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 camoufage
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
already 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”.