The Nation announces the winners of Discovery/The Nation ’07, the Joan Leiman Jacobson Poetry Prize of The Unterberg Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y. Now in its thirty-third year, it is an annual contest for poets whose work has not been published previously in book form. The new winners are Paula Bohince, Darcie Dennigan, Joseph Heithaus and Melissa Range. This year’s judges are Mark Jarman, Brigit Pegeen Kelly and Phillis Levin. Associate coordinator Elise Paschen helped to screen. 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, Brigit Pegeen Kelly 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 7, at The Unterberg Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue (92nd Street and Lexington Avenue), in New York City. –Grace Schulman, contest coordinator
The child affixes one of her little pictures to my refrigerator.
She asks, Can you detect the radiation?
There is a house, one tree, and grass in dark slashes. A sun
shining. Beneath, in her child letters, she has written Chernobyl.
At kindergarten they must be having nuclear energy week.
One could look at the picture and say everything is in order.
No, I say, I cannot see the radiation.
The radiation poison, she says, sits inside the apple
and the apple looks pretty.
She sings, Bury the apple and bury the shovel that buried the apple
and put the apple-burier person in a closet forever.
We both know how the poison goes. We are both thinking Bury the burier.
Both thinking of her picture with no people.
The poison sits inside the people and the people
still look pretty, she says. Still, she says, sweetly, Away with them.
The child is not a flincher, which is why I love to tell her stories:
Of the poisonous man who tumbled into the cold sea
and turned the sea poignant.
For his bones glowed in the cold deep like dying coral.
His ribcage was a cave for small, lost fish.
Flecks of his glowing skin joined with green algae
on the sea surface, where, on a boat, his widow choked
as she looked down the sun shaft for her husband’s poison body.
What is sunlight through seawater most like
but the strange green fire
that burnt the man?
–Who had worked atop a steel hill until a whale–
a great green whale–bumped into the continental shelf
and the steel hill cracked and its poison leaked out.
And the man began to melt…
What I am jealous of in the child, what I am really starting to detest in her
is how she nods
with kindergarten grace and finality. Primly, into her pinafore,
she tucks what I’ve told of the story.
On the refrigerator her picture looks so pretty.
There is no end to the green or pollen or the feeling of the bees coming.
Or of a hill and sky of poison.
On fire, the man working on the reactor must have looked wavy–
like a man trying to ride a humpback through the fast green sea.
Her picture on the refrigerator looks so pretty.
When I wake her from her nap I will ask
if the dark green slashes are meant to be radiance, not plain grass.
Green False Hellebore
We must warn the good sheep: Dear pregnant ewes,
stay away from the stout, erect, unbranched
stems, pleated leaves, flowers–inconspicuous
clusters, green or greenish white. I blanched
at what they do to you, your little lamb.
If you eat false hellebore on the fourteenth
day of gestation, expect your new ram
to be monkey-faced, cycloptic, come a month
early or die. Really, aside from weakness,
trembling, the stomach ache you’ll feel, you’ll give
birth to truth, small brained, defected, helpless,
just for taking what you thought sheep might live
on. This is nature’s justice, something cruel
to chew: we’re empty headed beasts, poison’s fool.
–after a song by My Brightest Diamond
His every hair and shred
sheds two uses, or more, for our daily bread.
Good sidekick, stock stand-by,
he helps us tear the ground and haul the rye.
Too much sweetgrass made him lame,
or we did; too much bridle made him tame,
which we did. Nails in his foot
mean he’s not good-for-naught;
disease in the hoof, he’s a no-shoe
no-show on the field. It’s a no-go,
when he founders on the clock:
he’ll go free, barefooted, to the block.
Bring me the workhorse; bring me
the pack-mule, the breeder, the gee-
upped whip-smart; I’ll end their agony.
Bring me the betted-out racehorse, the pony,
petted and stunted, that made money on the bit,
stumping round a ring. Bring me the unfit,
the falterer, the one who wouldn’t take
the halter, the bucker none could break.
Bring me the tons of shoe-iron,
and may the miners leave the mine;
bring me the saddles and the reins,
and may the cattle keep their skins.
Workhorse, pale horse, ghosthorse dead to striving,
bring me the toil of the living
that never rests, that after death still labors–
bones fixing glitter onto shiny paper.
Stiff as a fish
in a boat, I lie in the grove
inhaling dirt’s pepper, my cheek
wet against stubble,
eye to mineral eye,
tracing the bodies of fish
onto woods’ floor–infinity in mud,
curves of hourglass
until I cannot hear
until the figure beside the barn,
aerating hay, becomes
a stranger no bigger
than a finger, his pitchfork a flimsy sliver,
When bronze begins to erase
my drawings, pleats the elephant
leaf, when he vanishes,
I grip the girlish cheeks
and pound them and pound them
I eat their mush, the grit
pummeled into it,
to coax out the sadness that waits for me
and cannot be extinguished.