2020 Top Three Winners
In October I put bulbs into the ground,
daffodils, like little paper fists
That fall my mother came to stay and found
me married, though she often spoke as if
I’d be home soon. I could feel her heart race,
her sleepless clenched strength. In secret
I made decaf. And then she was a face
in the window of a train. I wept as it left.
In February the tips came up, curved and neat
as filed green nails. I touched them softly with
my fingers, as if my hands, our meeting
might scare them back into the frigid ground.
Shock of their yellow in March. Shock of living
here, of having found my place among the living.
Bookworm, a Fragment
Bader’s Drugstore on Kercheval and Gray,
Where I first saw books by Mickey Spillane
And the nude Marilyn issue of Play-
Boy, before puberty drove me insane,
While I still loved the Monteith Library
And the toasted paper smell of old books,
Hugh Lofting, Robert Heinlein, no Harry
Potter for decades yet to come, with nooks
Where I could sit amid the scent of wax
Polish at leather-topped tables, no cares
Except homesickness for Scotland, in Pax
Libris, then return to our place upstairs
From the greasy tavern, three books in hand,
A ten-year-old stranger in a strange land.
Where autumn claims its red, its crickets’ cries,
I lie in bed, a black cat at my feet,
as through an open window summer dies
and makes the loss of equinox complete.3
Dark sooner now, dark heavy as the breath
that gains momentum in a woman old
and waning as she understands that death
will welcome her into wide fields of gold.
Oh, yes, I’m her. I understand that time
has seasoned me to know the seasons’ turn
as more than reach for poetry’s sure rhyme
about a crimson maple’s fiery burn.
Before spring calls its green to brightly rise
I’ll watch my last white winter through clear eyes.
Katharyn Howd Machan
Ithaca, New York