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 Deer 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 ReviewRadar Poetry, Palette PoetryThe Missouri ReviewBest 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

Upon leaving:

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.

 

 

Upon Returning:

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.

 

 

Billie R. Tadros is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English & Theatre and an associate faculty member in the Women’s & Gender Studies Program at The University of Scranton in Scranton, PA, where she also directs the concentration in Health Humanities. She is the author of three books of poems, Graft Fixation (Gold Wake Press, 2020), Was Body (Indolent Books, 2020), and The Tree We Planted and Buried You In (Otis Books, 2018). Her work has previously appeared in Black Warrior Review, Bone Bouquet, Crab Fat Magazine, Lavender Review, Tupelo Quarterly, the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere, and in anthologies including The Queer South (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014) and Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). You can find more of her and her work at www.BillieRTadros.com.
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