FIRST PRIZE:SEAN MARTIN
How little this slab says
about you, propped against
the stone wall at the bottom
corner of our garden.
It bears your name or at least
the name we gave you
in white scratches across slate.
I can see him writing it.
Jagged flint in hand, caveman
carefully pronouncing every
letter- the name is yours
but this grave is not.
Graves are for the living
and this one, tucked behind
the acacia, next to the rot
of the compost heap, is ours.
It is- crude earthen buffalo
stampeding across cave walls,
faces of carved totem, a cairn
of bone- our recompense.
And you are still here
though not still here
the only labourer need die
constructing this monument.
Buried beneath it, eyeless,
malting, silken and glazed
as you were when you first
spilled from the womb.
But this is another birth entirely.
The soil is taking you; unstitching
the bonds and emptying into
In fifty years, a child will find
a dog skull in the freshly turned
flower beds and will run his fingers
over the intricacies.
Perhaps there will be no more dogs.
What monster was this?
He will think in wonderment;
what mighty creature of the old world.
SECOND PRIZE: ROSIE JACKSON
The Light Box
Moths, of course, don’t make the news.
Not unless you follow Chuck on Twitter:
`fine in the fire and feeds on friction’,
who wants to know, `why there are so many
fucking moths in Afghanistan?’
Or Google the latest research on turning
Tobacco Hawks into cyborg spies,
implanting larvae with micro chips
so their soft little bodies will harden into drones,
enter enemy camps as light-winged innocence.
But there are men near Kandahar
who hand their children magnifying glasses
to marvel at exotic marks on Sphingid moths;
men whose heads touch the earth
five times each day in gratitude, awe, humility:
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim.
Men like my neighbour, who shows me
his old-fashioned biscuit tin
transformed into a light box,
where moths squat like refugees
on egg boxes.
Men who catalogue species
so they won’t die out unheeded,
then release them at dawn:
Mother of Pearl, Cinnabar,
Scalloped Oak, Six-Spot Burnet,
Men we never hear of,
who keep alive
the light box in their hearts.
Attract nightly visitations.
THIRD PRIZE:AMA BOLTON
COMMENDED: JEAN ATKIN
How Strange We Are
The rock spires whooped, snow whipped
at skin and Henriette d’Angeville
wished for cucumber facecream. When her guides offered ladders
and hands to help her, she refused. Instead pressed
her small feet to the brink of glaciers,
was resolute above crevasses.
Stood pin-neat in the whiteness, feet like a dancer’s,
in her own design of pantaloons in Scottish tartan tweed.
Below them, silk stockings, and red flannel underwear next to the skin.
The pantaloons were lined with fleece, and were, she feared,
un peu coquette; so over it all she wore a dress,
same tartan, firmly belted.
Henriette – unmarried in the snows, and forty-four –
packed a bone shoehorn, because
it was not strictly needed. In rare ice brilliance she squinted
through green goggles. She burned with thirst.
She waited weeks for the weather to clear
and recorded the catches in her heart,
the wildness of her passion
for the mountain.
Nauseous, pulse hammering, she made her guides promise
to carry her body to the top, if she died.
She cut Vouloir c’est pouvoir into summit ice, they hoisted her
into the dark blue sky and shouted
‘You are higher than Mont Blanc!’
And she opened her hands to her icy lover,
tumbled a pigeon into the wind.
La curieuse chose que nous, she wrote later,
in her green notebook.
Henriette d’Angeville climbed Mont Blanc in 1838.
COMMENDED: PETER MARSHALL
With two fingers crossed like tongs
I tweaked him out from where he was tucked
between a shaken pouch of silver foil
and a wall of cardboard.
He looked sub-equatorial
in his buff and pink tunic
with zebra crossings combed
into his crest and spread of fingers.
He made the migration by hand
with a smoky tea-leaf whiff
into my Brooke Bond album.
Flipping him over so
his underbelly of text showed up,
I fished for my bright eyed scissors
to poke open the tight red lips of a bottle.
That got some honey-coloured gum
to run with a spacey smell.
So my hoopoe
and many other native birds and visitors
thickened the landscape pages,
where they dried and stiffened in ridges.
Now in a field at the back of a house,
my heart corrugated
by some fifty years since then,
there is that flutter of black and white
out of a booklet
and pinky-buff smoke.
There are no words for him now.
He never even announced himself
with his published voice:
In the demon reign
I had been stood in, the hoopoe
was my guerrilla.
He is my angel for the earth.
He snorkels in the grass.
When he tweezers out
a leather jacket I can breathe away
with his char-grilled wings.
COMMENDED: EMMA SIMON
The Parts of Ourselves We Leave with Former Lovers
Hush, hush my little sunflower, such noise
at such an hour, I thought – well, never mind
now what I thought – be soothed. The other ladies
of the house are sleeping, you do not want
them trampling down here in their bare faces
before noon. But what’s this package at your feet,
the one that seeps like oil? An ear! There, there,
it is a shock I know, but not the worst we’ve seen.
You give them locks of hair, the illusion of desire,
but some, perhaps those who cannot pay in full
or see the world through strange shadows, have this urge
– I do not understand – to give much more.
Severine received a finger once. The fat
signet ring attached like a tourniquet.
The smeared gold we said reminded us
of summer sunsets over Arles. And Babette,
she swears she could string charm bracelets from hearts
proffered on plates. Then Marie, remember
the English gentleman, the one with the cane,
the shriek she gave when she found his —
But look, you are upset again. Let’s wrap it
back up in the cloth – carefully – not to disturb
the perfect whorl, or pattern of the blood
stippled on the lobe. Look at the raggedness
of this edge. It’s not just eyes that let us peep
into the thoughts of men. Take it upstairs
to the cabinet – the Wunderkammer –
that is beside my bed. We keep such trinkets
in the drawers. It was moved from Claudine’s room,
the sound of souls tapping against the wood,
like palsied bluebottles she said, kept her awake
and disturbed the night-time callers.
COMMENDED: YVONNE REDDICK
the grebe’s courtship râle
as you propel yourself half a mile across
the water, an iceberg of white noise.
Quapping beakfuls of tarn
and the grain I offer, you snort
and warble softly. A terrier
bounds over, yips and wags.
your neck bristles, and your wings busk –
you gape and bare a barbed grey tongue,
shush it with a hiss.
Either a March chill
quiets these reeds plumed with frost,
or your arrival muzzles all noise.
You shake your wings
and bugle for your mate, improbably shrill.
You’re fabled to capsize canoes, crack limbs
with a wingbeat. As the pen joins you,
I step back
and feel the weight of your whiteness
squeeze my voice. But you whistle to me,
and I whistle in answer.