Writer’s Digest would like to congratulate the winners poems from the 2015 WD Poetry Awards. For full coverage of the 2015 WD Poetry Awards, check out the July/August 2016 issue of Writer’s Digest. For a complete list of winners, click here.
In this bonus online exclusive, you can read the top-ten winning poems from this year’s competition.
1. “Inheritance” by Ruth Elizabeth Morris
When I was nine, I tried on my mother’s mastectomy bras.
I filled the pockets with Kleenex, posing in front of a mirrored door
to admire the curves I had created underneath my overalls.
In locker rooms my mother’s phantom-breast was all I saw:
Afraid to be seen, I held a towel to hide my “budding orbs”
while she dared other women to look, removing her mastectomy bra.
Once, while her bra was still warm, I reached my small
fingers into the hidden pocket and removed the breast-form;
I held it to my chest—bee-sting nubbins!—beneath my overalls
and imagined the woman I would be when my training bra
was full. Everywhere my future-self went—gym, grocery, hardware store—
she was walking alone, wearing her mother’s mastectomy bra.
When I graduated from college, I bought myself a push-up bra
and wore my sweater-stretchers like medals of honor,
thinking back to girlhood, playing bra-stuffed dress-up in my overalls.
Lately, I stare at my nipples while they are still mine. I draw
red lines where the incisions will be, not sure what I will ask for
in the operating room. I hold my mother’s mastectomy bras
and ask, whose breasts will I wear beneath my overalls?
2. “In Praise of Retiring in Pacific Standard Time” by Carolyn Martin
The country’s at it again: the Dow’s dipped two dozen points,
O’Hare digs out of snow, Vegas hoses off another night.
All that industry before my coffee’s ground and dripped,
before joggers pound the Waterfront and bikers grip their gears.
I’ve grown keen on laziness and lie awake to dream
about Chicago’s Mile and McCarren’s slot machines;
about conferencing with bankers, engineers,
and high tech CEOs from New York to Los Alamos.
I’m through with hotel rooms and nights alone; with minds
that wouldn’t heed, mistakes I had no answers for.
In eight zones west of Zero Longitude – where the sun
tints Mt. Hood and east winds wind through Douglas firs –
forty years of work whittle down to soothing words:
It is beautiful to do nothing and rest afterwards.
Let the doorman on Park West brush off his uniform
and Minneapolis scrape its iced windshields.
Let Denver planes re-calibrate their flights through
nagging thunderstorms. Let vendors unpack snapper
at Pike Place and freeways start their stalls.
Let today attempt to guilt me into work. I’ll answer
with a stroll around my yard, delete a weed or two.
Beautiful, the firs will say, admiring my industry.
3. “Hooked” by Judith Marks-White
While the husband fishes, he lapses into reverie,
Nostalgia floating up like flotsam
On a wave of years.
He recalls with detailed precision
The taste of bluefish,
His wife’s scent after cleaning it,
The way the worm glistens on the line:
A wiggling warrior fighting for freedom.
The rod, flung far back as adolescence
Thrusts forward into the sky,
Plunges into the ocean
Reeling in a slippery fish
Delivered cold to its silver pail coffin,
Tail still quivering.
The gift of bluefish is handed over to his sea-smelling wife.
Her apron crusted with scales from the summer’s catch.
The fish flaps then drowns under a flush of faucet spray.
The husband – a pungent mix of fish and sweat – loosens his wife’s barrette.
Hair, cascading down in a sea of curls
Washes over the blue and white-checkered cloth.
Love waits for no one,
Not even bluefish.
4. “PROTO MASS” by Elisabeth Avery
Hot and damp,
he smells of puppy.
His black-hole eyes can’t see
how mine have swum oceans for him.
His tiny hands too still to press back.
There is beauty there, and wonder.
Where is the sculptor whose hand carved this strange perfection,
as if he and life still had connection?
I’m left to ask:
How could anything so small weigh so much?
The gurney creaks, alerting the forehead-creased fans
that I’m the featured player in this motorcade
squealing by on the x-ray parade route.
Too weak to wave, I blink my eyes at my Halloween-faced family.
Are they going to the masquerade, too?
I’m playing Dracula.
Two pints will do the trick.
With death close, the mind runs to making extravagant deals
Mine grabs onto the dark-skinned man who has been swabbing
my private room,
intimately respecting the possibility of my demise.
He hears me stir and croons, “Precious Lord.”
I join him and the life in me rears up.
Our Mother of Nuclear Imaging,
Mme. Curie would have understood the resurrective power
of applying the right shade of red at the right time.
Nothing says, “Discharge,” quite so exquisitely as Retro Rouge,
slathered on ready-to-leave lips and topped with a straw boater.
She was une immigrée Parisienne, after all.
5. “After Parking at Starbucks” by Jed Myers
I’ve opened the door to her dark
seat in the car. Mom offers
a skeletal arm, skin loose around
bone and what thready muscle
remains under blue tortuous veins.
I bow and take hold with one hand
a cradle for the creak of her elbow,
one where stiffened fingers can rest.
My hesitation’s hidden as I am
its lone witness—something fine
and brittle might break as I lift it
away from its place, like that china
cup I fumbled and dropped soon
as I’d slid it off of the hutch
for a better look one morning
when I was five or six. It had been
her mother’s, I heard her sharpened
voice insist as we stared
at the scatter of jagged white
bits on the floor’s innocent oak. It was
what remained of a set—one cup-
ful of distant comfort. Had I been more careful…. Gently I tug on her
arm, help her stand, and steady her
imperceptibly as she shuffles
beside me. The old shatters keep us
company—our wake of chatter.
There’s never a lack of the broken—
I hear a muffled clatter, a girl
in pieces it isn’t too late to hold.
6. “Leaking You Like Resin” by Lea Tsahakis
You are leaking from my life like resin.
It’s a slow, sticky process
the leave-taking of you
Attic Greeks knew the nectar well
Ancient amphorae coated with tenacious droplets
entrapping all that clings
a preservative for the ages
Let’s make merry with the pungent wine of the pine
And not sorrow for its loss
Does the tree feel pain
when amber blood oozes from its veins?
I think not.
You are leaking from my life like resin.
7. “DREAMY DRAW” by Chuck Collins
Rains carve stairways up to the saddles between peaks,
so do coyotes, whose evening calls fall over nearby neighborhoods like fog
and whose scat indicates a wily sub-dog presence
in a desert conspicuously empty of red berry bushes and fat lizards.
sharp thrusting beauty reaches handsomely heavenward
like the strident chins of aged men with uneven stubbles,
like a downtown building to a microbe on the moon
splendid anchored landmarks into harsh pulsing realities.
One bird, then two, swing in rascally chase
and then they retire to the place where they do private bird-things;
clement breeze likewise pushes persuasively
the stubble of green bushes with yellow delicious flowers.
The stones of a cathedral would wish to be so boisterous,
but visitors say, “This is great, but not compared
to that mountain home of coyotes and old mercury mines,”
as they remember their hike up into humble adoration.
8. “An Addendum to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (Baseball Edition)” by Michael Berecz
The feeling you get when you see a former member of the ’86 Mets
With another team’s uniform on –
And how old they’ve gotten to your eyes. The taste
Of a sip of warm beer near the end of the 7th,
But no time to do anything about it other than think of a time
When you couldn’t drink at the ballpark. The knowledge
That Shea Stadium no longer exists, that it’s been replaced
By something newer, something flashier, something named after a bank,
And the realization that that Shea – the one that belongs to you
And your mom – probably never existed anyway. The memories
Of the hours of your life spent at the ballpark –
How sometimes, at night games, when the stars beat out the lights for top billing,
You watch them more than the game. Their light frames the faces of the basemen
Like children holding sparklers, wonder expanding as darkness falls,
And you count them, like balls and strikes: How many there are. How big.
How powerful. How sad they are, and far away.
9. “August” by Margaret Sharp
Another hot August hangs
like my dog’s fat, pink tongue.
I will conserve energy,
pronounce only the consonants of words.
I prop my feet on the porch rail,
toes pointing in the direction of a hawk, circling.
If he were closer,
I would rise to the cool flap of his wings.
He is searching the field for dinner.
He might get lucky tonight,
enjoy a fat mouse that slept too long
and cooked himself on a hot rock.
The cruel sun is on the horizon, it heaves
toward the raw lip of the Earth.
Its pink and perfect light glows between my toes.
My legs are a pallid portrait of a summer spent in hibernation,
a season of poems, Moon Pie’s and melancholy.
Across the street, my neighbor eyes me
in that way only an old woman can.
She holds her watery gaze like a hunched commando
staring down the enemy.
She has taken a throw rug hostage,
beating it senseless with her black and blue emotions.
The sky is a spasm of color
slashing orange welts across the Earth.
Marmalade exploding on toast.
10. “Childhood—1952” by Judith Marks-White
Mother, did you know
While you were basting turkeys in ‘52
I was secretly sampling
Fingerprinting the ivories,
My ankles’ skin
Peeled and itching
Inside patent leathers?
A fire crackled like cellophane
Amid the din of culinary commotion.
An assortment of cousins and
Hovered at the door
Like stuffed animals
In their winter furs.
Underneath the stiff crinoline-
The scratchy taffeta
My skinned knees bulged
Like fleshy red cheeks,
My heart bursting like champagne bubbles
On the rim of my bittersweet years.