Wisława Szymborska Could Have

Portrait Category Contest Winners 2020

Thanks so much to everyone who submitted to our annual contest! We are excited to announce the winners of the portrait category: Judy Larson, Todd Williams, and John Nelson! Our contest judge was Holly Moseley. Here are the winning poems:


Dust Bowl
By Judy Larson
The wind’s sighs say what we cannot.
The visions we had floated away on the dust.
There was to be more; none of this was planned.
I can’t meet your eyes, your gaze is dead. 
The disappointment is deafening.
I promised adventure,
I promised a better life,
I promised more than I ought.
I forgot.
I forgot the control is not mine,
I forgot there’s more than me.
Now all we can do is start over.


By Todd Williams
We were family once,
an unlikely clan of the ill-fitted
gathered in the half light
at the back of the saloon,
a bouquet of brats, cigars,
and the strong breath of spilled beer
filling our lungs with the promise
the game would soon begin.
Here, Mr. S gathered us all,
distant cousins, half-brothers,
mothers, and sons and daughters
in every way but blood,
sharing an apocryphal gospel
of bad beats, misspent nights,
and poker pretzel logic known only
to those who were raised without reason.
He played the carnival barker with flair
and a fine memory for nicknames —
Maniac and Cowboy, The Pup and Crazy Ray,
‘Bama, Railroad Johnny, and Dr. Z —
a long list of regulars bound by as much loyalty
as their short attention spans could muster,
ready to play their bit parts in a history
that was neither written or repaired.
But it was remembered all the same,
the tales growing with the passing of time,
a canon shared by barkeeps and dealers,
cage masters and Mr. S himself, a bound volume
around which this tiny universe revolved.
All the tantrums, all the smiles, all the tears,
All the friendships, all the fights, through all the years,
These stories, these memories are all that remain.
For we were family once,
the sick, the healers, the lost, and the blessed,
the dead, the defeated, discarded, and repressed,
our own stories intertwined in the tall shadows of the Gulch
at the hands of the man in the wheeled chair,
a mustached ringmaster with a broad smile,
and like his favorite cards, off-suited and a long shot to win


Your Tin Man

By John Nelson
You found me in the forest
Where my axe was paused,
My chest ready to fill
Like a can of preserves.
Apples and rhubarb
Saved me. The rattle
And clank at the end of strings
On our wedding day
Was music to my shining ears.
I’ll never use my camping cup
Against the bars of our union.
No matter how hot the roof,
I’ll be the cat that calls
For you each night,
I’ll bleat my cheap toy trumpet
Each morning for reveille. 
I’ll be your steadfast soldier.
You’ll see the glinting star
On my chest where you
Jammed my heart full. 

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