The Nation announces the winners of Discovery/The Nation ’06, the Joan Leiman Jacobson Poetry Prize. Now in its thirty-second year, it is an annual contest for poets whose work has not been published previously in book form. The new winners are Nicky Beer, Eric Leigh, Shara Lessley and Sandy Tseng. This year’s judges are James Richardson, Laurie Sheck and Elizabeth Spires. As in the past, manuscripts are judged anonymously. Distinguished former winners of Discovery/The Nation include Michael Collier, Susan Mitchell, Katha Pollitt, Mary Jo Salter, Sherod Santos, Arthur Smith, Ann Townsend and Philip Schultz. This year’s Discovery/The Nation event, featuring readings by the four winners, is scheduled for 8:15 pm on Monday, May 8, at The Unterberg Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue (92nd Street and Lexington Avenue) in New York City. –Grace Schulman, poetry editor
Woman in a Stanza
I have seized the very edge
of my life as though
it were a grappling-hook.
Once I had a body
of indescribable lushness.
Then a mouth that was
all obscene invitation.
Then the rush of gray
made me someone’s mother,
then a rigid mockingbird,
then a mother again.
I am certain that beyond me there
that strain the very limits
Two bodies folded
into a spasm of exclamation.
A gnarled tree wrought
from pure history.
A city, and a city,
and a city, and another
city, each one vacant and in-
violate. Yet always
this antiphon, blanched
and wholly complete.
One day I will see
the horror of my total
self: a vivisection
laid out in tidy, separate
dishes, oddly bloodless.
though the days were cut short
it does not ease our waiting;
we hear the rumors and sounds of war,
how the dead come home
by phone, by the arrangement
of white gladiola,
by the contents of their pockets
when he leaves it’s dark
morning and the door he locks
behind him reminds us
that love and war are companions;
this is the door that separates
the wounded from the able
today we learn a new word,
we count our supplies,
change the advisory from yellow
to orange, orange to yellow–
we do not plan on running
to the house to get our belongings
I’ve brought you here, to the base of the great tower
where you can see the two bridges that hold this city
and imagine the places they might take you,
because I believe in staging and the prop of the moon.
Because I want this evening to be aria,
the eye of the storm where the lead actor turns
to face the crowd and comes clean with what he knows.
But sometimes there’s no music in the truth.
Especially right now, with me about to break
your heart and possibly my own. Soon, certain words
will turn me into cell counts, the roulette wheel
of the centrifuge spinning quietly in your head.
So I stall with small talk, how the tower was built
for those who fought the flames of the great quake.
Now tourists pay ten bucks a head for a view
those firemen never knew. I rail on
until you place your hand against my chest,
the same spot my mother always touched,
every time she slammed the brakes,
her arm flying out in front of me to hold me back,
no matter the seat belt around my waist.
“I never think,” she always said, “my arm just goes…”
her voice trailing off into a quiet where the best part
of us resides. Some sentences cannot be finished,
others can barely be started. As I say the words,
I am steeled for the way that your eyes widen,
how your lips part and your jaw goes slack.
But for all of my rehearsal, I never thought you might,
in the shadow of the monument built for those
who were once lost, take my face in your hands
and reclaim me with a kiss, house lights
in the distance being darkened one by one.
Ballet Russes: Tamara Karsavina, June 1910
her point-work’s one-three-two one-two proves
(pride, fear, pleading, might) more
to flight than either feather or
about this bird is built for likeness–
beveled tail arched back, she
razes the air about her. Even
plucking her coxcomb, the fire-dazzled
image singed in his noble
glove. Of bodice, plumage, costume,
ruin seems human–yes, hers is that
old tale in a nutshell:
the egg contains the soul. Threatened,
honeycombed bones wrench back to divert
the magician king. Love’s
ultimate sacrifice! Art,
too the meaning of stillness: so gives
the bird her final pose
as her prince (with his mistress) departs–
who, when pressed
to detect on that darkened stage even
the slightest quiver, could
fail to recognize the remark-
able quickness of her caged-in heart?