The Middlebury Campus Poetry Contest

By Middlebury Campus

Author: [no author name found]

First Prize: Heat Lightning

Nikki Holland

Summer footpushed itself from muddy banks,

posed in the bogwater on a rotten piece of styrofoam,

and lingered with my dad and me in late June light

to fetch fluorescent bobbers from craggy limbs.

This was a summer that smelled of sulfur water

and Ramen noodles cooked on the propane stove,

a summer of mornings spent wading alone

off a narrow beach of shale and driftwood.

This was a summer of heavy storms and thick, pasty air

kicking us out of the tents and under the picnic table

where only cold concrete could persuade anyone to sleep.

When it rained, mom and I hesitated in the grocery store

to buy twenty-cent-a-loaf rainbow bread from Rita,

the cleaning woman from the Motel 6 who brought

my brother a birthday cake and a Barney balloon

when mom could do nothing more for us than spend

afternoons in the parking lot crushing cans for a way out.

It was a cruel summer of wooden hairbrush handles,

of fracture, of nowhere to go, of too much. It was

a beautiful summer of goslings, heat lightning and cicadas,

a summer of thunder days spent writing myself letters

to stuff into neighboring knotholes, to wrap in plastic to save

from the straight, hard rain.

Sometimes now, I yearn

to remember the exact location of summer’s lonely oaks,

though I’m sure the ink has faded…

Second Prize: Untitled


I wish they could have been red

heady hapless Heartfornought

awash in Redtorrentafterthought

Squozen from foibledprocessrhapsodycloth

Slaking pucker-parched creatureplot

sanitary Teflon albino hue

Prez´ented adrench with petaldew

Absorbed none at all wrung juice

besotted; transparent, too.

Sublimating uninvited emotive force

A(b)ssur(d)edly smitten’s unkempt recourse

Late, alone(ly) lemming self-compelling overcliff.

It would have been simpler to have them be red

Rather than dye with overkill g(a)ush

Poured forth from head.

once flown away

leaves me breathless, feckless, drained

and Overwrought.

Third Prize: Mother

Nikki Holland

Your garden is graveled wild with seed

and white primroses on the chain link

have been shocked by persistent ice

into their final beauty of the season.

Nearby, garden gloves cling to the rail.

Nearby, a dishtowel hangs from the line—

Tomorrow they will still be there.

Thrusting desperation out into the garden

of dew hardened on the blades like tears,

my November breath chalks the window

and slowly gives me away to myself.

Dad cried quietly at breakfast today

when ice became too heavy for the wires

and your last phone message was erased.

No one will throw away your mint shampoo;

no one will move your shoes from the hall.

We survive in silence, speaking to your pictures.

I prefer early mornings now, when I can

still think that I might hear your light

footsteps outside our door, trying

not to wake us. But please, mother,

don’t step so lightly. Your life is quieting.

A Note on Judging

Editor’s Note: These poems were selected from 15 submissions. The contest was open to all readers except the staff of The Middlebury Campus. The poems were limited to 25 lines and were judged without knowledge or consideration of the author’s identity. The decision was made by a panel of judges consisting of Claire Bourne, Matthew Christ, Lindsey Whitton and Devin Zatorski. The ideas and opinions expressed in the poems are those of the individual authors and not of The Campus staff.

Where Do These Things Go? Ellen Smith

In the blinding winter sun they stand
tendrils of hair and writhing scarves whip their faces
wind tossed
it does not seem appropriate to stay the loose ends
not at this time, no
mittened hands hang at their sides
like birds
shot dead

This far into the harbor the waves do not rise and fall
not like they do a half-mile south and out
breaking their backs upon the quays
kamikaze waves rushing, crying towards the end of the sea
this far in
the surf is a reluctant exhale
a hiss
a whisper

They are numb a full three inches below the surface
deeper they feel hollow
a painful absence where the heart and liver and lungs
used to be
there is nothing now
and they stand, shells really, on the wet sand
gulls scream
a sweeping, piercing dirge

The tin urn is dull even in the harsh morning glare
she is in there – has been for ten years
all the tiny pieces of her
what happened to her memories
when her mind was reduced to ashes, they wonder
childbirth, moon rises, divorce, dancing
where do
these things go?

The firm sand gradually gives way to their heavy boots
leaden feet
shallow graves, two apiece
on this narrow swath of beach they will do
what has needed doing for
ten years
a decade

In four hearbeats of fumbling with the lid it has begun
the patriarch
unseals the canister
unleashes a god damn ticker tape parade
of Styrofoam peanuts
light as air
pastel pinks
and greens to cushion her remains

They all break into garish grins, grateful for the irony of the situation
what a good story
this will make, the daughters-in-law agree
smiles twisted oddly at the bitter taste
hands, resurrected,
the Lord’s Prayer
thrown in for good measure

The plastic bag of dust is finally opened
she is
loosed in the wind
ashes float on the breeze low over the water
a great flock of birds swirling, skimming
and then settling on the gentle waves
just froth now
tossed forward, riding the crest

Perhaps she will be carried out with the tide
to some exotic coast
Ireland or Portugal,
they imagine
places she would have wanted to visit
in the life that has been so hard
for them
to let go of

Now that she is gone, she suddenly seems very near
as they shuffle back to their cars
the low shh of the waves
at their heels
salt air, her scent, clinging
they move slowly, slowly
Stay here
if only for a moment

A fragment of time that remains in the empty ribbon of sand
an echo
or shadow of it
strewn on the rocks like seaweed
dark and drying into lace
an old dress, a memory somehow of
ashes to ashes,
dust to the sea.

French Liberation

Across an infinite gulf of emotions we stared at each other
Divide by only a cheap small round table.

Souls with no route mingle among us.
You smile, I glance, and we both stare
Equally awkwardly at the others presence.

You seem real, not a distant memory.
Tangible but still far from my weak grip.
Hair longer, a tooth a bit more crooked, eyes still piercing.

We leave at the same time, trade false words and walk in separate directions.
I leave disappointed and I’m sure you did too, but I know mine was greater.
You are at least out of a position I once held too hi
gh and out of reach.
You are now, sadly and happily, nothing as you were the day before I met you for the first time.
My heart is no longer the prisoner of a jailer, that knows not of its captive.

I am free to breath again, to look around, to stretch my arms wide.
The shackles of your memory has been torn off with a mighty yelp,
But its ashes are gently caressed.
You are forgotten, but not annihilated.
Like the sun, I will see you again.

La Femme du Metro

In an empty chest made of white brick you stand. Hair perfect, eyes wide, and body to my measure, you tease without knowing. I can never approach you, despite mere air and few steps dividing us. The harsh whistle of the approaching metro’s breaks shrieks in the pearly cove. The metro comes to a harsh stop and it’s doors bounce open. We board different tin cans, but I can still see you. I peep and peep and you never notice. Your stop, sweet femme, walk off briskly. It does not matter. Next stop I will find a new femme du Metro.

She shed

She shed a big rich tear
From it fell love, distress, and fear.
She shed a big rich tear
In it I found steel, virtue, a power all to clear.
She shed a big rich tear
And in me I trace a weakness that tears.

Southern Train

Riding on a Southern train
Watching slow parades of land, never moving, go by.
Deserted dreams whisked away in a sandstorm of sad good byes.
Arid hopes lost between the whiskers of a red fox, who trots and trots and whom never can be found.

On my Southern train, riding away I’m leaving all behind.
Slip gently into the steely black corridors swimming softly, staring at the infinite halls of perception of imperfection.

Sinking on my Southern train,
Sun scraping relentlessly at you
Uncovering layer after layer of dusty decaying paint.
On my Southern train only the nothingness of reality is real.

She wanders to the edge of the field,
Oblivious to the energy defrosting around her,
And throws the pale yellow frisbee
To nowhere in particular.

She ambles toward it slowly
And he joins her, taller and slimmer.
She throws it again
in a wide,
It lands in a wide, shallow puddle
in a splash that shimmers

In the warm April sun that pulls off shirts and shoes
And leaves a heavy wardrobe forgotten in the closet.
Today is the day
When everyone realizes
It is warm enough to realize it is warm
And nobody notices a pale yellow frisbee in a pool,
or the girl who tossed it.

Surrounded by so many games
Of pass
And Ultimate,
The pair meanders towards the disk without talking
To each other or
the girls gossiping in camping chairs or
The guy skateboarding down the walkways with a mandolin.

There is so much energy and eccentricity
On this April day that everyone calls summer,
And they throw the frisbee to nowhere in particular,
Towards a gentle anarchy;
Away from all rules and common sense.

-Craig Johnson
April 14, 2002
Into My Curtains by Šara Stranovsky

Battered floorboards below the stage
Hold strong against the incoming crowd
From behind the curtain’s blackened cage,
I await the praise, piercing and loud

From room-lit to dim, the lights retract
In the excitement, eyes are wide
This marks my cue to commence the act
Stageward I step in confidant stride

Cheering hoots flood from those below,
And with each step I am transformed
To someone central to the show
No longer the rose’s cumbersome thorn.

To my right there stands the guitar,
Black with an iridescent edge,
As if from the night sky, a star
Were smeared around this musical wedge.

I grasp its neck of potential song
The strings dent my pudgy fingers
This moment anticipated all night long,
I indulge, tune the strings and linger.

Eyes closed, I pluck the strings to hear
Production of that perfect pitch
But once the octaves are matched and clear
My duty expires like the flip of a switch.

From beneath the dark, a spotlight gleams
With a sudden snap of yellowed light
I scurry offstage from my daydream
And accept the curtain’s invite.

A smoky mist fills in between
The lines that outline the light’s lane
Offstage, I wait until he’s seen
How I prepared tonight’s domain

There gleams my fingerprints of strain
On the cords and amps in perfect place
From hours before, they retain
Their muffled glow and hidden face.

In short time, more will appear
As I pick apart those plugs and drums
And all assembled will disappear
From this fan filled auditorium

The bandleader tosses me a wink
I smile and start to liquefy
He commands an immediate drink
I pour and run to pacify.

From hoots to hurrahs the shouts expand
As the band follows the spotlight’s lead
Only a tuning, servant stage hand,
Into my curtains, I silently recede.

Breathe Again

I want to breathe you in
and never let you go.
But, the day you closed up your heart
was the day I forgot to breathe.
The summer sun has set
and thus we are in the winter of our discontent.
The shadows between us have grown
as we are thrown into the unknown.
From the bottom of my heart and corner of my mind
I am trying to forget you
but, the fairy tale love lingers.
Do fairy tales soothe the soul or fuel the fires of malcontent?
Perhaps to touch to soothe
and with that touch you will learn
the subtle difference
between holding a hand and
changing a soul.
After a while you learn how to
breathe again.
After a while with every goodbye
you learn.
After a while you learn to
walk away.
But, still
I want to breathe you in…