2016 Laureates’ Choice - Group Four
Eight Tapers Charm
No lewd fish, no fruit, no wide-eyed bird
About to fly its cage…
The first for doors – threshold, doorpost, lintel,
Hinge, and lock, for beginnings, endings, for word
To be said, for word now said, now dead; for fall
Of weak sunlight, for womb, for tomb, for void
Of mouthless, monthless winter, for time’s whiteout.
The second for starving red-tailed hawks that line
Miles of highway. The third for suicide white
Of the Cold Moon. The fourth and the fifth for bone-
Chilling, for breath-killing cold, for candleblack
Sky, for sleep, for sleep of ice, of ground-freeze.
The sixth for Fish-Goat, the seventh for single oak,
For whitefish held in thick water and ooze. […]
The eighth for the black, implacable gods of lack,
Of ordeal, of thwarting, of looking ahead, and back.
James Scannell McCormick
Coral Bark Maple
Days get short, near-freezing nights grow frost:
first year in the ground, there's little to show
for the spindly coral bark maple tree,
bare-limbed above a small heap of dead leaves.
Yet as the young tree sleeps, its coral deepens,
so intense against the rain-darkened boards
and battens of its corner of the house,
the slender maple trunk glows crimson.
The ruddy streak of light against the dark
promises spring mornings, not just one
but all this dear old world of ours can bear;
the sapling already knows how to be
in the place it was planted: sink deep roots,
send out new shoots, burst with tender leaf buds.
Jeanetta Jones Miller
Though it's full day, the lamp's already on,
in the circle of light, a bloody towel;
she's pale—her forehead beads with sudden sweat—
hand slashed catching a crashing demijohn,
one cut throbbing deeper than the rest—
Sunday, of course, clinic closed, hours from ER—
head bowed she listens while he calls the ex-wife,
"You sew the dogs up, just as well do her."
Their two heads bend over the task at hand,
blunt fingers swab and probe the lacerations,
eyes cast down until he turns away to work
and then a flicker up—the sudden heat
of years and ways common to them both—
their quick unguarded eyes meet and linger
as the first wife stitches up the second.
Jeanetta Jones Miller
Sonnet for Alex
See how I’ve dared to make your body small
again, consumed by flame and not the earth.
Would it have been better for you to fall
life-sized into that melancholy mouth?
There insects feed who scarcely miss the light.
At least you’d still be tall, not this post-fire
missing person in a powder off white
and coarse, gritty with fate as a Greek choir.
It hurts to hold the box against my heart,
this shelter where I carried you to term,
to hear your voice in leaves and rising wind.
It should be you learning the losing part,
wondering why the earth’s no longer firm.
You mourning me, not the other way round.
The Wire Said
Held up behind a red in evening rain,
my FM station on, I heard a man
who’d left his house in rubble, crossed a plain
and then a sea, gone north without a plan,
now faced a razor wire fence—it met
horizon at both ends. The wire said
a vast estate of folk more fortunate
had spread this far, and that its forbears bled
a sea to claim it. Then a rush of surf
it seemed poured through the radio—a gust
blown here, I thought, across the bordered turf,
from where the nomad shifted in the dust.
His ragged English rode like froth on flood.
It floated through the wire, blood to blood.
Leaves From a Partbook
Gnawing at my brain is a secret thought:
I am in love. I have no wish to be.
Late sessions with good sense all come to naught.
Long sleepless nights confirm that you’re not free.
Even when sleep arrives, it’s fraught with such
Sex-saturated dreams that I don’t get much.
Be less lovely. Could you manage that?
I’d like your visage to evoke less pain.
Neutralize the light behind your eyes.
Call forth less music. Generate less joy—
Hores et tousjours trés douce, simple et coye—
Or diminish your demeanor otherwise.
If you’ll address these lapses, all that remains
Shall seal my future, honest, brief, and flat.