2018 Frontier OPEN Runner-Ups: Elizabeth Oxley & Sam Zafris

Honored to share the two runner-ups to the 2018 Frontier OPEN: Elizabeth Oxley has won 2nd place and
Sam Zafris 3rd!


Expelling Venus by Elizabeth Oxley

When the doctor says he’ll need to remove
my ovaries, I consider performing a farewell ritual—
hippy shindig with altar, candle, and two stones
plucked from the river. Instead, I sign in for surgery
and awake to a stomach pocked with cuts,
skillful breaking and entering, ovaries gone
like two thieves stealing away in the night.
Nurses roll me into a recovery room. In morphine half-dreams
I recall the nude pantyhose my grandmother used
for Christmas stockings. They lined her hearth,
an eerie cabaret of thrombotic legs into which
my brothers and I thrust our hands each year,
tearing out what didn’t belong: gift boxes,
shiny lengths of ribbon, twenty-dollar bill pinned
to each toe like a callus. That night, I sleep
fitfully on spartan sheets, and in the morning,
a young orderly helps me from my cot to a wheelchair,
smiling—beautiful little boy—all the way to the lobby.
I can have no more children. I clutch my stomach
and grieve, remembering the doctor’s sketches—
how my tubes resembled horns, my uterus a skull
my brother once kicked over in a field. It was flocked
with lichen, lower jaw missing, as if the earth
had begun dismantling it bottom up, leaving the antelope
mouthing the ground like a bit, so accustomed
she’d once been to carrying life inside her.


Elizabeth Oxley grew up in rural Pennsylvania before attending college and road-tripping her way west. A graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., her work has appeared in The Poetry Review, Ruminate, Peregrine, Motherscope Magazine, The Colorado Independent, and Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac. Say hello at www.ElizabethOxley.com.


SECRET HYMN by Sam Zafris

Mercy was
the movement of the lily
the movement of the lion the water,
the bright-hot gelding of the thoroughbred and the echo of its half-sleeping cry—
a sort of angst, a sort of
not knowing, a half-thought, followed with a half-dream, night sky
against more of itself,
that is,
night sky against night sky,
the spray of wine in the mouth, foamed like brine—this, too,
a type of uncertainty, and uncertainty as a type of fear,
the roar of memory
and the roar
of a secret hymn.                    Grace, then,
a type of uncertainty, was a game between two boys, blonde
haired and running through the pasture: the cow first,
the boar,
and finally the bull,
then, there was, even in a crowd, my mother’s laugh, my father’s voice
—yes, first the moon, then its pull—
or was it the rush of choice
for the thing preying: hawk, eagle, hollow
nest, hollow bone in hollow nest—it was easy
enoughto stop knowing time, but harder
welcoming her home—or it was home
already, bird against brick…there’s another word for it
somewhere, I’m sure, can’t there be another word for it
somewhere, I’m sure, in myth?
somewLater, we surrender to both: a captivity, or a kind
of helplessness, a kind of letting go and a kind of
I wasn’t here, or
Let me be, Let
me go—Let
me be, Let me
go—then, a final act: night sky again, only here, no stars, and, here, no heat either,
go—thejust the echo of a gentle cry—yes, here, the echo of mourning.


Sam Zafris is a writer in Columbus, Ohio. He was recently a guest editor of The Hong Kong Review.
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