Winning Poems 2016 Connecticut River Review Contest
BELOW THE DAM
By Jennifer Sperry Steinorth
1. We go for a walk below the dam before the workers
remove the dam. Autumn. Our boys ten and twelve.
Like boys, the trees are taller. The boys have begun to swagger,
but this side of the dam, like streams, meander…
or trampoline a young cedar stretched horizontal across the creek,
their weight suspended:
2. Someone has written a book about marathons and preservation.
Some of the leaves our boys pick up are dismembered.
At the Marine Corps Marathon, survivors run with their dead.
Where a portrait is ironed on to a shirt, it won’t wick sweat.
Last night, almost asleep, I bolt upright: a baby cry!
Baby?— The dog. The dog in her old dream running and whimpering.
Dead to the world, the boys’ long legs twist from sheets
tied fast and damp, drenched in adolescent salt-sweat.
3. Our progeny scan the understory in haphazard sweeps—
filling my black book with deposed leaves.
And in Germany, reconstruction continues: the Stasi papers:
sixteen thousand bags of shredded bodies.
Puzzle workers sort the pieces, an eight hour day pinching tweezers
matching inks—and every tear unique.
4. Radio. Route to school. Warning of graphic content.
Interview with an injured vet and his mother.
I waver. Turn it off. Turn it on, they say.
Me: are you sure? They are sure.
We bend to consider the fallen like a team sport huddle--
a few limbs above still clinging to their flags.
He thought he was stepping sure inside the steps of the soldier
before him… …so high he went in the air feeling nothing--
A twister of leaves funnel at the last bend we’re almost there--
His mom: When he falls now on his new legs, both of us laugh.
5. Sometimes I help my son with his acne.
He lets me.
Over the weekend, at the Tate, a Rothko was defaced.
Also: “It's the most peaceful era in history….”
6. Mother phones to say my old kindergarten burnt down to the ground,
firemen to the hospital—possible arson.
Tonight we’ll carve pumpkins. Scoop the guts and seeds.
The emptier the head, the safer with a candle.
7. This morning the boys caught only leaves in the live trap.
They swing out of range of the radio, shoulder their packs.
The Glass Blower
By Dana Sonnenschein
Sandwich Historical Society Museum, Cape Cod,
near the site of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Factory
His back to us, he lifts the pipe and blows
and suddenly turns the world upon a spit
with nothing but foil between the fire and it.
But gravity works fast—the molten drop
stretches downward. He rounds it in his hand,
wet newspaper hissing between white heat
and sweat. A shoulder pushed down, a neck stretched out.
Always it spins upon its axis, this shape
that changes as he talks, incises, melts,
tips it onto a punty stick and taps
the jack line, cuts it with blunt shears at last
and opens the throat of a vase, a hyacinth.
Now he takes questions, sighs, explains the bright
gardens of millefiori in five words:
stretching canes, making the gather. What he does
for an hourly wage. He says nothing of the press
and factory that made faceted glass so cheap
that today he and a boy in a backwards cap
stand for the hundreds who did fine work
back when gaffers took seven years to earn
a place in the big glasshouse and the right to turn
out whimsies and rigaree on their own time.
These days anyone can call himself a master.
Face red, he turns to the glory hole, the crowd
settling as he says he will make something else.
Holding glass against blue flame, he twists a dish,
a boat, hooks one end under, turns a dove,
then takes the other end and pulls until
it seems something must give. The glass folds like
a handkerchief in the dimness, and then he bends
one corner back upon itself and holds
aloft a swan. We ooh and ah at his
fire-work. He cuts it free and sets it down
like beauty itself, out of reach, then sweeps it
into a bucket, where it cracks and shatters
as he walks off.
By Jeff Walt
Friday nights my mother would slip in an 8-track
of Elvis, Patsy, Loretta, or Hank. We’d belt out
country hits and hymns, lip-sync Conway Twitty. I’d beg
to stay awake, cut in, scream the words,
a kid in flannel pajamas putting off sleep and dreams.
The men with us those nights—Vic and Henry
and Mac and Jim—would lift me with one hand above
old, torn linoleum, the smoke and laughter.
Mama danced the jig in bare feet and blue jeans,
hands in her hair—wild, like that feral cat we put down.
Her bra strapped to the back of her chair,
wearing her favorite T-shirt, “PA Girls Do it Best.”
I swayed in their discordant toast,
cheered my mother’s blue-black widow’s peak.
We’d croon “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Heartaches,”
each man louder and louder.
I puffed Winstons, sipped Schlitz, stole dollar bills
from their pockets. Ended up on my mother’s lap,
riding her knee. We laughed at nothing, cussed
because we knew God was listening, sang until
we were asleep on the kitchen floor tangled
in the hum of each others’ betraying arms.