes that somehow call to mind
her birthing cry, her calves and inner thighs
in nylon, scuffing one another,
back when she could walk in heels.
In those days, the music drew us in,
slow-dancing close at night,
lights dimmed in the family room,
the kids asleep, the Divine
Sarah Vaughan on the stereo,
or Miss Peggy Lee vamping a saxophone.
Because we can no longer dance,
the music only now remains.
She speaks of something into
an empty room, her voice-tones round
Her good leg drags the bad
across the kitchen’s hardwood floor the way
a jazz brush slurs a snare drum’s skin.
* Previously published in Salmagundi.
MOVEMENT IN THREE
When all the pieces of me
account for themselves
I move to edge of the bed.
An even count to three, a breath
a perfect pivot, bracing, pushing
These limbs of mine
folds of soft flesh
hanging like elephant skin
might as well be walking under water
and dragging thick muck
In toe, heal
bad leg, good leg
movements without rhythm
my limbs catch up – join in
make the connection
carry me across the room
an awkward dance
a clumsy bending waltz
to the memory of motion.
THE INTERIOR DECORATOR
She is rearranging the landscape of their bathroom
So he won’t break the soap dish
Or the glass he gargles with or
The porcelain fish and the glass shelves.
She wanted the space to look oceanic, the beach, a coral reef
Be free and light, feel hot. They might get a tan.
She bought pastels at Sears
But she is rearranging their bathroom so
He won’t break his foot on the doorstop or the sandbag with seashell patterns
embedded on it in breezy blue water colored lines
reminiscent of seagulls floating in the sky.
She wanted him to feel weightless but she must rearrange redefine so
He won’t slam into their clothes hamper, the one made of rattan.
In her dreams at night that are vivid and strong everything is bendable
and bounces freely like loose skin. Daili clocks sag
She smoothes the green tiled floor in the bathroom
Makes it into a trampoline- he can float on,
They can dance on
like before when they did the rhumba at their wedding.
When sleep subsides like a tsunami
If she could move all the tiles and porcelain,
All the stainless steel and concrete, make the wheels of his chair
A high- powered super charged sprinter, a winner at Belmont,
She would. She would lift his world
On her shoulders,
Spin it around,
Until each day became smooth and creamy--
Like a tiger from a child’s tale
Turning into butter--
Only a window separates the winter
dark from the fluorescent lights overhead
in my hospital room, a world
of gated beds, of humming monitors –
blinking red, then green – of IV trees
trailing tubes of sugar water, blood
or morphine in their branches. A net
of electrodes and cords pins me to my bed.
I cry out but no one comes.
On the granite bluff outside my room
two sentinel oaks stripped of leaves
by November rains, grip the rockface.
Boulders fester with green lichen
and dead vines twist around fallen trees.
I wait for the coyote to come
as he does every morning,
slinking down the steep path, pointed nose
close to the ground, tracking his careless prey –
a kit fox looking for mice or moles.
He pounces, clamps the luckless kit
in his jaws and trots back to his den.
Coyote will return again, I know.
I too am being stalked.
I fear the shattering of the glass.
So, my hands fail me again, this time holding
a porcelain jar with its many recollections:
kaolin, that white, soft mineral,
the potter’s hands that pulled the clay
to form a slender neck so like a brief
tunnel shouldering out to the artist’s
brushwork – the celadon and copper red
of tidy trees and fragile roses –
the blazing chamber that fused
its elements, and the shop in Provence,
where the jar stood until my daughter parted
with her newly acquired francs to bring it home.
The past shifts back and forth like dry snow
on a windy road. I cannot summon up
the color of the wrapped box, hear the crisp
paper unfolding, feel the jar’s cool smoothness,
but I still see the pleasure in her blue,
blue eyes as I exclaimed over my treasure.
This is just another day with its hours.
These rooms hold all that I love and want
to keep safe. But my hand still loosens,
my fingers still ungrasp, until I no longer
hold the smooth, slim neck, but know only
a shattering that swarms behind my eyes
and reveals tragedy on the tiled floor.
While you sleep, I stir
the stew of our late night spat,
polish a pea of gravel stuck
in our sock-like fit.
I wail, rail at you
to rewrite the fight, dislodge the grudge
with tender apology.
On your side, sleep has already
softened the stone to nothingness
but I hold tight to hurt
slicking it to pearl.
While you sleep, I stir
the rain-lush scent of lust satisfied
that's left me wide
open and astonished;
your soft breath-gusts
brush my upper arm,
replay our rhythm.
It's lullaby to you;
to me it's hullabaloo.
This is how we lie sleeping,
or waiting for sleep:
on your right side, my left;
arm over back, cheek under hand,
elbow against wrist, pulses joined,
a soft throb of connection that will last
until you turn over, or I do.
This is how we live: sleeping
seals the deals we make by light;
we neighbor our enfleshed bones
like poems bound by pages.
While you sleep, I stir
to Top Return
those pages, and imagine poems uncollected.
I keep awake, keep us alive.
TO SING THE CHILDREN HOME
He didn’t wear a uniform or carry a gun.
He didn’t maim or kill or aid the god of war.
No, with hymns and ancient chants, he served
the ones who stayed behind to sing the children home.
In emptiness of churches,
he felt the ghosts of long-gone worshippers
as strains of Palestrina called them back
to realms of recollected ritual.
And then, within a shadow of the years,
one did come back, still wearing dog tags;
his glory days were spent.
This death released the grief for martyrs past.
For this one he would play
so the ghosts could sing,
so the young could rest in everlasting arms,
so the mothers could endure the empty pews,
so the fathers could return to work,
though railing at the God they could not see.
He practiced, and he played.
And when his fingers stopped, when organ pipes were still,
Cedar Grove, New Jersey
THE WEIGHT OF SORROW
Your death flattens me,
buries me beneath the damp earth
where I claw at the dirt, my nails cracking
and splitting, my hands marked. When I
reach the surface, I realize nothing has changed,
you are still gone, your breath silenced,
your voice a whisper I cannot hear.
I recall how you lulled me on your lap,
my head upon your chest
rising and falling with each tremor
as you read aloud. You taught me how
language sings, each story a different tune.
Now, my tale has become a coronach.
Grief bends my back, my shoulders curved
like an eternal question mark, as I walk,
searching for your trail. I force myself
to look up into the twilight, into the forest,
see a doe standing at the edge,
startled, poised for flight.
Toms River, New Jersey
BLACK FLAKES: A DEPRESSION STORM
It should have been white flakes.
but instead it was black flakes.
Each different but coal black.
How could I dream of a white Christmas
With black flakes?
The skies cried,
and I cried with the skies.
Soot flakes, not crystal
I knew about the Black Madonna
And the Black Messiah from Seminary.
But they gleam.
This blackness doesn’t gleam.
When I was a child the flakes were white.
Only the waters of life happening
Grayed these flakes to slush and deeper
And now these black flakes can carry me
Into a black hole.
For comments about the contest winners, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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