2017 jeff marks memorial poetry prize winners

Posted on Mon, May 15, 2017

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. 28.1; to purchase or subscribe click here.

Franny Choi — 2017 Winner Pastoral Poem


The farmwork isn’t seasonal
in Vermont. They milk the cows

year round. The leaves brown
and only the white people think

of rest. Orchards get pricked
by cold’s first needle, play dead

til there’s something decent to drink.
But the cows stay heavy

with silage, with hands, dark
on the hillside. The hard ground

cracks, and city people paste green
paper on the gaps. Guess what color

the glue dries. Hint: it’s good camouflage
when the weather turns. The geese make

that noise when they’re afraid
they won’t make it back south.

My friend bought a lamp to keep
smiling when not even the earth

seems to want us, or wants us
wrong, dug up by the neighbors

after the drifts melt, limp,
already feeding next year’s grass.

The city tosses crumpled leaves
to say, we can always make more of you.

I want to build us a place
like the house the calf made

when it licked our hands hot,
our breath blued by the moon.

This is how we’ve learned
to grow in midwinter. We curl

into each other’s bark,
boil sugar between our chests.

Teri Elam – 2017 Honorable Mention Counterpoint

“doris payne, 85-year-old jewel thief, reflects on life of crime” — associated press

my childhood                                         buried beneath this thick skin      blood-encrusted diamonds
got me here                                            
& my living bones      this body underestimated
my heart’s weight      could not be measured in carats
knew how to eat properly                  still polished      even when i felt invisible

liked to dress up                                    this body & my bones      living      underestimated
play a game by myself                        
a sleight of hand hiding fear      but never jewels stolen
called “miss lady”                                 & when made to feel invisible      i remained polished
people say                                              like the ballerina i dreamed of becoming

you don’t act black                               slighted      my hands hid fear      not the jewels lifted
but i was black still                              this refuge from slab fork      paris rome monte carlo
they wanted me out                             & my dreams of becoming a ballerina
i could have been more                       
now distant      like that space between diamonds & coal

then it was punishment                      my refuge      paris rome monte carlo a ways from slab fork
if in my hands                                       no final destination in my mind just moving between
i couldn’t be can’t say                          
the distance between what makes coal & what makes diamonds
didn’t matter                                         though being a thief had nothing to do with values —
don’t regret being                                caught in between no destination in my mind      final
i regret getting caught                        
in love      my heart cannot be measured in carats
i didn’t take to put back                      my value had nothing to do with being a thief
i took to keep —                                     & buried      blood-encrusted diamonds beneath my skin

NOTE: italicized words came from her interviews in “the life and crimes of doris payne” and an AP news article, “doris payne, 85-year-old jewel thief, re ects on life of crime”.