CONGRATULATIONS TO SAMUEL SAMBA, WAYNE LEE, GRACE CAVALIERI AND OJO TAIYE (first, second, third and fourth place winners respectively).
Samuel Samba — 1st place
Nebulous Strike in Minnesota
Six months into prepartum trauma, I occupied the alley,
tummy-red & indecent with blood clotting fiercely like
iridescent fog on a Sunday, as I irony my way into a female talk
with my godmother. Her passion for poetry, squeezed
from tonight’s sharp want, to cause a small miracle of breeze and
nebulous strike in Minnesota—
whose landscape toughens with maple wood snow ridden by
pang of dust: monsoon flatulence. a gas breaking on my elephant feet.
I kegel in the warmth, memorizing the old baobab plant potted by my foster
father, whose mortgage
exceeds a headcount & by all means, indebts we— his descendants and
all our afterbears. Loan, beyond estimate sits nameless as a scattered blood
right we inherit with caution.
the curse we put a face to, as banks flag down our surname. Right here,
taking my godmother
to the moon and back with a love poem, I tongue distance— the length of
her uplifting to the chorus, desperate for a rising. The way the fetus
inside me attains weightlessness,
manly afloat in baritone pulse, the vibe that brings life to rectum.
Tell me about birth, my traveling, my approach to language in concealed
of a lost flesh: days I cribbed in my godmother’s hut. red clay,
printing its brutal remarks on my turned back. my feet,
sashaying the railing my foster father fixed decades
back, in the timely fashion
of a stone coffin— durable in its wearing out. from the audible distance
of a co-wife, the shout fills me with monsoon, ruptured breath.
a daggered flatulence,
released in the harmful custom of a birthing, reeling
the way the fetus folds, clenching its shapeless fist while I stabilize my
eager, worn-out breath to suit the calmness of township:
my Iowa dreams, exaggerated everywhere across the border
holding those who raised me. I dragged my skin like an animal,
throughout three cardinal points— till my
luck went South. A wanderer, unsettled by the inner works of clime.
unable to language in clearly distilled allomorph
I’m torn apart by grammar. the manner of its safe delivery, stuck
between my thighs.
Woman, if not anything, a terror gadget, surviving pills & the messy
contractions, to forge a replica from her fallen relic.
Woman, if not anything
uncontained as the whirlwind. a neat violence, stretched across a
young navel withstanding all harms thrown at it:
the tactics of a warfare.
© Samuel Samba
Wayne Lee — 2nd place
Transfixed before the frozen-food case
in the Chugiak supermarket,
all Tatiana sees is her own reflection:
the dark-haired girl in cormorant-skin parka
and seal-hide mukluks, walking the black sand beaches
of Atka, twelve hundred miles out the Aleutian chain.
The little girl jigging for black cod,
catching char in the crick with her bare hands,
speaking Unangax with her elders, dancing
their hunting and fishing stories every day.
Sakuchax, she whispers to the brown face in the glass.
Her Aleut name. Little Bird.
Like everyone else on the rock, a cross
of indigenous and Orthodox.
She fingers the food stamps in her hoodie pocket,
remembers wild plants she knew to pick,
animals she used to track. Days when the men
pulled a sea lion up on the beach,
all eighty villagers coming down to watch,
to get their communal share of the catch.
Her fingers trace the family tattoo on her forearm.
The scar where the ivory labret pierced her lower lip
forty days after her first cycle. The hands that learned
by beading, baking, gathering.
The feet she had to drag to class in the city
just outside Anchorage, a single classroom bigger
than the schoolhouse back home.
No dance practice, no elders to talk to.
Forgetting her native words.
In trouble for glancing down
instead of looking her teachers in the eye.
Feeling lied to, told her people were never enslaved
in the Pribilofs for the fur seal harvest.
Now in Chugiak she mostly misses the fresh fish,
the hot bread, piroshkis with rice.
Even the snowmobile ride to St. Nicholas Church
in the worst of winter storms.
Everything she doesn’t see in her image.
Little Bird opens the freezer door, unsheathes
her whale-bone knife, cuts out halibut cheeks,
carves raw chitin from their shells, spreads
Sockeye eggs with onions and salt.
She turns toward the checkout, breathes deep
the familiar scent of fermented seal flipper,
octopus patties, cackling goose.
© Wayne Lee
Grace Cavalieri — 3rd place
A Sonnet in 14 lines
1.When you enter, you’d see the red velvet couch in the living room where My Uncle Joey, the alcoholic, soiled the velvet on New Year’s Eve, on that particular moment, at midnight. I had to air it on the porch till they could take care of it. 2. Enroute the kitchen, after the dining room, you’ll see Lenox swans gliding on the table. They held salt and pepper. I dusted the dining room weekly. The Lenox factory was in Trenton. We all had China. 3. The kitchen was floored in a parsimony of color, brown tiles, but the raging yellow walls made up for it. My father cooked scrambled eggs as my mother sometimes had illness. 4. The pantry held wrought iron chairs which were dragged out as needed if The Cunningham’s brought extra people without asking. 5. The backyard was easily mowed with its deficit of green, only a patch surrounded by hedges, but I loved the Japonica tree and the peonies. It was like we were rich. Maybe we were. 6. The back porch was tempered with white paint and there were buckets of boiling starch you dipped shirts in. That’s what we did in those days. Burned our hands. I helped and hung them on the line. Sometimes I ironed them for my father as he was a banker and had to look good. My mother had an open heart and did not feel well but we didn’t know the reason then. I indulged her by ironing when she felt bad. 7. There was a cellar door out back which sloped, and we slid down it. They don’t have them now but if you opened it there was a washing machine with a wringer and a coal stove with a heap of coal. No fear. Just a warm cellar where cats could have kittens. No stored canned vegetables or anything like that. This was not the country, for God’s sake. This was Trenton. 8. I trusted the world then and the Roman Catholic Church although we lived in the Jewish section and did not find out we were Jewish till my father died. My uncle told us. But all my Jewish friends had “finished” basements with bowls of fresh fruit and lightbulbs with flowers in them. I was happy to be suddenly Jewish. 9. Once Jane Rogers gave me a poem in the sixth grade that said “men f**ked their wives with butcher knives.” I took it home and my mother called the principal. They changed my seat. I never trusted Jane Rogers again with poetry. 10. Once I was late for school because a girl who lived in an orphanage needed to go in the shoemakers on the way and I was scared to say no. The principal said “no one can make you do anything you do not want to do” as she made us stand in line to go back to class. 11. My cousin came to live with us as her mother died. I loved her so much and made her wake up at 2am to feed the dolls with me. She was 3 years younger and did everything I said. I loved her. When her father remarried, I thought I did something wrong to lose her. It was terrible. 12. We rode the bus everywhere we wanted for one dollar. 13. Once a man scared my cousin and me by showing us his private part. It was in a park. I grabbed her hand and ran until we met a man with a rake who went after him. 14. All in all, I had a life much like many others but for the dreams I had. Once I fainted in church from ecstasy, but my mother said it was because I hadn’t eaten breakfast. © Grace Cavalieri
Ojo Taiye — 4th Place
ODE TO THE RISING SUN
(Biafra War 1967-1970)
until it no longer existed, the old country
was eternal. & even after its dissolution,
into the concept of secessionists, into stories
handed down generations, of how once
there was a land made entirely of salts—
a bridge that’s a mistranslation for what
they did with our blood. I still call it a
hollow space where my body is dead &
alive. & thus, I know what survival does to
a body that’s been primed for disappearance.
I taste the rust—their bruised skins and hear
how trauma sounds like traum, the German
word for dreams. I fish the waters for ruins
& come up with fever & the black square
of absence—memories that do nothing but
cough pains—the first scar my body exhales
whenever the old stereo in the sitting room
drips news. hide me in a city with no windows.
today, I dream my grandparents into the
memory of their voice, as tillers of a thousand
cocoa trees. their shadows appearing between
the gaps of dusk light amidst the branches
of my forked childhood. the night loops its
emptiness until my mouth is filled with the
weight of their splinters. their inheritance
claims me as its own and I wake in the
body of a ship. still there is wistfulness—
cemeteries where our mothers wrote no
memoir & our limbs remember dust. the lie—
what was it there for, anyway?
— after Aria Arber and John James
© Ojo Taiye