2020 Sonnet Contest Top Ten

First Place

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. 

                                                    And then

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.

Second Place

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.

Third Place

Salvage

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.

Honorable Mentions

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.

Last Call

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.

Saturday morning

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.

Onset

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.

Max Gutmann has contributed to dozens of publications including New Statesman, Able Muse, and Cricket. His plays have appeared throughout the US and have been well-reviewed (see maxgutmann.com). His book There Was a Young Girl from Verona sold several copies.

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