2016 jeff marks memorial poetry prize winners

Posted on Fri, May 6, 2016

december is honored to present audio recordings from our winner and honorable mention for this year’s poetry contest. These poems are featured in Vol. 27.1; to purchase or subscribe click here.

Jim Dwyer – 2016 Winner Enlightenment 

Jim Dwyer
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there’s nothing more real
than all these clouds
& how they keep changing
all that restless energy
with no source or solution
the relentless transformations
the almost perpetual motion
like the ordinary happenstance parade
of our works & days
this time let’s make it
an average August afternoon in 1982
& look
there we are
driving south down Salem Avenue
in your silver 74 Monte Carlo
the one with the bald tires
the dangerous brakes
the barely automatic transmission
& the killer stereo system
& right now we’re listening to Chuck Berry
singing & dancing along
in those gold upholstered bucket seats
& even tho the man from St. Louis
is one of the eight or nine
most important human beings
of the 20th century
he still feels like our brother
because despite his genius his brilliance
he too is baffled to the bone
the three of us cry
from the amen corner of the blues
why can’t you be true?
& there’s the smell of approaching
rain & exhausted fossil fuel in the air
& a pair of winos in the Kwik-Stop parking lot
arguing about who found it first
a flattened out
but still smokeable Camel filter
& if you multiply the number of stars
in the Milky Way by 5
that’s how many human dreams & desires there are
& a few of them wake you up & set you free
but most of them just break your fucking heart
which isn’t i understand
the latest news
& neither is the abandoned steel foundry
over on Springfield Street
the boarded up stores
the slum landlord housing
the final surviving Tool & Dye shop
that long row of empty redbrick warehouses
the smashed & shattered windows
like the bullet riddled body
of the socialist candidate
for president of El Salvador
or Guatemala or somewhere equally
south of the border
they murdered him
that gang of ultramontane fascist thugs
because he kept talking about justice
because he took Jesus seriously
because we trained them & paid them to do it
like we always have
& neither of us wants to think too much
or talk too long
about that kind of misery & crime
so i light up a joint
& pass it on
& we make our aimless way
down the North Dixie strip
sailing past the tittie bars
& the Sip ’n’ Nip & Eisenhauer’s Café
& you toss me a can of Strohs
at the red light at Leo & Keowee
& you laugh & say look at it this way, jim
we might be getting older
but at least god dammit
we’re not getting any wiser
& the next thing i remember in this poem
is you
on your first try
somehow squeezing that epic of a Chevy
into the one spot left
across from that yellow house
on Green Street
some party you heard about last night
at another party
& after we kill off the rest of the twelve pack
& smoke what’s turned into
the smallest roach
in the history of western civilization
we head inside
where we both hope to find
a woman so good
it won’t matter how bad
she one day becomes
the best thing about beauty
is that it doesn’t last
the best thing about you & me
is that we’re never right
or righteous
for very long…

Kate Gray – 2016 Honorable Mention For Every Girl

Kate Gray
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after Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl”

This is how you break a heart slowly:
Avert your eyes when she asks
about your day. Say,
“Fine.” Don’t
ask about her day. Don’t
buy the dry white wine or pick sunflowers
or caramelize onions for her meat.

This is how you break a heart fast:

This is how you break a heart completely:
and lie about it
and blame her.

This is how the heart eats itself:
It beats with hope
and is beaten.

This is how a heart learns to beat again:
You say, “Please,” and she says,
“Possibly,” and you say,
“Thank you,” and she says,
“You’re welcome,” and you
get out of the way.

This is how you bear her broken heart:
Look in her eyes, confess everything,
claim the pain you put there,
and choose her. Choose her
over you and your sorry excuses.

If the heart learns to beat again,
then offer to walk on your knees for as long
and as far as she wants you to, offer
to hold her with open hands,
palm up, and offer your eyes, the way
clear water cannot lie.

Kate Gray – 2016 Honorable Mention Reassurance 
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In late March the river smells
of cottonwoods, their blossoms
hanging down and dropping, catkins
purple-gray and sodden
on the ground. Under the Sellwood Bridge
fishermen gather in boats, like geese
pointing into wind.

In this part of spring, forsythia
and cherry and pear bloom,
and the streets snow with petals.

This is the time of year I fall for you
all over again, your arms
holding me like rivers taking islands,
your eyes the sky around the moon,
the nights so still we know
that more will come
and we can bear it.