2019 – THE POEMS

FIRST PRIZE: NJ HYNES

The Moon yawns and keeps yawning
— after “The Infinite”, by Charles Simic

Is it bored?

Tired of pulling oceans over, wetting the lips of stiff continents?

Does it long for nights without electric lights, when its absence
hid robbers and lovers, its presence lit trees with silver?

Does it mind being measured by scientists and howled at by lunatics,
blamed for rising crime?

Does it like biodynamic farmers?

Does its far side itch?

Does it fear a slimming eclipse or the heavy fullness of prophecy?

Did Armstrong’s foot, bouncing through dust, feel like a slap?

Will it mind when we’re there, en masse?

Will it miss us if we’re no longer here?

 

 
SECOND PRIZE: NICOLETTE GOLDING

Nonchalance

was a garment
mostly worn by girls.
It smelled of rainwater

had a sound like fingers swirling opals
in a bowl, tasted of river. It whispered
as it passed, shower-sheer

in streets, in parks.
Boys borrowed it, dived
into it, splashed around

in djellabas of scarcely visible
mist over their grandad vests
gaudy loon pants.

Nakedness waited beneath
like a stringed instrument

harmonics ringing,
opals scattering the paths
on either side.
 

 

THIRD PRIZE: SUE SPIERS

Wheatfield with Cypresses (1889)

The paint is alive with harvest Mistral;
lines and curves of emerald cypress,
the swirl of lemon tipped wheat, mustard stalks,
a suggestion of poppies low in the frame.
One dark hill,
out of kilter, as mountains pale
towards turbulent cloud which sweeps eastwards,
but where is the sun?

Sky reflects water not wheatfield
and there are no humans, no animals,
nothing manmade, except the wheat;
elsewhere a farmer, a scythe, a miller,
bread from an oven.

He visits the cypresses many times,
sits at a distance, up close,
working their shades on canvas
trying to imitate what they give.

He goes over and over his own imperfection;
why no one wants
what he offers.
Who would buy anguish?
Who would want these thoughts
wrought in oil?

 

 

COMMENDATION: MICHAEL CAINES

Industry

The work went on – went on despite itself.
Despite the lock-jawed bear traps barely to
be trusted not to right themselves and spring,
despite uncertainties, despite the gulf

between thought and tongue tied by taboo,
despite the knife, despite the obscure gang,
despite the ghastly still life in the study,
and the thought that no one’s just that into you –

despite all despites – work does its thing.
The wheel turns, hands hold, and minds shall giddy.
Workers strut past beggars, as workers do.
What’s strange, what was, what is, what will be wrong,

is waking in this place, in this body,
as if, by instinct, good and dumb and ready.

 

 
COMMENDATION: CHRISTINA THATCHER

Detox Passage
after William Brewer

You keep finding spoons everywhere:
under kitchen cabinets, inside comforters,
poking through boxer briefs. Yesterday,
you sat on the sofa and discovered spoons
had replaced stuffing. You cut open cushions,
heaved out hundreds. This is a clearing process.

You still dream only of metal. The pastor tells you:
This is normal. You must simply let go of the spoons.
You accept this but the sink keeps filling up with silver.
The shower spits sterling at you. Rid yourself of temptation,
my son. The pastor has our father’s blue-green eyes.

You listen and nod: throw away every spoon in the house.
You tell the pastor you can do it. You believe
you can do it. God is with you, my son.
The jerks in your arms and teeth are beginning
to go. All you had to do was rid yourself

of temptation. You thank God for new strength,
bow your head to pray for more good,
more clean, but every time you close
your eyes you see the silver
curve of a spoon
and linger.
 

 

COMMENDATION: LAURA POTTS

Virginity

It was winter. At the purple turn of the world,
the distant cities slept and slurred in the glim

on the sea’s wet skin. It was early evening.
I watched as a bird split the hinge of its wings

and left on the infant winds. Into the starling
darkness; into the black of the atlas;

into the silent miles it moved to the luteous
bruise of the moon. Smooth as a womb.

***

The room thickened with hours. Glamorous
black. I lay in a dark of my own like that

as a candle coughed to the last. Thought
of the bird on the lavender back of the dusk,

a distant fiction. Far from the quiet vision,
as the fields unreeled at dawn, I remember

the way that the rain had fallen, clear as a tear,
on the pane. Remember – colder still again –

the child that scampered
down the lane
beyond the dark
and rain.

 

 

COMMENDATION: RUTH SHARMAN

Dharga Road

This isn’t the India you see on TV.
It’s Chennai’s shanty town,
two black goats tethered in a sea
of litter, a temple as rundown

as the shacks displaying Shiva beads
and bindi powder; it’s broken concrete,
streams of sewage clinging to the waterweeds,
and piles of cow dung in the street.

It’s Drama Dresses for Rent or Sell,
row upon row of rayon frocks;
coconuts with painted faces to repel
the evil eye. And endless Xerox shops.

It’s a chai stall where the men all stare
and notices with numbers to call
for watery sperms and thinning hair,
for gonorrhoea, syphilis, PENIS TOO SMALL.

A place where no one smiles, except the flower-man
and the shoeblack working in the shade of a tree;
he hands me a chrysanthemum;
she gestures for a photo and adjusts her lilac sari.

At No. 43 there’s only a board to show
where the tannery once stood
and next door the old Tannery Bungalow
will soon be little more than rubble and firewood.

The ageing security guard won’t budge
(there’s too much at stake),
though I’d give him anything – a year’s wage –
for a glimpse inside our garden gate.