GAZA, JANUARY 2009
by Estella Lauter First Place (Tie)
In seven years, we’ve got a whole new body.
- Li-Young Lee, Breaking the Alabaster Jar
A European doctor on emergency duty in Gaza says it’s like being bombed in a cage,
and I think of how it must seem
to those already hospitalized
with wounds that may never heal
to hear the wham and whistle
smash and screech of missiles,
the rumble of earth giving way underneath
as they lie immobilized
waiting for medicine.
Even the body of a patient lying quietly,
incarcerated, on life support,
generates three billion cells a minute.
In seven years, he could have a whole new body,
not as it was, but brimming with life.
Where is Joseph, whose dreams saved
both Egyptians and the brothers who betrayed him?
Water brims to the top of a tube and trembles there.
Certain Blossoms Remind Me
by Constance Snyder First Place (Tie)
of World War II summer afternoons, the victory
garden planted before Daddy was called, that garden
which brought joy to a troubled house. At the edges
of lettuce and corn, in cinder blocks, they planted
flowers – purple pansy faces, orange nasturtiums
babies breath – that sweetness from small bouquets
Mother sent out with us into the neighborhood—
something for us to do those long afternoons.
Door to door, little brother and me. Five cents a bunch.
In that black time of air-raid curtains when we lined up
with ration books for sugar and meat and newsreels
caught children wailing alone at the sides of roads
crowded with soldiers and refugees, our little pockets
jingled with nickels. There were never enough flowers.
Have you ever thought, “I’ve been here before in a dream?” he asks, because for him,
that’s where he is—
steering a tank through endless city walls,
each one fading into the next, sand on sand.
So many times sleep has dragged him here, like it has me.
But it’s not enough, he realizes to merely imagine
stepping out into the fringe for the first time,
feeling the pockmarks of bullets.
He raises his hand, gestures toward the badlands of western Iraq,
past the cracked-open ribcage of the weeping city—This is how you know that the world is huge, and you are nothing more than a tiny, tiny ant.
I begin to speak: You start building an empire with one brick. That’s it, I say, just one, hoping to bring him back to the reality
of incoming mortar fire,
although by now, he is gazing up
toward where the scorching sun edges
the rooftops of the tallest buildings,
here in this place where anything able
to straighten its spine and stand upright
is worthy of praise.
Little Bowl of Peace
by Dana Nurse Honorable Mention
I bought a little bowl of peace for 69 cents.
It came in a cracked clay pot of blue and white.
“Be careful; it’s hot,” the woman had said.
I paid no mind and grasped it, not thanking her.
But it was scorching and burned me and flew from my hands
Out of the window.
And it fell to the ground, smashing into a million little pieces of peace.
The drops of gold began to roll.
Into the cracks in the asphalt, covering the sidewalk, soaking the street.
And a man stepped in the peace and it got all over his good shoes.
A bus passed through the street full of peace and it stuck to the wheels.
And where the man and the bus went, the droplets of peace went with them.
But that street of peace was on a hill, and the peace flowed down like waterfalls.
A busy city was at the bottom of the hill and the golden peace came rushing down.
One woman shouted to her neighbor; “You have to come and try this peace.”
Everyone in the city soon had their own piece of peace, and shared it with friends.
And the daughter of the woman of the neighbor had a friend who had a plane.
Together they went up and poured buckets of peace, and dropped balloons of peace.
The world seemed to like it and sent some into space.
Injecting it into the fabric of the universe, infecting the stars, planets, and comets.
But one of those comets got too fat with peace and crash landed on the street.
The street with the store with the window that my hot bowl had fallen through,
And the woman looked at me and smiled; I smiled, too.
“I forgot to say thank you,” I said to her.
But she shook her head, and poured out two more bowls of peace, still smiling wide.
Handing one to me clinking them in “cheers,”
“It is I who should thank you. I’ve been trying to get people to try my peace for years.”
He wakes up sometimes
In the middle of the night
Panting like he’s been running through all of his nightmares
Trying to catch his dreams
He shivers as sweat beads
Trickle down the grooves of his skin
Like the tears of Ahmad down his little boy cheeks
So he stares into the dark
To black out the horrors of the desert
But he can taste it, the ammunition
Like chalk and guilt ground together in a wisp of gray fate
He found God over there
Somebody more merciful than the gun he held
And the grenade on his belt.
You see, he was a Grim Reaper by mistake
Uncle Sam promised college and the Marines promised honor
But they did not promise a full night’s rest
So he wakes up sometimes in the middle of the night
And stares into the dark to black out the horrors of the desert
But the night cannot save him when he closes his eyes.