S.C. Poetry Initiative finalists

The following are the top 10 poems in the 2009 Single Poem Contest sponsored by the S.C. Poetry Initiative and The State newspaper.

And take a moment to vote for the Reader’s Choice award, which will be announced with the other winners at an April 11 event at Gallery 80808, 808 Lady St. The event begins at 2 p.m.

Vote for your favorite by taking our survey. The readers’ choice favorite, plus the winner of the contest, will be revealed Sunday, April 12 in Life&Style.

The poems

“The Healing”

Terri McCord

Say the room is cellophane

air clear

except where you are

the rest, a giant bandage

of nothing.

See through the room

to when

     you came in —

to err is past.

This space is the cot,

windows sutured

with blinds.

Say, in this room there are no eyes.

You have all the room

in the world to heal.

Become transparent too.

Go away.

Clearly, you can say anything now

in a voice without

a visible tongue

on the roof of your mouth

that could be this room.

Your tongue can settle — rest

like a blanket on your needs.

“Snow Day”

January 20, 2009

Barbara Thomson

“... in this winter air, anything can be made ...”

— Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the New Day”

No school today. After lunch my grandson

and I make cookies. He’s seated on the counter

holding the big spoon for mixing things

while history flickers on a small screen

near his elbow, a man addresses the world,

bareheaded in the cold.

     Once when I was small,

my grandmother yanked me from the back of the bus

where three black men were making music

on a raggedly tambourine, a juice harp,

and their thighs. I watched them from my seat

at the front, kneeling backwards, keeping time

with my gloved hands.

“An Exercise in Forgetting”

Brittany Blaskowitz Prichard

You are a paper weight with my eyes

a brain that only blinks mornings

You eat a honey bun, watch a Love Boat re-run

you don’t remember Captain Stubing

you eat a honey bun, you haven’t eaten,

you have already eaten

You look like a scarecrow, an old tree hollowed out

You lay on a brown chenille sofa covered in robin eggs

curl up with a Myrtle Beach towel instead of a blanket

Monday — I am your grand-daughter

Tuesday — I’m a black man, a handy man

Wednesday — I forget your name but I know your face

Thursday — I don’t know you but I know you are older than me

Friday — My name is Tom and I am ugly

Saturday — You are sleeping

Sunday — Your name is Tom and you are ugly; my name is Honey Comb

I used to hold tight to your leg

never wanted to leave you or the French fries, the party dresses

You are leaving me to turn summersaults in the shiny rocket

to be with your old dog Peewee,

your squirrel monkey I never met

but saw once in a picture

“Funeral No. 28”

     after Mario Sanchez’s painting “Funeral No. 28”

Danielle Sellers

Another procession of haggard souls

bleary-eyed from night’s death-watch.

All the shop doors on Petronia are closed

in respect to the dead. This one’s going out in style,

led by a cornet band’s slow juke.

White horses with blinders and black capes

pull the glass coffin-carriage past El Curro,

the Banana House, and black women

rocking under green awnings.

The coffin is draped with stargazers.

Crook-necked coconut trees fasten

our attention to the top center: the sky,

and in its clouds and in them

what might be an angel piping

for a flock of doves. After the funeral passes,

what I need to be reminded of

is the poster nailed to the picket fence

next to Signs by Salazar:

Have a ball

at the Dixie Hall

on the Fourth of July.

Come dance to the music of

The Honeydippers.

“Faire sa Toilette”

Danielle Sellers

After my grandmother’s mind went,

She still asked for the mirror and tweezers,

lying among the pillows

propped on the bed like a rag doll.

She plucked the boney angles

on her face without looking,

as if she were plucking ticks

from a stray. I let this go on.

When she dug into her temple,

the tip of her nose, I went to the bedside,

took the tweezers from her hand. I didn’t know

a chin could sprout so many black wires.

I thought of those Saturdays spent

pulling milkweed from the white coral gravel

in my grandparents’ yard, rock dust

powdering my knees, our work clothes.

After, we’d take showers, powder our bodies.

She’d dry her silver-black hair,

make her face. Then, in sundresses,

to town in my grandpa’s glossy Jaguar.

If it took all afternoon, I’d get her

ready for God. This woman who believed

beauty feels no pain, who, near the end,

refused to let herself go.

“snapping turtle”

(for my father)

Heather Dearmon

in the end,

i was trying to save him —

even as it was midday,

and his dark, portly self

was plain to other drivers

who slowed,

then turned their wheels

to avoid an unpleasant crunch —

he was going to do it:

forge his march

across the black pavement —

and to hell with god or consequence,

or my inferior stick, gently prodding

the grump

to alter his course, circle back round

to his pond, his den.

a farmer pulled over in a rackety truck,

shook his head,

and brandishing a rake,

rolled the hissing brute, like a leathery ball,

off the asphalt, down the grassy bank,

and back to the water’s edge.

looking below,

i saw the reluctant lump of him

merge within the inky pool,

and aloud, i prayed he would find

even one

compelling reason to stay.


Helen Brandburg

Today, I’m missing Thoreau

The pond with its window upon

the fishes’ parlor

Thoreau with his boots at the edge

of this hole he has cut into ice.

It’s hard to hold a pencil when

you’re wearing mittens.

His cheeks are cold.

“Hiding from Jehovah”

Brittany Blaskowitz Prichard

If I open the curtains to my office window

on Saturday mornings the Jehovah will come.

He pulls me up in his maroon mini van, Bible in hand.

I know his knock, three loud raps

followed by a doorbell ring.

Last winter, my husband let him in once

after smoking a joint in the bathroom.

He was feeling philosophical

sat Jehovah down at the kitchen table

listened as he read from the Watchtower

asked my husband the difficult questions

even I don’t dare to ask.

Do you believe in Jesus, Brother Jon? Jehovah inquires.

Sometimes, he replies.

Do you pray?

Not anymore.

Are you ready for the Second Coming? he continues.

Most Saturdays, my husband makes sculptures

in the yard while I clean house, sit down at my desk

hoping to find the right words to make poems.

If I hear Jehovah’s knock, I hide in the hallway

wait until he’s exhausted all efforts

left us with another message of prayer

scrawled on notebook paper.

This morning, I didn’t move quickly enough

Jehovah sees me staring from the corner of my room.

When he stares back at me

I pretend to be a statue, pretend I’m dead already

no one worth saving.

“Renaming of Things”

Terri McCord

“There is no this. It is all an illusion.”

     Li-Young Lee

This distant, ice-covered world is no longer a true planet, according to a new definition of the term voted on by scientists today.

     National Geographic, April 24, 2006

Perhaps it lost

the ability to inspire —

one of nine muses reduced,

deduced to eight since

Pluto is no longer

a planet

so far out

but something dwarfed,

unswept debris in its orbit —

garbage for some dumpster diver.

Since 1930 it had been named.

It is no different.

We still are,

aren’t we?

Oui, you say, which makes no sense

to me, although it does.

After nineteen years

we seem same,

but are coupled and doubled

opposite detraction.

Are we fallen from grace, too

now that we are one?

The planets have lost a fellow

muse. Space has gained

the roving eye

of a profiled crow,

a spy, a spy, spy this,

a magpie that compiles, compiles

and I eyeball you too.

“Ghost Children”

Vera Gomez

On our morning walk I tell you how I think

God has left me empty. You say I’m lucky.

No kids, no husband equals freedom.

Your breath escapes into tiny white clouds.

It is cold, January, the temperature frigid.

When I say I still dream of them — my unborn

children locked inside — you let out: “Single,

woman without children, heck must be hard to date.”

So, I admit their spirits hover above me like ghosts.

Each one as real as the next man I meet on Match

or eHarmony, the one that’ll bring me flowers or

will buy me a cup of coffee with hope in his eyes.