Nature & Place Prize, 1st Place Winner: de arena & calce or: of sand & quicklime or: hydrangeas by Anna Newman

We’re so excited to share this poem by 2022 Nature & Place Prize winner, Anna Newman! About Anna’s poem, the judge Amaud Johnson writes, “I know what the meek shall inherit, but maybe our lives are lesser when we hesitate to name our wants. This poem disrupts our surface realities, dares us, shakes us as the stark splendor of the natural world can sometimes elicit new understandings of the body, of being human, of need. Isn’t touch the most porous of our senses? Isn’t longing a measure of the shifting distance between two objects? This poet draws the world in layers. This poem finds gravity.”


de arena & calce

or: of sand & quicklime or: hydrangeas


I’ve always found hydrangeas obscene, the particular way they take
up space & their smell so pungent it finds its way into my thoughts.

Soft as the back of a knee. Or the head of an oyster
mushroom. Or how a bough wants to break under a skein

of frost. I have learned that what is most tender, what wants most to be touched,
also never lasts, like ice spreading in a thin layer over the surface of a river

& wouldn’t I stand there forever pushing my foot against it, watching it give &
then form again, if time were something I could grab by the fistful

& hold without watching it fall away. When you saturate a cloth
with sand taken from the banks of a flood, & then shake it out,

the cloth becomes pure again, says Palladius. This is about the sand,
not the cloth. You can reach into a deluge to find the richest

loam for building, but even when water arrives with such force
it recedes eventually & leaves everything as it was. I want only

to be what is necessary. The excess salt that dissolves the sound
structure of a house, the temporary courage brought on by

catastrophe —& when you make it to the other side,
I’ll be both the woman who waited for years & the man

returning triumphant with nothing to show for his absence. Once,
I was drenched, I got softer. Lime & ash submerged in saltwater.

A structure, too, begins in tenderness & becomes
inflexible with time. When I open my legs,

I grip fields of flowers between my thighs. When I open,
I can make tenderness last as long as a bud pressed

between the pages of my hands, as long as the distance
between a figure on the shore & the stern of a boat breaking the horizon,

as long as the pause between the wind blowing & a branch lifting.
If you look away, you almost miss it —


Anna Newman

Anna Newman holds an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Maryland. Their work has appeared in Best New Poets, Rattle, Poetry Northwest, [PANK], and elsewhere. They live in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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