The InterBoard Poetry Community
September Competition Winners
Judge: Sarah Crown
By Judy Goodwin
South Carolina Writers Workshop
By Catherine Rogers
“Two Days with my Father”
by Cass Vibbert
By J. Rod Pannek
”A Young Womans Introduction to Color and Death”
By Allen Weber
"You deliberately eat that
to bother me." Suddenly cruel
I sit accused,
one apple half gone in my hand,
one poisonous piece
a slug against my teeth.
In the kitchen glass
I can see myself perched
gargoyl-like, I don't recognize the shadow
of my hunch. I take the next bite
quietly, use my tongue to press
each macintosh cell to mush,
suck and roll
and push it down
my throat half closed, unwilling.
Stubborn tube. I give up,
set the fruit on a plate.
Let the fruit flies have it
I say. Let the fruit flies
take silent bites, land and lift
and land. Let the plate
be a silent tongue.
By Judy Goodwin
As with all my favourite poems, this says little and speaks volumes. Through the poet’s painfully clear description of a single incident, I was given a picture of a whole relationship, a lesson in the depths of feeling that lie behind silence. The profound impact of the opening statement on the speaker is there in the litany of ugly adjectives with which she describes her – I decided it was ‘her’ – reaction: the apple is “poisonous” (Snow White, anyone?), the piece in her mouth is a
“slug”, her shadow perches “gargoyle-like”, unrecognisable even to herself. The lines on her struggle to swallow the apple noiselessly are masterful, full of sticky, clogging half-rhymes – “mush”, “suck”, “push” – and the lack of punctuation makes it impossible for us
to tell whether it is her throat that’s “half closed, unwilling”, or she herself. In contrast with the oppressive silence of the first section of the poem, the final declarative lines sing out freely, with great power. The plate and the flies may be silent but, it seems, she’s no longer going to be. Wonderful stuff. –Sarah Crown
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. . .
Past fifty, and all the rosebuds gathered
that will bloom for me.
Tied in bunches and hung from rafters
to dry, they keep their creamy pink
and delicate perfume. Only the leaves
are brittle, tending to dust.
My back aches as I tend the autumn garden.
A sentinel crow watches from the top
of a lone pine. Now and again he makes
an observation, a throaty “uh-oh,”
like an amiable warning. It is gathering time.
Time to carry home
the last of the flowering year:
For healing, coltsfoot, feverfew and comfrey;
of thyme, (which fair and tender girls
must not let young men steal)
enough to season winter;
here’s lovage yet– but little rue;
sage for longevity, and rosemary,
queen of clear memory, both in abundance.
That sentinel must have croaked all-clear,
for now there are a dozen on the lawn–
a murder of crows, wise eyes and heavy beaks
intent as surgeons, probing the earth. One
turns an eye to me as if to comment,
thinks better of it, rows himself into the trees.
The others follow, but they don’t go far.
After I’m gone, they’ll be here.
The house is quiet now, my darlings gone,
forgiven for the
ways they tore my body
and my heart. As night wind rises, I’ll take down
my mother’s book of poems and read aloud
to the accompaniment of rain’s steel drums
and autumn’s wild bassoons. I’ll go to bed
and leave the door unlatched. We’ll see
what the October wind blows in.
By Catherine Rogers
The poet quotes the first line of Robert Herrick’s To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time at the beginning of the poem, and goes on to make a subtle, intriguing response to his claim that “That age is best which is the first,/ When youth and blood are warmer;/ But being spent, the worse, and worst/ Times still succeed the former.” The speaker is a woman, “past fifty, and all the rosebuds gathered”, whose children have left home, and who is now “tending the autumn garden”. While she
may have left off gathering rosebuds (now “hung from rafters to dry”, they nevertheless “keep their creamy pink”), we find that there are plenty of other, perhaps more useful, things than rosebuds to gather: one by one, she picks “For healing, coltsfoot, feverfew and comfrey”; “sage for longevity”, “rosemary, queen of clear memory” and “thyme … enough to season winter”. The crows which circle her garden are classic harbingers of death (and may, of course, be echoes of herself, the “crone” of the title); they leave but “don’t go far”. She, however, is
unafraid: in the final lines (my favourites) she goes to bed and “leave[s] the door unlatched. We’ll see/ what the October wind blows in.” The poet refuses to respond to Herrick’s clichéd view of youth with her own cliché of age; instead, s/he presents it to us truthfully: nuanced, complex, neither bad nor good, but different. –Sarah Crown
Two Days with my Father
Remembrance is an empty home
imbued with silent echoes that tense
limbs and fill the head with
the sweet salt of rhapsody
The resultant glue of heat on candy
and July days that swam in eternity,
trees, glorious Oaks that swelled
into storybook blue, and hugged,
and drenched all sentient life in awe,
and you, the silhouette whose
calloused hands brushed
away flies and fears, and the tragedy
of adoption - I remember;
I remember the gritty chatter of steel
on crusted earth, the rows and miles
of glistening green, reaching up and
out to you and I, the cobbled hands
who etched our spirits into a soil
scarred with hoe and boot and sun -
Of all the hours we shared in silence
and self-containment, this fertile feast,
this acre, this day of skylark notes
and rippled breath stretched far beyond
the tea and storms, latched doors,
nightjars and nettle stings
that fall into childhood’s muddled rhyme -
How stark the days of famine and repose
that bled you to spectre gray, took away
your brawny breeze and plunged you
chest-deep in the muzzle of mortality;
In the hollow of your silenced heart
there were no flowers, but the drear scorn
of squall on vanquished tumult
Two Days with my Father -
This one grew on me; the more I read it, the more I admired it. The poet tackles the subject matter – the death of a father, and the memories that evokes – with a happy combination of deep feeling and real skill. The “two days” of the title, I thought, might refer to
types of, rather than specific, days: the early days that the poet describes at the beginning of the poem, and the days of dying that s/he mentions at the end. The elements of childhood are depicted as rich,
colourful, almost mythical: oaks “swell into storybook blue”; “teas and storms, latched doors,/ nightjars and nettle stings” become part of “childhood’s muddled rhyme.” The present day, on the other hand, is full of “famine and repose”, the father is now “spectre gray”, and there are “no flowers”; his death gains poignance from the fact that the poet’s childhood is killed off with him. Finally, I have to mention the wonderful consonance of the “gritty chatter of steel on crusted earth” – from all of the submitted poems, this was my favourite image, the one I felt was most effectively realised. The hoeing also reminded me of Seamus Heaney’s The Follower, which is no bad thing. –Sarah Crown
My mother, when she spoke
of Tidesworth, and how all of England
stopped for tea at 4:00,
allowed the sun to cradle her eyes,
and returned to Westminster,
Munich's summer gardens,
and Regensberg in early May.
A nurse's cap lined tissue near
old cotton-wool and cutlery,
as soldiers reappeared with sunken eyes,
and lungs filled to capacity.
Anonymous wounds, both British
and American, reopened.
My mother, living inside a white house,
grew gladiolus and eggplant,
braided tulip stems and pressed
them between her palms,
hung wash in triangular fashion.
She waited for afternoon to smooth
into right angles and the ring doves
to come full circle, reached
for bone china cups with gold skirts -
dotted her knuckles with Jergen's lotion,
and napped on the veranda.
by Cass Vibbert
Today I watched you pick Azaleas
from the nursery to be planted beneath
our picture window even though,
five years ago I thought of killing us both,
and then you saw the snap dragons,
but it is too late in the year
for snap dragons.
I selected the petunias with plenty of buds
and few blossoms to fill the space by our front
porch. Looking at each plant for a sign of vigor,
just as I had once examined my own body
to look for the signs of decay.
I like the potential of totally green petunias,
walking past them in the morning to pick up my paper,
day by day, I can see them pop, one by, sometimes, one.
The green and rusted cart is loaded down with colors
ready to be transplanted into our nuclear family
and home where once I took five showers a day
and spent hours making myself vomit
trying to ease the tightness in my belly.
Our yard and life are lived in and comfortable.
A soccer mom smiles at me as I taste the rosemary
from a table filled with living herbs and I think of potting
enough to keep our kitchen smelling used or maybe
just so much as it takes to cover up the odor of our
most unflattering fight when we told the kids about my
ugly side and you said you wanted my head to explode.
But soccer moms don't get to know you well enough
to make educated decisions, so they smile at everyone.
Begonias need a new name but you bought some
for the treasure chest on the back porch where "full sun"
is an understatement regardless of what your name is.
I have known for years that when I died, on the front page,
the second paragraph would have to say "history of mental illness"
somewhere, keeping me from concentrating on the sweat that
falls onto your lips and is wiped away by my favorite tongue.
Unloading the car, I remembered I needed to turn the compost before it
got too hot and burned out the nutrients that I work so hard to save
and recycle into our yard filled with flowers and where I began to notice
four years ago this spring that I could be a father and a husband and like
my gardens, I needed care and you with your cotton-pink gloves covered
with soil could look up from digging out the daffodil bed to move the hair
sticking to your face in spring while the clouds moved in and out of our life.
By J. Rod Pannek
A Young Womans Introduction to Color and Death
In the old-folks home I changed
bed sheets for this white lady.
She was real old, but she liked me
anyway. Shed tell bout the days
she was young and the things shed done.
Said she wrote for a paper back
when most reporters were men.
When she was ready to sleep,
shed reach up to hold my face
her hands would always shake
shed pull me down to kiss my cheek.
[ed. note: stanza break]
One night she said to me something
like You know what little girl? Im going
to die this week. Well, I didnt know
what to say, felt like a fool standing there
smiling at her, too young to imagine
anyone could plan for such a thing.
Cant usually tell with black people
till their breath comes fast and shallow.
But old white folks turn blue before
they die, like their tired blood stops
flowing along with their will
to be the last of their kind.
It starts at their toes
got about two weeks to live
with blue toes. As the color flows
up their feet theyve got a week,
maybe less. When its to their knees
thats the day theyll pass away.
Next day when I got to her room she was
lying downId never seen her do that
in daylight. She hadnt even pulled the covers
back. Then I guess she didnt see the need
to muss up the bed. She was all dressed up
except that she wasnt wearing shoes.
She didnt speak. That was different,
she always spoke before. This time
she just smiled as I came close
enough to see that her feet were blue.
By Allen Weber