The Winners Of Literary LEO 2022’s Poetry Contest Are Here

Another round of our annual Literary LEO competition is in the books, and we’re once again blown away by all of the talent that floats through our community. We selected a 1st through 3rd place for each category — short fiction, poetry, color photography, black & white photography and cartoons — and various honorable mentions throughout, but it wasn’t easy.

This year’s poetry submissions were broad and spanned the heartbroken to hearts-on-fire. There was love, rage and political indignation. The winning pieces exhibited skill in construction and content, and in many ways spoke directly to the times we live in and the quiet lives behind closed doors. It is encouraging that year after year poets of all levels submit to Literary LEO and each year it seems tougher and tougher to pick a winner when all creations of art are valuable. Even if your poem is not here in this small space that we’re given to share, keep submitting and keep writing.

Anyway, here are the poetry winners. We hope you enjoy.

Poetry: First Place 

God’s Hair

By William Tucker

In the beginning,
God had a mullet.
He tricked all the other gods
by being business in the front
and party in the back 

end of the universe
where the earth was
a blue crystal ball hanging
from his rearview mirror. 

The other gods bored him
with their bluster and brimstone,
so he hightailed it out of there,
to a corner all his own. 

He sat alone in the void
by the glow of the dashboard light
and decided to people a world
so he’d feel less alone. 

After planting trees
and molding clay one day
He decided
He needed
a trim.

He grabbed scissors
from the glove box
and cut and shaped until
He had a beautiful pompadour.
He used some grease from the engine
to slick it back. 

And so He became an ad man,
trying to sell mankind on His brand. 


But after the 


it was time for a change. 

The slicked up style man
had turned to mange. 

So He went for a crew cut,
just as His son was born. 

Easy to care for, a warrior God
That struck fear in the hearts of men.
Tapered just so
to make His truth
even harder to take.

And when He tired of listening
to prayers and pleas,
He could be found out in the garage,
drinking beer
and working on his ‘57 Chevy. 

A candy apple red beauty that Jesus never drove. 

33 years on,
His son

Dad, get me down from this thing, 

Just as God looked in the mirror
and saw that His hair had fallen
into a combover.
The perfect salt and pepper wave
to hide His age. 

Here His son was dying,
and He couldn’t help but think
of all the changes that had come
since that mullet long ago. 

As ages passed,
He kept pulling out his hair,
from all the dumb things
we did on earth,
how it seemed we didn’t care
for heavenly things.

We were all too busy to notice
God in the corner,
bald and fuming,
our smug self-importance
hiding the glare
from His head.

Mr. Clean
revving the engine
of that favorite Chevy 

aimed straight
at the earth, 

Ready to wipe out his biggest mistake.

Poetry: Second Place  

House Sans Home

By Todd Walker

     The fan was mimicking the wind in its artificial environment.  The sterile ceiling, the two tone walls (barless to sight, not mind).  Shadows find no pleasure and come ‘round no more.  I find no true joy beyond photos and memories.  Purgatory of the heart.  Solitary of the soul.  Glowing embers for a touch.

      I saw a dad playing catch with his son ­­— no yelling, disgust or awkwardness.  I felt sad and angry.  My head weighed down and I walked away.  I fear the hereditary line of fatherhood and become a cliff towards it.  Emptiness and vain my heirs.

      I believe Shakespeare said it simply with, ‘To be’…without which nothing else would be of consequence.  Patrick Henry called it ‘liberty.’  Mary Oliver curiously wondered aloud, referring to it as ‘wild and precious.’   I’ve watched it rise in smoke like boiling hot water spilled on a Tennessee Williams sidewalk on a thick August noon.  And drank to its oblivion.  A fool and his time lose far more than a fool and his money. 

      Changing of the reasons never held back the tide.  And my left hand always puts the ice in the glass.  So goes the drunken boat against the reef.  So goes a lonely man through life.  Accomplishments in liters and a legacy of questions. 

Poetry: Third Place

“Orthopraxic Hymn”

By Jordan Hancock  

Where is God’s place in this millennium?
Is He still in the sky looking down
On the chaos He’s created,
Or is He in each one of us?

I hear a confident voice speaking now,
Projecting all the way to the back pew.
I‘m fairly certain it’s all in my head,
But I could recount its words to you.

If I wrote you out a Bible,
Would you label it as heresy?
Would you still believe in God
If He chose to speak through me?

I sell the keys that unseal padlocks,
My mama raised me as a prophet.
I’m standing high upon a soapbox,
And I refuse to come down off it.

I’m preaching from a pulpit,
There’s really not a difference,
Screaming orthodoxy’s bullshit;
Goodwill’s our deliverance.

Can you dig it,
Can you dig it?

Practice is the spade
That runs up our digits,
Buys back our souls,

Returns us our receipts,
Frees us from our chains,
And buries our beliefs;

Can you dig it,
Can you dig it,
All the way to Heaven?

Poetry: Honorable Mention

On Executive Dysfunction

By Kat Gillespie


I call this making a dent:
two boxes from the pile
drift down the steps into
the recycling bin for once 

there is something of comfort
in a pathological fear

when someone asks worst that
could happen you already know

and will know again
as cardboard piles the corner 

in sly mocking tumble lean
and shift, I’ve imagined every
day something worse
beneath it lurking
grimy teeth clenched
in crescent smile 

and I hope I’ll rot before it’s gone 

I hope I fall and find my bones
made of cardboard 



cresting to bubble
before drying in cracks
between the tile the baseboards
and dips in static coursing through my brain 

in my skull on my shoulders on my body in the corner of the bathroom sinking and watching the soap become thick and tacky right in front of me but even though this rag is in my hand believe me I swear I’m somewhere else and nothing can be done today

tell me how to scrub
a floor like this one grimy
under everything I’ve dropped collapsed
under the weight of so just let me know
which youtube hack best scrapes
free these lingering

Poetry: Honorable Mention

Our Delusional March

By Kylee Hoelscher 

We trudged thirty-nine point three miles,
a blister-footed, sometimes-bewildering march
and all the while your hitchhiker
was settling in, you the ungrateful host.

We slurped strawberry yogurt from Yoplait lids,
each one adding a meager coin to the pot,
our miser’s purse strings stretched too thin
from research into flaccid penises and wrinkled jowls.

I read aloud that steamy bestseller while the healing
poison dribbled down the tube into the arms
of you and the others: the proud, the few,
the sunken-breasted champions of the cause. 

We cut our hair in solidarity, but you alone chopped
off your chest, the pillowy swells we’d longed for at thirteen
that had given pleasure along with sustenance,
now resembling a marked treasure map.

We smoked weed in your living room,
absolved from fear of prying mothers’ eyes;
placed bets on the timeline of a cure
if men lopped off cocks at the rate of one in four. 

You had courage and grace, they said
in those final morphine-filled days,
those moronic, meaning-finding, hangers on
whom we couldn’t shed in the end. 

Yesterday I sat with your girls
and wondered what legacy you had left them,
your film noir smile and Jennifer Aniston hair
or your one fatal flaw.

Poetry: Honorable Mention

When You’re Old (V)

By Robert L. Penick

You begin sewing the wings
back onto butterflies,
the ones that have not crawled
so far into the past
that grains of pollen are
their only evidence.

You find the survivors
in forgotten places:
On a cassette talk tape
from 1996
or on a city bus
passing in a downpour.

Think of that first girlfriend,
the fat kid in high school
or some other victim
along your warped, staggered
pinball across the years.
Thread needle. Prick thumb. Mend.

Your work is neat, quiet,
a restoration of
flight, grace, and symmetry.
Your hands are not nimble
but you try to repair
every leaf you’ve torn.  

Poetry: Honorable Mention 

Plywood Meth Head Jesus

By Robert L. Penick

Plywood Jesus is still praying
in the front yard next to
the Live and Learn Thrift Store.
The Virgin Mary next to him
seems reconciled to whatever
the world throws at her,
whatever vicissitudes
get served up as the main course
of life’s bloody banquet. 

Jesus, on the other hand,
is earnest, aware, and worried.
The grain of the wood makes it
appear his face has broken out.
Stress will do that, as well as
methamphetamine and
an unhealthy diet.

Perhaps one day he’ll get out
of that yard, kick that habit
or lay off the fatty foods.
He’s had a tough life and
deserves some quality time.  

Jesus Christ, give yourself a break.   

Poetry: Honorable Mention

Mona Lisa Walks The Fine Line

By Todd Walker

          For what our eyes and ears seek for pleasure;  for what our hands mindfully admire;  for what our deepest yearning in our simplest of thoughts cries out for – it is our soul that must be touched to feel true joy.  

      The air was still and everything went silent as she breezed by my shoulder.  It was as if she had walked off of the canvas and breathed life again.  Mine.  Whispers hit my mind like the strokes of the great painter’s brush.

    Beauty is never still, it never sleeps and when caught it never dies – forever it is in that moment.

          I was too intoxicated to enjoy my drink for more than habit in hand.  My heart was yelling, while my eyes prodded it on.  My smile, too proud for words to escape.  I had not the right mind nor feeling of self to attempt a bridge.  Her hand tossed her hair back like waves to the beach – lightly falling and returning.  Magnificent in its simplicity.

      Pictures say so much and reveal so little truth.  Paintings show a life and all its secrets – hidden and wanting.  In the moment – irreplaceable.

          Time and place seem to be so incompatible that I let a moment end.  No, “Excuse me…”, “Do you have the year?”, “Do you validate parking?”  Just sighs and the same.  Always the same.

         But better for walks by my window, than never a step takes.   

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