2016 COMPETITION – THE POEMS

First prize: Ken Evans

Rebecca                                                                                      

 

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

Casting Innocence

 

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

Howlet

 

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

Mammuthus trogontherii

 

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

Kaktovik

 

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.