Your Life as Garden: Winning Poems from the To the Stars Poetry Contest

The wind is up, the ground is still damp in places from all the rain, and the flowers are bigger than usual because of our hard winter, all of which show me already how good a gardening year this is and will be. Likewise with poetry about gardens! We had so many superb entries in this week’s contest that I am happy to announce two winners in each category: Bill Sheldon and Kevin Rabas in the professional poet category, and Tim Pettet and Nancy Hubble in the non-professional poet category. Enjoy their work below. Remember also that if you want a poetry pen pal, the deadline is tomorrow. Click here for details.


Say what you will, these moments are my own

to arrange as I desire. Welcome.

Welcome, I say. Breathe

in this air.

A spot of blood among the white

blossoms of the Bradford Pear,

a cardinal sings, “Lust”

amid the incarnadine scent,

as I muscle the tiller

across the yard into the garden

to turn into the dirt last year’s grass

clippings, orange rinds, and coffee grounds,

to work in the ash of winter’s fires.

I know you expect a certain thing,

that here should come a turn, self-

assured as the poem pulls the trigger

on itself, finds its final direction. These things

need time. You plant the seed in good

ground, and the sun must, and rain

must, and someone must sit

at the garden’s verge playing jazz chords

on an old guitar. Corn groans

in its growing. Listen,

what have I in my pocket? A chip

of flint. See, its edge has seen work

of hands now dirt a thousand years,

the thousand it took to work its way

up to our surface, for a tine to catch

and turn it into the sun of spring

planting. See, it is not shaped into a point,

or knife, not shaped to scrape a hide,

just a flake of flint with one worked edge,

for practice. Well, make of that what you

desire. We are only talking after all,

while we plant seeds, and tune

our guitar, while an old friend

sings his many notes all made

of one word. And under us the dead

and the living exchange coats.

And above us that bird would return

all his hard-won color for the orange

beak of a mate he knows will come, if only

she can hear his call. Can you

smell it now? This moment? It is

Spring and

— Bill Sheldon, Hutchinson



Attached at what would be his hip, if he had bones,

the bumblebee carries a golden pollen bag. –Flower Science Today

Ants eat their fill, and peonies open, blossom.

Blooms, petal heavy, too full-bodied for their stems,

soon droop. No, peonies wide open,

dresses gone for a twirl—

over meadow, or, like Marilyn’s,

up with one hot gust from

city sidewalk vent.

So seldom do we arrive

as the wind comes into the world,

as a grassblade wind arrives

with pollentouch, dusted from a bumblebee’s

serrated, coal-colored, cave-colored

deep deep peat-colored, bog-colored

no-moon-night colored, hind leg.

–Kevin Rabas, Emporia


On Her Iris Farm

(for Stanley Kunitz)

Some iris unfold she told us

and hang like the hands of an old man

dancing Tai Chi. Others unwind

in a kind of Dervish twirl.

She grinned when we asked

to take an iris home. In a gesture

with her shovel, she suggested

a bloom so yellow,

it could have been painted

with the yolk of an egg

laid by a hen that fed on worms,

a bloom that smelled like sunlight smells,

when sunlight enters a room.

Under her sturdy boot, her shovel

cut through rhizomes and dirt,

presenting an array of shiny blades

and the slender stems that hold

those old-fashioned flags aloft,

flags that furl before the glads blossom

and the heat calls out the hollyhocks.

— Timothy Pettet


In the yard, a hill of green,

Shimmers in the afternoon light,

A drop of rain on every whisker,

My flourishing poppy bed.

He and I took shovels and pails

That evening, quiet as thieves

To steal beauty from the edge.

Demolished, the old homestead

Deep in the woods near his place,

Now lay in tatters, splinters.

We had eaten there, laughed

But people die, divorce, sell out.

So, to rescue living history,

We trespassed and we stole.

A spring rain made the digging easy.

Carried back through the dark,

Planted in the early morning

While their sisters, left behind,

Were bulldozed into shreds,

These whiskery poppy leaves

Did not hesitate to grow.

Hot, lusty fires of bloom gave

One last burst of warmth

Just before our life as a couple

Disintegrated into pieces.

Years pass. I see your new house

In town has a front yard full of flame.

On your knees, you look up

When I stop to admire the hot coals

On which you kneel.

Your whiskery poppy face

Smiles and you offer

Transplants come next spring.

— Nancy Hubble, Lawrence