Write Action announces the 2016 contest winners of its annual poetry and prose contest. The theme was "This could be the day!"
Winners in the adult categories receive cash prizes; winners of poetry and prose in youth categories receive gift certificates.
Alice Fogel, judge
1st place - James Crews for "Waiting for Love"
2nd - Genna Nethercott for "There's Superstition Among Truckers Further West"
3rd - Cindy Snow for "Figure 89: Apricots in Agnes Block's Garden"
Alice Fogel was poetry judge -- Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and author of two books of poetry, one non-fiction: "Interval: Poems Based on Bach's Goldberg Variations" published in 2015 from Schaffner Press; "Be That Empty," now in its 2nd printing, from Harbor Mountain Press; "Strange Terrain: A Poetry Handbook for the Reluctant Reader" from Hobblebush Books, published in 2009.
Joyce Marcel, judge
1st place - MaryLiz Riddle for "The Night the Coyotes Came Calling"
2nd - Kathy Pell for "Police Line: Do Not Cross"
3rd - Shin Freedman for "Wood Stacks"
Joyce Marcel, journalist, was prose judge -- Joyce Marcel is known to many locally as a longtime columnist for the Brattleboro Reformer. She currently writes for the Brattleboro Commons, and Vermont Business magazine. In 2006 she published “A Thousand Words or Less: Favorite Columns 1996-2005,” a collection of over 70 columns originally published in print in the Brattleboro Reformer and the Progressive Populist, and on-line at Common Dreams and The American Reporter.
Nancy Olson, judge
1st place - Peyton Eisler for "Alzheimer's"
Honorable Mention - Zoie Brooks for "Orange Envy"
1st place - Ema Baldauf for "The Other Side"
Honorable Mention - Molly Atamaniuk for "No Words"
Nancy Olson was youth judge. Olson recently retired from teaching English at BUHS after 35 years, and heading up the English Department for nine of those years.
Waiting for Love
by James Crews
You must save up for it and collect and gather honey.
You can collect as much of it as you like,
keep it in trunks under the bed, in closets
or store it in stone jars as the pharaohs did,
placing gallon after gallon of priceless honey
next to the alabaster heads of sarcophagi
so when they woke wide-eyed and famished
in the afterlife, they’d find something familiar
and sweet to eat. But nothing hoarded stays
hidden for long. Soon enough some looter
will shimmy into that secret room in you and—
ignoring the warnings—will pry off the lid
of every sighing jar and scoop out what is now
crystallized, shining in his hands, still somehow
delicious after all that time.
There’s a Superstition Amongst Truckers Further West
by Genna Nethercroft
There’s a superstition amongst truckers further west—every nail that spoils
a tire, they keep. Treasure
into ashtrays & coin cans.
Five: they come into luck. Ten: money.
Twenty nails & a hauler can leave
the wheel. Never has to drain another gas tank. Finds a woman. Inherits land in a slow town where the streets
are too narrow for cargo.
They say one man got to nineteen
& drove off a bridge. Saw that glint
of metal on the interstate below
& reached for it. The storytellers don’t name him Tragedy or Caution or Fool.
They speak his name brazenly, like a bet, like a winning horse. They tell his legend
as if speaking of themselves, tomorrow. Like any of them would have done the same.
Apricots in Agnes Block’s Garden
by Cindy Snow
I wanted the branch to ache
across the diagonal, lean, pitch,
inch toward light. I wanted leaves
open to memory and leaves curled
into small cups of longing. I wanted
the apricots small, freckled globes,
lemon yellow, horizon orange, cleft
like a baby’s behind. I wanted you,
small yellow-breasted bird, still,
mid wobble, gymnast on high. I used
my finest tips to freckle the fruit,
vein leaves, feather the bird’s belly.
So many conversations—cool blue
with white, red with orange,
dragonfly thin with opaque flat. This
was not the first time I’d entered
the scene. But it was the moment
I understood that thirst
for sugar, the bird’s frenzied eye.
The Night the Coyotes Came Calling
by MaryLiz Riddle
The story I am about to tell you is a true story. It happened late in September at the time of the Autumnal Equinox as the earth was turning toward Winter and I was sinking into a dark time.
You, reading this ‒ have you ever known bone weary sleepless nights spent lying awake, alone in a sea of unmade decisions as you hashed over the latest plan to stay afloat just one more day? Have you bargained again and again with the powers that be to grant you the strength to wake in the morning knowing that maybe, just maybe, this would be the day when the path ahead would become clear?
It was on just such a night, as I lay alone in my narrow bed, that the coyotes chose to come calling. I did not hear them coming silently out of the safety of the meadow beyond Wells River through the pines and the scrub oaks onto my land where we had created a fire pit below our second story bedroom window.
I don’t know what it was . . . fur ruffling in the wind, claws scratching across rocks, a twig snapping under the weight of leather padded paws, or maybe a branch bending to let a bulky body pass, but gradually the silence came alive and an audible hush fell over the house like a soft blanket of comfort around my shoulders.
It was the dark of the moon. The time when armies attack, and shadows disappear, and coyotes travel. There was only starlight, faint starlight, to guide them on the path ahead. Or was it fire flies? All I could see was the inner light of their eyes as they circled around the cold ashes of the fire pit below.
The coyotes were coming to reclaim their land. They were coming to soothe my sleepless night and assure me . . .
The day will come when this too shall pass.
You have been a good steward of our land.
Without warning, as if an unseen baton had fallen, they began to carol. First the leader let loose a clarion call then another answered and another and then another joined in until the full chorus of caroling coyotes built up to a crescendo of weaving intricate waves of wild tones. How long this rollicking call and response lasted I cannot say. It seemed to go on forever.
I watched as coyote eyes swirled like sparks around the fire pit. The coyotes were dancing . . . hushed now . . . dancing to their own remembered music. I do not know when the caroling ended and only echoes of the coyote chorus rang through the forest.
In time, with the return of the light, the coyotes moved off one by one in a single file into the forest, across the river, back to their home ground in the meadow. Once again I was left alone perched on the edge of my window sill ready to launch into what had been utter darkness for so long, knowing now that the dark blooms and sings and is traveled by dark feet and soft wings.
© 2016 MaryLiz Riddle
Police Line, Do Not Cross
by Kathy Pell
Center Street is blocked by caution tape and a crowd is just waiting to tweet or text a claim to their 15 seconds of I was there, I saw it fame. Bodies press up against the yellow tape, stretching not only it but the patience of the lone cop who stands, hands folded behind his back, surveying them. I open my car door and stand on the running board to get a better view. I can see over their heads to the edge of the street where an SUV sits wrapped around the light pole. A nearby ambulance stands, door open, lights flashing, but no one moves very fast. Their service is not needed; they wait for a coroner to give Death permission.
My eyes skirt from the crowd back to the sickening picture in the center…a black Ford. I tell myself this means nothing, so many cars are black. I straighten up in my seat for a better view. It might have a sun roof and roof rack but it is difficult to tell in its current state. The green license plate makes my heart beat just a little faster. But that doesn’t mean anything I tell myself again. This car does not belong to my child, I will not let it. By the time the thought has fully taken shape, the sudden impact of terror has driven me out of my car to the front of the crowd, already bending to let myself under the police line. Before the next thought, the one that I don’t want to allow, can materialize, a hand on my shoulder stops me.
“Ma’am, you can’t get any closer.” the cop says.
I’m not the ma’am type I think absently. “Excuse me,” I say, pointing toward the edge of the street, “I need to find out if that is my daughter in that car.”
This stops him for a moment, I look intently at this man-boy young enough to be my son. I will him to understand that in this moment I am not a stand-patiently-in-line-a-the-bank- ma’am but a crazed woman; a mama bear protecting her cub.
He doesn’t get it however, and pushes me back with just a little more force, “I’m sorry, but I need you to stay back behind the line.”
But I don’t retreat. The mama bear in me presses a large paw against my spine, bringing me to my full height and I stare directly into his young eyes.
“I’m going over to that car to see if my child is inside,” I say through tight lips as I push past him. Sound and light fade from my periphery; I move in slow motion through shadow as my feet carry me to the back of the car; stomach tense, breath shallow. There are no pre-printed directions for moments such as these. The green and white plate on the back of the Ford reads “BRT 976”, but they’re just empty numbers to me.
“Ma’am!” the officer’s voice breaks in from behind me. I feel his hand on my arm as he catches up, and I’m poised to turn around, and scream at him. But, I don’t need to do this— His lips are pulled into an understanding frown, his brow furrowed with concern— This time I know he understands. He places both hands on my shoulders as if he is trying to comfort and contain me at the same time. His hands are durable, untouched by age, warm.
“Ma’am, this vehicle was driven by a young man. Does this help?”
After the crispness of his words settle in my ears, I can’t speak but I nod, relief pulling my shoulders down and loosening the narrow band that had tightened around my chest.
“Now, Ma’am, please, I really need you to step back with the other people.” I let him turn me around and lead me back to the edge of the crowd. He lifts up the yellow barrier and I duck under it, turning one last time to look at him.
“It’s okay, go home to your daughter. Drive safely.” He reassures me with a gentle smile.
Once my car door closes behind me, I don’t know how long I sit sobbing. By the time I look up again, the blue car of the county coroner is parked beside me. I back my car up and turn around in someone’s driveway and head home.
I realize as I drive that all of the nights I had waited up for her to come home, the fear that refused to let me sleep, was a façade. Oh, I worried when she was late and was always aware of the subtle heaviness of What if, perched on my shoulder waiting with me, but never in the back of my mind did I ever not expect find her safely standing in the kitchen, pouring a glass of orange juice before bed. Never had the genuine terror of really losing her fully struck me. And though I am not a believer in God, I thank him.
When I pull into my driveway Tessa’s black 2009 Ford Escape is tucked up next to the garage in its usual spot, her boyfriend Mark’s Volkswagon parked behind it. I find the two of them snuggled together on the couch, her with a bowl of popcorn, him with the x-box control laying absently in his lap. Each has their free hand entwined in the others’. I stare at the two of them for a moment before they realize that I’m watching. As I look at them, I think how perfect they are; so young, untouched by tragedy; in love. I walk over and wiggle myself between them on the couch.
“Mom!” Tessa whines, pulling her popcorn bowl to the safe haven of the end table.
“Whoa! Mrs. C…” Mark says and laughs as he scoots over to make room. I say nothing but I put an arm around each of them, pulling them in close and holding them there for a long minute before kissing each on the top of their sweet heads. Thank you for being here, I want to say to them, but I just keep ahold of both of them for a while longer.
“Okay Mom…you’re being weird,” Tessa says as she tries to squirm out from under my arm, but it is a half-hearted attempt.
Mark is a hugger, so this moment does not bother him. He smiles up at me, “Hey, Is everything ok?”
I nod and smile back, pull Tessa back to me for one more kiss on the cheek and then push myself up off the couch, sending both of them toppling back, giggling, into the void I leave behind.
I think how hard it’s going to be to let her drive out of the safe womb of our driveway again. Of how long the nights will be now that I understand the full burden of possibility. Before I sleep this night I know I will say a small prayer, to that God I’m not wholly sure I believe in, for the mother of the boy in that car today.
Not All Who Wander Are Lost
by Shin Freedman
I live in southern Vermont now. In late fall, as I took a walk in my neighborhood, I noticed something unusual which I had never seen before -- our neighbors’ beautiful stacks of wood. These wood piles were on varying sizes of width, perfectly even in length, only exposing the round face of the wood and its grain. I admired how beautiful the stacks were – perfectly formed ends with secure wooden rails. In wintertime, against snow, the piles reflected shades of wood grain, sizes of wood, branches, and colors. I imagine an owner who would carry these logs inside and throw them onto a wood burning stove and watch the crackling, hissing, and flames.
Now in mid-spring, the air is clean and refreshing in the morning. As I walk along on a bright Sunday morning in May, I see our neighbor, Tom, rearranging his wood pile.
“Now that we’re in May, we have to get ready for winter.” He says. After the walk, motivated by our neighbor’s comment, I look around our garage and see random piles of firewood and am inspired to do something about it.
“Why don’t we do some wood stacking like Tom did?” I suggest to my husband.
“Good idea,” Michael agrees.
I was excited at the thought of doing something about our wood pile. Being a new Vermonter, I did not realize the meaning of wood stacking until recently.
We move piles of wood from the garage to a nice sunny spot near the corner of our garden. Stacking wood is my husband’s job, I declare. An hour goes by. I prepare lunch inside. The garage is cleaner after the wood pile is almost gone. Michael diligently stacks the wood. Once in a while, he stops from wood stacking and wipes sweats on his forehead. It’s a lot of work! I plan to make a delectable lunch for him. Strangely, the shape of the pile is not what I had in mind. It turns out to be triangular in shape and we still have much unstacked wood strewn in the yard. Then as I touch a single log, the whole pile tumbles down in no time. Surprised and disappointed, both of us are disheartened. After all the work he had put in, look what happened!
Stacking wood was much harder than what we thought. After all, we are city folks and have no real experience in this business. Chopped wood is not evenly shaped. I tried stacking and restacking the wood piles. I did not do much better. After many frustrating moments, we decided to redo the foundation to make it firmer. Using a 2 x 2 square shaped foundation, we managed to build the pile into solid square shape using the remaining logs. It was not until late afternoon that we managed to complete the task. After finishing the wood pile and covering the top with sturdy vinyl, we called it a day. We wiped our sweaty faces and came inside to have a late lunch.
Later we visited our neighbor and had cups of cappuccino while sharing our new experience.
“That is a very Vermonty thing to do!” Cecile exclaimed.
We were proud, even though we recognized our amateurish approach to wood stacking.
“You know, there are all sorts of things about how to stack a woodpile on the internet.”
She impressed us by tipping us off on the information.
Later in the evening, I perused the Internet and saw beautiful pictures from around the world of woodpiles. I did not realize that innocent woodpiles have been transformed into an art of wood piling. There were all different shapes: beehive, wood cabin shaped, fallen tree shaped wood piles. . .
A display of unsplit logs or split firewood outside gives me the comfort of being prepared for the coming wintertime. It also gives me the impression that the homeowner cares about the artistry in making wood piles. It is strange while I was thinking woodpiles in Vermont; I recalled wooden rice chests in Korea which are no longer used now. Growing up in war stricken Korea right after the Korean War, when everything was scarce, I remember one thing that, even as a child, symbolized wealth – a wooden rice storage container. This rice container was large enough to contain the amount for an entire year’s worth of rice for the family of 6 to 8. People admired the presence of the rice box and were envious of the size. Anyone coming into a house through the main gate could not miss its presence. That is because Korean people proudly showed off their wealth in terms of the presence of a wooden rice chest even though it was, in essence, only a rice container made of heavy wood. Peculiarly, the location of this rice container was not in the kitchen, but at the crossroads of the Korean living room to a bedroom. A household’s wealth and status was often displayed by the beauty of the rice container. This is what visitors noticed right away. The annual harvest of rice was in that wooden box with a fish shaped lock.
Although these are images from two seemingly unrelated scenes, I feel the richness, preparedness, and abundance of another great year of harvest festivities for unknown owners of the wood piles and rice containers. Harvesting wood and rice require fastidious hard work and both are preparation for the season ahead. I admire that diligence and artistry. I respect the work ethic involved in the planning and doing the work. Vermonters and Koreans are very much alike in that regard.
When the snow falls softly in winter again, my husband will bring our nicely dried wood into the house to make a fire. As long as I have wood, rice and assorted kimchi, I will be satisfied. What a treat that would be this winter! Then I will enjoy my meals while warming myself to the sizzling, sputtering and red-hot burning wood. A fresh white snow would be a welcome addition.
I love living in Vermont.
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