First prize: Zelda Chappel
Another Twenty, Another Stone
Here sheep are counted the old fashioned way; four pips,
another twenty, another stone. Gathered in my pocket
their sound is a heavy lullaby we wade knee deep in.
Their weight has a downdraught like a pin. The wind
collecting in my ears is sea flooding in, determined.
Tidal shifts are all that keep us balanced, the swing
a comfort we think we’ve had before but cannot place.
The edge is immeasurably distant from here, no matter
how much we stretch. The sky unfolds herself and lets in
light, grows vast as thought itself and we remain consumed.
Silt lies still ’til the ground falls flat now we realise how
wrong we’ve been standing. We’ve not learnt our lines
or their direction. Another twenty, another stone
waits pocketed, yearning to feel the ground.
Second Prize: Sarah Watkinson
A paradigm shift in ornithology
Birds are made of light.
The chorus is dawn.
Every morning energy
crystallises on solid objects: twigs, rooftops.
When brilliance breaks on the horizon
birds are generated at every wavelength
from quick bluetits to red cardinals
or the whole iridescence of a magpie’s wing.
Their bodies are different from ours.
Caged, they may clot to solidity, but free
they don’t age, you don’t see old birds
fly more slowly, perch for longer, grey at the wings, get fat.
If shot, they fool you with implausible remains –
a puff of feathers, a single wing in the bracken. Cats
are disappointed with their trophy: just claws and guts.
If the morning is sunny, when each bird appears
spare energy is transformed to song
although you can’t hum the tune.
At sunset they darken and vanish −
new ones will condense again at first light.
Third Prize: Polly Atkins
You carry worlds in the cipher of your feathers;
sky and water woven together
by the black of a wood in winter; blue
grey of the lake, half frozen over:
a dull kind mirror to find yourself in
or to knock on in search of another. Is that
why you waited all morning so patiently, planted
like a post in the field in the snow? There is nothing
here by this road for you, surely, but ground
to launch from, and me, to watch you drawing
your perfect arc in the air, diving
silently upwards into the tumbling
white, as though into a weir. The whole
vale is shaking itself into flakes
and falling, or rising. It’s hard to tell.
You in your grace alone remain still
even in motion. I’ve heard a heron
will attack a human if threatened. I imagine
your beak a spear through my skull, and grasp
at last the beauty of the kill.
Commended: Rebecca Gethin
A magician of a midsummer night
with a sleight of wings, oiling
his feathers with darkness
to hawk under the stars
for ermines and swifts.
By night his costume is night,
a single white flash on his wing tips.
His churring is the voice of trees –
a tonal ring in the bass note,
a harmonic of a third.
He is a flamenco of the twilight:
his grasp of the air
is his legerdemain.
One clap of his wings
and he is moth-mouthed.
Commendation: Jinny Fisher
This hare has ears bigger than her head.
They quiver for signals that travel
straight to her legs.
This hare creeps close to the ground.
At any loud noise, she will shriek and skitter
a zigzag back over her tracks.
This hare will not burrow deep.
Flat as a rug in a shallow depression
she holes up until night.
This hare will box her mate flat.
They battle it out, all round the field
until she is ready to take him.
They say a hare sprang from the moon
with a promise of love and a sack of fertility.
This hare will snack on her shit
and lunch on her young.
Commended: Steve Scholey
The True Colour of Snow
Not just any white: specifically that of fine-grained spring snow
an hour after sunrise, or perhaps before sunset.
This, so astronomers report, is the precise
average colour of the Milky Way. How apt –
it seems our home is – ordinary.
And, since we are all made of stars,
one has to suppose that we
are also middling in years,
wrestling a certain gravity,
slowing down, semi-detached.
Not just any old white: in particular, fine-grained spring snow
an hour after sunrise, or should you have missed it, before sunset
is, precisely, the average colour of our home galaxy;
subtly different, the astronomers said, from other whites:
the incandescence of an old-fashioned light-bulb, polished smiles,
the froth of waves or penguins’ bibs, a marbled bust.
I’d like to ask them for a colour chart, scan the paint aisles
in B&Q and, after brushing away interstellar dust
from even the blackest holes, brighten up my walls
with a carefully chosen satin emulsion of average starlight.
Not just any shade or tone of white: quite specifically that
of fine spring snow, an hour after sunrise or, I understand,
before sunset, is the spectrum of light from the Milky Way.
How little those astronomers must truly comprehend
of the colour of snow, its temperature,
texture, depth, intensity,
and – forgive their innocence – less by far
the utter lack of gravity
with which it spins, a blizzard of stars
from a child’s god-like hand.
Commended: Chris Banks
Lilies White Heaven
At night, I see them through the window.
White-faced beggars. Or wimpled messengers.
There’s longing in the way they stare,
the way they lean towards me, nodding.
They could be from another planet
where everything is made of hurting light.
They seem to want my darkness, the black night
backdrop of my garden, so they can rest.
Or, ambering my arms, they lean, perhaps,
to give; to speak of something, golden-tongued,
some big abstract that I do not understand
in a white language I’m trying to translate.