Below are the winners of the 2009 Inglis House Poetry Contest. There
were two categories in this year's contest. Category 1 was open to all
writers and the poems had to have some connection to disability. Category
2 was open only to writers with disabilities and could be on any topic.
For each category a first, second and third place prize was given as
well as three honorable mentions. This year's contest was the most competitive
yet, and many of the excellent poems that are not seen below will appear
in a chapbook which will be released at the end of August.
John C. Mannone
No rain to wash the heat away
its waves buffet our faces
soak into our khakis blending
with the desert drab, pale
structures, empty freedoms.
My platoon, in stealth, combs
the quiet buildings, empty rooms.
Hiding in the corner, a mother, baby
snuggled in her hijab, for a moment,
the Madonna and Child,
my wife and son in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
I hear their whimpers, their prayers.
I step toward them, feel
the click, wood against metal,
as if a poltergeist unlatched the pin.
I fling myself on top the woman,
her death muffled
from deafening grenade, shrapnel
meant for her, carving my ears.
Block and timber straddle us,
my back wedges rafters, legs lever,
arms undergird the beams, heave
outstretched to free the woman
and her child.
I couldn't hear the second click.
The explosion that left my limbs
in Falluja, hands still gripping
That dismembered house, its soul
leaked out, inrushed with nightmares
of urban bombs, the ghost of men.
It can't feel
its family through the rubble,
the concrete, the lumber debris.
They'd rebuild the house,
the haunting remains.
Doctors said I'd be alright,
but no one warned me
of the demons hanging on
ends of nerves. Haunted by ghost
pain, prosthetics for disembodi-
ments with no memory for fingers.
I can no longer hear the beating
of the distant drums, or hearts,
only the static hiss of its snare,
your voice lost in gray noise.
I am haunted by the sound
of your voice. I am haunted
by the touch of your breasts.
Arden Eli Hill
We call the bees late at night.
Their voices come
back in static,
the wire in the line
When was the first time
you were hurt by something harmless,
soap that burnt or mother's
kiss on your skin, still red
after the lipstick faded?
Behind my house, the bees
float in cumulous form
between the black
antennae of cell phone towers.
Tomorrow there may be no honey.
There is nothing
wrong that you would notice.
In my head neurons buzz
too often, bad cells swarm
and my brain stem swells.
There is nothing we do not make up.
Cells replicate into cancer
Fear turns phobic. I stay
in bed and pull my lashes out.
I continue till they don't come back.
Dizzy with the honeycomb
of houses, hospital, and highway,
the bees forget their flowers,
circle the sharpest
points of themselves.
San Francisco, California
More than words flow from
his mouth. . . as months pass.
Water turns colors to images
held in mind's eye.
Subtly sun-colored baby ducks
get first swimming lesson,
seductively shaped exotic squashes,
exquisitely hued, initiate hunger
stars amid bluer than
any known deep blue backing
along with stripes of scarlet and
white celebrate the country's birthday,
you can almost hear Carlos' Bald Eagle
as he purses his deeply yellow bill
and begins his cracking cackle, kak-kak-kak,
all the while trying to stare you down,
pumpkins oranger than you ever imagined
turn with the magic of Carlos' mouth
into smiling jack-o-lanterns, they pay homage
to death's special day.
When teeth grasp paint brush,
Carlos transforms the world. No room
for gangs of sorrow, or regrets
No room for
Oh! Woe is me.
What's left is acceptance. . .
an in-depth exploration
of all aspects of acceptance...
Acceptance of the eternal now...
knowing now is all
For what was is
only distant memory
For what will be
is only conjecture.
Cedar Grove, New Jersey
Words slip from her mind
like raindrops tumbling from
storm clouds. Letters crumble
to the dirt. Signals misfire, nerves
tangle like pile-ups on the highway.
Plaque coats the fibers of her mind
like oil on the road. At first I laugh
as she asks for slippers while pointing
at the salt. Our conversations become
games of charades. I find her keys
in the freezer, and her milk on the porch
in ninety degree weather. Roads she drives
everyday become mazes with no answer
The day she calls me from the store
and doesn't know where home is, I take
her to my house. I call her Mother,
she asks, are you my sister? I
stop saying, Maria and your parents
are dead, after the day she cries herself
to sleep, whispering I am alone,
over and over.
Toms River, New Jersey
I know you anorexic friend.
We are alike in battles for control.
You say "Thin thing is what I will be. "
Your body shape will be the way you want it,
Not with your cursed mirror telling you
"You are the fattest one of all. "
Like you, my starving girl I say,
"Cold soul is what I will be. "
What I starve are my emotions, whereas before
I let myself be transparent and suffered for it.
Now I cannot have the strawberry shortcake of joy.
Leaden potato of sorrow, boiling chili of fury.
Sometimes I give my feelings freedom,
Alone and safe I disgorge them, drowning in tears,
Punishing myself with fists, twirling in drunken excitement.
We must learn nothing that is starved is healthy.
Perhaps, as I see your skeletal self, to live
You must put on some strengthening flesh
And I must lose some armored shell.
I pray to find some gentle guide whom we can trust
To lead us on the path unto our bread.
Michael Lee Johnson
CHARLEY PLAYS A TUNE
Crippled with arthritis
in a dark rented room,
on a dust filled
on a playground of sand
years ago by a handful of children
playing on monkey bars.
He now goes to the bathroom on occasion,
relieving himself takes forever; he feeds the cat when
he doesn't forget where the food is stashed at.
He hears bedlam when he buys fish at the local market
and the skeleton bones of the fish show through.
He lies on his back riddled with pain,
pine cones fill his pillows and mattress;
praying to Jesus and rubbing his rosary beads
Charley blows tunes out his
notes float through the open window
touch the nose of summer clouds.
Charley overtakes himself with grief
and is ecstatically alone.
Charley plays a solo tune.
The poet stared at the hospital ceiling
dust genies and dreams
things that were
could not be again
from blends of frustrations
and fresh experience.
The poetry in his head
The lady sits on the park bench.
Her skirt is quiet around her legs
That are brown vases creased with blue veins.
Yesterday she stood up and sang
En mi viejo San Juan, cuantos sueños forjé
Her skirt was like the wind
In a hurricane -open and reckless.
And her eyes were glistening brown
Today the lady holds a golden Chrysanthemum
That blooms in the autumn.
While her cataract eyes turn into
White veined marbles
Light fades. The city bus's headlights
Children and parents walk by her bench.
They are small blue pinpoints
As they walk away from her down the darkened street
En mi viejo San Juan, cuantos sueños forjé
The lady sings holding onto memories.
Everything is disappearing
inaudible invisible and drifting.
The fragrance of pink and red hibiscus
In her mother's vases on the windowsill
Aunts uncles, cousin Julie
The ocean against white sand
Her heart's beat.
John Lee Clark
St. Paul, Minnesota
DEAF-BLIND: THREE SQUARED CINQUAIN
Barbara Walters Is in Awe
of a deaf-blind man
who cooks without burning himself!
Helen Keller is to blame.
Can't I pick my nose
without it being a miracle?
Am I a Nobody, Too?
I am sorry to disappoint,
but I am. But nobody
would let me be one,
not even when I catch
a bus stinking of Nobodies.
One Afternoon, I Found Myself
walking with my cane dragging
behind me but still knowing
the way. There was nothing
to see. Everything saw me
first and stayed in place.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
THE PAPERCLIP FLOATS ON A STRING
He is ready to kill himself, fifth grade,
for being called “gay” by the
boy posse that until a year ago he
loved like brothers. He knows what
gay means but doesn't understand why
they call it bad. He is ready to kill himself
because the science experiment he had
read about in which a string attached to
two paperclips hovered between two
magnets did not work. Often it is the
little things. Often it is the loneliness like
diamond. When I drive past at noon
I see him alone on the playground, in a
corner bordered by chicken wire fence,
kicking a cloud of dust in the air.
He hides under the bed. He is too old
to cry. Next year is middle school and
he is a foot shorter than the other kids.
I have learned this year about the primal
hum of cruelty, how it can strike from
where you least expect, not even a
rattle for warning, just the black-and-red
of it, the sudden wetness of blood on
your cheek. If I were honest I would say:
Trust no one I would say that it will get
better is just another story. One we invent
to avoid telling you how things really are.
But what kind of mother ever says this?
Instead, I fetch the clean glass jar, the one
from the French jam that says Bonne Maman.
in glass letters. I fix a magnet with super-
glue to the bottom, hang a paperclip
from the lid with a short length of moss-
colored yarn. A buzzing fills the jar, and
the yarn straightens. The paperclip vibrates
like a hunting dog sensing a wild thing
on the breeze. We turn the jar upside
down and voila: the paperclip floats
on a string.
Kansas City, Kansas
ALONE, WITH YOU NEXT TO ME
Even with my “Moses stick” to part scrub,
our clearing takes four hours, two falls
and tons of curses to reach hiking in
parallel from our property line.
With a quick eye for sunning snakes,
I thunk down onto a tablerock
to wait for my trumpeting breath to quiet
and the pulse in my vision to vanish.
While waiting, I unsling the backpack
and begin the fingertug-fingertug
at the buckles on my leg braces.
Removed, I toss them over my shoulders
in the direction of the fire pit.
Three years since our last visit here
and the only thing to change: more trees,
obstructing the vista of the lake
afforded by the clearing. Gathering
deadfalls and kindling on autopilot,
it takes a twenty-minute search
before I find our carved initials
on the old walnut peekabooing through
limbs of second-growth maples.
I pyramid small sticks
in the pit and free a forbidden bottle
of Beaujolais from the pack. I sit
on the flat rock that served us
as picnic table, chair, makeshift mattress.
A couple of long pulls of wine later,
I set you next to me, watch the boats
zag about like we did the last time,
and try to ignore the weals
being raised by memory's lash.
On uncorking the second bottle,
the sails' colors begin to gray out
as the light dilutes – the sky
rapidly plumming toward night.
Each canvas becomes a blade tip
shearing across the surface,
undermining the lake's strength
until it's weak enough to collapse
into a dark hole of its own.
I touch off the tinder, feed the fire
dead wood until the ember bed glows.
With each inch I toe-tap toward the flames,
my walking staff transforms: wood, ember, ash.
When it finishes, I try other things:
my poetry notebooks, my leg braces,
the two empty bottles, my wedding ring.
I shake out the backpack and place
the last items near what's left of you.
The crows are calling
they converge on the tops of blank branches
the network of their voices is raging and purple veined.
A crow is in peril filled with hunger.
There are silent crows walking the frozen grass
slicked up by the dew like a hairdresser using mousse
The way the birds walk
around the house makes me think
I am a holy relic.
They move in circles. One time two times three
Times, and they bow to the sculpted icicles of grass.
It is colder now than when the enlightened ones were here.
At five o'clock the night is formed. Glaciers appear
on the pond where Atlantis hides in my yard.
And the crows are asleep in branches high
above the bus exhaust and white faced moon
transcending they rest.
I cannot see every bird
Their voices are quiet.
Air is stiff as if the hairdresser who styled the grass
Assembled the night,
whipped it up like egg whites in meringue
pies bitter to the taste.
My hair is pigeon gray.
The clouds spread hard pillows
against the metal top of the world
And the crows in their privacy
circle the temple like drunks
Still in my sleep my hair shines
a fluorescent white
a ghost like thinness that haunts
and I glimmer as a diamond
the mystery of black birds waking up from
bad dreams to melt the frozen land
Before returning to sleep.
Published in Frigg 2005
For comments about the contest winners, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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