---Top Ten Poems of the
----2020 Robert Frost Poetry Contest: poems----
"Singer" slips in and out of the beat, uses the slant-rhyme,
in-rhyme, out-rhyme, (early or delayed rhyme), the
repeat-word-swapped-context rhetoric and other wordplay you
see in late-20th poets and contemporary music.
There is this cinematically intense focus on a few little details
of machine, skill, and fabric. Even people who have not
done the craft become intimate with it, as it was with the
Ken Burns "Baseball" series. And just when you are sold into
the craft, the role, and the pride, there is the sudden
sad revelation....that in this moment, you know far more than
this women does......anymore.
The final pass for #1 drew 5 votes for this.
Hard to say what moved through all of us before
reading this poem, but its time had come.
Sometimes art speaks when words can't,
but sometimes, words make all of the art.
-----Paulette Demers Turco:
( the #1 poem )
The last time mother closed her sewing machine,
she’d sewn my sister’s gown of silk and lace,
a veil with pearls, fulfilling her own wish.
The house, now her own space, would have no hum.
She’d reached the private goal she’d set herself:
to dress each daughter till her wedding day…
plus bridesmaids’ gowns and her own dress that day.
She’d learned how fabrics stressed her one machine
and oiled it well; used threads she chose herself.
She learned the slip of silk, the weave of lace,
learned to guide her Singer, feel its hum—
with yards and yards of fabric toward her wish
of daughters dressed by her—beyond her wish
when she took her vows on her wedding day.
While her love served in Normandy, she’d hum
soft tunes of his return—no sewing machine.
Her trousseau was of borrowed silk and lace.
Her groom gave her a Singer. She’d teach herself.
She made her first dress simply, for herself—
an A-line shift in navy blue. Her wish
for Christmas velvet, Easter’s hand-made lace,
came first in trimmings for each holiday.
As we arrived, she cherished her machine;
from birth, we breathed in rhythm with its hum.
She’d set the bobbin, press the footplate, hum
a favorite tune, and fit each dress herself
in pastels, flowered prints, as her machine
sewed ribbons, pleats—yes, every daughter’s wish
for birthdays, dances, gowns for Spring prom day—
velvet, chiffon, rayon, linen, lace.
All sewing done, she stored away her lace—
knit baby blankets. Soon lost names, used hums
for words in lullabies, forgetting midday
shopping trips and losing sense of self,
what daughters said, the clothes she’d made—her wish
undone, instead confusion: what machine,
what meal, what day, what daughter. What is lace?
Our photos proved how her machine did hum;
our wish, her awe— “I stitched these gowns myself?”
-----Paulette L Turco:
Holy Family Sunday—1985
We sit beside each other in the pew,
unprepared for what this priest will preach.
Who will be the focus of his reach?
He’s garbed in white. What will he choose to do?
He knows about my sister’s recent woes—
her overdose of Ambien and how
her husband said, “I’m gay” that day. His vow
to her a lie, she feels eclipsed. He chose—
he loves his partner, loves his kids. Misled,
years in his bed, she’s borne two sons. And now
she prays the Church tribunal grants somehow
that, in the eyes of God, she never wed.
The priest invites parishioners to “Transcend
all shadows in your family. Pray. Amend.”
This day begins slowly on the porch.
Across the creek a lone roofer taps out
a rhythm on his shingles, the swans
patrol their waters anyway. Lop-sided
geraniums nod in a stupor, scent of rosa
rugosa slips past the screen door,
and a breeze that is not really a breeze
weaves us together even though you
are going, or perhaps you have already
left. What we have is all we will have.
Give yourself to the morning, the swans
will regroup, aware of upright paddlers
balanced on their boards as they glide
like lithe Egyptians flattened on a frieze.
-------Simon Peter Eggertsen:
Elephants at the Beach
Near the coast just short of Zinjibar,
this and every morning, the sand waits
to sneak across to the shore on the breeze
a few grains at a time, like small, anxious children
longing for a playful day at the beach
without their parents’ permission.
At night, when the wind changes its mind,
the grains will scurry back home to the other side,
wait for the dawn, for another morning run.
The shifting sands, free of their hourglass,
keep their own day time, their own night time
on either side of the brazen, warming sun.
Further along the highway, dunes,
the shape and size of fallen elephants,
begin in earnest, lie on their sides,
ribbed spines sagging, trying to touch the ground.
The beasts cannot move without a helping hand,
without a nudge from the insistent sea breeze.
Last year the rogue elephant dunes squatted
on the other side, threatened to trample
the rustic fishers’ village near the shore—
a mish mash of drift and plywood and tin,
imagined homes: ‘ramshackled’,
the perfect word for them to speak.
Mushkeda. So it may be, the people say.
-- Zinjibar, Yemen, May 1997
It’s been too many hours on the road.
Your hands are numb on the wheel
as you reach the top of the forested hill
above home. Not the home you return to
after work each day, a thousand miles
from here, but your mother’s home,
the home that still has the bed you
slept in as a child. It’s night, but the moon
alights the valley, the dark velvet contour
of treed hills visible for miles. You can see
how the rain has shaped this place, smoothed
the sharp ridges, carried grit and stick
to the valley bottom where the dark murk
slides to the open ocean. This place has taken
away so many you remember – your father,
your best friends, your childhood teachers –
and it’s taken your childhood itself.
What is to be done but look in strange wonder
at this beautiful, painful part of the world?
Yet you drive down the winding road,
your tires hissing on the slick blacktop,
windshield wipers pushing away the mist
so you can see anew each curve, each
treeline, the wet signs, the flashing yellow
light, and the long final corridor of trees
before you turn and wend slowly to your old drive.
You stop in front of the garage and see
the silhouette of your mother rise slowly
from her chair. She will greet you, feeble
and smiling, as you open the door.
I’m home, you say, and even with all the things
that have been lost and all the ways that
this is no longer your home, it still
is, and your mother is here – and has been
here for years – waiting to hold her boy
one last time before this place, after thirty-five
years, is taken from both of you.
In a neighbor’s yard, planted on the branch of an Oak tree, the hawk worked over
its lifeless prey, busy as a chicken scratching in the dirt for a bug.
We stopped walking, took it in. My husband was entranced with it all.
“It looks like he got a mole,” he said with satisfaction.
He hates the moles in our yard;
we’ve argued more than once about his wish to eradicate them with lethal means.
Just then the giant bird grabbed up the flaccid rodent, clutched it in its talons,
then swooped, black wings flapping like a magician waving his cape.
He landed in another nearby tree,
to feast unfettered by us,
is my guess.
We took a few steps, admiring him again.
“I don’t really want to watch this.” I said.
My husband commented the hawk was about the same size as our Jack Russell.
“He can’t be that big,” I disagreed.
“Can’t you see Kramer up in the tree? At that far away, he’d look the same.”
I thought to myself, Maybe without his four legs,
maybe just his head and chest would equal the size of the hawk.
But I agreed with my husband.
I looked up at the killer who held me in its vacant amber eyes
for a powerful split second.
“Pretty Bird. You are a pretty bird,” I said,
unable to stop myself from saying it.
Near the End of Ocean Boulevard
Saint Simon’s Island
The county’s latest bulwark has begun
to fail already—maybe only weeks
since normal traffic was allowed back on
this busy stretch of road. Saltwater seeps,
then undermines concrete too easily.
No engineer has figured out a way
to stop erosion here. Predictably
tides entering and leaving every day
will do their damage. Nature takes care of
its own—the egrets, herons, ibises,
marsh hens, and clapper rails which perch above
stiff grass or pluff mud after meals. What is
a human being in this habitat?
A passerby who gets a glance, if that.
CHANGE AFTER WHISPERS.
Late August when the poplar leaves
Are busy tongues in trembling heat,
The apple tree with ripened fruit
Is not a laden tree at all,
It’s just a drop of bursting rain –
Exploding – crown-like – shedding beads –
Arrested come the thunder’s roar –
Arrested in the lightning flash;
You blink or sneeze, the lot might fall –
The drumming of the sudden storm,
The rumble of escaping feet -
The poplar leaves foretold it all,
An end to apples out of reach,
An end to summer’s trembling heat.
---------------Gayle C. Heney:
Dusk’s fading hints of pink become gunmetal grays, outlining hundreds
of our efficient, black bodies blanketing the sky in search of a roost.
We are feathered, black-gloved hands waving in supplication
as multitudes of our flocks follow the Merrimack River upstream.
Raucous chatter comes in waves as some swoop down to rest
upon young river birches, change our minds, then take flight.
Lawrence’s red brick and mortar converted mills stand in silhouette,
silent guardians of our daily passage as night’s cape descends.
We are signals of impending darkness, transient congregations without a god.
Our journey, like so many others, reverberating with strident cries.
Illuminating the Night
It's eight degrees and the long
blue stillness of the February
afternoon stretches across the yard.
You recall her, this white-tail, from last
winter because of her left hind leg, broken—
there's swelling around the ankle,
just above the fetlock, yet she's graceful
and steady as a young dancer after
many arduous hours at the barre.
She nibbles on woody browse frozen
on the chain link fence, turnips and
kale long gone from the garden.
You want her to shape-shift
into that dancer so you can cajole
her inside and call to your family:
"Look who's come in from the cold!"
She'll shake snow from three hooves
onto the mat that says Home at Last.
"Come sit by the fire," you say, but the soft
magic of her animal tongue is silenced;
the moon mourns her absence, her wildness:
She is an anima mundi:
a soul hungry
a soul broken
a soul survivor
a soul lit from within,
a glimmering girl, Yeats
might call her.