2017 – THE POEMS

First Prize: Louise Greig

If I Say, Flower

If I clap the birds fly up. If I shake my hand in the pond the minnows
scatter. So why, if I say, Flower, won’t your face in the urn-grey
light return? I am under the yew saying, Flower. Over and over.
My breath is green. My blood is green. I wear an apron of leaves.
The air is sobbing. Apology pools in the bird bath. There are sweepings
of dusk beneath the trees. But I refuse to leave. I am saying, Flower,
and I will say it forever. And you will come back. You, who
not ten feet away from me, bent to your first tiny daisy, and said,
clasping small hands together, Flower. You said, Flower.
 
 
 
 
Second Prize: Anna Saunders

Pareidolia

An eye in the bark of the birch – a black, slant iris
etched in a silver spine. A horizontal tear
with a dark corolla, a cracked lancet; spear-shaped
as a fallen Bay leaf, bark splitting to spokes
like eyelashes or rays of divine light.

The man staring into the coppice from the rain
shudders. It’s a Pareidolia, he tells himself.
Thinks of a stain on a wall that looked like a cow,
a cloud that looked like Elvis.

At night in the siding the train stands frozen
as a mouse under a cat’s paw. The eye doesn’t blink.

There are more eyes in the trees by the motorway
eyes that are etched in deep, as if pitted with sorrow,
hollowed with despair. The trees stand, breathing in
fumes as the cars scuttle past; a carnival of sick cockroaches
with gaudy shells.

Each tree has one dark eyelet,
deep as a button cut, raw as a fabric gash.

Grey smoke rises to swathe the larynx of the black birds.
The trees shake their boughs like widows’ hands.
 
 
 
 

Third Prize: Ama Bolton

This is the Island of Last Resort

where no bird sings
and the moon never sets
on the lake of night.

The boat scrapes on shingle
and you leap to dry land
lightly as when you were a girl.

Through a cypress grove
someone leads the way
to a house of marble floors,

one who undresses beside you,
who steps out of the mirror,
whose cold arms hold you.

 
 
 
 

Commended: Kirsten Irving

Lady Blackbird

He loves you for your tomboy streak,
this gold-eyed minstrel. He loves
your dashing, your pulling-up, sweetly
alert. That in motion, he cannot tell
if you are a female or juvenile.

Decked like a leaf, a keen kunoichi
can infiltrate the twitchiest keeps.
The cat-stalked gardens, the locked dawn park,
invisibly landing, listening. Tutting at the idiot
who serenades you from an aerial,

who sings out, loud and virtuosic,
dipping and trilling, as though his voice
was caught on the tail of the wandering wind,
his twitter dodging starkly through currents,
seeking you, not caring who hears.

 
 
 
 

Commended: Romalyn Ante

The Making of a Smuggler
(after Zilka Joseph)

It is never 30 kilos. Wherever we travel,
we pack the whole country with us.

We have our rice terraces as folded garments;
we plant pillars of trees – a rainforest

on a hairbrush. We dig bright orange crabs
out of white sands and use them as tabs

to zip our bags. We immigrants
are experts in packing. It’s in our genes.

We know how to fill the landing card
but we’re always ready for No English.

If the officer stops us, we let the smell
of old socks swirl up to his face like bats.

We’ll let him dive into our belongings
like a man trying to fish in an ocean

ruled by sharp corals, stinging anemones.
He can squeeze the yellow packet harder,

and not know it is pig’s blood. He won’t
hear the desperate squeal as he chucks it aside.

He wasn’t there – mud-soaked in a pen,
with the boy trying to catch an erratic swine.

The officer may ask, No sauce? in Chinese accent
as if it would be easier for us to understand,

but he can’t sniff my hand, see the sediments
in my nails: fermented fish and all that we dip in it.

He can’t cup his ear with my palm and discover
that I hold the waves of the Pacific.

He may ask, No chicken feet?
but he can’t follow me through the gate –

even with his gaze. He’ll miss the gleam of a red
quill in my lug sole, like when he didn’t hear

my uncle’s knife back and forth on a whetstone,
the way he slit the neck of my rooster, King Arthur,

giving me tips on how to cook for survival.
The officer did not feel the pot of hot water

getting lighter, when I poured it over the carcass.
He wasn’t there, at that moment –

that perfect pause
before I plucked out all the feathers I used to stroke.

 
 
 
 

Commended: Rachel Davies

Chiggy Pig

nippy little armoured shuttle
tiny pellet for pocket pistol
milligram of medication
miniature isopod crustacean
tiny roll-top for tiny letter
curled up little grime diviner
micro-pebble from micro-gravel
miniscule ball-bearing marble
newly discovered little planet
dinky dust devouring gannet
Lilliputian city gent
mini-camper in sturdy tent
innocent mine-sweeping feeler
micro-robotic skirting creeper
armadillo impersonator
tiny fourteen jointed porker

 
 
 
 

Commended: David Hale

Deer, Midsummer

Pursued by moon-teeth before meadow-cut
she falls onto a bed of foxtail, plantain
and red fescue, blood and saliva streaking
her crushed throat. Left to die, she drags
herself through hawkweed, sweet-cicely,
rye towards the shores of that other world
where I find her hyper-ventilating in the heat –
but with no blade or bullet to effect a swift
transition, only a length of field maple solid
enough to snap her gentle outstretched neck.
She doesn’t scream or look me in the eye,
but beyond to cloud-shadow and bleary sky;
she doesn’t curse me for what I have to do.
A prayer of honey-bees and scarlet beetles
mark her passing. How quickly the meadow’s
dark mouth fastens to her bloody neck
as I loop baler-twine around one shapely leg –
one beautiful black hoof, draw her through
campion and bruised vetch to this resting place,
to be covered with sprays of wych-elm, wild
apple, hawthorn from where she’ll come to me
in dream and press hot wet lips to my cheek
as if in absolution.