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.