2022 OPEN Finalists: Part 1 of 3
First, a sincere thank you to all the finalists for partnering with us. It’s such an honor to celebrate your poems. You can find Yi Wei’s winning poem here. For Part 1, we’re sharing work by Grace MacNair, jason b. crawford, and Billie R. Tadros. Part 2 comes tomorrow!
Trophic Level/Ode to a Roadkill Doe by Grace MacNair
I’ve gone back for her. Once, alone, in the dark
when a man I thought I loved wouldn’t stop.
Despite the snow, she was still warm. While hawks
called in the dawn, I gutted her, dropped
to my knees, used my neck and shoulders
to heave her into the car. Praise the small stain
still on the seat. Praise how she made me bold.
Praise each vulture who whitened her remains.
To him and others she’s just some doe-
eyed dead. Defiler of urban dreams.
Damager of fast cars. Pied. Wild. No
one slows for her mangled tableau. Queen
though she is of a peculiar kingdom of pickup
trucks, buck knives, the slowed time of deep freezers,
the quick pop of hot pans. Sacred as hyssop,
miraculous as manna, good meat free
as rain. Humane. Not factory farmed,
confined to contemptible, contagious
conditions, sunlight deprived—deformed
by our appetites, our need for convenience.
Every part of her goes to use. Nothing’s
wasted. Her heart I fry for his breakfast.
I can hear myself explaining myself, slicing
bread on my palm while he, still drunk, restlessly sleeps.
Grace MacNair is a poet, teacher, and healthcare professional. Born and raised in North Carolina, she currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. Grace was selected by Yona Harvey as the winner of Radar Poetry’s 2021 Coniston Prize and by Safia Elhillo as the winner of Palette Poetry’s 2022 Emerging Poet Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, Radar Poetry, Palette Poetry, The Missouri Review, Best New Poets 2022, and elsewhere. Grace’s micro-chapbook, Even As They Curse Us, is available from Bull City Press.
Impact of Return by jason b. crawford
a failed Palindrome after Phillip B. Williams
By the end of the poem, I will return
to my country a new ghost; a cracked mortar
ground into the sound of freedom etching
the skin. There is so much to believe a country
is worth; its weight, the gold it harvests
from the fields, the fields it owns like the people;
its people worked like a field. When I stop
to question the way color bends around
the skin, I am only met with batons; an orchestra
of violence crescendos across my bones.
What a radical concept; freedom that drips
from the mouth of its country; a river of hymns
drifting along its banks; a small dove drinking from
this song until its feathers are bursting
into a shredded flag. My first country was a flamed—
soaked ocean; my first country started in rot, the smell of
coins decaying the land; in the stars we found
a space; a country built of milk new as honey
from a mother’s warm blood; a land that we tend to just
as it tends to us; we, the soft ground ready
to be tilled by the wind’s crescent hands.
And what a beautiful sight; to call something Black
and soft and alive; children with dandelions
skittling their hair; a boy cups our moon’s face
like a melon; kisses its cheeks before tumbling
back to the pillowed ground and this is how we say
goodnight; a ritual; a dance; the skin left intact. The boy
rises from the ocean adorned in a crown of seaweed
and shells brown as his buttered eyes; I wish I could
show you the golden ring crowning his head; pelicans
swooping from the loops in his braids as the light pulls
from a single thread of hair and we all rejoice a life
here another day; and isn’t that supposed to be
beautiful, too; living; a fountain of Black arms folding
over a stove? We let the dinner table drown in Black limbs buzzing
loud as a cicadaed August; this too becomes the work of the people;
mouths hungry for the wet sap of laughter; we chose
against a land that specialized in stealing; today I passed
a cop car and its leather seats ribboned out a bed of flowers;
a small jungle of geraniums springing between
its dashboard. I picked one and its siren bloomed sweet
in my hand; I watch its petals bullet out towards my skin.
I watch a bullet petal out towards my skin;
become a siren blooming sour in my hand; a vicious mercury
spade sifted into the carob flesh; Between
the dashboard of a small car there is the dead
boy, a picked tendon; small jungle of geraniums sprung
out from a bed of flowers; his leather hide ribboning
as a cop car passes us; light spilling out like a severed vein;
this land that specializes in stealing, did its job; today
it chose against the wet sap of laughter; it worked
the people hungry; mouthed a dry
cicadaed August; this, too, becomes part of the machine;
our Black limbs buzzing loud as a glowing, white
furnace; we let the sidewalks drown in a fountain of
Black; arms folding over each other like a shield
and isn’t that supposed to be the law of living
here another day; we all mourn a life;
the light pulling from a single thread of hair,
swooping the loops in our braids as
the blonde rings crown our necks; pelicans
circling our carcasses like vultures; beak dripping
a desire for our meat; I wish I could show you
the shells casings; black as his bored-in eye sockets;
an ocean adorned in our bodies, tangled with seaweed;
a ritual; a dance; the skin left hoveled; a boy falls to
the pillaged ground and this is how we say goodbye;
kissing his cheek before he tumbles back to
the moon. His face like a melon;
a child with skittles dandelioning his hair; a boy cups
something Black and soft and wanting to live;
crescent hands, what a beautiful sight it was; to call
the soft ground ready to be tilled in plots.
The land that we tend to is just our warm blood,
a country built from the milk of our mothers;
the smell of coins decaying the land in rot;
my first country soaked flames in its ocean;
my first country started as a shredded flag;
a song of a small dove bursting
into feathers; my first country was not
a country but a war; it smiled
in its own stench of blood coating its field,
dressing its people; color can only bend
around the brightest light when that’s all there is;
I return to my first country
its bullets; its laws; the crack in its scarletting sky
and nothing more; and in turn
we take back our ghosts.
jason b. crawford (They/Them) was born in Washington DC and raised in Lansing, MI. Their debut Full-Length Year of the Unicorn Kidz is out from Sundress Publications. They are currently an MFA Candidate at New School in Poetry.
Because “I do take this woman to be my lawful wedded wife” is a performative utterance, but so is “I now pronounce you—” by Billie R. Tadros
The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not therefore, and is not intended to be, a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them.
— Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex, 15 Mar. 2021
When the grocery order comes and I unwrap the family
pack of chicken breasts and peel them from their yellow
styrofoam and blood soaked paper, even though I know
they’re not, I think of wings,
lungs, what we do to things
that fly, and all for piccata.
This is a love poem, which is to say that
a thing becomes whatever you call it.