First prize: Ken Evans
Behind the frosted window glass, our grey
shadows pace, say the same things
over and over. A mid-wife turns the door-knob,
spins our known world upside down. Her arms
cradle a white bundle that sucks in light.
Lime walls of the Family Room, swaddled bands
laid in my wife’s arms, the easy acceptance
of weight that isn’t there. I lean into this dread,
this wanting, a naming: Rebecca.
The lips are shocking, raspberry-red.
Blood we gave her. My wife can’t lift to share
her with me. I take up her arms in mine,
hold the sepulchre light, no cry or wriggle,
kiss the forehead, remembering in religion
or magic, spells are sometimes broken.
The skin is ivory, tight, the frost blue-veins,
her ears the size of my finger-nail, sea-shells
I could blow into, if I had breath, if I could howl.
Second Prize: Amelia Loulli
At the same moment explosions tear down
ceilings in Brussels, I am shouting at Jesus to hurry
up and put his shoes on. He is holding us
up, he can’t find his script.
In the car to school I keep the radio on low
as he practices his last supper
speech. The familiar old words of salvation
punching against the gently rolling hum
of news reports gathering weight.
He carefully places each word so they fall out
in order, tells me the stakes are high.
Charlie Simms ripped up his own
script, he wasn’t given enough lines, Jesus’s place
is coveted by many on the side. But mum, he whispers,
radio growling beneath, nobody is really wanting
to wash Oscar Grant’s feet. I drink deep
the politics of a nine-year-old world blended
with the peaking headlines of the terrified
airport, nails and suicide, thirteen feared
dead, mothers and fathers, as my Jesus sits in the back
rehearsing, arms stretched wide, chest
open like a landing strip, heart
unprotected, and offers his blood as wine.
Third Prize: Roy Marshall
From The Observer’s Book of Scent
Description requires a borrowed
vocabulary. Sweet belongs to taste, sharp
is lifted from touch, and fruity is derived
from the noun. Citrus is useless
unless you’ve smelt citrus. Heavier than air,
when married to memory, scent
becomes immortal (see Proust.)
Though easy to recall the colour of a lemon,
it’s harder to conjure its scent. A statue,
nose-less, bound with roses, might remind you
to stop and sniff. The olfactory bulb
expands until death. Ours is diminutive,
compared, say, to a white-eared opossum,
European hedgehog or polar bear.
Port magnolias and hypoglycemic breath
arrive at the brain as pear drops
or nail varnish. The violet is famous
for its fleeting grace. Tiger’s urine
resembles fragrant basmati, but of this
only zookeepers are aware.
Hunters can’t tell buck from doe; many killed
are the wrong gender for musk.
Ambergris is derived from a fatty hairball
expelled from a sperm whale’s oesophagus.
A coin, the world over, is redolent of blood.
A pheromone spray, bought from a vending
machine in a public toilet, contains
porcine gland extract, liable to attract lonely pigs.
Commended: Nick Compton
Portrait as a Crow
The obsidian eye is less. Give me milk-fog or moon or salt water to purge this black crow-heart. I would make a better pup or feline with that look for her. Better yet a snail; one foot-crunch; whelp and gone; end game to my inherited black-wolf blood. I have no lion-legacy. No foundation or moral heritage to stop me. Quarter my wings; trophy them on your mantel wall for your family to mock; prod and finger. Feed me poppies so I can forget how to crow her name.
Commended: Yvonne Reddick
Two nights before the inquest
we hear her yelling in the oak’s crown
as we leave our dark-paned house,
pass the forked chestnut
where Dad nailed the owl box.
She finds us and looses her cry –
some hear it as Kee-Wick
but it’s clearly You-Weep.
She has wings, their barbs hushed for flight,
the flutings of the quills stifle their riffle.
Each foot a clench of grapnels,
she can hear our hearts under a metre of snow.
Clutching the roof-tree
she turns her searchlight glare on us:
a howlet, an august eagle-owl
pricking her feathery horns when we stir.
Dad called minutes before he died.
We did not answer, and when
we rang, and rang, it was too late.
Now, wherever we go,
she hovers over us, circling.
Commended: Ian McEwen
The West Runton Elephant only goes shopping at night, at West Runton News, where they know him.
The West Runton Elephant eats anything from tins and also grass. West Runton Parish Council never needs to cut the verge – never notices the saving.
The West Runton Elephant does not mind: invisibility – all the weight of West Runton on his ribs – how sea tickles.
The West Runton Elephant dreams all day of a mythical beast, the East Runton Elephant. They do not meet.
The West Runton Elephant works on his journal when strolling on West Runton beach. Then he sits in the car park. He neither pays, nor displays.
The West Runton Elephant has pulled the full moon high over West Runton – at just the same moment the moon has pulled him up high.
The West Runton Elephant’s bones are as thick as his love for West Runton. His love that is round as a penny, a footprint, a cabbage.
The West Runton Elephant thinks “It’s a matter of time”: he will miss the walks, tinned beans, the newsagent’s half-directed smile.
The West Runton Elephant knows the kindliest translator will never make sense of the notes, appreciate the motor skill, understand the gravity of tusks.
Commended: Charlotte Eichler
Our children dance in dirty sandals
on the slick black head of a whale,
the islands by our town all eyes.
We share out red insides,
braise sourdock and blubber,
press round the warmth of cigarettes.
Winter comes anyway –
the snow sprouts claws,
pads through the streets after dark,
cracks its teeth on the bones we left behind.
By the icehouse a mother
licks new colours from her fur,
far from her blue world
and the cub that melted as they swam.
Our homes are barred with shovels, antlered –
she’s close enough to taste the glass.
At night, wind flutes through the whalebones –
we hear her singing songs of solid ice.