First place: Merilee D. Karr, for “Plant Life.”
An excerpt, in which she ruminates on her beloved and terminally ill cherry tree, her work as a physician, and personal loss:
Most of my patients, if I ask, don’t want to die like this cherry tree is dying. My father sure didn’t want to die like this, branch by branch. He didn’t want to see himself oozing sap. He made that quite clear in his living will. The cherry tree doesn’t seem to mind it so much.-----
I do have patients that are dying this way, piece by piece, as their diseases dissemble them. They stop caring about what used to matter to them, or walking, or talking, or remembering people. A lot of diseases do that. That’s the kind of death that’s hardest on the family and friends, seeing the person they love in pieces. With each loss my patients count the branches they have left—Is this still enough? Is this much life worth living? Plants don’t ask questions. They don’t feel pain, and they don’t measure their lives against their desires, as we do. Maybe it’s not so bad being in a persistent vegetative state.
Second place: Andrea Deeken, for “Three’s a Crowd.”
An excerpt, in which she recalls a childhood scene:
The morning my father ran over the dog, he and I were on our way to school. It was 1988, and I was eight years old. It had started out like any other school day, my father waking me when the sky was still dark, my cereal lying listlessly in its cold porcelain bowl, my blue and white plaid uniform hanging stiffly in the closet. After I had eaten and dressed, I said good-bye to my mother from the doorway of her room without getting too close. She was sleeping late, as had become her habit, her body huddled into a tight ball under a thin white blanket. My father waited for me by the front door while I performed this ritual, and we walked out together into the frosty morning. Our three dogs trotted alongside us as we slowly climbed the gravel hill to where the red truck lay waiting, silent and cold. My teeth chattered as we backed out of the driveway, the dogs barking at the wheels. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the swollen river running past our house, brown and thick with winter debris. The river was up this year, and threatened to snake its way into our dark basement, a part of our house I only went during the day.-----
Third place: Jonathan Fine, for “Closing Time.”
An excerpt, in which he marks the passing of a neighborhood institution in St. Johns:
Marilyn’s the kind of mildly acerbic old lady who likes to joke about dying. She also enjoys pretending that running the store is an interminable nuisance, and has declared that her first order of business at five o’clock tonight will be to dance a little jig. But despite the dark humor, Marilyn seems primed by both genetics and temperament for a long retirement. Her grandfather lived for eighty hard-working years, and her father lived well into his nineties, staying active in the family business until a few months before his death in 1991. Marilyn’s challenge will not be to live a long life, but rather to relax long enough to enjoy it. “She’s always telling us to take breaks, to rest,” says Diana Smith, a 14-year employee. “But she never does. She’s stubborn.-----
Like Marilyn, Jowers has stood the test of time. In 1906, the sidewalks in front of the store were wooden plans laid across timbers. The proprietor of Currin’s Drugstore, which also opened that year, liked to set up his Victrola in front of his shop and play it for passersby. Paperboys made their rounds on horseback. The St. Johns Bridge was still twenty-five years off, and boat captains made a living ferrying people back and forth across the river. Swan Island, now a paved slab home to the likes of Freightliner and UPS, actually had swans on it. Further downriver, Portland was hosting the Lewis & Clark Exposition’s four-month run. The industrial life of St. Johns, situated on the banks of the Willamette, was anchored by companies like Peninsula Iron Works, the Portland Woolen Mill, and the Oregon Barrel Co. The men who did the heavy lifting at these concerns bought their clothes at Jowers.
The poetry judges have appointed two first place co-winners:
First Place A: Jeff Alessandrelli, with a collection of poems entitled, “Scenes from the Movie Adaptation.”
“Love Poem in Tattoo Parlor”:-----
What gets left behind is how to say hello
with fascination, love, or insecurity
and from there the way things develop
as they do develop when dealing in skin:
this mirror in front of me certainly doesn’t help much for that,
it’s cracked and I can barely see the Loch Ness monster with your name
above it freshly located on the bulb of my lower back. As with every
new tattoo, behind it hides all the emotion in the world.
And considering that fact right now,
I fear for the sake of a virgin in Scotland.
She has yet to see it; her endurance by being alone,
but now he appears, he appears, waiting under adhesive tape
and a thin jelly of some sort.
Lorna, I insist I mean little while proclaiming
that you were imagining without your body
what your heart wanted,
I insist that no night is always so tender
as always tonight.
Facts are green under these fluorescent lights.
Anyways, I am sure it is pleasant there this time of year.
Words of all sorts come up fairly often (thresh, marauder)
and your hair is red. When you pick fruit you look none too pleasant:
pricklies, bugs, and thorns and such.
Lorna, between the ages of 18 and 29
more than a fourth of the population here has at least one tattoo.
And it’s enough to know now, Lorna, that
nothing should have to ache that hard if only
to feel a need to belong.
First Place B: Shannon Carson, with an untitled collection of poems.
My mother once told me
she couldn’t imagine
anything I wouldn’t
accomplish, if only
I’d find some direction,
but I’ve spent my life
I want to say
Viva cada día como is fuera último,
But I don’t.
The story is
we were named
after geographic locations,
and true, I am an Irish river
never ventured, but how
to explain my blood?
Passed down from a junkie descended
from horse thieves running
with the circus: my father,
our kinship is thin.
The poetry judges have appointed two first place co-winners and a third place winner:
First place A: David Conal Devine, for “Incident at Halabajah Dam”
Witness Statement Excerpt [WSE] – Spc. Vincent F. DiCampone-----
First thing you should know, sir, is that this thing was off the grid. Not just the Palace, the whole compound. Absolutely not on any map or piece of intel we had available. All we know is we’re humping our asses out to Halabajah to secure the water supply because some fuckwads tried to detonate a dam. We’re two weeks from rotating out, but they hit us with the old ”one more mission” story, and promise us it’s homeward bound after that. So we’re on this total shit detail—guarding some non-strategic slab of concrete in the middle of nowhere—and it’s dead, sir. Literally like listening to crickets. Lieutenant Harper and the translator decide to spend an afternoon working the “hearts and minds” routine, kissing local ass so we don’t get blown up by a donkey cart, and here they come, rolling back not even half an hour later, saying they spotted something near the bottom of a ravine. A handful of structures tucked under an overhang, which makes sense, right? Out of view of the satellite imagery. Like I say, completely off the grid.
[WSE] – Civilian Translator, Amjed Saad Faleh
This region is not my region. I am born in Basra from the south and spend time university student in Baghdad. Three years I am university, until March of the Attack, and then my school closes and the professors close and everything else, it also closes. There are no employments for many months, and then there are employments if you are fine English speakers. If you are patients and willing to hesitate alongside a checkpoint for many days and do not make a bother of the soldiers but initiate the small friendships, then the United States of America Army offers this job of translation and you can be a selection.
First place B: Elizabeth Lopeman, for “Sienna Walls”
In October, Umberto sat in the small waiting area of a specialist’s office in Firenze. The ancient walls of the office were plastered, but just under the high ceiling, below the blackened beams, the plaster was falling away to expose bricks that must have been laid in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. His mother, Simona, was signing the paper work. Behind the sliding glass window a young woman with brown skin and bleached blond hair thumbed through more papers, while Umberto glanced surreptitiously at her cleavage.-----
“Your son is really improving, Mrs. Aquila,” the receptionist said.
“Si, si, si.”
Simona didn’t like the visits to the doctor and thought the improvement wasn’t marked. Her cell phone rang. She checked the caller id, turned it off, and slipped it into her white leather bag. Umberto adjusted his hips in the hard plastic chair and knocked a crutch to the floor. He was fifteen, had a strong jaw with rosy cheeks and straight white teeth. His brown hair curled gently around his ears and above his neck. If not for having been born with twisted legs he could be the handsomest boy in his contrada.
Third place: Loretta Long, for an excerpt from her novel in progress, Dreams from Saraswati
Sophia pressed her open palm over her unborn child’s smooth head, and followed the curve of her tight abdomen until it tucked back in near a hipbone. She pressed her fingers into her taut belly searching for any change in her baby’s position over the night. Her other hand found her baby’s buttocks—small, soft pears pressing against her sore ribs. In the wavy glass of an old mirror, Sophia watched her belly dance, breathing deeply until the kicking slowed.
When the movements quieted, she lifted her t-shirt and touched the dark, fuzzy line that ran up the center of her body like a thin brown seam. Without warning, her child swayed across her body all at once like a wave machine until a side-lying sand dune of baby stuck out beneath the right side of her ribs.
She braced her elbow and forearm against herself as if to keep her child from continuing to move straight out the side of her body. She giggled at her own freakishness until her belly centered itself again.
Light gray-lavender walls of her bedroom tinted her pale skin. A musical lamp in front of the mirror was decorated with cut out stars in the lampshade’s blue paper. When she turned it on, blue stars swirled across the ceiling to a Pete Seeger lullaby. Sophia looked down at her round body and up at the stars spinning around the room. She watched for a moment, then tilted the lamp towards her bare belly to dance the stars across her skin.
And a big thanks to our magnificent WEGO judges, who gave generously of their time and effort to make this contest happen:
Nonfiction: Kathleen Holt; editor, Oregon Humanities magazine
Michele Glazer; assistant professor in poetry, PSU
Susan Reese; senior instructor in writing and poetry, PSU
Dan DeWeese; Writing Center director and writing/fiction instructor, PSU
Mary Rechner; fiction instructor, PSU