From Room #161 (Empty-Room Ward)

First Place
Arbuckle Award
we stayed with her sometimes
when the parents dropped us, spit
and all, in the nursing home:
grinning nurses torture—we hated them
bed pan clatter, hall-moaning, oxygen
beeping—the cord winding to rest in
the center of air
when she was awake, she talked
mostly she slept
mouth dribbling wetness
we played rummy around her toes
waiting for redemption
at the door crack
remind her once a day, she'd said
at least once a day
she was heading out of here
and wasn't sorry to leave
no sir, not sorry at all
(we weren't either)
but once she woke up, while everyone
hopscotched in the hall
drew me close with her cracked
fingers, just to say
how strangely kind life looked
as it paused on the threshold
to put on its boots

walking back, you sipped
held the glass to your chest
pondered not on living water
but how well earth-water
seeped into dry places and
washed into flesh
your fall came serenely
slipping through a dark
as soft and kind as morning,
as wide as time, you touched
the razor-edge of secret,
of all hidden things
face to the sky, you knew then –
the sweat on your lip was
holy water.
the glint of sun on pavement:

oh god, this quiet fell fast
a sudden turning, icy, unwanted
I looked at you and saw not
the spirals of beauty that once
seemed divine, but now lines
and lines, some curved, uneven
two eyes, a wayward bone
a freckle on a pale cheek
the unwounding of a glance
a geometric mass of smile
i see the truth now, and
it carries the weight of dust
i have tasted too many fires
to crave that which cannot

Second Place
Arbuckle Award
The Black Crow lurches on his prey
Break dancing to spasmodic beat
Beak dangling with whispering desire
Thumping pains linger for a morsel
The baby cooing praise and peace
Shiny crow sucks air free to bleed
Down the tunnel dark and wet
Black Crow nourished and wicked
Seeks another prey to pluck clean
Hunger plays the harp’s melody
Feet rap irregular bustle
Black Crow kisses the prey
Flapping wings embrace the feast.

Among the potatoes, beans and tomatoes,
I yank out the ugly weeds.
Tears cut down my face,
I am shaken, scared, but willing to please.
Work hard, work hard--the creamy flesh can strike.
I must be quiet, still like night and not stare.
The blood is rising like heat on tin metal.
She is coming and I will drip in dry sweat,
Fear to be taken and dragged like a rug,
Out of the garden, where I bend
squatting, pulling, and tugging hard.
I will keep carving and designing God’s Floor,
Dirty plant smell of life untainted clean.
Sweating and working cold,
Scrambling and fondling the weeds,
They never strike or torture the skin.
Cornstalks hold and embrace.
Gentle rain touching me,
Fear scrapes my face, washed clean.

Among twenty gamers
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the Gamemaster
I was of three minds,
Like my character
Has three personalities.
The gamers whooped after they defeated the enemy.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman that are gamers
Are one.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of intrigue,
Or the beauty of the inn,
The Gamemaster whistling
Or just after.
Dice filled the round table
With Mountain Dew cans.
The shadow of pizza
And potato chip bags
crossed to and fro.
The dungeon
Traced in the shadow
Of each soda opened.
Oh thin men of Lima,
Why do you imagine magic?
Do you not see how gaming
Lives in the minds of incredible imagination?
I know nobles
And confusing, inescapable plots
Can be such a bore
Even when a Malkavian is involved
But he has taught me
All that I know.
When the gamers flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one too many phone calls
To come home.
At the sight of game books
Shelved in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply:
We rode over to campus
In a beat up Cavalier.
Once, a fear pierced us,
In that we mistook
The shadow of our car
For a dragon.
The dice are moving.
The gamers must be playing.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The gamers sat
In the cedar chairs.

I was sixteen, you were seventeen,
Your red Nova parked in my driveway,
Numbers and formulas filled our brains,
Studying the number of times you laughed,
A calculated kiss; your lips Kool-Aid sweet.
Taking the test, remembering your lips,
The formula for our love was simple,
Answering only questions of love.
A celebration on yet another year done,
Down at the diner, strawberry milkshakes for everyone,
Testing just how long we could stay out past curfew.
Dancing to the jukebox playing slow country music,
Moonlight on the booths and you in my arms.
Three days later, a twilight evening,
Radio turned loud, singing at the top of our lungs,
The curve by Johnson's farm.
The smell of sterile sheets and clean floors,
Three tubes in your arm running clear liquid away,
The four nurses in white and dusty rose wheel you down the hall,
I watch your two feet get smaller and smaller,
And know this is the real test.
The man with a stethoscope gives me his condolences,
The injuries were too bad,
He watched your two eyes close.
The test of life.
Cold gray stone with your name etched,
Thousands of beautiful clouds overhead,
A few poems by loved ones,
Down you go, dirt your only blanket,
Five sweet daisies in my hands.
The test of letting go.
Behind me I hear weeping,
Someone leads me away from the hole where you sleep,
I can't feel my eyes.
The test of tears.
Quiet reflection by a pond,
I can see the curve from where I sit,
A single metal guardrail, broken by heartache,
An oak tree, scarred by memories,
Tire marks cut deep in my one heart.
A test of will.
It's been three months, twenty-seven days, eighteen hours, and three minutes,
Breathing is the only test now,
And it's so much harder…

A balmy summer afternoon,
Broken up only by lemonade breaks,
Playing kickball with the boys.
There is only one tree in the whole lot.
Skinned knees and grass stains,
As another boy comes up to kick.
The red rubber ball whizzing through the air,
Worn tennis shoes running,
Bases rounded with amazing speed.
The tree stands alone on the side,
Moving only occasionally with the wind.
I stand back, waiting for the next kick,
The only girl in the whole lot.
Tagging, catching, and running with the neighborhood boys,
Playing a game that means everything at that moment,
Feeling strange comfort in being the only tree in the lot.

HERE is where WE loosen

HERE is where WE loosen
as the original lovers, Adam and Eve
HE rests his head lower, lower,
lower, with each moment
HE is humbled in the presence of such
glowing confidence
MY hair grows long, past the knees
MY clothes return to separate threads,
fall to the ground,
take root,
rise again as a tree bearing gifts of
delicious apples
I am the upper hand
it will be too much for HIM to resist
when I bite into the fruit, and sweet juices start to flow
from my chin,
over my stomach,
down my milky legs
dripping, losing
Itself into the lush
never to be seen again
but HERE is not the garden
HERE is the field that surrounds it
where the true loving, exploring, companionship begins
lost from the closeness of God WE have to look for IT in
each other, from each other.
The End of The World
(terminal imprudence)

1 O’clock and,
a feeble old man is
a balloon
filled with shaving cream.
were growing
from roots
of multicolor sand.
a french oven
is overfed with
breakfast cereals.
a cockroach
finds a home
in a blue
pearl wine glass.
2 O’clock and,
old man flipper
a tuna fish
birthday cake.
altai horses are
through a green
mint flavored
car wash.
3 O’clock and,
a senile old woman with no hands
a diamond piano.
two good friends
a handkerchief
made of
pond scum.
a patched eye pirate
a rock
at a black and white clown.
the ill-tempered mayor
toilet water
through a straw.
4 O’clock and,
a tiny flea
desperately reaches
for a dead
a cooked carrot
over the remnants
of a peeled
a grizzly fisherman
in a sea
of purple velvet telephones.
5 O’clock and,
a giant musty shoe
at a little yellow toothbrush.
a zookeeper
a refrigerator
from a gorilla.
a hairy fat man
jumps into a vat
of black
chunky peanut butter.
four italian bakers
on a park bench
made of
self help books.
6 O’clock and,
all the speckled monkeys
glow brighter
flinging their bananas
at the author
of the world.
until the blue sky
renders bubbly crimson
and the rotting lights
with time.

Robert Frost
made such a noise
a clamorous, hammerous,
glamorous noise
beating his pen
upon the skull
of ignorant fools
so dense and dull
his magical dust,
oh how it flows,
and finds its home
inside the nose
his deceitful words
shatter and split
until to slumber
his body commit
and many pairs
of eyes deceived
for unjust praise
he has received
so many days of
learning lost
were spent to the song
of Robert Frost.

Garnet rose, ferocity eyes,
Twilit tulip, zealotry lies—
Walk through the wasteland of infected sores
Caused by the puss of miscommunicated wars.
Golden daisy, macabre prize,
Orange sunflower, blackest highs—
Come with a hard heart to the war zones
As the confused kings sit on their thrones.
Swallows sing as they fall to the ground,
Down, spiraling down with the whistling sound
Like a breeze rustling through a flower bed,
A thought going through a long-empty head.
Venus flytrap.

Aging drastically, catastrophe, a mirage of laughing hysterically,
Illumination of the damnation of the surmounting epiphany—
A cacophony of swarms passing me by.
All drugged up, eyes swirling as I’m hurling my mass about,
Like some dumb ass with a whipping man who shouts at me.
Welts form, behind my ears, showing the years of disaster,
My master, my master...
Living on, shivering cold, old, old, old—
Dry brittle bones turning to stones, dust,
Rusting away the mettle of all,
The brain hall, the walls of the cavernous maw,
Sinking its teeth deep, a steep decline,
Less refined than the grit of a used concrete drill bit,
I thudded to the ground.
I left a print, once.
Wind-blown sand covered the dull, bland streak sewn into time.

Bottom half dangling
From a tightened muscled forearm
That protects from dizzy falls to passing grounds.
Often times flapping
Screaming tearing,
Gripped with fear and holding on
The same to safety
Found in larger stronger beings
Than ourselves.
The Beast that moves
Beneath me all around me
In my dreams
When I can sleep nights
Makes my fingers clench
Grasp wiry thick
Black hairs that aren’t budging
Twine round prisons
Built of safety
and a shifty need for strength
For fear of larger stronger
Toothed beasts without
This cradling grasp.
I’ve been captured, taken.
Fury coursing through my veins
And into muscles,
Cannot stop the rhythmic tensing
Or the restless cyclic need
To battle back
Though I could tell
That’s what the looming Ape
Was wanting,
Revulsion beat out will.
Retching clenching
Spewing forth the vomit of my sex
In burning heaves that threaten
to singe the comfort off this chest.
I’ve balls of fists to add
In the tirade I’ve got planned
Pound on muscled mounds
Forming fleshy cage
Around me blocking daylight
Illuming nature’s secret stash.
Kicking, screaming, gasping
Tightens walls of hairy strength
Quick to claim their prize –
The prize within me
Shaking with the rage
And tremors of the fingers
Lunging at it
Without knowing
What their reach is aiming for.
Between the Beast that has me
And the subtle thing he wants
Will be the anger of a Nation
Built on sick and angry thoughts
Lifting a fortress to defend
Save the long unnamed jewel
Key to the truth and the
Long-locked door that keeps
Our both sides out.
Knowing where I’ve come from,
Worlds from where I am,
Losing sight of half-familiar
Condescending to the force
I will would take me.
Carried off into the world of
Pure existence, giant insects equal
In their strength to those that once
Could squash them like a bug.
The world of great green lizards
With teeth that They say had failed
Their race a million years before
mankind arrived here.
It seems it is the one and all
This place, this Ape,
This body mine and soul,
Even the beast of my own choosing.
Good King Kong, that could engage me
Warp me through
Right through the realm
Of endless aching want
On into green and lushly leafy
Forests thick with trees and beasts
So long in want of me.
I’ll now among them
Though I may be weak I’d rather
Fifteen minutes
in the sunlight
Trickled pooling from the canopy above
Than fifteen years confined within
Chalky grey walls.
Into the air, absorbed my limbs
And all that would remain
of fear and anger and revulsion
Strength and love and death and pain –
of joy and life and even laughter.
Back into my soul will seep the mix
The potion that they
In one cauldron concoct scatters my
Self and frees it thus.

I stopped dead in my tracks
As the branches of a maple tree
Drooped low over the dirt path
As if the tree were weeping.
On a branch was a hoot owl
That looked like a knot on the tree.
Thus began a staring contest
Which I was reluctant to win.
The owl expanded its wings and took flight
I could hear the sound of wind chimes far away,
As a gust of wind nearly swept me off my feet.
The maple leaves swirled around in a whirlwind.
My eyes followed the leaves to the ground,
As the wind calmed down to next to nothing.
I walked over to the leaves that lay on the dirt path
And picked one up.
The leaf swirled with red, yellow, and orange.
I watched Earth split in two
And two red eyes stared back at me.
Alarmed, I dropped the leaf
As another gust of wind
Tried almost to lift me in the air, as if I could fly.
Maple leaves were floating all around me.
The smell of the maple leaf.

The Big, Small People

Shari Merricle

We wake up and feel big,
Very big.
When in reality,
We are nothing
But dots on the face of the Earth.
We are simply a grain of sand
On a 10,000 mile-long beach.
We are but a dim star
In the Milky Way galaxy.
Many times
We take our lives for granted
And forget
We are part of a town,
Which is in a county,
And that county is in a state,
And that state is in a nation,
Which is part of a continent
In a world that is part of our Universe.
Our Universe is part of something
We all question,
But we must ignore the fantasies,
Float back down to Earth,
And get on with our lives.