Master Poetry contest entries

Editor’s note: The following poems represent the full list of this year’s contest entries for the 2023 Bugle Poetry Contest.

First place winner is Marilynne Thomas Walton. Second place winner is Paige Riehl and third place to Susan Everson.

Susan Warde

“What Mothers Know About War”

In the morning I see the AP photo:

seven strollers lined up

along a train station platform:

offerings from strangers,

from mothers to mothers.

It seems more eloquent,

this still-life of dailiness transfigured,

than tanks and smoke and bodies left unburied. 

I snap my computer shut

and fix the children breakfast.

The menu never varies:

orange juice for one milk for the other

small bowls of pink applesauce

butter-puddled whole-wheat toast. 

They wear bibs to catch the crumbs,

to keep their jammies free of drips.

Later the boys sit on either side of me,

leaning in. 

The younger chooses a book,

Dinosaur Dance.

The print seems out of focus.

My voice fractures

as I begin to read—




the words like comic detonations.

With an arm around each child

I can’t turn the pages

but the older one obliges.

A parade of vanished pastel reptiles

prances before us.

In this moment

we are safe.

Susan McClellan

I am not a butterfly

I am not a butterfly 

Transforming into beauty,

With wings to fly,

I am yet a simple creature going 

Through change one moment, one day at a time

Captured by the patience 



Right before your eyes. 

I am a caterpillar 


With spirit,


I am born to spread

My wings

In due time, 

I am born to fly. 

Marilynne Walton Thomas-First place

“Packinghouse Animal”

Sometimes it hits me

with the force of a blow:

A packing house animal,

the mallet of your death

makes me stumble and fall.

Years ago the surgeon told 

you after the Whipple surgery

“You’ll feel like a truck hit you.”

Now I get that.

You are the part of me that

was hacked away.

The truck ran off.

I see it in the blue distance

just over the hill.

My tears run like

blood of a doe.

My animal-thin knee bones give way.

I reach for saving scraps of memory,

for prayer grasped like a wooden cane,

for the certainty of the velvet curtain of time,

blessedly lowered, over and over,

and the people, all the people

still to love.

John Louis Smith


Cold, white New Year blankets slough

off sidewalks and swirl down storm grates, snowmen sag,

age and rot, the maggots of heat feast well, leave sad

brown sod, soggy Santa hats, sloppy dog dumps from

neglectful neighbors, endless sand.  Melted joy, pieces of peace harden

into smooth, shiny tongues hungry for hip, back,

leg bones.  Dreams, gray love, warm sleep burn under cruel

Sun’s fiery tongue-whip as he lashes out demands:

Rise!  Work!  Now!  NOW!

Local news touts “top ten” weather, thin clothes blind

with gaudy pastel yellows, pinks, chemical blues, air stinks

of pumpkins’ and leaves’ exhumed decay.

I stare at the last patch of ice, wonder

how spring became about rebirth.

Barry Carter

Angels unable to open 

Wings cannot take

Me home. In raindrops

Falling from my hat

A mermaid gradually

Changes form. My

Karamazov butterfly,

Mitya is my

Guide through sensual

Worlds to the threshold of transformation, landing on

His tattoo on my

Arm does he realise

It isn’t a reflection.

Endless spiral of 

Inner flightless journeys,

Mermaid swims  

Ever deeper unable

To change form,

Where do the roots

Of mental disturbances


Night names wings

Not designed for

Flight, does the

Earth hear voices from

Pre-existence, ones

I hear have terms for


The forest is my 

Silent psychiatrist, I 

Follow wolf tracks

Across the eyes of 

A planet into its dreams

To a more primal

State before templates

Of sanity and madness,

I hear the cry of whales,

My first scream before

The earth started.

My forms change and

Integrate into a whole,

Soul of a changeling

Susan Everson -Third place

Christmas Eve at the Beach

                        A fleet of pelicans cruise low over the ocean

                        barely clear the surface 

                        feathered planes in V formation.

                        Long beaks stretch out


                        one bends down to grab a fish

                        doesn’t miss a beat.

                        I want to join them,

                        feel my wings surf on air currents,                           

                        try to synchronize their beats,                                             

                        catch the upwash from the tips,                       

                        feel the lift of streaming air

                        from the bird ahead.

                        What perfect harmony 

                        as if one body,

                        a ballet troupe that never collides,

                        only glides 

                        and feels the flow.

Rose Dorer

“On Motherhood, Understanding the Miracle of Life”

The first faint flutters of the tiny fetus,

The tender breasts, the thickening waistline.

We shared my body for the coming nine months with growing life.

Nourished daily with tahini and rice.

He grew until he began to trace the pathway of separation. 

Too early, by my timeline,

We labored from dawn to dusk. 

Along the primal ritual passage,

we trod the track ancient women have traced over millennia.

I cuddled his downy soft head to my breast

As milk miraculously issued for his nourishment.

With prideful pleasure, I watched his steady growth.

I wept as he turned to solid sustenance,

Ending the fading intimate union that had bound our lives.

Rennie Gaither

On the Anniversary of a Bagel

I.               We sip espresso

 a.     Huddled beneath a reproduction of Brueghel’s Landscape

1.     Icarus’s milky arms flail in tyrannical foam

2.     Newspapers sequester

i.      Names like Qaanaaq and Nuuk

ii.     Egret diets

iii.   Bankers comatose vocabulary b.     Adrift in the republic of Muddy Waters            

II.             Steamed coffee churns

                                              a.     Like a melting, liquid robot

                                             b.     Words beseeching translation

                                              c.     Memory’s duff                                                                                

III.           Our child chokes on a bagel

IV.           Kites sing past the plate glass window outside

                                              a.     “I am waterfall, undressed!”

                                             b.     “I am ghee, antsy!”

                                              c.     “I am blue coat hanger, for chrissake!”

V.             The street  

                              a.     Conscripts scraps of crepe paper

                              b.     Speaks in whiplash

VI.           Our baby chokes

                                          a.     Gags like a flapping fish

                                           b.     World and mind

1.     Funnel—

2.     In toto

3.     Collapse into chalked corpses

                                              c.     Alone

VII.         We beat her backside like a thick-skinned drum

                                              a.     Her surrendering brown eyes

1.     Flicker

2.     Grow dim

3.     Break like incontinent, fat bumblebees

                                             b.     Her lips expel a tiny, tan nugget of dough

VIII.       We morph into a family again

                                              a.     A three-cornered hat

                                              b.     A field of ancient rain

IX.           Our words fold under the spell of hot waxed wings

Ted Bowman

“Embracing Silence”

I think 99 times and find nothing.
I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.
             Albert Einstein

Grandpa, I have no words

Was all he wrote

Words consoling and healing

At a time of deep loss and grief

Today, I, too, have no words

I yearn for words once again

I think, I should, have words

Aloud or silently voiced words

Explanatory words

For times like these

Thresholds, thin places

Moments deserving attention

My body has been speaking

Via lethargy, dullness, brain drain

Trying to tell me what?

Grief, of course

Personal losses

The pandemic

A perverse former president

Multiple public problems

Grief, you are welcome here

Help me find comfort with silence

Ruminating incessantly

Is not silence

Internal ranting can be loud

Louder than yelled words

Silence, some say,

Can embrace, hold, surround

Be healing,

Coping need not

Always require words

Still, I keep typing, pondering

Will I ever stop

Ted, take a breath

Allow silence to hold you

Let the truth come

Embrace your grief

Embrace yourself

You may have no words

Paige Riehl -Second place

“The Girl’s Mother and Father Disagree at Breakfast”

about whether the girl should walk alone
to the school bus. Mother worries 
about icy morning roads and distracted 
teen drivers, white vans and hands 
with candy, frigid winters even freeze 
rabbits—so many ways 
a girl can die. 

Father’s frustrated: younger kids go
alone, shout and hit sticks like swords 
at the stop, a battalion 
of little generals. Gunshots 
only come at night anyway, and dogs
are fenced on this street.

Mother gets quiet, stares at Father,
both unmoving, steaming cups
in still hands. Middle school 
looms, but they both know 
the girl’s distractible—a plastic bag 
in the wind. An ant, a pretty leaf, 
a smooth rock, 
so much to examine in one block.

The girl’s eyes dart between 
frowning faces, 
silently hoping both
will win.

Brent Slipka

“American Dream”

Every man a king, and every woman a queen; all people important, entitled to their dream; no one inferior, no place for mean; no desire for conniving or any corrupt scheme; 

Everybody respected, the ultimate in clean; all people children of God, who reigns Supreme; hearts of joy, more than children having ice cream; a sparkle in everyone’s eyes, oh how they gleam!; 

Everyone united, knowing we’re all on the same team; moral character everywhere, that is the theme; such a beautiful sight, like a lovely, mighty stream; this is what I call my “American Dream”!

Susan Hardman

“Hello Hibiscus”

Each morning my Hibiscus plant greets me
from my balcony
I watch in awe as it shouts “Hello.”
I sit and stare,
What a face each blossom has,
framed in pink,
large as a dinner plate with a deep burgundy center.
It looks straight at me as if to say, “isn’t this a
beautiful day”.
Joy swells up in me as possibility and hope.
Don’t blink or you may miss this explosion of daring presence.
For tomorrow or even tonight it will have folded its tent.
Tomorrow another will take its place.
Just as beautiful and proud. 

They will keep coming until they don’t come anymore.
How short, but full, some lives are.
Remind yourself to be.

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