Sonnet Contest 2021 Winners and Honorable Mentions

First Place

Cartier Bresson photograph on Pont des Arts

Sartre existed. On that bridge he stood

In Paris when the war was done and misted

Memories made nostalgia from bad and good

Events. He saw no trees inside the wood

And the wood itself was bombed into a smog.

This is the fact. All facts are fiction now

As is his scarf, coat, his quizzical brow.

Paris beyond is insubstantial fog.

 

An architect proffers a folder of designs

To build reality from steel and stone.

Pont des Arts shivers and makes moan,

Seine’s estuarine mud scoured by mournful lines.

The words which sprang from fire are melted snow.

Nothing exists unless thinking makes it so.

With three poetry booklets and many poems in magazines, Ian Enters is also a novelist and a librettist of opera and musicals. His most recent works are Word Hoard, translations of and about Old English poetry ,and his third novel Redhead.

Second Place

Reading the Obituaries

Now the Barbaras have begun to die,

trailing their older sisters to the grave,

the Shirleys, Helens, Jans — who said goodbye

just days ago, it seems, taking their leave

a step or two behind the hooded girls

who bloomed and withered with their century —

the Dorotheas, Eleanors and Pearls

now swaying on the edge of memory.

Soon, soon, the scythe will sweep for Jeanne

and Angela, Patricia and Diane —

pause, and return for Margie and Maxine,

while Sarah spends a sleepless night again.

   Ah, Lisa, how can you be growing old?

   Jennifer, Michelle, your hands are cold.

 

First published in The Cream City Review.

Marilyn L. Taylor, former Poet Laureate of Wisconsin and Milwaukee, has been published in Poetry, Light, Measure, and other journals. Her recent full-length collection, Outside the Frame: New and Selected Poems (Kelsay Books, 2021), can be ordered at www.mltpoet.com/books.

Third Place

Coming to Terms

I set aside my one-size-fits-all shirt,

my pants with the elastic tummy-panel,

as music to a silent world of hurt

strains from a distant country-western channel.

 

Still, there’s compassion. I’ve been granted leave —

a week in which to heal and convalesce,

to peel away the glow-stars, to unweave

the year I’d stitched onto your christening dress.

 

I rearrange my premises — perverse

assumptions! — gather unripe figs. Throw out

the bloodied bedclothes. Scour the universe

in search of you. And God. And go about

my business as my crooked smile displays

the artful look of ordinary days.

 

A similar version was first published in Measure.

Catherine Chandler, Canadian American poet, is the author of The Frangible Hour, recipient of the Richard Wilbur Award. Her sixth poetry collection, Annals of the Dear Unknown, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. She is online at The Wonderful Boat (cathychandler.blogspot.com).

Honorable Mentions

Suppose

A gift from physics: fantasy that rains

on the parched hours of my widowed night.

Suppose it’s true the stream of time contains

each moment, as if holographed in light

whose speed preserves intact what used to be.

Suppose I calculate that speed and race

toward inches from our youth, and carefully

insert myself precisely in time-space

we spent together, close enough this side

of childhood, so as not to risk a drop

of change or separation by too wide

a gap. No random leap; no curious stop

at some mistaken lifetime that lacks you.

An idle hope. But it will have to do.

Rhina P. Espaillat has published twelve collections of poetry and five chapbooks, in both English and her native Spanish. Her work has won many prizes, including the T. S. Eliot Prize in Poetry and the Richard Wilbur Award.

Looking Back

There was a marriage once where she would paint

from midnight until six am, and he

would rise as she slid into bed, and she

would sleep past noon, and wake, and reacquaint

herself with friends, and smile without complaint

as he came home too late each night; and he

was no more bothered by their life than she,

for neither cared that either was no saint.

 

Or so the story went — the one he told

to women he encountered now and then,

and polished with each use, then used again —

devised to snare the curious or bold.

It worked so well that finally he forgot

which parts of it were true and which were not.

 

First published in 14 by 14 and also in Life in the Second Circle.

Michael Cantor, the author of Life in the Second Circle (Able Muse Press, 2012), and Furusato (Kelsay Books. 2019), has lived and worked in Japan, Europe, and Latin America; and now divides his time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Plum Island, Massachusetts.

Far Fields

The horse, gray dappled, lifts her head to test

the late November air for scent of snow.

The house, gray fieldstone, at my back as though

protecting me and all that I possessed.

 

The memory, frayed and faded, might suggest

it was so very long and far ago —

or else it will be happening tomorrow

and I was sleeping, dreaming all the rest.

 

I try to hold the difference in my head:

these parts exist, those parts only mist

and imagination, like the shape

of lines across my palm that can be read

more kindly than the scars above my wrist,

a gentle and less permanent escape.

Kit Rohrbach lives, writes, and herds cats in southeastern Minnesota.

2nd Honeymoon

Moonlight on watered cobbles of Montorgueil:

limp endive, aging coquilles, cigarettes

bob down the gutter. “My feet,” I plead, hobble

past cave et boucherie, Stohrer’s baguettes.

We sleep among the great, on Marie-Stuart,

pres de where Madeleine drops her veils

to end as Saint-Denis, (yet after dark

aren’t all cats gray, and lips alike, female

and male?) Our nights are loud and mornings rue-

full. Look — on this place — a severed head listens

for a loving word. I lean into the statue’s

stony hand, and on command, I grin.

Late marriages, like poems, we revise,

but cannot step into the same street twice.

 

First published in the International Poetry Review, and also in Hotel Worthy.

Valerie Nieman’s poetry has appeared in three collections, several anthologies, and in many journals, from The Georgia Review to Crannóg. She is the author of five novels.

Penelope on Broad Street

The day your boat sailed out, I kissed the wind

and turned Ravel up while I kneaded dough.

Arpeggios and tax forms taught me then

to mark each sunrise, honey-footed, slow

and burning in my hand like embers. Twice

your mother fell while searching for her cat

under the neighbor’s porch, on morning ice.

Your cousin flirted at the laundromat.

I made the rolls with caraway and thyme;

they took a ribbon at the county fair.

And Hayley’s soccer team — well, never mind.

Six months without a letter: Do you care?

Perhaps you lie with her, forgetting me,

or anchored on a cold and moonless sea.

Charmaine Smith lives near the sea with a spoiled tabby cat and a quirky sense of rhythm. She is currently trying her hand at short fiction and rekindling her love of formal poetry.

Upstate

Start with a brief description of the town:

its sagging thoroughfares, its battered clock

tower. Places like this exist for trains

to falter through. Have you ever lost a sock

in the wash? Here it is on Mrs. Owens’

clothesline, drying in the rust-ruined sun.

Wormholes connect us to outposts like this,

main drags so proverbial in their want

they must be paintings. What else can capture

the hot charred candy center of a soul

so beaten it whimpers beneath the rod

of time? As if some wicked, wastrel god

playing a prank, tossed snake-eyes with trick dice,

punished creation out of boredom. Twice.

 

First published in Rattle.

Marc Alan Di Martino is a Pushcart nominated poet, translator and author of the collection Unburial (Kelsay, 2019). His work appears many other journals and anthologies. His second collection, Still Life with City, will be published by Pski’s Porch. He lives in Italy.

Left Behind

The woman filming at the airport, flung backwards

by the bomb blast, the fatherless boy rising

before dawn to find work, the gnarled orchards,

rooted and uprooted, the protestors, flags lifting

and falling in fists, the spavined donkeys huddled

in the grassless traffic circles, the soldiers greasing

their guns, the flames of oil wells, lidless

and furious, the razor wire, the berms narrowing

to checkpoints, the pockmarked walls where mourners

run their hands, the stubborn faithful davening

and prostrating, the strings of bare bulbs that flicker

and die, unleashing the generators’ nightly roaring,

 

all remnants of the great game, whose orchestrators

sip(ped) port at a distance and savor(ed) their cigars.

Devon Balwit’s poems and reviews can be found in Tampa Review, Barrow Street, Tar River Poetry, Poetry South, saltfront, Rattle, Grist, and many others. Her newest collections are Rubbing Shoulders with the Greats and Dog-Walking in the Shadow of Pyongyang.