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.
“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,
The younger chooses a book,
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.
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
I am born to spread
In due time,
I am born to fly.
Marilynne Walton Thomas-First place
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.
Angels unable to open
Wings cannot take
Me home. In raindrops
Falling from my hat
A mermaid gradually
Changes form. My
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,
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
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,
and feels the flow.
“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.
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
2. In toto
3. Collapse into chalked corpses
VII. We beat her backside like a thick-skinned drum
a. Her surrendering brown eyes
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
I think 99 times and find nothing.
I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.
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
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
A perverse former president
Multiple public problems
Grief, you are welcome here
Help me find comfort with silence
Is not silence
Internal ranting can be loud
Louder than yelled words
Silence, some say,
Can embrace, hold, surround
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
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
silently hoping both
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”!
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
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.