Writer’s Digest would like to congratulate the winning poems from the 2017 WD Poetry Awards. For full coverage of the 2017 WD Poetry Awards, check out the July/August 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest. For a complete list of winners, click here. In this online exclusive, you can read the top-ten winning poems from this year’s competition.
1. “A Weeping Siberian Spruce” by Thomas Dukes
I’d cry, too,
Stranded beside a house
Older than the Crucifixion
In Wadsworth, Ohio.
I lived too long
Said Miss Julia before they
Carried her out feet first
Beside the subservient branches.
Children and grandchildren
Played camouflage and cried
Inside its arms until
They outgrew such mysteries.
Brides posed before it,
Breezes impatient with their dresses;
Dogs went underneath to whelp,
Cats to die.
The house will never sell at that price,
And the neighbors smirk—
The indifferent tree waits.
Waiting is what it does best.
2. “In a While” by Kate Dickson
Food will taste good again.
Silverware will make its gracious clink.
The bowlful of clementines won’t mock you,
anymore. The moon will shine serene
above the dishes in the sink.
You’ll smell the first-mown grass of spring
on just another day.
All at once you’ll find you’ve smiled.
The mundane: splendidly
mundane. It will be okay.
Music will hold you in its iridescent grasp.
Sleep will satisfy the aching night.
Squinting in the sun, you’ll rise,
Glad to take for granted
the habit of delight.
3. “Gidget Gets Old” by Gail Israel
When you handed me my purchase
and your t-shirt rose enough to show your skin,
my breath slammed against my teeth.
Tanned flesh, six-pack flatness,
my eyes shot a roll of high-speed film.
Like the parting of some retail sea,
other shoppers clutching bags
and the hands of crying children,
were washed away,
leaving us alone in their wake.
In an eyeball’s blink,
my world was upside-down and inside-out.
I was drooling heat and breathing rising suns
as my fingers flexed to touch that spot
just above the waistband of your slacks.
Jaw lax, palm flat—
I could feel the warmth from your morning at the beach,
knew your neck would smell like waves.
There were three-chord ballads playing in my head:
“Will I See You In September, My Little Surfer Boy?”
Then you gave me my receipt
and your fingers grazed my skin.
Oh, my knees began to swim.
I was swept up in a dream
of feeling seventeen.
you thanked me for my purchased
hoped my daughter would be pleased
with the jeans that I’d selected. Except,
I didn’t have a daughter and the jeans were meant for me.
4. “September 15, 2017” by Young Sang Lee
Our dreams are smoke signals.
Our words are fireflies and skinless grapes.
When you prick us, we bleed photons.
When you tickle us, we multiply and divide.
We were born upon heat-pregnant streets;
our other mothers molded us from palm leaves
and cloud wisps and faded Polaroids.
Our songs are wolf howls and owl screeches,
they’re earthquakes and hurricanes.
Our perfume is a New Years’ kiss,
it’s diving naked into the Pacific waves,
it’s rolling in the mud in a thunderstorm.
When you hug us, we rain from the sky.
When you leave us, we diminish and return.
We are the lies your parents told you.
We are the stories you tell yourself.
And when you close your eyes,
we are the gold coin placed inside your mouth.
5. “Hanging on the Barbed Wire” by Pat Anthony
The graying Jesuit lays out patterns
of student accountability until they drape
the curtained stage behind him, thinly veiled
summations of our child rearing until he switches
hands waving in the air and urges us
whom he calls empty-nesters to date again
we’ve just come from Level 5 secure parking
in a seedy hotel on 15th & Harney, $5/day
$70 for the month where I counted the wrinkles
in the brown carpet, hopscotched over stains
even though the bathroom boasts snowy towels
a shower curtain with folds yet to fall out
housekeeping missed the finger streaks on the wall
above the tub and I’m reminded of the heart
of Mexico City’s Distrito Federal where
our room looked into the open air shaft with
its echoing dimness, how the gay guys asked
if they could share the extra bed and
together we passed the night and gladly
but in this auditorium it’s almost too dark
to see although six months later it came clear
that it’s down to just the two of us learning
how to dance again, the sliding past each
other in the tangled steps of a strange courtship
like when I hung on the barbed wire fence
while you combined the field, some precursor
for how we stay together while apart.
6. “The Vagabond Quothe Shakespeare” by Mark Novak
The vagabond, quoth Shakespeare in the ghetto laundromat.
Twixt softener and soap, he stood a sad figure cut, detached and quite mad.
Over and over the colors roll while the pauper player mumbles
Berating his brain to acquire the role, while the heated dryers tumble.
“Hold Thy Desperate Hand!” he cries, and the old black woman looks up
From her folding. Her eyes have seen decades of cold and madmen enough.
“Hast Thou Slain Tybalt?!” The question rings while dryers spin.
The office attendant, unattached, assesses the scene, then reads again.
Fie! Fie! Thou shamest thy shape, thy love, thy wit.
The Mexican children look round eyed while their lips hold the sip
Of the box drink straw. Focus in momentary limbo,
Reality presents a more intriguing sideshow
Than any Spanish animations on an old, tube television.
Here four hundred years time tested, the language holds imaginations.
And the lunatic is adrift, alone in his mind, as lunatics are,
Relishing the scene before Montague, vanished are Whirlpool and Kenmore
And the crowd of four is held captive, until the cycles cease.
Listening on about usury, good and bad fortunes and an ill-beseeming beast.
The vagabond quothe Shakespeare in the ghetto laundromat.
Twixt softener and soap, he stood a sad figure cut,
Detached and quite mad.
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7. “The Funeral of a Friend’s Son” by Anne Pabst
Through worn, chewed church pews poured
grief, it coursed and rushed unmoored,
as if from mountains sent
as if from a deep voice of the Old Testament.
We stood, knelt, prayed, sang, offered words of comfort,
even certainty, we mourners in black, full of holy effort,
our hands and faces punctuations of light, candles lit,
the torn, stained hems of our understanding hung under smooth coats.
8. “Crude Crude English” by Arvid Svenske
to wrap my head around crude English
I tap my head and write crude English
rudamentary, cool, Weltschmerz-streets cruel English
cherrypicked from Oxford/action movies crude crude English
you got the Chaucer-flying-saucer English
the Tarantino motherfucker-fuck-your-mother rude crude English
the American-so-bad cliché crude Swenglish
and the Cambridge-professor-type of slang is not extinguished
there’s so much fucking talk in English
I went to US and Canada and man, that English
fifteen minutes—I timed—a man talked English
he didn’t breathe, he didn’t stop, no questions, not a single
and of course California, that’s some English
the valet parking, tax-withdrawal, Hollywood crude English
the action and the glitz and glam, the flat-out lying English
the there-can-never-be-such-a-thing-as-crying type of English
you got your Asian, African, Central/South-American English
that language of the conquerors thrushed-down-throat type English
tourist money, Christian spreading, soaring like a kite slavedriving English
the lingua franca of the globalization type of English
the Stratford-upon-Avon English
the rats in Central Station English, random-person-at-a-rave in central Devon English
the raven English, the craven English, the ramblin’, ravin’ English
I don’t know what to say in English
but people rightly spit and spat at English
people butcher and they slaughter and they maim and battle English
I feel sorry for the crude crude English
the brute and cute and mute crude English
but might I also add that English
should actually be glad that English
did not die down in history
actually, it turned out rather nifty
9. “Cotton Picker’s Lament” by Alex J. Stokas
Feet burn soul blends with the earth, the heat, the picking season
Hands, hard calloused leather punctuated by picking scars
Drag that long sack behind me across black bottom earth—
Cottonseed tucked into its sprouting place, waiting for the sun to make it spring
White from its deflowered purple-black boll
Exploding like my brain in the heat—
That old river floods into my fields cooling’
Leathered hot feet in muddied delta earth
Leaving part of Memphis between my toes—
I go into those off beat juke joints at night to drink my pain
Away and listen to the blues reach deep into my soul
Crying for me and for all of us, those Delta Blues!
Toothless, grinning, strumming cigarette smoking, whisky breath fools breaking sounds across early morning light lamenting love, lost times, freedom.
Freedom? Man is never free, just gets new masters—
Straggle home—dawn breaks Sunday—Church
Calls, songs of belief echo across Delta flats
White shingled churches hold the promise of another freedom—
Jesus where are you when I call from those fields
Cotton boll hard, painful against my moving hands
Must be like you felt, thorns pressed into your head.
Back bent never straight from years of bending
Shoulders strong from hauling that sack
Cotton sack breaks my back—
Sunup—misty Monday morning in the Delta
Mississippi cotton fields where cotton is king and I a slave to its needs
That muddy river runs faster then I do—at least going somewhere …
Bend my back, twist that boll, never can straighten up and walk like a man!
10. “Advice From Beyond” by Gail Israel
The least expected place of all,
the stretch of canyon road that eases down into the Valley, Ralph Cooperman
sits slack with grief in the passenger seat of my mom’s long-gone 1967 Dodge Coronet.
“You know,” I say to Ralph struggling to keep the yacht-sized car centered in my lane,
“I haven’t driven this beast in years and I’m pretty sure that a newer car
would handle these curves so much better. Don’t you think?”
Ralph just shrugs. He doesn’t really care about cars or curves.
He only cares that his wife is gone. “So unexpectedly,” he says. “I just don’t understand.” “But Ralph,” I want to say, “she was 96. Death at 96 is no real surprise.”
Besides (and here’s the rub), he’s the one who died.
I should let him know so he doesn’t sink further into false grief.
And I would, except, I’ve never had to tell someone who’s dead that they’re dead.
As we slide into the final curve, the Valley in full view,
I remember the thorny scent of cactus in the Cooperman’s old backyard,
the side-winding slither of rattlesnake scales against sandstone and slate
and heat-whispered secrets between their daughter Laurel and me.
There, while we feigned sleep in matching twin beds,
like giddy kids, our parents held hands
and hidden by the smooth-skinned dark of a summer night,
plunged naked into the water of their kidney-shaped pool.
With cheeks resting on the tiled coping, legs outstretched—a languid side to side ballet,
they must have thought there was so much time to spare
with their young kids and careers just starting to bloom.
No slack skin or shuffling feet for them. No broken bones that refuse to mend.
Until, their own mothers and fathers started dropping like flies,
leaving them, gob-stopped and jaw-dropped at the helm.
Ralph leaves the same way he came. Suddenly there. Suddenly gone.
No fond farewell, no see you later, no sage advice from the great beyond.
I may be stupid to think I’m the exception to the rule, but I’m also smart enough to dread the day some long-lost acquaintance drives me through the canyon and tries to explain
that without my even knowing, I’m already dead.