And the winners are...

First place poems

by Charles Atkinson

Pilot’s thin voice punctures the dream:
something’s amiss, the landing gear,
divert to Dulles, longer runway,
seasoned flight crewsand down there,
now-bare woodsit’s dusk, black
lace of plowed country roads,
houselights dusting hilltops, precious
partner gripping a hand, decent
people almost in reach of those who
wait belowall we pass over,
vivid as we bankthe landing
pattern: there are the trucks, fireflies
pulsing beside the runway, while we
Lumber in through shreds of fog,
ease down toward the tarmacthe sigh
engines make backing offand
the surprise: how few regrets,
mostly for the grandkids . . . now
rear wheels touch, the nose comes down . . .
no drift, no shriek of metal on
pavement, cartwheel, sweet jet fuel or
fireball, no, we ease to a stop as
red lights throb beyond the windows,
warm glow on the luggage bins, and
in the quiet, sobs, giggles,
chatterlittle bubbles rising.
everything we turn to dear
as if we’ll live this way.


"Still Life with Gratitude"
by Dean Rader

One day, the scientists tell us, every star in the universe
will burn out, the galaxies gradually blackening until

The last light flares and falls returnig the all to darkness
where it will remain until the end of what we have come

to think of as time. But even in the dark, time would go on,
bold in its black cloak, no shade, no shadow,

only the onward motion of movement, which is what time,
if it exists at all, really is: the absence of reversal, the sheer

impossibility of that final fire dying into itself,
dragging the day deep into what it no longer is,

bowing only to rise into the other, into a shining
the heavens were commanded to host, the entire

always poised between the gravity of upward and downward,
like the energy of a star itself constantly balanced between

its weight straining to crush its core and the heat of that
same core heaving it outward, as though what destroys

redeems, what collapses also radiates, not unlike
this life, Love, which we are traveling through at such

an astonishing speed, entire galaxies racing past,
niverses, it as if we are watching time itself drift

into the cosmos, like a spinning wall of images
lrealdy gone, and I realize most of what we know

we can’t see, like the birdsong overheard or the women
in China building iPhones or the men picking

strawberries in the early dawn or even sleeping
sons in the other room who will wake up and ask

for their light sabers. Death will come for
us so fast we will never be able to outrun it,

no matter how fast we travel or how heavily
we arm ourselves against the invisible,

which is what I’m thinking, Love, even though the iron
in the blood that keeps you alive was born from a hard

star-death somewhere in the past that is also the future,
and what I mean is to say that I am so lucky

to be living with you in this brief moment
of light before everything goes dark.


"Gratitude List"
by Laura Foley

Praise be this morning for sleeping late,
the sandy sheets, the ocean air,
the midnight storm that blew its waters in.
Praise be the morning swim, mid-tide,
the clear sands underneath our feet,
the dogs who leap into the waves,
their fur sticky with salt,
the ball we throw again and again.
Praise be the green tea with honey,
the bread we dip in finest olive oil,
the eggs we fry. Praise be the reeds,
gold and pink in the summer light,
the sand between our toes,
our swimsuits, flapping in the breeze.


Second place poems

“Ode to the Pull-out Couch”
by Sonja Johnason

Which once belonged to your great-
Grandparents, but belongs to us now,
and still works, even in the cushions
are pretty well flattened and the stuffing
is coming out from one armrest,
and the color, which was probably
once cream with red stitching, has become
mostly a muddy rust--

and which is always called a couch
and never, ever a sofa, just as
a pocketbook is not a purse, a bureau
is not a dresser, and pants are not
slacks. Only snooty people on T.V.
would call a couch a sofa, or rich
people, or maybe people from away.
Which we are not.

Because if we were any of those,
instead of just a pull-out couch,
we would have one in a guest room, with
a comforter and duvet, which no
guests would ever sleep under
because they would be staying at
a five-star hotel, where we would
join them for a five-star dinner--

instead of the supper we cook
for our cousins up from Alfred,
which makes them still from here
and not from away, so they can’t
afford to go out to dinner, much
less afford a fancy hotel room
even if there was a hotel in town.
Which there is not.

And after our supper and before
we wake early to take them
ice fishing, we pull out the couch
and give them pillows and blankets
and maybe even the granny-square
afgan, and they get to sleep by
the woodstove with the extra cats
and know that they are welcome.


“One Summer Day on the Number One Train”
by Anne Whitehouse

When the doors of the express opened at 72 Street,
the local was waiting. She entered with me,
tall and angular as a crane, her expression alert,
violin poised against her clavicle like a wing.

The train was half-empty, the passengers dozing
or absorbed in their smartphones.
She stood at one end of the car, her gaze
swiftly appraising us, while the doors slid shut.

Closing her eyes, she lifted her bow
and dipped her chin, and into that pause
went all the years of preparation
that had brought her to this moment.

The train accelerated in a rush of cacophony,
her music welled up, and I recognized
a Bach concerto blossoming to fullness
like an ever-opening rose. Suddenly

I was crying for no reason and every reason,
in front of strangers. I thought of the courtroom
where, an hour ago, I’d sat listening to testimony
with fellow jurors, charged to determine the facts

and follow the law. But no matter how we tried,
we couldn’t reverse damage or undo wrong.
The music was contrast and balm, like sunlight
in subterranean air. The tears wet on my cheeks,

I broke into applause, joined by her fellow passengers.
We’d become an audience, her audience,
just before the doors opened and we scattered.
Making my offering, I exited, too shy to catch her eye.

But she’d seen the effect her music had wrought.
Its echo resounded in my memory, following me
into the glory of the summer afternoon.
It is with me still.


“Still, I Give Thanks”
by Marie Reynolds

Day fourteen in the radiation waiting room
and the elderly man sitting next to me
says he gives thanks every day because
he can still roll over and climb out of bed.
We wear the same cotton gowns--repeating
patterns of gold stars on a field of blue--that gape
in back, leaving our goose bump flesh exposed.
Lately, I too, give thanks for the things I can do--
sit, stand, take my next breath. Thanks for my feet,
my fingers, the ears on my head. I give thanks
for the scrub jay’s audacious cries outside
my window at dawn. He is a hungry soul,
forever foraging to feed his mortal appetite.
Like him, I want more of everything: more light,
more life, another cup of Darjeeling tea and a silver
teaspoon to stir it with. I want to see my mother again,
before the winter settles in, and when she’s gone,
I want her porcelain Madonna. I want my doctor
to use the word “cure” just once. Each day, supine
on the table, I listen to the razoring whine
of the radiation beam. It hurts to lie still,
the table sharp as an ice floe beneath the bones
of my spine. Still, I give thanks for the hands
that position me, their measurements and marking
pens, the grid of green light that slides like silk
across my skin. I close my eyes and think
of the jay. We wear the same raiment: blood, bone,
muscle. Most days I still feel joy. I give thanks
for that bird, too--invisible feathers, invisible wings--
a quickening, felt deep within the body, vigorous and fleeting.


“Bounding Flight”
by Chera Hammons

Watch birds long enough, and you’ll notice
how the small ones rest while they  are flying,
how they flap furiously for a long minute
and for breathtaking fractions of a second
stop, wings pressed against their bodies
while they fall through emptiness.

When I think of what beauty I have seen,
it is the brown sparrow, briefly falling, I think of first.

Then, the pale breath of horses on a dark, cold night
when the stars are sharp and spinning
and every sound is brittle in the glasslike stillness.

The herons sitting around the edges of a playa lake,
fog rising from the water to mist the bellies
where one leg is tucked in white feathers;
how they don’t know the lake will only be there
one month, maybe two.

The morning sun silhouetting the wind turbines
as the blades slowly turn, smooth and unreachable,
on the tips of shimmering metal towers.

The snake that lies across the hot road n the shadow
of the power lines, then slides into the summer grass
as if part of the shadow has become a soul.

The body of the doe beside the highway,
coat sparkling in the sun with frost;
behind her, the barbed wire fence lined with delicate ice.

How I have known someone who waited for me.

There are so many things I never told my parents,
who lost the baby that would have been my older sister
and watched me come into the world, not breathing at first.

And if she had survived, would I still have taken my place?

When I think of what I have seen.
The eyes of someone who used to love me.

The way the body convulses when life leaves it.

The impact of a plane hitting the second tower,
the people leaping from the windows
into the sky’s blank unknown.

How everyone has their own kind of suffering.

All of it. It is almost too much to bear
for just one person, one life.

And then the birds again, the birds that will always be here,
how they alight together between electric poles, wing to wing.

How there are so many sometimes that the wire looks like it sways,
not as a result of its own heaviness, 
but under the gathered weight of so many blessings.