More To the Stars Poetry Contest Winners!

Email is an odd medium. Sometimes things can happen, and emails can vanish into the dead letter vacuum of the universe. Such is what happened to a great many entries into our recent poetry contest, and so when these previously lost emails finally found their way to me, I decided to have more winners of our contests. Here they are!


I’ve Known Rivers

After Langston Hughes

I: Lehigh

The Lehigh River draped an apron of steam

Around Bethlehem Steel’s company mill,

Billowing white over black water, black factory.

Iron ore and coke fire, metallic on my tongue.

My father, steel-weary, took me to feed

Brown bread crusts to ducks, vapid in the vapor –

Ghosts disappearing as the workers would.

II: Maas

I was pregnant with my first child and new

To the Netherlands, both of us now alien.

I walked every day at dusk along the River Maas

Summer sweet, scent of sugar beets and soil

Turned over in the fields I tramped through in boots –

Everything outside and inside glimmering as the last

Light lay its face on the water and the baby turned.

III: Kaw

I did not plan to land in Kansas, but life’s wing

Banked east, west and then landed me here.

On my first country hike alongside the Kaw

Spring dew damp on my face, nestled in my hair

A hundred cottonwoods dropped white filaments

Through blue air. Then the wind wrote my name

On the water and the Kaw and Kansas claimed me.

— Susan Whitmore, Fairway (professional poet category)


I’ve known rivers to hide dark secrets in muddy,

tangled roots of virgin Dogwood trees,

stopping their sap-choked hearts.

The Lethe cut through our back pasture

like a 17-year-old girl cutting class to

lean against the rotting fence and smoke cigarettes,

rubbing the cheap Salem ash on her face like

war paint.

We stood barefoot in the stagnant creek,

christening each other with the earth-warmed

water and I let it trail down my back, carrying my

sins with it.

I envied the sun-dapple tattoo across her shoulders

as she watched our brother wash the

blood from his face and the crimson ribboned down

the stream like a bright flash from

a Molotov cocktail.

I’ve known rivers to carry things away.

— Canese Linn Jarboe (nonprofessional poet category)

The Limestone Cowboy Searches For Cinderella

From out of the sunset I can tell

Limestone has got her rollin’.

His bucket seated, four-barreled,

Holly headed, chrome slotted,

four-wheel drive Chevy, screaming

for all its pleasure. Coming

right at me, dust vortexing

behind the grey bullet

like a mad-faced angus bull.

I pull partway over into the ditch

and wait. And as he slows

the cowboy reaches down,

then holds up a milk-white

pair of ladies lace panties

for me to witness.

His bare chest sparkles

with Kansas-heavy heat.

I squint through the dust

and get a dim glimpse of myself

in his pilot-styled sunglasses.

“Cinderella,” he says.

Explains he found the lingerie,

clean, hanging from a hedge post

two miles back east and a mile

west. Mumbles something

about Fairy Tales being real.

Offers there is no time to waste,

and leaves.

— Greg German, Kansas City, KS (professional poet category)


She’s so very tiring

In her thread-bare peasant smock,

Her poor-me pout,

And self-absorbed

Pumpkin paranoia.

She’s a bitch, moping

Around the fireplace

With her little bucket

And broom. Troubled,

Brooding on rescue.

All the while

Living on favors from

A fairy godmother

Who trades in Victoria’s

Secret Miracle bras, matching

Thongs, thigh-high

Gartered stockings. It’s enough

To make a wicked, glamour-

Deprived, step-sister weep.

Glad that at long last

She’s found a prince

And dropped-off her

Goddamn glass slipper.

— Al Ortolani, Lenexa (professional poet category)


Visiting the Southern Hemisphere

Everyone here is worried about the stars:

too many shine bright: there’s extra milky way;

some line up at strange angles. We can’t find

the constellations we expect, though we admit,

few of their shapes ever made sense to us.

We expected the ground, the trees and the birds

to spike differently, to curve more sharply,

to branch larger and more extravagantly,

but the sky comes as a shock to some, so

vivid with stars as expected, but surprising

in unfamiliarity, strange as driving

on the left of the road where the ghost

car at your right pushes you near ravines,

pedestrians, bikers, ditches, and streams.

So far, I haven’t minded the sky,

haven’t worried about the night’s clouds

covering stars we might learn from books.

When one in our company suggested

we lie on our backs in the sun to contemplate

stars we can’t see but know to exist,

I said if I can’t see them I don’t believe

in them, which makes a joke regarding faith-

lessness, but I think it may also be true.

Why should I remember the ice and misery

of home and cold, the grief pressed down

under a breastbone, the long days of office,

sunless, repairs waiting, the pain of breath?

Like the stars in this hemisphere or that,

in daylight waiting for night, they come back,

it comes back. Everything stays and is felt

whether we chose notice, amaze, or worry,

that pocket stone that presses into dreams,

the new planet whose light blankets dim stars.

— Laura Lee Washburn, Pittsburg (professional poet category)

Diamond Mirrors

The night called out to me and

I stepped barefoot into her evening beauty.

My hair was unbound in the dark breeze and as

I walked my garden became a misted paradise.

Moonflower vines covered the arbor in green tangles with white

balloon-skin blossoms larger than my outstretched hand.

Hawk-moths hovered on blurred wings, tongues drawn to their

perfumed glory.

The earth and I, both young again, together beneath the

forgiving moon and shadowed sky.

In that moment, you weren’t far away; and you still missed me.

The stars above had coaxed the buds below to open and shine

in a matching, diamond-mirror constellation.

When morning came and wilted casings littered the ground

like spent shells, I knew the beauty had not been lost,

for it had traveled straight to my heart and

the Milky Way.

— Donna Lynn Lash Wolff, Kansas City (nonprofessional poet category)