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2022 Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize Winners

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. 33.1; to purchase or subscribe click here.

Lisa Cantwell — 2022 Winner, ravel


lately everything seems glazed     i’ve taken 

to cataloguing the days by how many 

words i say out loud to someone other 

than myself    i need a recipe for sugarcoated 

stuck in a rut    should i search for answers 

in today’s horoscopes collage all juicy bits 

call it age of aquarius    looking at the ocean 

through a chain link fence    i can almost 

remember yesterday    but what about 

two days ago    driving south along 

the coast    the pink pacific kicking breezes

supermoon rising in an ombré sky

i forgot about the moon for weeks

maybe that is a good thing    last night 

i cheated on ramen with mail order deep 

dish pizza worth it    this labyrinthine

ravel of hours    are we at the eleventh 

or the twenty fifth    what if this is all there is

virtual survival rise zoom in out again 

and again and tomorrow again

i am losing words before they reach the pen 

John Sibley Williams — 2022 Honorable Mention, Pantoum for What Remains from Minidoka

Pantoum for What Remains from Minidoka

A hand-woven doll palmed tightly so the soldiers wouldn’t notice.

That delicate black tea set you buried under loose floorboards,

still unbroken. The nearness of stars caressed through a rough

aperture in the barracks roof. & all that rain seeping in to wet your dreams.

That delicate black tea set you buried under loose floorboards

like a body. & the body of your uncle, forever bent beneath plow & push. 

The aperture in the barracks roof, where all that rain seeped in to wet your dreams,

opened the sky, some nights, to that old white farmhouse you’d never see again.

Like a body bent beneath plow & push, your future husband out there

emptying the belly of a bomber on his own country for love of this one.

How he opened the sky, some nights, to fire. How they burnt down the old farmhouse 

in your absence. How you cannot stop returning to it, like a lost family name.

Emptying the belly of a bomber on his own country for love of this one.

Still unbroken, the nearness of stars once caressed through the rough aperture 

of light’s absence. How you cannot stop returning to it, this Americanized family name.

& this hand-woven doll at 94 you still palm tightly so none of us will notice.

2021 Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize Winners

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. 32.1; to purchase or subscribe click here.

John Okrent — 2021 Winner, Hold Tight


          for Zach & Laura

It’s like those birds whose name we don’t know

who’ve picked this place in a million pines

in the middle of nowhere in the middle of night

to sit and sing where we can’t see them —


though it isn’t really singing that they do.

What is it? Unearthly tones

from their earthy throats keep time

from pressing down on us too hard —


ghostly metronomes. Of all the lives

I could have picked, I keep on 

picking this one. The stars 

are scattered buttons from a torn-off shirt;


everything is loosened

or removed. Those birds, and no other sound

save Zach and Laura pulling on their cigarettes,

ice ringing in my nightcap, whatever


makes those burrows in the yard.

No sorrow in the birds

but we hear it. Why say hurtful things?

I love my friends and want them near.


Lawn chairs in the dark. 

I remember the benign belligerence of our drunkenness

in Buffalo, where the snow grew old around us

and we were young and lit in the trashcan-tipping night.


Now everything is different.

The night feels fragile as a windpipe.

The whole world dangles

from the roots of the trees. 

Margaret Ray — 2020 Honorable Mention, Disaster A/version / Re/vision



In one version, the evening is hot and I ride

my bike to the grocery for emergency

garlic replenishment, waiting carefully at each stoplight

until my phone buzzes in my pocket


in another, it rains and I take the bus downtown to meet Sarah

and my phone rings on the way home


Sometimes the dog at the corner barks as I pass


Sometimes I miss the bus and call Sarah for a lift


In one version I drive all the way to Fernandina

when I’m just supposed to go to the DMV on 39th,

and it’s on my way home that the call


interrupts my music, this could go on,


          and it is always evening when I answer, always just before


          dark as the phone rings, the word accident


          from the tinny speaker always sharp as cut

          glass, there I am, always


          lifting the phone to my ear [in the fading

          light], [looking


          straight ahead into a small gust of wind]


2020 Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize Winners

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.

2019 Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize Winners

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.

2018 Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize Winners

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. 29.1; to purchase or subscribe click here.

Brian Dunlap — 2018 Winner, Those Who Come Before Us


On Sawtelle
I hear Japanese flowing
between the laughter of young friends.
One wears a UCLA sweatshirt. In
Little Osaka. In
West Los Angeles.

Tiko Drums boom
through the parking lot
of the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple.
July. Oban.
Sending a message of thanksgiving
to all who have gone before us.

Of immigrants from Wakayama
who created a Japanese fishing village
on Terminal Island,
gone over 40 years
by the time I was born in ‘84.
Working class families — fishermen —
speaking in their own lingo. Rapid
rough fishermen’s talk, blended with
Japanese and English. Nisei children
attending Japanese language school
after a day of learning English
at their public school. Before
executive order 9066
sent them to internment camps.
Internment camps set up for people
who only wanted to build community.

Since the late 1930s,
Japanese basketball leagues
populate the Southern California landscape
where a few of my friends and peers, where
Klaude Kimura, as we graduated
from one LAUSD grade to the next,
can come together as a Japanese community,
where basketball exists as one of the few places
for Japanese American youth
to hang out with other
young Japanese Americans.
Where, at game’s end —
heads high, breaths heavy —
they shake hands with their opponents,
sweat dripping from their faces.
Inhabiting gaman.
Some parents bringing game snacks
of rice balls or noodles.

And on Sawtelle I
pass Hashimoto’s and Tabuchi’s nurseries,
smell the richness of wet dirt,
see the splash of Fuchsias’
tiny trumpet shaped magenta flowers,
reminders of when,
in the 1930s and ‘40s,
Japanese farmed flowers
and strawberries here.

Now, in the early morning, as Angeleños still sleep,
Klaude Kimura,
UCLA grad,
grabs his surfboard,
jumps in his car,
ready to tear up the Southern California waves.

Geoff Rips — 2018 Honorable Mention, Day of the Dead


Ask the pimply recruit patrolling the Afghan village,
looking left to right, up and down, in a dark alley,
index finger in spasms against the cold trigger.
Ask him how long this patrol lasts,
this block goes on, this night extends,
and he’ll say, forever. Ask the mother
with three children on the other side of the wall
holding her breath, her arms across their shoulders,
all staring at the floor. Ask her
when they’ll exhale. Never,
she might say. Never.

And the hawk
circles above the yellowed field
on an airless day; the deer mouse
cowers in the shadow of the mesquite,
its marble-size heart quivering. The kisses
of long-dead lovers still shimmer in evening light.
All this spiraling through space
aboard a planet anchored to a star
in a galaxy pinwheeling away
from the beginning.

We give the dead a day
because that’s all we can stand, all
we can devote to creating a pinhole
to the great unfathomable spreading out over eternity,
a bridge connecting us to what is no longer here,
this life a gift enjoyed and lost
in the same instant, wrapped in a universe
with no before and no after. Endless loops
of memories, minerals, and desire.

If you ask the dead how long they’ve been dead,
they won’t know what you mean.

2017 jeff marks memorial poetry prize winners

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”.

albert goldbarth reads

photo by Michael Pointer

photo by Michael Pointer

We were fortunate to have an entire day with Albert Goldbarth. While he was visiting with us, we asked him to do us the honor of reading all the work he has published in december from 1971 until now. Click below to hear the poems and read along. To read more about Albert Goldbarth’s views on poetry, life and more check out our interview here.

Poem from Iowa — Vol. 13 1/2 (1971)

His Creatures — Vol. 24 (2013)

Untitled — Vol. 26.1 (2015)

Where It Came From — Vol. 26.1 (2015)

The Before Song — Vol. 26.1 (2015)

Gina D. / Donne / Cleopatra — Vol. 26.1 (2015)

The Persistence of Memory — Vol. 27.1 (2016)

Moon — Vol. 27.1 (2016)

Mångata — Vol. 27.1 (2016)

Jesse is back this summer, — Vol. 27.1 (2016)

The Law of the Universe — Vol. 27.1 (2016)

Vol. 26.1 & 27.1 are available for purchase in our bookstore.

2016 jeff marks memorial poetry prize winners

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.

2015 jeff marks memorial poetry prize winners

december is proud to present audio recordings of our winner Chelsea Jennings reading her poem “Heirloom”
Processed with Moldiv


As close to the past as maps can get to rivers
A boat full of stones     A handful of water


This is the dressmaker’s frame
where we hang our fear of the dark

Again and again we thread it
though the eye of sleep is small

It could have been a locket with a lock of hair inside
It could have been a mirror     A set of silver     A coin

There was a pewter cup and a patron saint
for each of the children who lived

They kept their records in the Bible
They shared a single bridal dress


This is the watchmaker’s shop
where the balance wheel can be fixed


We wear their scrimshaw earrings
and are called by their given names

We dream that we’re drowning   We dream that
we wake     And we eat our meals from their plates

and Sam Roxas-Chua, our honorable mention, reading his poem “A Beast in the Chapel.”
Processed with Moldiv


Several times I asked my father
to pull on my ears
until my feet were lifted off the ground.

Several times I asked him
to look into my eyes
and blow out the red lanterns—

those soft pendulums
that keep me up at night,
twin stars of vermillion arias.

Several times I placed my hand
inside his mouth and fished for summer,
moon, winter, and tow.

Several times I hid my name
behind my ears
when he called me Bakla!

Several times my hands shimmied
under the breakfast table
where my mother sat me down

and said he wasn’t coming home—
it was Christmas, I wore a red tie.
And on that same day,

a man was found in the river,
his face eaten by fish. Several
times I asked Who was he?

Who was he? Several times
I sucked on plums to think of him.
Several times I dreamt I had gills.