Congratulations to all the winners of our Monthly Poetry Contests in the first six months of 2021. The prize-winning poems, selected by our Annual Contest Judge, Alice Pero, are posted below.
The second half of the year will have the poems posted in January 2022. All Monthly Contest Winners will also be listed in the California Quarterly 48:1, Spring 2022, in the Newsbriefs section. All prize-winning poems published in the Poetry Letter No. 1, 2022, Spring 2022.
January 2021 - First Prize Winner
by Emory D. Jones
Bent grasses hint
at the passing of unseen winds
Spires of black spruce,
rise out of moss
and point skyward,
their broken branches draped
with a haunting thin gauze
Poisonous red capped mushrooms stand
like miniature tables and chairs—
that some secret night
might have hosted
the “little people”
so important in the folklore
of the native Ojibwa.
Something spiritual lives here,
January 2021 - Second Prize Winner
The Summer of Fire
by Marlene Hitt
... only a few clear days to see mountains
that summer of smoke.
It blew north to south, west to east,
then due westward with a thick canopy
veiling the sky.
That one morning, dawn sun
rose red as a bloody yolk
fiery as those flames
that devour ridges and ranges
licking them clear of chaparral.
That sun spread orange on the sheets
where we lay while orange flames
covered thickets and nests.
You have such a terrible craving
reducing cedar and pine to
blackened stumps, sumac to ash.
We pray for rain to bear you downhill
to melt the rage of you.
This morning in the orange light
air is pungent;
the smell of black brush,
the fear of live creatures.
After the night of fire
I do not fret over the smell of
last night's onions
nor do I light a bathroom candle
but gaze out to yellow-grey,
watch the mountains disappear.
January 2021 - Third Prize Winner
The Coming Snow
by David Anderson
The lone buffalo grazes
ninety feet away
from a single giant pine.
This landscape hangs
by the haze of a coming storm.
Coated with ice
continues to bite
the short grass
we cannot see
under the shifting layer of slush.
Spare winter feed belies
the flourishing tree
which, like the buffalo,
and catches the diamonds
of the oncoming snow.
February 2021 - First Prize Winner
by Claire J. Baker
I learn by going where I have to go.
~ Theodore Roethke
My love & I are a blink
in time's polished mirror
a tinkling of bells
a sprinkling of savvy
filled with drama, trauma
In the center of our story
we gather anise
& rosemary for soup.
After reading The Waking
we realize we read
each other easily.
we will love forever,
surely makes it so,
& so for now
we gloriously come and go.
March 2021 - First Prize Winner
Just One Thing—
by Julia Park Tracey
Between two trees, a pretty
patch of light like sun on water, firelight on walls—
like rain against the window, where every gleam’s
Mica in concrete. Ice crystals. My
wedding band with a diamond for each child.
William Carlos Williams’ broken glass
and Lucy in the sky, all shining with that
unbearable beauty, the only thing
that keeps my two feet moving when I should otherwise
collapse. A sparkle so bright it
waters my eyes. A light so delicate and sharp
like the first breath on a January morning.
Strange that’s all it takes some days to endure.
So little. So much.
April 2021 - First Prize Winner
by Colorado Smith
A windblown iris-blue sky,
flint chips and black-on-white shards
are peppered among red-rock spires
where, centuries of centuries ago,
yucca-fiber sandals pressed braided tracks
into this barren barranca
leading down to a sulfur spring.
Summer monsoon mud
and smoldering sun seared their trace
into castellated Cañyon del Muerto
in the Dragoon Mountains.
A fevered history and sacred legends
from the People’s Chantways
speak of spiritual geography:
ancestral burial cists,
of salt-pilgrimages to the Sea of Cortez,
of crossing windswept sands
and silver playas;
of parched, desert dreams:
April 2021 - Second Prize Winner
Plein Air, Oxford
by Teresa Bullock
There. Near the pinking apples
stands a giant chestnut shading the yard.
On the ancient wall crusty with lichen,
a resting cat sits sentry. Plush gray,
a boat cat by trade, he stops by
for a lap of milk and tummy rub
before padding home
to his long boat on the Isis.
Downy cygnets paddle around his boat,
bobbing and weaving for slick grasses.
Sculls swoosh by like needlefish.
Look again. Up river
a cow herd cools under
long lashes of willow. Port Meadow
glows golden in the late sun. The palette:
Mud Brown, Tree-Canopy Green, Sky Water Blue,
Shadow Black. For the cows -
quick strokes in white and rust.
April 2021 - Third Prize Winner
by Ruth Berman
Sicya — a fruit like the cucumber
Or the gourd
In Cucumber Town
In Sicyon near Corinth
Praxilla mourned Adonis in the spring.
Her Adonis, sprouting in the garden,
Spoke of what he missed,
Silly as Praxilla's Adonis!"
Men in other
Shocked that an idiot woman dared
Put cucumbers on a par
With the celestial glories
In Cucumber Town
Ate fresh salad
Her bite of immortality
With earth-born flavors.
In the land of death, Adonis
Waiting for the spring
Remembers sunlight on the garden.
May 2021 - First Prize Winner
Is that a Bird?
by Luise Kantro
Well, Joan Miro.
I don’t get it.
A moon. A star.
Five, maybe six, wacky, tilted heads.
I see no birds.
Crazy gymnasts, birds are.
The air. The cloudless sky.
That weightless sensation.
Really, I see no birds.
Why call your painting
Women and Bird in the Moonlight?
As for the heads –
mere faces with eyes
nose and mouth.
Are they the women?
Where are the boobs
the painted nails
The shapes part I get.
Round, pointed, curved.
Shapes are cool.
Oh my, is that thing a bird?
And those colors, orange and gray.
I can almost feel sun’s warmth touch my skin,
loamy earth crumble in my fingers.
Best of all, through memory’s eye,
I see the marvelous drawing my son,
at five, made of a child sitting at a table
watching his orange juice fly across the room.
May 2021 - Second Prize Winner
Mending its Own Business
Mending Its Own Business
Slick, midnight black, big as Poe’s
imagination, bird claws wood
where leafy tears flutter like
green crystals under a jay-blue sky.
Seems nothing like a writing desk*
as I spy its folded span amid tree
sway and sprawl, a warrior hunter
alert for prey and insurrection.
Beak snaps off a sizeable twig,
I guess for a nest, and then takes
flight; my wild-thing thoughts
turn to domesticated musings.
*Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
is a riddle proposed by the Mad Hatter
during a tea party in Lewis Carroll's classic
1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
May 2021 - Third Prize Winner
The House Knows
by Elizabeth Kuelbs
The house knows this baby’s zipping her bags
bound for some wild place riddled with termites
or leaks or views of cracked bricks.
All the babies are the house’s favorite
so she sings remember like a circus at the end of the world
tumbling lavender Easter eggs from under the sofa,
sunshining the floor with golden nap patches,
percussing the stairs with ghosts of first steps and high heels,
breathing fresh sourdough and butter from the kitchen,
cajoling flocks of orioles to trill in the backyard poplars,
and plinking scraped knees and triumph on the worn piano.
But this baby, bound for some wild place,
just kisses the front door, then rolls her bags down the walk
where the weeping cherries froth blossoms at her nonstop
and the grass greens so hard, stretching pluckily skyward—
you hear me, baby? the house calls,
you stretch skyward always,
lawnmowers or no damn lawnmowers
June 2021 - First Prize Winner
The Ghost in the Restaurant
by Gail White
If I'm not fit for heaven, let me haunt
Venice, I prayed. And now I have a front
Row seat at Florian's, facing St. Mark's square,
To start again my oldest love affair.
It's true the waiter never comes to take
My order - understandable mistake
Since I'm not visible - so what's the use
Of showering the servants with abuse?
People sit down around me. I don't care
Catching the pageant from my vacant chair,
I see the paving stones grow bright with rain,
The pigeons cluck and stutter, twilights wane
To starry nights. I watch, while thanking God,
God, the changing lights that turn St. Mark's facade
from gray-green stone into a sheet of gold.
Don't sit down suddenly. You'll feel the cold.