2016-2017 WINNER, COG POETRY AWARDS
Words dull us drowsy,
so we tuck books
In one, a herd of elephants
lives under the surface
and holds up
the weight of this world,
when one bows his head,
In another, a catfish swims
beneath the surface
when he thrashes about
the world shakes.
is at the mercy
of inhumed hearts.
I trace circles
along my son’s back,
the river of nerves
under a ridgeline
corners that wear memory
down to a science.
that fish have
I dream from what
I’ve been told,
but catfish can recall
the sound of a human
voice five years
When I hum
it is to calm
the caudal fin,
the myths under
this world that
hold us steady
and let us glimpse
we are rocked
Hunting in These Woods, Overnight
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.
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,
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.
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
like trying to tuck the fitted sheet
over a coral reef.
My son wakes in the dark
the only word he knows
that is rushed with fear—
is drought dry
so he asks for nighttime water
to float him back to sleep.
I sing and sing,
the waterline is rising,
and on its way
to come and tuck you in.
— for those trapped in Aleppo
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
Cradling An Empty Cup
The neurologists say
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
I add two.
Then spectrum, expressive delay,
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.
Hands flapping like wings
trying to catch the
splint of sun,
I carry the cup
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
his stations fuzz.
Day-by-day, the cup
grows heavier, my arm aches
deep in the bone,
not because of the balance,
a drop or two different—
but because I’m refusing
to set it down.
A witness’ job is not to cure,
so I sing the first bars of each lullaby,
and tuck a white sheet,
in case he rises and shapes
his empty hands
into the sign for water.