2020 Sonnet Contest Top Ten
For Trevion in the Local News
So you were only nineteen—funny, smart—
as friends will often say of one who’s dead.
You’d talk for hours, had a troubled heart,
a fearless future swirling in your head
as you stood sometimes on the rocks beside
the local creek, soothed by your bare feet cool
in shallow water. On the day you died
among a gang of buddies out of school
the current took you. No one noticed when
or how you disappeared without a cry,
got swept and trapped beneath a bridge.
the flashing lights, the sisters standing by.
Next article. I click your death away.
How many times, this tiresome cliché.
Barbara Loots resides in Kansas City, Missouri. Her 2020 collection is The Beekeeper and other love poems (Kelsay Books). Her funny verse appears frequently in lightpoetrymagazine.com.
The Palace of Forty Pillars
Isfahan is half the world
Twenty pillars drip into the pool
their likenesses, where the likeness of a boy
wavers among the clouds, eyeing the boy
who’s waiting for another. All is dual:
two rows of roses frame the pond, in twos
the swans glide, each on another’s breast, then fuse
in a headless embrace. All is dissolved:
the boy outside the water is no more
a boy inside the water—his no more
the face defaced by its own lines on shattered
waves overlapping like a rose, the tattered
pillars strewn like petals. All is halved,
severed, like home and school, like love and being
loved—the boy no more than a way of seeing.
First published in The Sewanee Review.
Armen Davoudian’s poems and translations appear in AGNI, The Sewanee Review, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Swan Song, won the 2020 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. He grew up in Isfahan, Iran, and is currently a PhD candidate in English at Stanford University.
What made me buy the nested Russian doll
whose faded paint and fractured wooden frame
had doomed her to a yard sale? Had her fall
from grace inspired a longing to reclaim
for her, for fifty cents, some lost esteem?
Or would the curious plaything prove to be
my granddaughter’s new toy? No, it would seem
I brought the pregnant outcast home for me.
For women I had tried so long to trace,
Matryoshka held a tangible motif:
same yet separate, I knew the face,
gave up each grievance, sanctioned every grief.
Restored, they stand here, echoing one another—
mother, daughter, mother, daughter, mother.
First published in 14 by 14 as "Matryoshka", April 2008.
Catherine Chandler, poet, translator, editor, and winner of the Richard Wilbur Award, is an unapologetic formalista whose work has appeared in journals and anthologies in North America, Europe and Australia. Her bio, reviews, and audio recordings can be found online at cathychandler.blogspot.com.
I Dreamt of a Broken Bird
I dreamt of a broken bird that couldn’t fly
left by a child in a box of grass and found
years later making the same lost sound
so it seemed a miracle that it didn’t die.
I dreamt of someone clutched around a pain
that wouldn’t go away, a wound, an injury
that put on layers, grew outwards like a tree
until it seemed impossible to contain
within a body’s span. I saw the bird
still try to move, still pulsing desperately
in the sheltering place constructed for its safety
by that well-meaning child. I saw the hard
growth round the tender wound. It took no art
to see my dream was all about the heart.
First published in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily.
Ciarán Parkes lives in Galway, Ireland. His poems have appeared in The Threepenny Review, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, and other places. He writes song lyrics for the Galway band, This Lunar Mansion.
One last dry Manhattan, up, no ice,
a breath of sweet vermouth beneath the rye,
Angostura bitters and a slice
of lemon, cut as thin as winter’s sky
or Swedish crystal glasses, wrapped and hidden
in paper towels, tucked deep inside my purse
between the airplane bottles – a forbidden
contraband I smuggled past the nurse.
A smile, a sip, a sigh, all saying more
than words could as you raise your glass to mine,
then let it fall to shatter on the floor
and pulse beat falls into a flat green line.
One last dry Manhattan, one last toast,
not to your health but to your loving ghost.
Kit Rohrbach lives, writes, and herds cats in southeastern Minnesota.
On a Theme From Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
. . .es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.
—Sonnet 145, On Her Self-Portrait
. . .is corpse, is dust, is shadow, is nothing
you see or want to see. Your sketching hand
draws only what it knows: Light from a strand
of web tickling the breeze; dark welts, red stings
unseen parasites bestowed; torn paper
that once sheltered letters you almost read.
There’s no need to look again. Let the dead
bury their own. There’s nothing to take here
but dust. You may gather those words you left
under your cot and let the mirror fall
without breaking, but don’t look. There’s no next
now. Cover your paints. Put them in your small
basket. You must start to strike your own tent.
Leave this frame vacant on the folded wall.
First published in Chantarelle’s Notebook.
Mark J. Mitchell’s bio can’t fit into 30 words. His most recent full-length collection is Roshi San Francisco, published by Norfolk Press. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the activist and documentarian Joan Juster.
The dining room’s half-open doors impart
a look of hasty exit; disarray
of wine glass sideways, chairs left backed away
and stains like blood on tabletop’s op art.
The carpet seems to undulate and flow
around the splintered light that makes its way
in silence. Windows introduce the day
through faded curtains. Seams and patches show.
He wakes beside a young man in his bed
and shudders to recall the night before,
the easy sex before they slipped to sleep.
He’s nauseous and through his aching head
pour thoughts of gender, parents, love, and more.
His offshore isolation makes him weep.
After “Friday Night in the Royal Station Hotel” by Philip Larkin.
This poem was first published on an interactive website for the city of Hull, linked to the Royal Station Hotel.
Mercedes Webb-Pullman’s poems and stories have appeared in online journals and anthologies, e-books, and print since 2008. She lives in New Zealand. She earned an MA from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University, in 2011.
Ornithology and its Discontents
Preachers extolled birds as models of love,
so sweet, so proper. Then parbleu, we heard
sad news about the cheating of the dove,
promiscuity of the hummingbird,
scandalous divorce among flamingos,
and sparrows shaking up ménages à trois.
For swingers on the wing any fling goes,
the mallard’s passion’s fiery, ma foi,
but once the eggs are laid, it’s bye-bye honey.
The gander and his lady mate for life;
in geese we trust: they’re up to nothing funny,
each cleaves unto her husband (or her wife).
Pray paternity tests don’t make us lose
faith in the fidelity of the goose.
Enriqueta Carrington has published several books of poetry translations and received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poems in English and Spanish have appeared in several journals and anthologies.
Forms and Forming
Do you recall the form sent from the bank,
the work of clerks, accountants, financiers,
an amortization table that filled the blank
of thirty formerly uncommitted years?
And then the house, with all those blanks to fill,
closets and cupboards, that white, unpictured wall,
no flowers on the kitchen windowsill,
the pair of empty bedrooms down the hall?
In filling in those blanks did we submit
to forms the world imposed on us, did we
leave uncreated lives that didn’t fit
the selves the forms intended us to be?
Or were we figures latent in the stone,
discovering forms inherently our own?
Richard Wakefield’s publications include East of Early Winters (winner of the Richard Wilbur Award) and A Vertical Mile (short-listed for the Poets’ Prize). His new collection, Terminal Park, is due for publication this year.
Remember with my sitting parents I
at napkins red with cloth a table high
things struggling out to figure how these thin
(which home I knew at bags came plastic in)
potatoes were, and hamburger my how
to a connection have could any cow.
Twist change and blithely we our world: we light
and pave like soft, good day the earth, the night.
We wonder so that find what easy it
twist well ourselves as to? We still can sit
for desks behind long money hours for bland
and nation hate on any can command.
Hard shapes for make can strange it us our new
recall in shapes the which we born were to.