2022 Open Poetry Contest Winners
Thank you to everyone who entered our second-annual poetry contest! And special thanks to our guest judge, Adrienne Christian!
Congratulations to all the winners and honorable mentions!
"Empty Between the Elms"
There was a spider web I marveled
hanging near the mouth of a trail.
It was a dreamcatcher with the wingspan
of a farmyard windmill sewed
between two elms.
The web was a wispy accordion
pulled apart by the trees.
The black and yellow orb weaver would sit
serenely in the eye
of its own storm, moving
with the waves of the wind.
Today a child destroyed it.
With a fallen branch he poked
where the spider was
and twirled it like a wand
conjuring a spell of annihilation.
The web was wrapped and collected
around the stick like gray cotton candy
in front of impatient children.
I wanted to ask the boy why he would do that
but I knew there wouldn’t be any real answer.
Walking the trail I can’t stop
thinking about the now empty space between the elms
and how something beautiful,
something made with such care and labor,
something depended on so deeply,
could be torn away
in a moment
for no reason at all.
David Icenogle is a Nebraska writer and mental health advocate. He has written nonfiction work for the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, as well as poetry for Asylum Magazine, A Tether to this World, Main Street Rag, From Whispers and Roars, and others.
To teach Latino Studies at McGill
for a year in chilly Montreal,
the professor said he’d live in any space,
as long as it had an indoor swimming pool.
Moving into a studio apartment,
he found the unit was directly under the pool,
and every evening after class, he’d climb the stairwell
to its aqua waters, swim length after length,
Then retire below deck, to his bed, with boat engines
of the pool filter humming overhead, to dream of
scuba diving days in Puerto Rico, his massive shoulders
pushing him toward the unexpected.
Mildly provoked by small day terrors of the pool
cracking overhead, flooding the apartment,
he’d still enter a dream world
where all was forgotten
Under the pool,
to explore depths never experienced,
deeper than any deep end, aswim in a soup
of Bonsoir, Buenas Noches and Goodnight,
Diving freely without wetsuit,
free from breathing equipment,
oxygenated by air and water alike,
free from a stifling marriage
Alone in this single room,
to explore an unknown coral-cove future,
one year in Montreal, as merman of the north,
along an inland seaway of contemplation
before the next scheduled dive.
Cynthia Gallaher, a Chicago-based poet, is author of four poetry collections, including Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices, and three chapbooks, including Drenched. Her nonfiction/memoir/creativity guide is Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren’t a Poet.
"About that Jamaican Wedding Cake"
Dark fruit cake bedded under thick butter cream. So much rum it
lasts for years. Tradition is to eat a slice at your wedding. We ate
alone in the car driving north to our cliffside honeymoon in Cape
Breton. Three years later, another slice in a Brooklyn kitchen for
the birth of our son Adam, not quite the Christening ritual. Mel’s
mom Joyce must have kept the remains: in her blue gown at
Adam’s wedding 25 years later, she pulls him aside, places in his
hands a soft square cocooned in linen, stained brown with 200
proof Appleton. I saw him cringe before thanking her, then slide it
in the trash without showing his bride. I wonder, will he ever
accept this gift?
2020 Pushcart nominee from Stonecoast Review, avid cyclist, Nancy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Publications include: Book of Matches, Laurel Review, Colorado Review, Sugar House Review. Forthcoming: BeZine, New Note Poetry, Gyroscope. Anthologized by Tupelo Press, Ageless Authors and Wising Up Press among others.
listed in order of selection
Sam placed Helen to rest last Thursday
in a grave cut too perfect
for human remains, even Helen’s,
fifty years his wife.
Once the grievers had tottered
and waddled and rolled away,
before the backhoe raked
the black Platte Valley loam
over the casket, Sam sewed fresh
rose petals from Helen’s garden
and Viagra from their bedroom bureau
down on top the casket.
The petals settled, mutely keening,
while the pills rattled playfully
like small stones tossed in by a
mischievous ghost idling by.
Now Sam keeps their house as it was,
dusting and vacuuming by the calendar,
avoiding females of a certain age,
or any, unless they are his offspring.
He ignores that small need for women
in his gut, an appendix of sorts,
best left unfed, lest it swell with untoward
seed, then burst with a poison that could
wilt away his grief.
Bastard son of a father I never met,
child of a woman I knew only in passing,
I squirmed, bellowing into the nurse’s hands,
then was skirred away once my digits were counted
and blood drawn to test for syphilis.
I was ripened in that Nebraska orphanage.
Thus was the custom in the Truman era.
Waifs were cradled for some months back then,
while they waited for flaws might surface, eyes
that wouldn’t track, a face slack despite a sound.
The nuns called me Emmanuel, a placeholder
name during the four months they kept me
penned in a crib and bottlefed by the clock
four times a day until the sisters felt the spirit
to declare me fit enough for a family.
I waited, was rocked twice a day for fifteen minutes,
just enough to want more. Time passed—April
to August—while I aged, being White, prime flesh,
a foundling that would situate well
in family portraits and not disturb the neighbors.
I was retrieved by a man more skilled with wrenches
and barb wire than language or smiles, and a woman
who could not speak or hear enough words
to make her happy. In time she left us with the farm
he’d carved from nothing and the kitchen where
I learned to fry enough meat to keep us both fed,
secreting away books for dessert into the night.
Once grown, I reared a boy and girl of another
man’s loins and one daughter from my own.
When they left the nest so did their mother.
I’m now seventy, wanting more faces in my past,
clutching the ones that are. Let them be framed,
magnified, bolted solid to a wall behind
plexiglass so thick they cannot escape.
The SUV lay sideways in the ditch, its driver standing lost on the road
but somehow unscathed. The Pontiac’s broken ribs were exposed
up to the shoulder of the road, where its heart still rattled in its chest
and a collapsed lung continued to whistle hot air, while its backend squatted
down into the ditch and relieved itself of its bodily fluids. The boy,
of maybe eight years, was pinned between the car’s caved-in side door
and the crushed passenger seat (which I could not rip free), still wrapped
in his seatbelt, a laceration on his head dripping the illusion of a pulse.
I moved on around the front of the car to his mother, who opened her eyes
but without seeing. As the long lashes of one eye clotted with blood, she woke
a tic in her wrist — twisting the car key again and again and grinding loose a tooth
of the flywheel — and then roused the spasm of a single word, looking back
and incessantly repeating a name fit for a boy of about eight. After reaching in
and removing the key from the ignition, I took hold of her hand, and together
we felt the road narrow before her into one rugged, dim lane. As sirens
pitched vibrato to our ears, I told her the lie that help had arrived for her son.
Steve Rose’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including The Midwest Quarterly; So It Goes; The Journal of Medical Literature; Conestoga Zen, Dime Bag of Poetry; and Voices from the Plains. He has published two books of poetry: Hard Papas in 2014 and Nebraska and Other States in 2017.
Jason Boitnott is a rural Nebraskan who writes concise observations about life in his immediate surroundings. He is a family man, 25-year educator (high school counselor), farmer, and poet. He has been published in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s magazine Laurus.
Small Print: All poems were judged blind and no poet received any special treatment or unfair advantage. Membership in the Nebraska Poetry Society was not required to enter the contest.
2021 Open Poetry Contest Winners
We'd like to thank everyone who entered our first poetry contest and to give special thanks to our guest judge, Nebraska State Poet Matt Mason! Congratulations to all the winners and honorable mentions. We're so proud to support you in your creative endeavors!
"Double American Sonnet for Terrance Hayes"
I didn’t want to write a white poem—
some hollow note no echo of your beat,
lacking raucous black wings wrapping
inside so many six sided cages. Your rage
a light of insight in stolen times, a storming
mind wound around words I can’t begin
to know. I know you know. You’re a bull
balled small; a seed inside my china shop.
Yet, I’m partial to your broken peace—
a past can't be undone or unsung. No justice
will be sprung from your offerings. Your gambit
a gamble for the future of humanity, flowers
planted in me begin to grow. I don’t want
to write a white poem, but what else can I do?
What else can I do then? With your lament
laid bare before me. Side by side piano keys,
our disparate tones, our histories—
my fingers reach to play. I know you know.
It’s not as if I could consume your songs
and collaborate with your grand congregation
locked in a panic room—somehow understand
and command the choir into something new.
No. You are a stranger to me. Your range
of motions moves me beyond The Blues,
beyond the brittle madness of my own broken
peace and invites me into unfamiliar space.
All this to say, despite obstacles I’m impelled
to cultivate this bouquet of words anyway.
Shyla Shehan is an analytical Virgo from the Midwest. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska and her work has appeared in The Decadent Review, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Gyroscope Review, GRIFFEL, and elsewhere. Her full bio and publication credentials are available at shylashehan.com.
"A Brief History of 2021"
Is the fourth wave over? Democracy? Rompers? Humphead wrasses?
Tiny strap sandals? Piping plovers? Ceramics majors? Oregon summers?
Conscious classes? Sorry, you’re muted? Build Back Better? Or the foreboding
obsession with work?1
Is the fifth wave coming? The new season of Squid Game? My dad’s taxes?
Ethical meat? Ethical travel? My dad’s ashes? Is reciprocation a form of deterrence?
Is deterrence a form of desire? Why do rich people love endurance sports?2 Did Covid
change how we dream?3 How much is a Costco chicken with inflation, the unpriced suffering
of the chicken notwithstanding? Is our only planet in between sizes? Too big to fail? And
too small to protect?4 You want a booster, a breakthrough, or both? What’s that
blue sound? Orange to taste? Light therapy? Or hope? My grandma always joked
about her great depression. What’s the potential in my great resignation?
I cry over a lost shoe not because
I have entirely lost the plot.
I cry over a lost shoe because
it is one tiny catastrophe too many.5
1. Goldberg, Emma. “The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them.” The New York Times, 28 Oct. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/28/business/gen-z-workplace-culture.html.
2. Stulberg, Brad, Alex Hutchinson, and Cathal Dennehy. “Why Do Rich People Love Endurance Sports?” Outside Online, July 2, 2021. https://www.outsideonline.com/health/training-performance/why-are-most-endurance-athletes-rich/.
3. Brooke Jarvis, “Did Covid Change How We Dream?,” The New York Times, 3 Nov. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/03/magazine/pandemic-dreams.html.
4. Brown, Wendy. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution, Zone Books, New York, 2017.
5. Kavanagh, Emily. “An Invisible Threat Has Pushed Us To Our Limits. No Wonder Our Brains are Overwrought.” The Guardian, Oct. 21 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/24/invisible-threat-had-pushed-us-to-limits-small-wonder-our-brains-overwrought
Anthony Warnke’s poetry has appeared in Cimarron Review, North American Review, Salt Hill, Sentence, Sixth Finch, and Sugar House Review, among other journals. His chapbook, Super Worth It, was selected for the 2021 Emerging Poets Series from Newfound Press. He teaches writing at Green River College and lives in Seattle.
"What’s Left But The Verbs?"
People are in a hurry, they want to leave
out so many important words.
Paradigms of syntax without meaning,
language denuded, denied the right
to be full-fledged;
a contemplation of syllables—
parables that lack nouns, articles adjectives,
prepositions. Sentences dance and mime
the written word into actuality.
What is the plural of the prime(time)-property
of language? Its nudity takes refuge
in the contemplation of syllables.
(If you undress language, you’ve only got ABC’s.)
We spill them out;
when we speak in written word,
using the complete repertoire that gyrates
and pirouettes in the blank lines
then sweep the left-overs up
and out into the universe,
to be imbibed by unsuspecting
audiences who glance sideways
as they try to comprehend sentences.
language is a social construct—conjugated?
we talk while leaving out so many
categories of words: no more articles, no prepositions!
Nouns used as
verbs—so begone verbs.
Can it be true that only English nouns can be
verbed—becoming actions? Yet some are more resistant
Adjectives and adverbs describe
occurrences without forming
the main part of a predicate—becoming only
a clause lacking movement.
Annette Gagliardi has poetry published in Motherwell, Wisconsin Review, American Diversity Report, Origami Poems Project, Amethyst Review, Door IS A Jar, Trouble Among the Stars, Poetry Quarterly, Sylvia Magazine, and others. She co-edited Upon Waking: 58 Voices Speaking Out from the Shadow of Abuse. Visit her website at: https://annette-gagliardi.com/
listed in order of selection
"Astronomy of Now"
This is the other eclipse,
the one where the sun
is at our back, our shadow
arcing deeper and deeper
across the full round face
of February’s blue moon,
a smile descending,
this report like my mother’s,
written, folded, and tucked
into a lifetime of envelopes,
night views from her window,
glowing above the west field,
stamped and mailed east,
where the sun begins
its journey, casting
our shadows over the face
of the moon until the smile
vanishes into a singular
darkness, mother gone,
daughter waning, children
moving on, a slim crescent
emerging again, curved
knife cutting its way
into the earth, until
there is only moon, full
again, sun, rising here, now,
and we, so unimportant,
raise our faces to the light,
these last glorious days
of memory and emotion,
written and not written,
folded and tucked into a life-
time of envelopes, stamped
and mailed, bright comets
burning for a moment,
falling to the dark earth below.
Both of my babies have shared the mornings with me
in this way, perched on the kitchen counter, footie pajamas
taut over toes.
We stare together, one coffee and one milk, hoping
for guests, saying their names: chickadee and cardinal,
finch and nuthatch.
Mother and baby, we wish as one for sweet
surprises – downy woodpeckers visiting suet,
traveling orioles drawn by grape jam.
We marvel, dipping breakfast cookies, as
our squirrels hang upside down like caterpillars,
curled into fat Js, sunflower shells dusting
the garden below.
held, fed, and diapered his children
grandchildren and now
find motherless kittens in his barn
feed them special food
make them a safe home
build airplanes from kits
install thousands of rivets
connect fuselage and wings
test engines before flight
know which knobs to turn to take off
move levers to level plane
pilot his planes to distant locations
replace bolts on my wheelbarrow
know which wrench works
check handles to assess hold
design and weld a grape arbor
engage gears on his tractor
lift arbor into place with loader bucket
paint bee boxes bright white
fill boxes with worker bees
gently add a new queen
pump a smoke box to quiet bees
care for honeybee health
weld stand for a garden sink
rinse turnips and carrots
carry buckets of tomatoes
move boat from trailer to lake
steer boat to good fishing spot
string fishing line
cast fishing pole from bow
know the feel of a walleye on the line
fry tender fish filets
are stiff sometimes these days
show blue veins of age
have thinning skin
feel warm to my cold fingers
hold my hands to warm them
touch my face before a kiss
When my baby speaks of their Mother, they will say momma was warrior. Momma swam in the shoes they gave her. Gasping, maybe, but never drowned. She’d snatch back air from night terrors wrapped around her throat like secrets only a slave could know. A history much unlike the fairytales our school books slide down our throats. I still have the marks on my neck to prove the curriculum. The scars up my arms to show that I was never taught to know myself but I could draw you pictures of a sorrow only your subconscious could understand. And it’s funny because school is a place I learned to be afraid to have a baby that looked like it was mine. Or had skin like it was mine. Hair tangled so deep ‘round her spine they wouldn’t even have to try to crucify her. She would’ve done that by age ten like her mother. Angry she couldn’t burn the culture out her skin like them other girls. Like, “Daddy, why my hair can’t be straight like them other girls?” Like, “Daddy, why I can’t be pretty like them other girls?” Why when I stay out in the sun too long, I ain’t no body’s ray of sunshine, I’m tan lines in really awkward places like, “cover that shit up in public.” Executions of God-given creatures in broad daylight like bodies of ants that kids burn up on the sidewalk when they finally get their first magnifying glass.
I can tell you how closely you must be to the sound of burning before you
are taught to love the smell of your flesh becoming invisible.
Ashes amongst concrete and sand and even then, when your body is closest to the shore it has ever been. They will not build castles of you. They will litter you incomplete. Call you mother to an undeserving shore. This is not just the story of a black woman. Believe me, they have littered many waters and have drowned in them before but when my baby speaks, they will wake people. They will know bondage is deeper than chain. Bondage is bought and sold in our grocery stores and we slave for the certificates to buy them. Wrap the rope around our necks casually, plaster ourselves with the illusion on our cell phone screens and keep our eyes just wide enough to let in the propaganda points of not good enough. Well, my baby will know she can move mountains before the tv or first amendment ever can. She will know that God resides in the belly of the beast. She will sound the sirens. Tell us how her skin could never show you the depth of her shore. How her hair could never hang you like that one percent can. Humans have always been poster child for modern slaughter in America and she will know that to be casualty of war is to resist the urge to wake up. When my baby speaks of their mother, I dream she speaks of a woman triumphant in a battle she need never bear.
"Unthawing Sounds Wonderful"
Though messy and uneven.
The road unthaws
before the sidewalk.
The ground was carved by a glacier.
A glacier’s like a ghost.
The red birdfeeder sways.
Coming up on two years.
Someone’s in the hospital.
Someone’s in the hospital
coming up on two years.
The red birdfeeder sways.
A glacier’s like a ghost —
the ground was carved by a glacier.
Before the sidewalk,
the road unthaws.
Though messy and uneven,
unthawing sounds wonderful.
extreme preoccupation with one’s own physical health
hair clogging the sink again.
packs of instant noodles in the cupboard,
each covered in bright yellow plastic;
two-fifty each, not a bad deal despite each
strand being barely thicker than tangled hair.
white wax clings to the kettle’s sides and sticks
to your teeth. on the fridge, two articles,
chinese and english side by side: stern warnings
on the dangers of eating too much: thinning scalp,
frizzing hair – ugly like the paper’s jagged edges.
on the table, newspapers open to the classifieds:
each asking for qualifications your father never had.
white spotting beneath fingernails again.
smile, close-mouthed, at compliments for your
weight. hide the tongue has learned to love white
porridge mixed with peanuts in cans yellowed with
age, a dollar-twenty per meal. you licked stained
teeth nervously when asked to share your diet
recipes, and tucked hands in to hide chipped nails
and jaundiced skin. back home you duck under pale
porcelain your mother threw at your father, and
smeared lipstick (three-twenty on sale) before
heading out for the money your father could not earn.
black stars in eyes again.
your collarbone could hold all of the coins in your
piggybank; your hips jut sharp enough to cut. you’re
lucky that your lips stayed full and your skin washed pale
by the swinging red lights. almost grown now, you must
help with the bills, skipping meals to stride down the street
like it was a catwalk, smiling at hungry eyes. when you
stumbled; it was because your heels were too high. back home,
clear nail polish (four-fifty) dirtied your hands more as you
repaired a run where an excited man had pulled too hard.
blood staining the floor again.
your sister’s wedding: your mother hissed at your father:
the red packet was too pale. you opened a vein to dye paper
the proper shade. your sister – beautiful enough, with white
hands and whiter teeth – was marrying a dull machine who
couldn’t speak your mother’s language. but his eyes and fingertips
were stained blue and his breath stunk of newly-minted money.
the banquet ends with mountains of yellow noodles left for
black bags to eat. you watched them vanish, stomach twisting.
(months later, your father
stuffed belongings into bags
made from dyed-yellow skin.
you dragged red from veins
again and dripped into new
packets for him. he takes them,
smiling, and texts you at the
airport that he paid by card
for the taxi.
your hands tremble, white spots
blurring. you look in the mirror:
ah, after all these years, the white
of your bones stand in sharper
relief than those of your teeth.)
"Directions for How to Swallow This Bird"
I can't swallow this bird:
each new story a new heart:
each news story:
sorrow is sadness in a bow:
the water is not only shallow by the shore:
I can't swallow this bird:
go deeper into the bellows:
lets go below:
a report by a Farrow:
I can't swallow this bird:
I can't swallow this bird:
all I can say is ow:
what happens when we're followed:
can I borrow this:
carry me in a wheelbarrow:
a crow a crow:
where is the arrow:
how is it we are still here:
how just go with the flow:
how so slow:
bow down against the plow:
it's hard to know what's right now:
I'll allow it this time:
let it grow:
show me how to work this vow:
I won't swallow this bird:
after Lucille Clifton
when i think of you
in your fuzzy-pink, faux-fur bedroom slippers
limping like you had long wrestled with jacob’s angel
lighting up and taking a drag of your carefully-crimped prince albert
the smoke circling above your head like a fading sensuousness
when i think of you
running a comb through your tired, wavy-thick hair, hoary
like ocean’s spew against the muted sea sand
planting a pinch of snuff between your lower gum and cheek as you scurry about
shooing cats nestled in your worn easy-chair or on the kitchen counter
when i think of you
chauffeuring the folks to doctors and diviners
or crocheting blankets for grandbabies and old men
your arthritic hands crimped like rita hayworth pin-curls
your failing eyesight as dim as the speakeasies of your girlhood
when i think of
the cortege escorting you to the gardens of your final resting place
monument-still policemen holding at attention as the hearse rolls by
strangers in their automobiles yielding a moment for your hundred plus years
your black-veiled sons and daughters processing, solemn and staid
i light up o daughter of zeus child of eurynome i light up
I’m sitting again after sitting all day
except when I was walking Costco.
If I write 300 words, I can have a
smoothie. So I write true things: “I
enjoy lots of little snacks throughout
the day.” “I worry gratitude has
changed me.” “I hate five of my six
new pillows.” “I wonder why it’s
never conditioner with shampoo,”
which makes me think about
theories of gender.
This diffuse feeling, centrally located
with stores across the body, is
reinforced by the subject line:
“We Hate to See You Go” from
the ACLU Membership Committee.
The ACLU got weird about vaccines.
Sometimes I feel about the ACLU
the same way I feel about my
sister’s ex-husband. Glad he’s still
there for my sister sometimes so
I don’t have to be.
More true things: “I can’t believe
how well Vermont has done
in the pandemic, especially
Winooski,” though I’ve no
reason not to. “I sincerely miss
the samples.” “Blocks, tubes,
test tubes, red wool, wooden
chairs, old keys, a metal house,
a wooden boat.”
I’m trying to find a German
word for this feeling of hope
in broken parts. “Earth to
Linda,” I say to my mom when
she’s getting sidetracked. I say to
myself, “Earth to Linda” to reach
300 words. “Earth to Linda” when
I’m not Linda, and I’m in the flow
state writing this to you. I’m in
the flow state, I think, taking me
out of the flow state. Is this
Fernweh: reverse homesickness?
When my in-laws arrive, I’ll have to
measure the coffee.
As I sit in the middle of 37, thinking
about 38, but mostly about 40,
I wonder what voice I bring to the table.
Is it the voice of a stay-at-home-mom,
who talks with children all day, and
stumbles, over eager to use lost language
when adults are present?
Perhaps I bring only polite conversation,
the answers to “how does he like school?,”
"are you still doing your art?,"
“any home projects coming up?”
The answers come, but so much remains
tucked behind my teeth:
“He loves school and
I cry at least once weekly,
sometimes three times,
thinking about how quickly
his legs outgrow his jeans,
the dimples around his knees
"I am still painting, but
no, it's not always restful when
I can't shake the knowledge
of dishes in the sink and
on the floor" and
"Yes, he is very tall for his age, and
yesterday he said spaghetti instead of
afterward I cried in the bathroom,
(and again later
when I wrote about it in a poem)," and
“Yes, we’re planning to wallpaper
the laundry room," but
I don’t have a group -
a village in this place, and
I wonder if I should be here at all, or
maybe in some other house,
where I have a friend with whom to share
a secret, to let inside even when
the floor is dirty, who knows
where to find her own coffee cup.”
"At the Viewing"
already laid out with bone china, fine silver,
crystal glasses ready to be raised.
The mortician had laid her out
as gently and gracefully as if
she were sleeping, her arms
neatly folded, all 206 bones
in her body straightened
as if they hadn’t broken as easily
as the bone china plate that caught
her unawares under her left eye
before they both fell to the floor,
leaving a purple bloom the mortician
painted over as delicately as
the pink blossom on the plate.
Her silver fillings melted down,
stored in a drawer to be sold
for other uses just as the silverware
in the kitchen drawer she left behind
would be used again and again
by other women in that same kitchen
or another. Her glasses shattered like
fine crystal, filled now with ordinary
window glass since she no longer
needed them, her blackened eyes
now sporting eye shadow in a shade
she’d never used but worked well
to conceal their dark shadows.
He could do nothing for the heart
that was broken except
let it rest in peace at last.
But when he closed that lid,
his eyes could not unsee what
the passing mourners had not.
“Do Chase the Ebbing Neptune”
It must be a mistake.
I thought it was a promise,
you would be the last one
left without saying goodbye.
You said it all comes and goes.
When all are gone,
I can dig and dig
like the sandpipers chasing the beach crabs.
It was a turbulent storm,
the night you arrived,
you drew a line in the sand
and swore you would come again.
This morning, I hurried back,
the line disappeared,
I dug and dug, not there.
when the moon was half bright;
in the dark, no trace, no sign.
Day, night, I went back;
new lines, old lines,
crossed my heart,
smudged, blurred my eyes,
storms, waves, ripples.....
pounding, slapping, murmuring.
You were not the only one
drew a line through my name.
O God, everything is just water,
swallow, spit it out, let it go,
cry out loud,
I heard it again and again.
Still, I keep going back when
sun rises or
moon’s behind the moonlight.
"‘e’ is for empathy"
-after “Floating Girl,” by Banksy
One weekend, I had a vodka Roy Rogers each of three nights.
I have always loved Maraschino cherries—
as a child: on sundaes, banana splits, and in Shirley Temples;
and later: in the cherry lemonade they sell at the sweet shoppe
on South Congress in Austin, where my dad and stepmom live.
I left my heart somewhere.
As a symbol of hope, there is a stencil of a child
holding her red balloons, I faintly recall, but what I don’t remember
is the possible violent image this beacon runs counter to.
If you leave out the ‘e’ in beacon, you end up with bacon, which would seem
to be aptly called red meat. But do you remember
the ads that said: Pork. The Other White Meat? Regardless, pigs are mammals,
and this is where I tend to draw the line.
Not always at my mouth, but, usually in my mind.
I never draw a line with Maraschino cherries. If the bartender asks
how many I want, I say to her—I don’t even look over my shoulder
for a second—I just say to her, Tender, I’ll take
as many balloons as you’ll give me—
It is better you had not stayed long enough to know
what alchemy binds us to a place, how extracting
yourself begins a dissolution, the cloud-capped
towers, the cracked cement slab you’d jump every
day on your way to school, the band you worshipped,
a dog you pet in your sleep, friends, parents, all
melt away before you think to look back, you think
turning around, just a glance, will be too much for you
and you are right, some ancient knowledge forces
your stare forward, drowns out the chain reacting
atoms, the splitting crust of a world where once you
were essential as its gravity, its rotation, its sun—
But, O! What crests into view? A light you never felt
pulls you closer, a strength you’ve never had takes over,
and you are flying this foreign galaxy, feeling yourself
for the first time yourself, arms outstretched, open
to embrace a brand-new atmosphere, the sweet air,
a woman you kiss to sleep, adopted parents, friends, all
will need your new powers to survive this new adventure:
x-ray vision to see the imposters; piercing heat to bore
deep into layers of tradition, stubbornness, scars; a cold
breath for those who call you a false god; and the wisdom
to keep that shrunken city from this place as a reminder
we never fully lose the past, but what we knew is gone
the instant that we leave it.
"The Upper Green"
Our Alpine goat, Mariposa, died in June.
Her last meal included a donut.
Before burial, we adorned her body
with more common snacks—nasturtium
and leaves of the sweet gum—but also the perfumed
flowers of sweet pea, which even a goat shouldn’t eat.
They fell on her gently, like paper confetti,
in colors diverse as table wine and amethyst
and ascended their scent back toward us—
much as her horns—tougher than nails, but still
made of the same—were covered last by soil,
while her memory drifted further free.
I felt full and rich with grief—and moved
all those feet of earth until
the pollinators slumbered.
Mariposa left behind our two old ewes, Cloud and Magpie, dubious
of being approached as hummingbirds, but bumblier. As summer grasses
flattened brown, the only browsers our pasture knew were deer.
Now, we add to the herd new fliers—Buckeye, for the common
butterfly; and Rufous, for the once-named and similarly-sided
towhee—twins who carry her Alpine but express a bit more Oberhasli.
Why are they all named after things that fly? They ask.
I tell them it’s because all ruminants go to heaven—each
thought & its thinker and abundant fiber by spirit stirred—
all our companions, friends, are taken to salt and sky—
the sea otter and the barn owl—all of us
creatures come densely, of light—
"What I Would Give"
What I would like to give
for a change
is not bemoaning the last I love you
but instead that moment
we made a silly shadow
on the canyon wall.
Our arms stretched out extraterrestrially
across the rust and tan striations;
the setting sun somewhere far behind us.
I would give the very instant
light was squeezed out of the space
between our two bodies
creating something strange
and wonderful and new.
I would give the newness itself.
Mary K Stillwell is the author of The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser (University of Nebraska Press, 2013). Other books (poetry) include Reasonable Doubts (Finishing Line, 2020), Maps & Destinations (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2018), Fallen Angels (Finishing Line Press, 2013), and Moving to Malibu (Sandhills Press, 1990).
Ashley DeVrieze is a painter and writer living in Omaha, Nebraska. She worked in education for many years, teaching English and college readiness, while writing and painting. Her favorite part of the creative process is connecting with everyday objects and ideas, which she enjoys exploring in both poetry and paint.
Lin Marshall Brummels earned a Psychology BA from NU-Lincoln and MS in Rehabilitation Counseling from Syracuse University. She’s published in journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her poetry chapbooks are Cottonwood Strong and Hard Times, a 2016 Nebraska Book Award winner. “Into a Quilted Landscape” was published by Scurfpea Publishing in 2021.
Jewel Rodgers is a public speaker and spoken word poet from North Omaha moonlighting as a developer of the built-environment.
Kay Lin (Chinese name: Lin Yihuan 林義煥) lives in Singapore. Her chapbook of poetry, symptoms of the forgotten, was published by Open Country Press. Her poetry has also been published by the december magazine, Live Canon, and others. Her short story "night out" was published by The Tishman Review.
Carolina Souto lives in North Miami, Florida. She teaches music locally and is also a Professor of Creative Writing at FIU. She is working on her first poetry collection while also recording a new album with the band Las Nubes.
Jo Taylor is a retired 35-year English teacher from Georgia. She has been published in such journals as The Ekphrastic Review, One Art, Reformed Journal, The Frost Meadow Review, and Verse Virtual. In 2021 she published her first collection, Strange Fire.
Charlene Neely’s books: The Lights of Lincoln and The Corn Fairy's Wigs & Other Poems. She co-edited The Guide to More Nebraska Authors with Gerry Cox. As part of the Poetry Ladies she shares her love of poetry with school-children. She’s a member of Nebraska Writers Guild, Lincoln Chapparal Poets.
Livingston Rossmoor has written and published 17 poetry books. His poems have appeared in numerous publications: local newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and overseas publications. In addition, Livingston’s poems have been published in The Lyric, Poetry Quarterly, California Quarterly (California State Poetry Society), Ibbetson Street, Time of Singing poetry journal, and Chronogram magazine.
A graduate of the University of Oregon and Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School, Kelly Alsup works as a Garden Educator and also works her way through words. Born in California and raised in Nebraska, she welcomed her chapbook of poems, when if ever alive, from Finishing Line Press in 2018.
Jomar Daniel (J.D.) Isip published his first collection of poetry, Pocketing Feathers, with Sadie Girl Press (2015). His works—including poetry, fiction, and plays—have appeared in many print and online journals including Ethel Zine, Borderlands, Pilgrimage Press, and Sandpiper. He is a full-time English professor in Plano, Texas.
Small Print: All poems were judged blind and no poet received any special treatment or unfair advantage. Membership in the Nebraska Poetry Society was not required to enter the contest.