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!
RIVERS OF OUR LIVES:
I’ve Known Rivers
After Langston Hughes
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.
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.
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
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,
— Greg German, Kansas City, KS (professional poet category)
She’s so very tiring
In her thread-bare peasant smock,
Her poor-me pout,
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
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)
NIGHT AND FLIGHT:
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)
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
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)