2020 Laureates’ Choice - Group One

Across the sleeping valley nothing tells

Across the sleeping valley nothing tells
Of presence and of loneliness like wind,
Except perhaps when leaves have just gone still,
And you had been aware of all of them.
The ocean cannot tell it, nor the stars,
Their stories are too constant and the same,
The waves repeat, the stars, their endless flame,
But wind, it comes, and then it goes away.
It is the absence of a thing that was—
That makes a gentle presence seem as sad,
And on our face its fragrant touch is here
To tell us what is now with what has passed.
As when we met, and stars were in the trees,
When all the wind was dancing in the leaves.

James Brooks
Signal Mountain, Tennessee

Silent Spring 2020

Once Rachel warned that we had sold our trust
To bidders who produced the brightest blooms,
Who scattered, sprayed, or planted as we must
If we would fill our bellies, flower our rooms.
What e’er they sold we bought quite satisfied,
Deriding those who wondered if ‘twere wise
As plants and people withered and some died.
Lamentable, but now excused demise.
The cause eluded thought, per words of shills
Whose costly jargon next appeared as ads;
Dissenters quieted, research stopped, stealth bills
All worked: our queries came from Luddite cads.
Thus stilled by fear we watched the beauteous thing
Through inside glass, untouched, our silent spring.

Barbara H. Bryan
Davidson, North Carolina

Ariel Unbound

Did I want freedom? Well, I thought I did.
Pinned by that clasping tree’s gnarled skeleton,
what did I ever think but   flee, fly, run
until, dissolved to nothing, you live rid
of every bond. I’d dream I spirited
myself away–above the aether, gone
like some swift cloud-borne wraith. Now I’m undone
to find what dreams obscured, how thought misled.
Aglow from rooted feet to sparkling hair,
I heard sky bellow as the whole earth shook–
then, loosed, I floated, weightless, through thin air,
delivered with one severing lightning stroke.
And still I hover, haunting scarred woods where
I once was wed, embedded in fixed oak.

Melissa Cannon
Antioch, Tennessee

On Listening to Arvo Pärt in Lent

Spare triads echo in the hallowed space,
the ancient roll of Matins and of Lauds
evoke encrusted texts, which mark apace
the starkness of these forty days, at odds
with temporal pursuits, the din and hordes.
As weary Lent goes on, I often crave
more fat, more richness on these open chords;
such leanness fair anticipates my grave.
The sword-edged intonation that recalls
upon the steppes, that bleak Aeolian wind
that moaning, soughs through crofts and byres and walls.
Estonian harmonist, whose music twinned
with mystic tropes, as ritual demands,
all languages are sacred in his hands.

Louise Fairley
Edmonton, Alberta

Filindeu for Uncle Nico

Love meant as much as blood back then, back there,
in Jewish Brooklyn, during the golden age
of sputnik, hula hoops, and Frosted Flakes,
which made the Sicilian laundry-truck driver
who married my mother’s maid of honor
my Uncle Nico. He ate the way some men
might wind a watch, working his fork and spoon
in tandem, coiling up a neat gather
of parsley-specked spaghetti along its tines.
The lessons weren’t wasted. Jump a few
decades, we’re mooning over glasses of wine
at Vic’s, sharing a plate of filindeu.
“You must have been to Sicily,” insists
the chef, “you twirl your pasta like a peasant.”

Aaron Fischer
Fort Lee, New Jersey