2020 Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize Winners

Posted on Fri, May 22, 2020

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. 31.1; to purchase or subscribe click here.

Kimani Rose — 2020 Winner, River


I went to the river and was told to pray
told to sink myself into the ocean’s favorite runaway memory
and breathe
inhale the seawater and exhale the salt that remains

my grandmother’s grandmother was the daughter of a water woman
mami wata sueña que sus chicas recuerdan de dónde venían
soak our feet in the rich earth and step into the clay
down to our necks to harden and make our skin soft copper again
make our hands clean of the scars we cannot remember getting
turn into grip
and hold

only here do I know where home is
only here do I know the ways to put me back together
after I am away and I forget that I was once a water baby too
after I handed the crossing guard a penny for my thoughts,
a dollar for what I had inside
we traded and I carried my ocean’s memories
I carried her legacy branded dreams
yet I was still not empty
still not free

las diosas suplicaban se oídas
escuchar el río
remember who you were
and pray

Carolyn Foster Segal — 2020 Honorable Mention, The Mirrored Room

The Mirrored Room*

I knew the legend — how
Theseus, saved by the love
of a good woman, turned, how Ariadne
was left, spinning in circles
at the heart of the labyrinth. And still,
on that January day,
I went with you. We were coming
from Niagara Falls — I thought only later
how funny it was that we started there — where couples go
long after first desire, when everything has already begun
to turn into something else. The falls
were stopped, shut off for repairs —
all that exposed rockface, the frozen rivulets,
a cliff at the end of the world
as we knew it — but as I said earlier, I wasn’t thinking
in symbols that day — and, anyway, we continued on,
to the museum with the Mirrored Room. It was like
a house in a fairy tale, and you made an awkward bow,
a parody of a gentleman, and let me go first. And when I crossed
the threshold, and stepped onto the glass floor, I saw — felt —
it fall away, and as I fell, the walls turned
into other walls, further and further away, until
it was impossible to gauge the distance
I had already traveled. Years later, when you say
you don’t remember, when, breathless with panic,
I try to retrace our path
to that day for you, here is what I recall: You took
my hand in that room as I fell and fell, and when
we left the room, left the museum, it was late
afternoon, it was already growing
dark — you were still holding
my hand — and the trees
along the walk
were covered in ice
and shining,

*Lucas Samaras, Mirrored Room (1966),
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.