“Ashes to Ashes,” a poem by St. Anthony Park writer Susan Warde, is the winner of the 2016 Park Bugle poetry contest.
Our judge, poet LeRoy Sorenson of St. Paul, said Warde’s poem “is an excellent twist on the Cinderella story.”
“An ideal outcome is not always perfection,” Sorenson writes. “In an unusual turn of affairs, Cinderella misses some aspects of her previous life. As the poet writes: ‘. . . a brown bird who lavishes limpid notes on her . . . ,’ The ache in those words tells it all.”
This is the second time Warde has won the Bugle contest. She won first place in 2013 for her poem “The Seven Months that Aren’t Winter.”
Sorenson chose St. Anthony Park writer Garvin Davenport’s “Winter’s Edge” as first runner-up because of the poem’s “excellent rhythm” and Como Park writer Nancy White’s “Missing Friends” as second runner-up.
Warde will receive the first-place prize of $50.
The prompt for this year’s contest was the word “privilege.” Contestants were not required to use the word in their work.
We have printed the three top poems here, along with a poem by Sorenson, a prolific writer whose was a participant in the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series and the Foreword program and was a semi-finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, given annually by the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry. His work has appeared in a number of journals, and in February his book Forty Miles North of Nowhere was published by Main Street Rag of North Carolina. (You can find the book at mainstreetragbookstore.com and learn more about Sorenson at leroysorensonauthor.com.)
You can read all entries below. We’ve included a poem by our judge, LeRoy Sorenson.
Ashes to Ashes
They’re born with wit and beauty, with virtue,
pluck, and fortitude, but somewhere in between
once-upon-a-time and happily-ever-after
they run out of luck: the poisoned apple
of a jealous queen, a thirteenth fairy scorned,
a father who takes a spiteful second wife.
But righteousness prevails in fairy tales.
Take the case of Cinderella, who rose one day
from the ashes of her servitude. The story’s end
was only her beginning. Breakfast now comes
on a golden tray with an unfurled lily, grown
in the castle hothouse, by her morning tea.
The glass slippers are chipped and drab but she
has a slew of jeweled shoes jumbled in her closets
and gowns galore. And the prince is very ardent,
when he isn’t hunting or tending to the kingdom.
Do you think the lass might sometimes mourn
her maiden days? Not the cold stones before
the hearth, of course, nor the scalding wash
that so hurt her tiny hands. Still, perhaps the girl
pines now and then for the fragrant dirt of the kitchen
garden with its serried lines of fledgling peas. Perhaps
she yearns for the modest brown bird who lavished
limpid notes on her from the knurled plum tree.
As first flurries start to fall, I head out back
To pick the year’s last raspberries from the garden patch.
Against the bushes’ mottled leaves
Icy flakes patter softly like distant snare drums
As I carefully fold back the sun-scalded bridal net
That kept the summer birds at bay.
We’ve had some frost already.
The oak leaves fell three weeks ago.
Night comes earlier and earlier.
All Saints has been celebrated, and candles lit
Against the darkness of our forgetfulness.
The drooping canes, distant cousins to the princely rose,
Provide last sanctuary as I bend to tug each berry from its stem.
My harvest is a cupful and barely that,
But she will put them on her shredded wheat with sugar
And smile at me for my thoughtfulness.
My task complete, I retrace old steps across the withered lawn
Toward house and wife and kitchen fire.
Watching tiny flakes of snow etch themselves
Against my jacket sleeve before they too disappear.
I smile myself—and muse unspoken thanks
That canes and grass and rose will bloom again come spring—
That even at this icy edge of winter,
No one has been forgotten.
I can’t erase you from my address book
and I don’t want a new book without your name
in its alphabetical order.
I can’t throw away the expired jar of jam you
gave me two years ago for Christmas
even though pantry shelf real estate is at a
premium and there is a can of tomato soup calling for space.
The wicker furniture you sold me, at the
most ridiculous low price ever, sits proudly in the sun porch.
It needs paint but, I can’t seem to find a new color.
The books your husband called me to come and get at your request
are packed in cardboard boxes—
I have the same books…now, I have a second set.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that—and I can’t donate them to charity.
Today I went to send out an email to “our group”—there was your name,
I couldn’t erase it, so I didn’t send the memo—I made someone else do it.
The scarf you gave me three years ago, still gets raves whenever
I wear it. No one knows it’s filled with spilled tears that come on suddenly
especially on gray days—because you’re not here for our 3:00 cup of tea and gossip.
I am mad at you because you left lightly, without luggage—no tangible pieces to weigh you down. And here I am—
I can’t even escape your laughter which lingers heavy in the stillness
of Saturday mornings when we would go shopping.
—Nancy P. White
No hills. Unchecked wind brings
words of the dead in a language
just north of English. Farms
scattered like matchsticks. Crows
circle miles away. On the farms,
houses stripped to shallow
gray, bare chapels hard earned.
They demand worship in coin unknown
to the young. Everyday magic consigned
to the pig sty. How can anyone measure
love here? On the plains, words
appear on the horizon, jump aboard gale—
a cheap ride to the next folly. Leave
the speakers dazed at their disappearance.
In some places, the dead and the living
are afterthoughts. Not here. Farmers
cling to what they know, who they
know. Their faces hard set against
prairie glare, the prayer on the edge
of their tongues poised for the last amen.
Because I Can
I walk the streets,
I walk the streets without fear,
I read the signs and speak the tongue,
I have places to go and people to see,
I follow those who have gone before me,
I do not feel alone in my journey,
Take my hand . . .
I see light at the end of the tunnel,
Circle of Life
Old and young, alike in so many ways
(But not always,
Except for wishing that it weren’t so):
Vulnerable, dependent, needy.
Privileged to be a part of your lives,
I appreciate your letting me in.
I know it all
I know it all from the deck to the hall,
from the spring to the string to every old thing,
from a mouse to a house to a little baby blouse,
from a chair to my hair and everywhere.
—Dalila Hansen, age 7
Ideas for time
A day goes by
And then another,
Time passes on
And so do we.
And we smile a bit?
It’s good for the soul
yes, our friends are
not far away.
Can we reach them?
Quite often, not
A note or call of cheer
helps a lot, take time
to do the little things,
Arrange some stems
Re-organize a tabletop
Read a few chapters
in a book put aside.
Can we get from here to there?
Good, we’re lucky.
Can we change the outdoor scenery?
No, but we can accept and
enjoy what’s God’s plan;
To be kind to others, some
that may grate our minds
Accept the day as it comes.
Relax, don’t rush
the chores will get done.
There is tomorrow
Save some tasks for each day.
It’s a way to play
the game of the living today.
On the Ball—In St. Paul
Blacks have suffered enough.
We should honor them
Now and forever
And turn our collective attention
to Mother Nature’s cries
Before we all lose our
To be on the ball forever.
Do you live twice as long when a poet?
When bloodstone red tulips rise expectantly
from brown humus,
before petals, curved as canoes, plummet,
poreless porcelain, cupping the damp floor of the garden.
As the slant of shadow intensifies
at the edge of lawn,
a brown rabbit hunched, stretches, scratching,
green-gold light shining through
filaments of ears.
And there are birds on a wire,
faces all turned the same way,
Wind sharpened on their beaks.
Here breezes make palm trees
shake sassy skirts——-hula-dancing girls;
Gardenias smell, heavy as a hangover, in humidity.
White clouds scud by impenetrable blue,
move iceberg feet.
I can’t let go any of it;
even words flattened
to paper squirm, like living anole lizards,
cookie-cuttered on a sunny wall.
How grateful I must be
for this peacock fan of image,
these bright dreams before a long sleep.
—Marilynne Thomas Walton
The man sitting alone in the restaurant
Had he asked for service for one
Attention to be paid only him
And, if so, had the wait staff cleared the restaurant
Quickly disbursing confused diners
Giving him the privacy he desired
Or had he come in at the wrong hour
One of those in-between-sittings times
Or did the locals know something about this place
This stranger could not know until after eating
Whatever the reason
He sat like a king receiving the services
A man of his status deserved
Some years earlier, after a glorious concert in Amsterdam,
My wife and I stopped at a restaurant
Only to see the staff closing down for the evening
As we turned to leave, the owner escorted us back inside
The staff returned to their appointed stations
As we two received their elegant and unhurried care
The only customers to be seen
Everyone should be a king or queen at least for one meal
Everyone should sit tall like the solitary man
Like the couple enthralled earlier with music
Filled in due course with hospitality flavored food
Flushed with regal embarrassment
Watching the sun come up past
the tree line,
Feeling the wind rush through
The chill of a winter
day with cold snow flakes
landing on my cheeks,
And the taste of bitter
hot coffee from an
old Thermos bottle.
I Know Men
I know men
who suffocate feeling,
who have closed the door
on a certain aspect or purpose or person
in their life.
This (to me) is poverty
for it means that part of one’s experience
is forever denied,
“I will not look at the clouds on that side of the sky.”
Although I sometimes feel
skeletal fingers of cynicism
I pray they do not
pierce my skin.
On Being Asked by the Barista if I’d like Whipped Cream.
(In the style of Dean Young’s “On Being Asked by a Student if he Should Ask Out Some Girl”)
I say Uhhh…
because it’s early. Too early
for the war between tastebuds
and size 8 jeans.
I say, Maybe. It’s one of those days.
The steamer screams
and the clocks keep count.
I say again, to stall for a few seconds,
It’s still early. The baby stretch marks
my Levis nag and images of Olympic
snowboard chicks hurling their beautiful, muffin-top-free
bodies down mountains, hair whipping
perfectly curled behind. I say sugar is good- too good.
I say National Geographic thinks we’re addicted.
I remember reading that there used
to be sugar slaves.
Now there are just obese kids- too poor
for kale or quinoa- but not
kool aid. I say the injustice.
I say Michelle Obama’s just move
campaign. I say it’s too early.
But I see the can on the counter.
And the mocha would look so pretty.
Chocolate drizzled on top.
So I say, Hell yes. It’s one of those days.
At least I brought my own mug.
— Sarah Clark
Being Here, Not There
I try to imagine being there,
always on guard,
afraid of a bomb or attack
if I drive to the market
where scent of smoke and garbage
mingles with pomegranate and grapes
or go for a walk
where shattered cement and rubble speak
of fallen friends and family–
the inevitable fallout of war
I drive my streets without a care
slowed only by occasional
bulldozers, back hoes,
long red lights.
When I park in the lot for groceries
my worries are small:
have I mislaid my keys
forgotten my wallet
left my list at home?
What luck of the toss
has placed me here?
—Susan Corey Everson