As additional recognition for 2014 winners of the Council for Wisconsin Writers contests their winning work is being posted on this blog, starting today with Cathryn Cofell.
Cathryn received the Lorine Niedecker Poetry Award for the following five poems:
FOR MY SON, WHO HATES PIANO
Once a week, no matter how he begs,
I turn him over to Mrs. Hoff,
pay her $18 a week
to pound the pianist in, the petulance out.
I HATE BACH!
he wails as he scales
the Minuets in G Major, G Minor,
his face a composition of black keys.
He curses the quickety-split timing
of Schumann’s Happy Farmer, says
he’d be happy too if he were farming,
would rather slop pigs than play
one more note that dead guy wrote
for his fat cow of a daughter.
He is forte and staccato as he belts out
Eminem’s I’m not afraid, to take a stand
to the tune of Fur Elise.
But today, as I wait in the car
for his lesson to end, after
Mrs. Hoff left to collect his coat, I see him
through the window stretch his arms
from pit to tip, caress the keys at each end.
I see him press his cheek to its brown chest.
I see his eyes close, as if in prayer,
and the fingers of his right hand compose the air.
Before the piano, it was any flat surface.
Before that, kettles and cups,
the splash of water in his bath,
his bare body dancing to dust beat.
It took me a lifetime to find a love this deep,
and then it bubbled from this fountain of son.
I know why he fights this fervor,
how bottomless he could tumble
in the pit of one slight hum.
published by Naugatuck Review, September 2014
GIFT OF SIGHT
Mom dreams of a man she hasn’t seen
since high school and he calls.
My sister Carla dreams a rain
of money, and a window washer
drops his wallet at her feet.
Mom is restless, frets
about the dream of a lost boy
found dead or a deadly chemical spill.
She swallows amnesia, meditates
to turn her eye inward, prefers to be
the blinded horse. Carla imagines
herself a super-hero, Dream Girl
in a 360 thread-count cape:
Power-ball numbers, activated!
She looks forward
to the R.E.M. of night,
the flannel periscope rising.
I have visions too. Déjà vu.
A new room, re-entered.
Strangers met again.
A first kiss like cul-de-sac.
They feel sorry for my life
in the rear-view mirror, imagine
I tread in a vague pool of loss.
But I consider tomorrow
each toss a chance to retrieve
old sins, to pitch them again
to the thundering sky.
I see our three lives
as trifecta, as trinity,
the weird sisters
with our contradictory natures,
til the hurly-burly’s done.
2nd Place, 2014 Golden Quill Award, appeared on www.SLONightwriters.org October 2014
HERO ON THE ROOF
He ain’t no fat santa,
he ain’t no GI Joe,
no one voted him in or out,
he just rose up,
he just climbed up
like the original King Kong
scaling the Empire State
but in dazzling color, climbing
from a cave into
the cloudless noon color,
blinding! He’s only three feet tall
and except for a dishtowel cape
he’s naked as the trunk of a mango tree,
his naked brown body built
like a suitcase, like a carry-on bag,
he’s carrying on like a rock star,
jumping and grinding,
he’s yelling yippee ki aye and grinning,
a stupendous I-just-saved-the-day grin.
He’s got a big letter J painted orange on his chest
and there’s a piece of me that catches
when I see it, that knows this is no hero,
this is some hopped-up sports fan,
that the J is for Jets or Jaguars
and I’m sure now someone (maybe even me)
will call 911 and the sirens will wail
because he’s a phony or a suicide
who might just jump,
who might not catch me if I fall.
But there’s another piece of me that catches
on the J is for Justice or Jubilation
if all I do is look up and believe
in all three freaky feet of him:
I will believe—sweet Super J—I will,
because the alternative is much too cruel,
the alternative is the world, unsaved.
published in Drawn to Marvel, Spring 2014, Appears in Sweet Curdle (Marsh River Editions, 2006), Appears on Lip (2010)
PAPER OR PLASTIC
I can’t open those plastic produce bags at Piggly Wiggly.
It takes ½ a dozen tries, or more if I don’t lick my fingers.
I saw a Candid Camera bit where they put out bags
that didn’t open on either end. I’ve been worried since, look
around near any pyramid of lettuce or plastic on a roll.
I forget the reusable sacks. I choose paper but plastic
stows away every time, melting sherbet or a can of Raid
and me afraid to use or toss the bags since Naples became
a volcano of trash. I’m not sure why the Camorra rule
the dumps, but I saw the plastic heaps of rot, Huggies erupted.
Now my own house looks like a Neapolitan side street,
and there goes the swarthy garbage man, rumbling by.
I read in the paper that newspapers are dying. Another
doctor reads a panoramic of my jaw and pronounces
it, too, nearly dead, strong as wet paper. He advises less talk,
soft foods, a 24/7 splint or replaced with poly-something,
think mousetrap or chip clip. Either way, I’m all slush
and slur. Either way, I’m betting I’ll outlive USA Today
if I eat with a plastic straw, a diet of papier-mâché.
Does the paper gown open in front, or back? Two seconds
after the door shuts I’ve forgotten, too focused on hiding
my panties under my skirt, although I’ll be uncovered
any minute, opening the wrong way. The paper sheet
clings like plastic to my ass and the chill means
I’m exposed already but I flip casually through People,
as if this is natural, as if I’m not feeling like a sock puppet
when the doctor enters, barely says hello before his hand
is under and up. Before he listens to my paper-thin heart
open in the front, or is it the back?
Finalist, James Hearst Poetry Prize, North American Review, published Spring 2015
WHAT TO GIVE HER
No makeup or mirrors, nothing that reflects,
no TV screens, no tinted glass, no tin.
No clinging clothes or cameras,
no photos or frames,
no possibility of any shape, trapped.
No trappings of any kind,
no pedicure, no perfect pearl,
no clutch of orchids.
Not one thing for a kitchen—paring knives,
Pyrex bowls, decorator plates—no gift
to grace a plate, to place an appetite
on red alert, nothing that smells
of cinnamon or cherry, wet laundry on a line—
too many fresh skeletons, too thin that wind.
No erotica, no memoir, no thriller that kills
the ugly girl first. No words then, no sound,
no appeal to the senses,
not the bow-legged song of crickets,
not the hug of ribs or rolls—no two women
can touch and come away the better.
I settle on a watch. I give my friend time,
the one gift that is not about her image,
the gift to hold closest to her pulse—
each anorexic tick, each uncontrolled curve
of a minute that she must learn to fill.
But when she puts it on I see this, too,
is wrong, the way it spins so freely
on her impossibly small wrist,
how the band is like a bangle of bones,
how she wants only to be bone.
WI People & Ideas Prize for Poetry, 2009; published Spring 2009; The Scene, Nov. 2014