2000 to 1987 Winners’ Poems

First Prize, Year 2000. Stephen Dobyns, Judge
The Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Poetry Award


by Elaine W. Christensen

We were swimming, my sister and I,
the only way one survives summer in Kansas,
trying to stand on our hands in the shallow end,
toes pointed above the water line,
when everything —
children;s voices, splashing,
mothers calling, the lifeguard’s whistle — stopped.

In slow motion I turned my head
and saw it, coming fast, a funnel cloud
twisting, writhing,
the entire horizon to the east having risen up behind it,
black and evil.

What I’d heard was true,
nothing in that whole flat world moved,
or sang, or whimpered,
even the water that lapped the pool went still.
Earth sucked in her breath,
forgot how to inch forward.
The wheel, notched and greased wouldn’t catch,
wouldn’t shift to the next invoilable beat.
Never had I seen black like that black.

Years later when I lay on the ultrasound table
nine months pregnant
thinking, I am still that same summer girl,
and the nurse couldn’t find a heartbeat on the screen,
yet he was there floating inside me,
my stomach stretched with his shape,
I knew,
once before,
I’d felt the earth stop.

I was able to run then,
my sister and I, our wet towels plastered against us,
our bare feel slapping the sidewalk.


First Prize, 1999. Ellen Bryant Voigt, Judge.
The Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Poetry Award

Reading the River

by Charles Atkinson

In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds
–Wallace Stevens


Buried her years ago, so you’re not listening
when the sound recurs; you’re walking upriver
against the mind’s chatter.
Whatever you did
was not good enough. Still, she took you here
as a child: pay attention, her quiet finger said —
the world has a pulse, a breath.
Ahead, a marmot’s
squeak, the serious baritone of water dropping
on stone, and that faint familiar sound: muffled
stirring — insistent whisper you ought to know.


Easier to name the pines –Jeffrey, Lodgepole —
than to follow it back and in. Easier to give
the place a human story: how brief green is,

how listless the river will be in October,
the cottonwoods stripped, how soon cold
will take it by the throat, snow smother it.

Kingfisher scolds upstream, yellow butterflies
stagger down — these are metaphors. They hunt
and migrate. The sound hurts the temples.


Further up toward the mutter of water falling
you know it: her whisk caressing a bowl
at dawn — the mother you spent so long blaming.

A flycatcher whistles, a merganser riffles
the eddy — things she loved, all of them saying
let it rest, let it be.

You couldn’t, till you said
the harsh things. Now you have words, no one
to give them to. Overhead, water bends off a ledge,
stutters in a granite cistern and on downstream.


A hundred, two hundred feet up, firs & cedars
barely sigh. A splinter beats in your palm,
a spiderweb across the face. Mosquitoes

skirl at the ears. Downriver, your grown sons
compose their complaints, their honest hurts
to charge you with. You can almost hear
the stones grating.
Upstream, her whisk
still shirrs in the back-purling water — this,
this. Why does it make you so happy?


First Prize, 1998. Andrew Hudgins, Judge
The Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Poetry Award

Judas Tree

by Patric Pepper

Judas took a scrap of leather
And made himself a handy noose.
Then in lovely April weather
Choked himself. with some excuse.

He bent the branch and idly turned.
A hungry sparrow viewed the deed.
Nothing to eat and nothing learned.
She foraged on for mustard seed.

After lunch we cut him down.
Since he was seven days deceased.
We dumped him just beyond the town
And gave the feral dogs a feast.

They scattered Judas past the wall.
Femurs, and dung, and flecks of leather.
That’s mostly what we now recall,
That and perfect April weather.

And petals soft as Salome’s cheek.
Spatter of spring across the land,
Redbud. the tree that for a week
Held Judas in its bleeding hand.


First Prize, 1997 Michael Burkard, Judge
The Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Poetry Award

The Organ of Promise

by L. J. Kay

The ice is a haze that would
invade thin hearts. She settles
in a comer to look for reason
with a spoon. her fingers becoming
red leaf greetings fanning the cafe tea,
making birds out of steam.

Seeing a friend. her music rises
high above the morning, as inside her
the organ of promise rings like the face
of the moon to the other side of the room,
with the grey hymn thoughtfully
turned to pleasure.

Theirs is almost a winter insight
with another woman, the very old
unknown woman. who makes a living
only walking by the window of the cafe
as she just did, looking in; while
the two friends talk about ancestors
at Big Bend, Hanging Rock, The Hearing Creek,
and other places;

and interiors sing in their faces
about how to live long and medieval,
and the organ of promise is playing again:
“be infinite. and bless the four humors
of blood and water, bile and phlegm,
now, this awful winter.”


First Prize, Poetpourri, 1996
Judged by the Comstock Writers’ Group

The Lost Art

by David Robertson

When writing lit the way,
when the sentences rose up
from the encroachment of evening
and lit the length of an avenue
with lamps ornate as vines. . .

when paragraphs flashed across the waters
sweeping the night with arms of silver,
a lighthouse fixed as a star above a ruinolls coast
or a beacon on a headland to guide by . . .

when the lines
heaped from roadside stones,
from the weather-worn, the single-syllabled,
stood where the path divides at a crossing. . .

when the argument grew,
a grove of trees, a length of columns,
rows planted on level ground
and a space was left down the middle, an open aisle –

remember this writing, how it shone on the page.
And do not forget the silences that breathed from each comer
and the darkness that went on outside
after the end came in and shut the door.


First Place, 1995, Poetpourri
Judged by the Comstock Writers’ Group

fragment (1)

by F. Bjornson Stock

(1) (fragment of a declaration of love Hoang Dang Kien
made to his wife, Bui Suoi Ninh:)

the sound of rain taking you away
into roots where you cannot taste bread
and your mother cannot call you back
by offering another birth cord.
i hear the long flute of your spine
under mangrove recognize you
in water that hints of jasmine.
Ninh, I still wear green at night,
smoke, search for you, leave lights burning.
your lips have raised this fine, wet character
water cannot erase from my skin.
moonlight against your skin lures me
closer to pearly eggs, a carp,
mud-winged, ripe, i risk the bow
hunter’s shaft aimed at my tear-shaped body.
in a hundred years who will remember
i hungered for you, collapsed in springtime?
will the lunar sheen under my orbits, the temple
body i offered you, love, turn up
printed on rice paper inside a curio shop in Hue?
who will dust the glint of my impression
or will they buy this negative for the moon:
heavy, lacquered, frame pressing
fish body under a glass circle?

i am drifting toward the sea’s broken froth,
your body light beneath my quivering surface.


First Prize, 1994 Poetpourri
Judged by the Comstock Writers’ Group

Written by Linda Keegan:

Nodding To Strangers

(for my son Brian who lived one day
in October)

A sudden breeze and October leaves fly
as if they do not know they are dying.
They fall and form cushions, thick and plush
to soften the finality of death
for those who will follow,
cover all the diverging paths
so there is no sign
that anyone was ever here.
One birch, weakened now and empty
except for one swollen sac of twigs
that once held the baby robin,
leans 9n a strong oak.

I run a slow finger from my pubis
to my navel along that scar left over,
touch you, always again, for the first time.
I tell you that the younger man and woman over
there are not your brother and sister,
that this man over here is not your father.
I tell you that I walk out here in the rural
part of the county every year on this day
posing as your mother,
nodding to strangers.
I am tempted to stay here.
to bed down in these leaves where
the paths converge,
where the riches of the past
are now the richness of the earth,
where the sycamore has fallen
and in its death will provide
a fine home for the flicker.


First Prize, 1993 Poetpourri
Judged by the Comstock Writers’ Group

We Had Come For a May Visit

by Mona Toscano-Paschke

“Don’t scowl. Don’t scowl and
don’t hold your hand like that….”

My mother hurls truths at my son.
like an angry farmer throwing chemicals at an infertile field.
her reiteration scorches my son’s brow.
The tension kinks his middle finger. He says nothing.
He raises his contorted hand to his balding forehead.
He does this repeatedly.
The “Don’ts” rise up to a March typhoon.

We had come for a May visit.
We had come to visit with my parents.
We had come hoping for a holiday.

My mother is telling the truth.
My mother always tells the truth.
And just like scorching lime,
the truth smacks the tendrils of my son’s delayed adolescence.
He is twenty going on thirteen.
He is an aborted Spring
reverting back to a thawless Winter

Why can’t my mother see the reversion? Why
can’t she admit what my father has whispered
to me — “Some seeds never develop…”? And,
if she could, wouldn’t she see what my son is–
a ganglionic peony — A blood red ball of a blossom
pocked before it blooms? Why can’t she love him
as he is — Frozen? Ruptured? Where he is — lost,
lost in his season, his shrinking season?
* * *
I look outside and can no longer smell the lilacs.


First Prize 1992 Poetpourri National Contest
Judged by the Comstock Writers’ Group

Written by Eileen Daly Moeller

The Hunger Angels

first came to her when her parents were fighting.

Light as hummingbirds, little hollow seashells,
they whispered their cravings,
showed her the invisible zipper that kept her father from speaking
and the rope that bound him tightly to his mother
with its undertow of loneliness.

They took baths in his beer,
made fun of the grandmother’s white heron
poses at the kitchen table
where meat had been a precious commodity.

And she watched them
crowding onto her mother’s silverware.
They were the mayonnaise that oozed out of sandwiches.
When Mother tried to find a silence they would gather in her hair
stirring up the racket of memory: the abuses,
the abandonment, the hard work that made her want to disappear
into cooking pots and gourmet magazines full of creamy sauces.

The girl watched her mother tangle herself in loneliness
wondering how the angels multiplied so quickly,
why they all had Mother’s face in miniature.

Put us in your hope chest,
they said to the girl when she was eight years old.
Someday you will open it
and we will have grown
from white wisps into pasty dumplings with wings.
We will keep you fidgety company.

And in her innocence she welcomed them,
glad to be included,
not knowing
how else the story might have gone.


First Prize, 1991 Poetpourri
Central New York Contest judged by CWG
The Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Poetry Award
(no more Central New York Contests held after 1991)

Lullaby For A Showgirl

by Jennifer Miller

Miranda de la Rosa sang the blues in crystal ball gowns,
held his trophies high because he was the best.
She would have buried him spiraled inside a feather boa,
beneath a lame’ headdress twice his height.
Miranda de la Rosa,
you lost your shimmy in these last few months.
Belonging in the arms of a dark and silent man –
he found himself here, feeding on her good intentions.
Tumbling in Lena Horne,
struggling with sips of thick gray soup
they hoped for one more day.
Caressing the cobwebs of his hair,
She heard of Puerto Rico –
tasted the nectar of papaya and passion,
sucked sugarcane between her teeth,
smelled sand and salt and red crabs washed ashore.
“I will die in the arms of my mother” he told her,
though together they knew her young, paid arms
would catch his fall.
She spoke no Spanish, was often late
and always burned the rice.

She is cleaning out his closet now,
finding outfits that a nice girl wouldn’t wear.
He is strewn about her on his bedroom floor
in yards of sequined silk and padded bras.
She drags a pair of long black gloves
up high on to her arm.
She plans a trip to see the red crabs washed ashore.


First Prize 1991 Poetpourri National Contest
The Dorothy Damon Award
Judged by the Comstock Writers’ Group

Written by Gayle Elen Harvey

The Moon’s Waltzing Alone
(for Diane)

in deserted kitchens. Its arms are filled with
bitterroot, cut summer roses. My mother gives me a sprig
of pink blossoms, the rings from her finger.

I’m bewildered by dreams where the dead grow ageless
as emeralds. Stars flash like glass jars
of seed. Sister, the stars have no parents and only a few,
close relatives. Their light travels through the body of the sky
like a cancer.

How many mothers and fathers are drifting, confused,
in their sepia shadows? All these years and they’re still sad
companions, shyly embracing.
I want to go with them over these hills
and into the roosting darkness. How hard it is to relinquish
the sharp grip. Again and again
they dismiss us, leave us behind with bad weather, small scraps
of wing. Only their love, like a thing never done, burns through
into morning.


First Prize, 1991 Poetpourri
Central New York Contest judged by CWG
The Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Poetry Award

by K. C. Byrnes

They were lying coiled
like a rattler on the shelf
in the cloth cave of my daughter’s closet,
a plastic circle of twenty-eight
pills, spiraling in on themselves,
her childhood lying bit,
dying, before me.

Household shocks are the worst.
The sex-letter with script of flame,
the accident scream of the late phone,
the lump rearing up unsought
in the bathroom mirror.
The beloved world, scuffed and soft,
hurtles away and an alien world
sidles up, dressed in the same old things,
but smelling metallic and
smiling with yellow eyes.

Mothers remain virgins to hard knowing
as long as denial keeps and the world permits.
We keep children clothed, sane, sober, safe.
We sleep wrapped thinly in our stories.
And when truth calls on us in drag,
or in a pimp’s plumed hat,
or covered in blood or vomit,
the child-mother crumples,
and someone ancient and fierce,
mother-of-sorrows, heart of titanium,
steps in.


First Prize 1990, Poetpourri National Contest
(The Dorothy Damon Award)
Judged by the Comstock Writers’ Group

Written by Wendy M. Mnookin

Changing Places

On July 10, 1989, Shaun Peterson was caught in an auger
while working on the family farm. It took his father twenty
minutes to disentangle him from the machinery. He died
a few hours later.

Shaun! the father calls from sleep, and the boy
takes shape, sweating and grimy, glad
to be called. That day, it must have been 100 degrees
in the silo, but the father felt
as if a biting wind blew over him, severing him
from any thoughts. Soon Shaun
can shower for supper. This time
no heavy purple curtain falls
between him and the man working methodically
from foot to calf to knee, inching his way
along muscle and bone. Like the curtain
in the school’s Christmas play – what was Shaun?
a shepherd? — and the father in the audience,
clapping dutifully. Now he’s on stage, leaning
on his own staff for the long trek. He throws himself
into the scene, and it doesn’t matter
that no ram will emerge from the thicket.
This is what’s asked, this
is what’s required. That day he stood apart,
looking down at himself as he choked
on a thick haze of corn dust. Now he looks
right at Shaun, who walks off stage without knowing
the machine’s steady reach. The father
leans into the embrace.

First Prize, 1990 Poetpourri
Central New York Contest judged by CWG

Greeting a Neighbor at the Grocery

by Mary Stebbins

Black feathers beat on my face, fanning
a glacial chill. Grey flesh hangs
from your skull like melting slush,
betraying a core of cold magma
gathering strength to erupt:
dull blood clotting beyond tomorrow.
Quickly, I turn away, hiding
the naked head, dark wings, and sudden
plunge reflected for you
still flight of my eyes.


First Prize, 1989 Poetpourri National Contest
Judged by the Comstock Writers’ Group

by Natalie Kenvin

Floating carp,
rampant dragons, tigers that ripple
with a flick of skin,
They are like stencils of milk
on burlap.
They lash their tails
In the brightness of pain.
Insolent stencils that pin memory to a tree, a rose.
Soaked, caustic wires, they hum blue
above minute streams of blood.
They are the curves
Where dreams grieve and tilt
up to light.
Headstones on skin,
They are hard appetites
of bitterness


First Prize, Poetpourri 1989
Central New York Contest, judged by CWG, 2 poems tied:


by Eva M. Dadlez

Diane, chalk-white, all angles and virtue;
bird-boned, honed-down,
bleached out with moonlight,
darts and rustles in the shadows
hissing for her dogs.
Every night, the same old thing.
She forgets they died
aeons ago, when the world was fat and green,
their bones constellations by now.
So she skitters among the trash cans, the carports,
frantic, howling for her former cohorts, compatriots
in bygone ecstasies,
to come, come quickly and wolf down the night
while it’s young.
Finally, cornered for the hundred-millionth time
by incipient morning
she limps and quivers to a halt,
strings her bow with one old hair
and tries to play it like a harp —
a twanging wah-wah,
a waning be-bop of the wood,
fingers snapping
as she tries to twist them into lover’s knots.

Leda Revised

by Eva M. Dadlez

Oh no, it can’t have been a swan:
web-footed, bottom-heavy and duck-billed,
bobbing and floating like some ludicrous beach toy.
If gods indeed assumed deliberate disguises,
if gods were birds that hunted for unnatural prey,
then they’d be something hot and sudden
sharply hurtled from the heavens:
fitted out with razor beak,
fitted up with razor talons,
fast as photons, sleek and accurate as scalpels.
Such incidents of stooping to consort
mere vertical incisions
across the whorled and wadded firmament of things,
its length unfurled and torn
beneath the beating wings, its sundered fabric leaking
rubies: warm and luscious,
a crimson coruscation of ambrosia
fit for plundering gods to gorge on.
So, one terrific burst of electrochemical discharge
and it’s all over
but. for the faint boom-booming susuration
of the flushed and quivering clouds:
stolen thunder.


First Prize, 1988 Poetpourri
National Awards, judged by CWG

Death Tide

by Susan Manchester

Before breath left he asked
to keep slippers off feet
that lay stiff on the stool
like magnets drawn to naked metal,
skin broken over swelling. An ocean

in those toes, dammed and waiting,
turned purple until the flood began
and each leg became a reservoir,
each hand a bloated pond. And

for a time I thought his lungs
would float on the lake that rose
within, until they too had had their
fill and soon — too soon — began to sink
beneath the surface. No amount

of air could satisfy them. Even so
he eased into a wave to drown,
the pewter tide that filled his eyes
unrippled gray, and silent.


First Prize 1988 Poetpourri
Central New York Contest, judged by CWG

by Katharyn Howd Machan,
formerly known as Katharyn Machan Aal

Even as we spoke, it began:
piece of moon
cratering your breath.
How does stone grow?
Cell by cell, death
whispering your name:
woman o woman o
curve of round breast.
What’s your sign? Not
the lion lurching drunk
toward meat, not the lady
lascivious in fruity blue.
Month of shell and claw,
the sea a taste of birth
remembered, sudden waves
turning you in their tide.


First Place, Poetpourri 1987, Issue #1
Judged by The Comstock Writers’ Group

Some Few Dawns

by Alton Bruce

As though our candle lit the sun
And caught the sky in flower
Some few dawns – I recollect
Astonished me with power

As though the pyramids were built
On stilts – instead of sands
As though I poured Niagara out
And caught it in my hands
As though God’s kitten cuffed the Earth
Across Creation’s floor
As though I climbed atop myself
And rattled Heaven’s door

It strains the heart’s credulity
To think love held such sway
And yet – in all its gentle might
Could not contrive to stay