The Nation announces the winners of Discovery/The Nation, the Joan Leiman Jacobson Poetry Prize. Now in its thirty-first year, it is an annual contest for poets whose work has not been published previously in book form. The new winners are Stacie Cassarino, Eduardo C. Corral, Dave Lucas and Rita Mae Reese. This year’s judges are Glyn Maxwell, Elise Paschen and Liam Rector. As in the past, manuscripts are judged anonymously. Distinguished former winners of Discovery/The Nation include Susan Mitchell, Katha Pollitt, Mary Jo Salter, Sherod Santos, Arthur Smith, David St. John and Mark Irwin. This year’s Discovery/The Nation event, featuring readings by the four winners, is scheduled for 8:15 pm on Monday, May 16, at The Unterberg Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue (92nd Street and Lexington Avenue) in New York City. –Grace Schulman, poetry editor
The first day it feels like Fall
I want to tell my secrets
recklessly until there is nothing
you don’t know that would make
your heart change years from now.
How foolish we are to believe
we might outlive this distance.
I don’t know the names for things
in the prairie, where the expanse
of light and the hissing of tall stalks
makes me move slowly,
like in another country before
I must share it with anyone.
In what do you believe?
In September’s slight motion
of particulars, in the weight of birds,
in lust, propulsion, maps
that lie. You should not have loved
me. Now: goldenrod, prairie-clover,
the ovate-leafted bluebell with its open
throat, saying how did you expect
to feel? The colonies of prairie-smoke
and pods turning golden and papery,
the grassy plains iterating patience,
and things I cannot name.
Begin with apples reddening.
Begin with a woman touching
the cities in your feet. Hartford,
Anchorage, the Bronx. Did you ever
see yourself as more
than yourself? I walk into a part
of afternoon that deepens
inventing an endpoint
for sadness. Everyone is gone.
On the subject of deception,
where do you stand? There’s a chill
in the air and the flowers know,
the goddamned flowers, their loosed
color. Sometimes we are cruel
and we mean it. We author the house
with its threadbare linens, the false
miniatures of people saying look at me.
Will the landscape forgive you?
Is it yours to describe? What
is the sound inside your mouth?
I’m surrounded by grasslands
in every direction. The sound
is a clamoring, because desire
is never singular and we want it
this way. We want it easy.
I have already let go
of summer. Here, the wind-
dispersal of seed and story. Love,
there are things I cannot name.
Leave beauty to the rose
and its lexicon of crimsons.
O ruby petal and holy thorn–
poets, you can have it.
You, beach pea, rooted
in sand when all this land
was lake, when this lake
was Atlantic coast,
stranded when the glaciers
calved and receded–
leaving you and sea rocket,
purple sand-grass and spurge.
What genuine science,
what skill in your flowering:
you conjure nitrogen
from thin air and hold it,
hard as November wind,
in your roots. Deep
in the sterile loam, they spread
and keep what water they can.
Hardscrabble, this scratch
of beach offers nothing
but swells of dry surf.
Break and wash of waves
like the back and forth
of xylem and phloem
in your thin frame’s
Pastel and crepe petal,
flower of work and mettle,
spread out, spread deep.
Bow to no one, to no rose.
A History of Glass
When God closes a door, we break a window.
Sorry I say to the landlord who replaces it. Sorry
I say the next morning to the neighbor who
complains about the noise. An accident. She
waits for more of an explanation. So I
start at the beginning. The history of glass is a history
of accidents. Long ago and far away: a woman, a pot, a fire.
Her lover surprises her from behind, kisses her
until the pot glows, smoke rising like a choir.
She snatches it from the hearth
& drops it on the floor covered in sand
& ashes. (She is a good cook but not tidy.) Her lover
throws water on the whole mess: the sand hisses, her hand
burns. She can hardly see the hard new miracle
forming for the tears in her eyes, at her feet a new obsidian
spreads, clear & eddied. It will be 2000 years until
a tradesman molds by hand the small green & blue
glass animals (housed today on the second floor of a local
museum), & nearly 4000 before sheet glass in 1902.
(Many accidents happen during this period.) One hundred years
later the glass animals in the museum are visited by two
women: one marvels at their wholeness, except for an ear
or a nose or a paw; one does not marvel. She says, “They
survived because they’re small.” They stop for dinner,
mostly wine. They stumble home. Were there
eyewitnesses at that late hour when they embraced & fell?
Once inside there is a window of sheet glass & a bare
bulb burning out. In the darkness of the stairwell
they sink, dark coats spreading around them. The wind
rushes in. Remember the glass animals? They tell
a history of accidents too, accidents that are yet to happen.
Rita Mae Reese
Rafael Rodriguez Rapún, 1936
O my arrow-eyed lover, sugar, radiant & icy,
O my arrscattered around my heels,
brings back the evening when the first shafts of moonlight
brings back the evenipiercing a tall bedroom window
were crumbled in your palms, then sprinkled across the floor like snow
were crumbledwhose brilliance amplified
as I extinguished the candles of the candelabra–
as I extingLorca, an olive-scented breeze rustling the leaves
of the lilac-stenciled wallpaper cooled the lengthening trail of sudor
of the lilac-stenciled wallpaperolling down my torso
Our bodies lit by the glare rising from the snow.
Our bodies lit Your guitar on a chair, scoured by moonlight,
a striped moon stamped in its interior…
a stripYour presence still seduces my eye: magnolia blossoms withering
a stripYour preseon a sill, the cuffs they tore from your sleeves.
A silver kettle sings, steam rising, dissipating–
A silver kettle sings, steam risiAndalusian ghost undressing.