Literary LEO: Poetry

Jan 30, 2007 at 9:51 pm
Poetry — First Place



Preakness Stakes, 2006

The ankle of a horse is holy.
        —Larry Levis

A blue-eyed boy in a field rides bareback
on a horse made entirely of hay. They ride
in circles, and where the horse steps,
its hooves leave prints that sprout black tulips.
The field wears them like a crown.

The horse was once a sturdy bay. The horse
once won a race, its four strong legs thundering
the Downs, its neck stretched against the reins
Its jockey wore blue and white silks and smiled.

A long time ago, I loved the boy
so fiercely that it made me afraid.
He was once warm and real as hope
beneath the hand I rested
(as he did)
below my waist.

I see them from the top of a rise
as the boy turns the horse and they walk away.

I would like to believe the boy knows me,
sees me, as I watch the bay’s straw legs vanish
in bluegrass deep as waves. I would like to believe
that because I was once his mother,
the boy is like me in even my most secret ways.

My son, this is what hope rests on: frail bones,
frail as yours the day of your still birth,
frail as a horse’s ankle as it pounds and breaks —
too brave, too fast, and too certain —
on a hard, hard way.

Poetry — Second Place

I hear in the great rain


I sat coy in my pew next to you,
sat underneath god and ignored his words.
I looked straight into your ear, (it is as perfectly clean as an eye)
and wondered if my voice reaches your ear before my breath does.

Listening, I heard, is as easy as breathing
and just as foolish
but only if you listen to foolish things
and I’ve been foolish all day long.

We come to church and talk to God and pray that He listens
with his Great Giant Ears, (they are as perfectly pure as I)
When I ask of love does he hear me
or ignore me then ask, “What about it?”
“Nevermind,” I say, and walk away.
In the rain, I hear the sound of someone listening.

Poetry — Third Place

she put me in a winter-hole


i walk down edgeland under
bales of quiet     recycling
bins look off and i know

the day will darken here     i
bounce between cars     duck
away from the foshee’s glass

door     a closing tent of murk
folds the light over in
cloth triangles at the park

entrance     alors i pump legs
against her pavement back
losing sight in a dive for

the last edge of shine
separated in two by the
stop-sign-pole     haze sets

over the tennis courts
i will lie     sprawl split
here in the meantime

Poetry — Honorable Mention 1

Just Fine


I find myself wishing I was
someone from one of your stories,
the ones who grab the bottles
up-end the whiskey, pouring
until they are unrecognizable,
until they look full. I am not
someone you would write a story about
and somehow this disappoints me.
I got up today before my alarm, I put on
the clothes I laid out last night,
I fed the cats, myself, the bird
and drove to work. I sit, today, with students
explaining commas, explaining “However,”
and I only cried, once, when I made the mistake
of talking with someone about this.

Apparently, I don’t need whiskey.
Pouring words does me in
just as fast and fine. Punctuating
each breath with clauses and colons
I dot my students’ papers
with my common phrases, my “don’t worry,
it’s tough for everyone” and “yes, English
really is a stupid language.” We nod, they grin,
I return to their page, drink it in.

Poetry — Honorable Mention 2


Five Years Later


Still when someone calls
and asks for you
I say you are not home right now.


A balloon string wound
through childhands, one forgetful
second it bounds for the sky.


My heart is a temper
that hangs on a hook beside
your purse fixed upon the coatrack.


This body letting go,
dark bird,     flesh
and coal-colored wings.


Hearts transported on ice
and woven through the wires
of an open bird cage.

Poetry — Honorable Mention 3



Wednesday evening service
at the Church of Grace, and two pews in front
of me, Jacob Rigby (age eight) is drawing
a city on a sheet of paper the color of bones.
The sermon is I John: 3; outside the window,
wearing its mask of gauzy drape, it’s snowing,
the whole world disappearing in a veil of white.

Jacob’s city is a single street lined with tall buildings,
their spires reaching toward a sky without clouds.
An airplane with one wing drawn is barely holding
within the page’s field. Jacob draws window
after window in the building, stacked on each other
like bodies or wood, each one a square drawn
slightly akimbo and centered with a cross
delineating crooked panes. The windows rise
from the street, growing smaller as they climb,
and from them, no one looks out. Almost
as an afterthought (verse 13 now, Marvel not,
my brethren, if the world hate you ...), Jacob
draws the sun or the moon, a circle perched
above the city like a great sovereign eye.

I have never spoken to this boy
who always sits before me, never spoken
to his mother who reaches over from time
to time to smooth the back of his head.
I only know his name because he writes it
each time at the top of the blank page
in letters large and clear as an epitaph.
Jacob’s glasses are too large for his small face.
He worries the nosepiece up
the bridge of his nose like a professor,
or like me, or like an old old man.

I have watched him, though, with the attention
given to prayer, watched the cities rise
from the tiny point of his pen, watched
his mother’s hand on him, watched the light
fade from the window panes. To me,
they are as unreachable as the figures
trapped in an Arbus photograph, as stark
and as real, as beautiful and alone.

My little children, let us not love
in word, neither in tongue,
but in deed and in truth ...

I want to tell him I once dreamed
of his city, me at the highest window,
the single tiny square inside the spire,
how the street was so white it bled
light, how though I could not see them
I knew this place he’d made was filled
with faces like mine, each one safe
behind their window. I want to tell him
how in this dream, I rose each morning
in his city and rode an elevator made of glass
down to the street and stepped out,
and how real his city was, how beautiful
it looked washed in all that light.

We rise, the snow coming down, to sing (Near
the Cross) and the service is over. Jacob follows
his mother and we return to this world beyond
the window’s pane, our winter coats thick
as days, Jacob’s drawing left on his seat,
his city abandoned so as to be built and built again.

Poetry — Honorable Mention 4

Red River Gorge


Teenage boys with buck
knives chip initials
into land bridge
sandstone. Panicked bigleaf
magnolias and yellow buckeyes spit
seeds against the lichen
covered rock arch. Kentucky
augite gouged. The boys call
bird dogs back
to the hollow. Mouths
full of quail, muddied
feathers stuck to snouts
and ears. Shotgun shells
in the nettles. The boys walk
chucking acorns into Red River.
Pouches stuffed
with northern bobwhites.
The covey roosted
near the ground.