THE ONE AND THE OTHER
The child hums as he carries, too late,
his grandmother’s sugar-dusted lemon-glazed cake
down the street to the neighbor who needs to be cheered,
too late for the neighbor
who’s stepped into the air
of her silent front hall from a ladder-backed chair
her church dress just pressed, her head in a loop she tied
into the clothesline, too late
he unlatches the gate,
walks up the brick walk on his tiptoes, avoiding the cracks
toward the door she unlocked, left ajar, who knows why
or for whom, if on purpose
or not, but because he’s too late
she’s gone still when he reaches the door and because
he’s too late, as he calls out and looks, brilliant sun
burns through haze
pours through sidelights and bevels
through chandelier prisms, strikes white sparks and purples
on ceiling and walls, on the overturned chair, on her stockings
her brown and white
spectator shoes on the floor
and because he’s too late he remembers both terror and beauty
but not which came first. But enough of the one
that he ran
and enough of the other
to carefully lay down the cake at her feet.
–from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner
Rattle is proud to announce the winner of the 2011 Rattle Poetry Prize:
“The One and the Other”
For the first time in 2011 the Rattle Poetry Prize winner was selected from 15 finalists by subscriber vote. To prevent ballot-stuffing, only those with subscriptions prior to the announcement of the finalists were eligible. Of roughly 3,000 possible voters, 680 cast ballots, and Saunier’s poem earned 14.4%. Here is what some of those readers had to say about their choice:
“In one sparse page, Hayden Saunier has let three nameless, wordless, ordinary people stir up in the rest of us a tart chaos of generosity, cheer, despair, shock, regret, and respect. I am deeply impressed by the skill with which she did that.”
–Anne Ward Jamieson
“I choose ‘The One and the Other’ by Hayden Saunier because of its telling details, its form (in contrast to the awful, out-of-order scene the child finds), its use of sound, including the irregular rhymes, and the fact it is one sentence, cascading downward to that placement of the cake. This is a poem that stays with me.”
“It was a difficult choice, but ultimately the images of the boy with his lemon-glazed cake and the woman hanging from her chandelier refuse to leave me alone. The (relentless) repetition of the phrase ‘too late’ adds to the urgency/tragedy, and details like the boy ‘on tiptoes, avoiding the cracks’, are heartbreaking.”
“I vote for Hayden Saunier. What an ending! Wonderful that you guys have a prize like this.”
“You know a poem is a winner when it makes you read and re-read it again and again and each time, you say ‘wow’!”
To read the poem, pick up a copy of Rattle #36, or wait to read it in our free supplemental e-issue this spring (e.12). We’ll be reprinting the winning poem, along with our summary of the contest, our thoughts on the format and results, and more commentary from the voting subscribers.
Saunier’s “The One and the Other” was the clear winner, but all 15 of the finalist poems received a significant number of votes, and each had their own enthusiastic fans. No one received less than 4.5% — 1 in 23 readers would have selected any of the poems a winner. That’s a testament to both the subjective nature of poetic experience, and the quality of all 15 finalists. Thanks again to each of them: Pia Aliperti, Tony Barnstone, Kim Dower, Courtney Kampa, M, Andrew Nurkin, Charlotte Pence, Laura Read, Diane Seuss, Craig van Rooyen, Bryan Walpert, Anna Lowe Weber, Jeff Vande Zande, and Maya Jewell Zeller.
More on all of this in the spring e-issue next month.
POEM IN SEARCH OF A HORSE
Time is not reading the poem as you
read the poem, but rest assured he’s slipped
inside the room in his soft, polished shoes,
with his little cough, his bowler hat in hand,
so sorry to disturb. It isn’t that he doesn’t like
to read, he loves to lean across your shoulder,
let you feel his breath, a delicate subzero
on your neck, but he’s impatient with anything
but haiku. Ignore him. He’ll pretend
he doesn’t care, proceed to wind the clocks
with tiny keys or stretch out on a sofa, tap
a tree branch on a pane and wait you out.
Meanwhile, the poem persists in its solitary
business of resisting being made, trying
the usual tactics: silence, tantrum, argument
over rules of play until the stuck mind panics,
a tarantula in hot tar, shouts words out
like charades: moon! anapest! plumage! boat!
desperate to drown out that silence accompanying
the figure in the well-cut suit who’s polishing
the gold case of his pocket watch, remarking
how words pile up like big rigs on a fogged-in
freeway: apple! rainfall! pasture! bell! and even
when the poem finds some purchase, scrambles
up a narrow footpath through a field and stands
inside a grassy insect buzz, holding out
a shaky palm of sugar to conjure up a horse,
a distant train will whistle, spooking anything
half wild. You’re back exactly where you started.
Cough-cough. Soft shoes. Tick-tock. No horse.
–from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH THE SMITHFIELD HAM
WE HAD TO CUT ON THE BANDSAW
Mother, for once, it wasn’t your fault.
You always said you can’t soak hams
long enough and one full day and night
seemed adequate, but we gave it two,
scrubbed mold, rind, salt away, changed
the water, tucked it like a baby in its bath;
another day, rinsed, patted dry, made ready.
Butter and brown sugar coated all our hands.
Let’s face it; it was ancient, not just aged.
The woman at the ham shack must have seen
my husband’s Pennsylvania plates and figured
what the hell, he won’t be coming back.
Or it was just bad luck. But wasn’t
our discussion on life with Lewis and Clark
educational for the children? Ham jerky!
Ham shoelaces! Ham-flavored chewing gum
to last a winter portage through the Bitterroots!
Oh, we were jolly then, those spots still undiscovered
on your lungs. Yes, my Yankee husband
sliced it on the band saw but so would any man
faced with that ham who had a power tool in reach.
That was Easter. It’s November now.
You’re dead and I am making black bean soup,
beginning with a frozen cut of that disaster
sizzling in a taste of olive oil. No other
seasoning is needed for this winter’s portage,
Mother, just my store of crosscut sections:
meat and marrow, sugar, grease and bone.
–from Rattle #29, Summer 2008
2008 Pushcart Prize Nomination