2015 Top Three Winners
Quasimodo, Hunchbacked Bell-Ringer of Notre Dame
He has his hour. He shakes the iron bell
Of our infirmity. It rends the sky,
The sky, him. His wild heart is fiercely audible
In each toll and boom and reverberating reply.
For this is Notre Dame, the Gothic pinnacle
Piercing the impenetrable blue of Heaven’s high seat.
With the gargoyles he exists, like them, in riddle
Of a lofty kingdom for the desolate.
Birds scatter as the great bell fills the sky,
And his own fierce cry, answering each echo,
Sings out his joy each day to mount so high,
Only to fall back to earth, despised, a cripple.
Some day he’ll fly to Heaven! while below, unaware,
The mute throng is entering the darkened house of prayer.
When our first climax, like a liquid star
shooting glory, ebbed soft through the blue
horizon, I said ‘Let’s stay as we are!
A single, twin-souled creature, me and you.’
And although soon our bodies had to part,
we had one life, one meaning from that night:
as earth and water, lock and key. Each heart
so loved, I can not now believe your flight;
so bound, I can not cling, nor set you free.
And I will not harangue you at the last
with argument or rosy-tainted plea.
I cannot bear to falsify our past—
just contemplate two simple things for me:
a river-bed dust-dry, a lockless key.
Parsing syntax, remodeling dashes, dots,
and commas, blowing the whistle on all
the errant, misbegotten words — that’s not
worth a drop of her ink, sweat, alcohol,
blood, or coffee, not when weighed against her
honest work of marshaling the silence. She
gently hushes the stagehands and lowers
the houselights, focuses the spot: Tell me
your story, Mister Book, Ms. Manuscript,
Citizen Poem, I’m here, ready to be
impressed. Do your stuff, love me. You’re equipped
to go the distance? Will I get to meet
the genie in your bottle? Nothing’s wrong —
the only voice is your voice. Sing your song.
Michael W. Fleming