2016-2017 WINNER, COG POETRY AWARDS

 

     Lullaby

Megan Merchant

 

I.

 

Words dull us drowsy,

so we tuck books

into bed.

 

In one, a herd of elephants

lives under the surface

and holds up

 

the weight of this world,

 

when one bows his head,

weary,

we quake.

 

In another, a catfish swims

beneath the surface

 

when he thrashes about

the world shakes.

 

Our stability

is at the mercy

of inhumed hearts.

 

 

 

II.

 

I trace circles

along my son’s back,

 

the river of nerves

under a ridgeline

of bone,

 

the smooth

corners that wear memory

down to a science.

 

I dream

that fish have

no memory,

 

I dream from what

I’ve been told,

 

but catfish can recall

the sound of a human

voice five years

after.

 

When I hum

this lullaby

 

it is to calm

the tusks,

the caudal fin,

the myths under

this world that

 

hold us steady

and let us glimpse

dreams

 

before

we are rocked

to sleep.

 

Hunting in These Woods, Overnight

Megan Merchant

 

I.

 

The wires are placed to catch the feral beast

that’s been hunting the soft pathways

of my son’s brain,

 

skinning words and fanging their meat, dragging

them off between trees, then rerouting

to circle and lick his dreams.

 

They place censors, little wired moons,

where I’ve circled the lost ship of my thumb

to siren him to sleep.

 

Still I see—his crowing head, his soft spot,

heartbeat pulse where the plates hadn’t firmed,

his haircut that we swept into a nest,

 

the soft fur I crooked into my elbow, the robin’s egg

lump where the firmness of a wall

fit to his anger.

 

I wait for the technician to slip

from her camouflage tent, unscrew the scope

and disarm my fear saying—

 

you built him so well, beautiful architect, we found

the bomb shelter, the fortified walls, the titanium and tungsten—

the damage is surface.

 

Go home, rest.

 

 

II.

 

On the way home, we travel the way of machinery

chunking pavement, widening lanes

to accommodate delivery

 

of the American dream, while three deer grace

the shoulder in the brush, eyes brightly-wide,

breath hovering.

 

I know you too have seen them,

staring, blankly, then fleecing into the frosted

mass of trunks,

 

jangled by horn-song and exhaust, the hoof-pat

hymn, the flyaway fur, running

from the pulse of hunger.

 
 

Rising

Megan Merchant

I tried to sleep after reading

that we’ve surpassed

 

404 parts per million,

 

but science is hard

and I could not get comfortable

 

snuggled on the bones of my children’s

children,

 

like trying to tuck the fitted sheet

over a coral reef.

 

            *

 

My son wakes in the dark

 

and uses

the only word he knows

that is rushed with fear—

 

scary.

 

His throat

is drought dry

 

so he asks for nighttime water

to float him back to sleep.

 

            *

 

Hush, hush,

I sing and sing,

 

Accelerando/Adagio,

 

the waterline is rising,

 

and on its way

to come and tuck you in.

Found Objects

— for those trapped in Aleppo

Megan Merchant

I would paint the snow for you

if the street light wouldn’t melt it.

 

I would paint each broken bone kissed

with lip gloss and a tambourine snagging

 

a sweater. I would paint the walls as frozen

cities, the shush of traffic, slush of light,

 

and there would be no late for the party

because I would stall fret,

 

and airplane engines from whirling,

the tarmac pigeons still cooing free.

 

I would paint you. A fingernail moon.

A waxy rind. A bucket of water.

 

A bombed-out building. The white chalk

of rubble in your hair. A river to wash

 

in, cool enough that when the swirl licked

your shins, you would feel

 

your borders blend clean, mix into stone,

grey with breath

 

but breathing. I would paint the

longest table, and leave the seat

 

empty, next to yours, room enough

for our elbows to pass and static,

 

while the wine is being shared

and blissing our mouths into prayer,

 

a language neither of us speaks,

which is why I would paint us

 

slipped from our clothes and touching.

Same to same.

 

A raven’s feather swirling about,

a basket clogged with warm bread,

 

loaves halved in crystalline salt,

 

and when we blink at each other

we would see veins that are flowing with blood,

 

but mostly water. I would paint a placenta-sky,

gamey and wired. Electric.

 

The wink of a heartbeat

that is mine and not my own,

 

pulsing like bombs dropping

 

one, one, one, tearing a hole

in the wall, where a large painting of god

 

was hung, gold-encrusted,

but now just an opening of light.

 

I would paint your grave as a pair

of shoes left by the front door,

 

laces untied and waiting,

toes scuffed, facing out.

 

Flecks of stone and screams

like salt, floating.

Winner Megan Merchant's poetry has the sudden fall into dream, tenderness, awakenings and delicate and crystalline images - the tone and lines are just right and seem to be in the language of a forest at night and the unseen eye in the wave.

- 2017 U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera

Cradling an Empty Cup

Megan Merchant

 

Cradling An Empty Cup

 

The neurologists say

absence seizures,

so I add a drop of water.

 

The therapist says

drool, and I take a sip—

we have already prepared

 

for this slippery season

by covering our hands

in rubber gloves.

 

She says no, we must

persist, long-road,

think ahead.

 

I add two.

 

Then spectrum, expressive delay,

attention deficit,

 

the jaw lock, mid-choke

and tears so silent that when

I moved to check his face

 

(hearing that long

train whistle of instinct)

 

I found him,

a mime performing pain.

 

Eight drops.

 

Hands flapping like wings

trying to catch the

splint of sun,

 

one.

 

Gull-mouth

cradling

salt-rusted words,

 

two.

 

I carry the cup

while driving,

wandering alone

through the store,

 

folding laundry into paper cranes,

borrowing the words for this poem,

 

I carry the quiet-stub of sorrow,

 

add a drop when each

wired word

disconnects

and

 

his stations fuzz.

 

Day-by-day, the cup

grows heavier, my arm aches

 

deep in the bone,

 

not because of the balance,

or weight—

 

a drop or two different—

 

but because I’m refusing

to set it down.

 

A witness’ job is not to cure,

but carry,

 

so I sing the first bars of each lullaby,

and tuck a white sheet,

a half-moon

embrace,

 

staying awake

in case he rises and shapes

 

his empty hands

into the sign for water.

 

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