2019 Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize Winners

Posted on Wed, May 15, 2019

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. 30.1; to purchase or subscribe click here.

Mark Wagenaar — 2019 Winner, In Praise of Improvisation

Yiskah Rosenfeld — 2019 Honorable Mention, Inside the Room Outside the Night


A kettle whistles on the other side of the wall,
3 barks from a dog thump the black night,
but inside it’s just 3 bulbs and a slow-ticking clock
ventriloquist heart throwing its voice to the windowsill.

Like the moon held up to the ear,
I listen quietly for myself
she’s in here somewhere — under books,
between voices and lost scents through the windows.

Let each wall tell the story of safety as if it were new,
grow four mothers in the telling:
safe says the 2-windowed wall against the garden,
safe the double lamped wall concurs, like 2 eyes watching over my bed.

Safe, safe, safe say the 3 windows on the next wall.
Even the wall’s story made of closet doors ends happily.
Inside myself it’s night-quiet, night-dark,
as if these were the real windows of the room:

2 eyes, nose, mouth, and, below, vagina
with its wrinkled, folded drapes — 5 windows
leading to the dark, infinite outsideness of in.
Is this why I never fit, walking around inside out,

trying to gain entrance, when all the doors open inward?
Imagine dissipating, refracting through the windows,
5 selves knocking at the glass asking their way
back to the lamp and the wide-hipped bed with its flowered pillows.

Who wouldn’t return to such softness and weight?
But another runaway self rises up and is gone,
thinning to the language of air, tagging the mountains and sky,
ecstatic to be free of body, never going back to that tired jail-shell.

Come back. Come back to the little room
with its equidistant corners, its matriarchal walls.
We’ll do the square dance of identity,
dosie-doe rabbi and doubter, poet and daughter,

swing your superego round and around,
promenade the bad girl who slid grown-up books
down the side of the bed. Stop. Quiet the clock.
Let the heart choose her own pace and swell:

brushstrokes smoothing the scalp, cherries
dropped one by one into a tea-toweled bowl,
that kind of Albuquerque rain that evaporates
before it ever touches ground.