Jeron Jennings earned an honorable mention for his poem, “She Reads Aloud Ode To The Naked Body.” Jennings is a Junior who studies English Teaching. He hails from Saint Regis, Montana.
She Reads Aloud Ode To The Naked Body
Chaste eyes are the only eyes with which
you see me. You read aloud to the open room,
to the symposium, your filthiest translations
of Neruda but it is only I
who hears you. Our benevolent cronies
chuckle at the indication of bodies,
breasts, and flesh. Spill and stain
the knotted carpet with red wine.
May I be the you of this recital? Omit
the anatomical disagreements. These boundaries
are as passing as the words we speak,
the vernaculars we pull them in
and out of. Terms that signify nothing, like my name
which you can never remember. In time,
when they extract our signs
like vestiges from a dead language
they won’t know anything but the way
your voice shillyshallied
on the penultimate line. They’ll know
that we toasted but not what we toasted to.
It was forgetting, after all. And I don’t recollect
what your friend’s father said at his deathbed
or how your hair began thinning out.
They’ll know not that we sang:
You forget what you meant
when you read what you said,
but they’ll know that we sang.
And this flesh, this object
of our youthful lust will wither,
rot, and repulse. Sentience dwindles
into the lithosphere and all that is left
are our bones, skulls
hardly distinguishable, filled
with soil. We were made from Earth
and dirt, ashes to ashes and other accidents.
They only have to mean if we let them.
Like how all the fires lit beneath my feet
beneath my flesh, have burned white hot
and been named Gabrielle. I beg,
as I have always begged, for the last lines,
for the end to be mine. I am the regolith
buried in the scars of celestial bodies,
echoing light to tell you
You are on fire from within.
The moon is smoldering inside your veins
and tonight we are drunk on lunacy
from lunar rays.
The Oval’s first honorable mention in poetry goes to Callie Ann Atkinson for “Lark.” She is a senior in the Creative-Writing program and is graduating this spring with her BA. She received her AA degree from Northwest College, before transferring to UM. Callie grew up on a small farm outside of Belfry, Montana, a place she continues to go back to every chance she gets. She consider the farm one of the strongest influences to her writing as well as writers such as Wendell Berry, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Hugo, and Paulette Jiles.
The sky is blue in Bierstadt light.
Many shades of sapphire and canary gold blush the ceiling of the world.
You brush leftover autumn leaves from porch steps.
A cardboard box has blown flattened against a fence.
There is the old man with his budgies—you look through each
glass pane—each frames a new
color–you like the brightest—it sings
Its so warm there must be swelling buds on branches.
Temperature drops then rises when the sun breaks the hill.
You wait for the rise to enter day.
Tea still steams in the kitchen beside oatmeal studded in raisins.
Gray winter light still held in apartment windows.
You know it could snow—tulips are resisting thought-ground
is thawing—frost replaced by rich
Tomorrow it will rain—the faucet leaking in tempo.
Western meadowlark is back singing.
He will be wet—he will keep his song dripping from his beak.
“This poem packs dark but beautiful imagery into a single stanza. The second person format pulls the reader into the work, creating a sense of immediacy that is both striking and chilling.”
~Vol 5, Poetry Board
“Dig” by Mary Peterson
in the bronze hollow
of a brittle ribcage,
to rust the Black holes
of your chest,
the pupils expanding
and eating light
unfolding from the chrysalis,
where cocoons unreel themselves
into the belly of inversion,
the belly of the earth
where you dug and found
the snail whose shell
was a cup.
“We would like to honor this poem for its honesty and the power of its message. It is funny and relatable, but by the end has transcended into something deeper, something that speaks to the true history of our culture.”
~Vol 5, Poetry Board
“A Public History” by Max Siewert
I sit here steeping in the History
Of Our Land, a class, and my eyelids dense.
A teacher, shrill at his pulpit, recites
to the silent rows of desks and students:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are…” my pen drops, my sight blacks
the desk legs tremble and I hear Ocean –
seeking depth in the sands of my inner beach
I can see our true Lady Liberty
kneeling in the dirt. She’s draped in the dull
jade gown which she filched from the Iroquois,
Catawba, Choctaw, and Creek. The Natives
who shared their fish, corn, wisdom, and knowledge
with the savages who would betray them
eventually to steal their hunting grounds,
burn their homes, rape their women and children.
I see why she stoops so low now, and how
her crown pines for the Nature that once was,
Nature that hides now in the oaks who shed
their trunks and rot into divinity.
So deep is my reverie that the scepter
held by Lady Liberty does not shine,
guide, shimmer, or teach, but instead it falls.
Falls in black ashclouds – grime culled from the backs
of Germans, Italians, Chinese, and from
the husband who brought family by ship
to polish the shoes of Christians who called
him yellow. Or the daughter, destitute
and attending men in brothels for coin.
Or the minister told that he knew not
the word of God and would be spurned heaven.
They will never hold the scepter, and so
it falls like stinging sweat from the fissured
palms of Africans, Irishmen, and Jews.
There was the grandmother of eight who stole
what time she could from her master to teach
her son, daughter, and grandchildren how to read.
There, in a gutter, lived the lonely wife
who left home to best famine, and still
had to bury her children in the mud.
And there was the street-sweep who knew the burn
of warm spit on his forehead all too well.
All together they were Americans.
Beckoned by Lady Liberty’s gold staff
to the eastern coast of teeming land where
they first beheld its radiance, as if
only in a dream, then ceded life’s breath
to paint with truth the lungs of Our Land
and the sickly veins of its governance.
I hear the collective voice of lives past:
the dying utterances of the slave,
the immigrant, the first woman to vote,
the soldier, the farmer, the criminal,
and the jailer, and they are one Ocean.
Their waters will cover her feet and lick
her shins until she falls like cornhusk.
And the men, women, and children will come
clad in white to form a circle of one,
one nation and one people gathered here
together to cast a single acorn
into the pit and declare this Their Land.
My eyes open and so too do my ears
to a teacher sleepy at a lectern
spouting a message addressed to none but
me: “…we mutually pledge to each other
Our lives, Our fortunes, Our sacred honor.”
Honorable Mention: “For the Singer at the First American Encounter Against Impunity, Morelia, Chiapas Mexico” by Katherine DeGrandpre
“This poem tells a story, capturing the heart of a people and a time in history with soulful elegance. It couples striking imagery with repetition that builds meaning throughout the final stanza.”
~Vol 5, Poetry Board
“For the Singer at the First American Encounter Against Impunity, Morelia, Chiapas Mexico” by Katherine DeGrandpre
You had a voice so big I couldn’t hold it on my back.
You opened your mouth and brought down torrents of rain and corn
and you stood before us singing of raw voices and cracked hands.
You sang to me, compañera, Zapatista, and a baby with the face of Mexico grew in my womb
and my body strained with your vocal chords, arms pulling me up a full, steep moutain
to work the milpa and carry the baskets of meal I held on my back.
Your voice seeped into my skin in the universal language of eyes and song
and I remembered the rocks used to build this road, inplausable, breaking my white shoulders.
I heard the cry of picks, and people singing with raw voices and cracked hands.
I learned the meaning of solidarity, the earth leathered man next to me crying too
and I was a child humming comfort to my compliant American parents,
with a voice so big we couldn’t hold it on our backs.
And hands and throats around me tightened
and bodies shook like clear cut trees and so many lost generations,
and we quietly sang with raw voices, and cracked hands.
And as your keening died away, my hands became those of a child, reaching for yours
and I awoke deep in the exhaling mountains, surrounded by wide eyes like dense wood
and your song was so big I didn’t hold it on my back
but in my throat, yours and mine, singing raw voices, cracked hands.
“In “The Far Field,” Mary Peterson creates a series of rolling images that build quickly. Her lines read fast and breathless, creating an urgent tone in harmony with the poem’s rhythm. Through the speaker’s strong voice and conviction, the reader can vividly imagine Peterson’s scenes and the emotions those images convey.”
~Vol. 5 Poetry Board
“The Far Field” by Mary Peterson
I dream of journeys repeatedly:
Of wings not strewn to sails or a fixed compass south,
Of the singular beat of flockless flap,
Above east-west logging roads where ash covers,
Settled into footprints of predators still hungry,
Hanging on to dry-bones,
And shadows hold their breath as the night inhales the moon,
Clinging trees tilt to the sunken days,
And time stops for just a side-kiss with sunlight,
Where charred branches curl to soil,
Deep in the burnt yesterday of forest,
In the branch the Great-Horned does not speak but watches,
For absent tiptoes.
At the field’s end, in the corner missed by fire,
Where tires cradle rabbits amidst prisms of broken glass,
Foliage creeps between sluggish mushrooms,
Not too far away from the ever-changing flower dump,
Among bees molded in tin-combs
One learned of the eternal:
Petals rusted in honey and dead bugs puddled on the tongue of a bird
(I found it lying among the rubble of an old bin)
And the half-carcass of a bear half-scavenged,
Blasted to death by the night watchman.
I suffered for both sides of the stream,
Sitting in the muddled colors before morning is morning,
To hear the pitches of birds apologizing for blindness,
I listened and listened to the shape of their call
As the song blinkered into chirps that miss the constancy of dawn
And the horizon that does not rise or follow,
Drifting with moments,
Like the stitch of wings over wind,
While the wrens bicker and sing in the half-green hedgerows,
I’m in the river-wake of momentum.
–Or naked in sand,
The still pulses of erosion,
Once I was something like this,
Or perhaps another effect
The river turns on itself,
And the sediment is clumping to the hollows of fallen earth,
I feel a weightless change, not a moving forward
But at the center of cycle, a standstill
Where the warp collects alluvial normalcy
No longer can I hide in rifts as rifts.
I stare at the fungus breeding,
My mind moves in more than one place,
On both sides of the sand-dial on its side,
At the bottom of a river.
He is the end of things, the final man,
When a broken compass is still a compass,
Containing what the night cannot say,
In the empty beaks that will not fly,
And let the ash flood to foliage.
Time and place are loosely absolute:
And even the meadow at the edge
keeps their illusion in a safe,
in the wings of a dragonfly
that, before petals thirst,
seem to search for droplets,
so that ripples are or maybe
not casted from one mind.
Sarah Johnson is a Senior majoring in Creative Writing and Spanish from Billings, Montana. She writes that she loves “clear mountain mornings, golden retrievers, and the sound of crackling ice under my boots.”
Bourbon legged swagger,
creased white cowboy hats
turn towards her
nightly melodramatic entrance
to sip frothy ales and stare
at tobacco crusted fingernails;
they already know her record,
the untamed firefly
who leans over green velvet
staggers into the 8ball and shuffles
stained boots to creaky fiddle strokes,
stepping on wrecked peanut shells
which remind her
of the crumbling roses she forgot
on the counter weeks ago;
she will whisper in their ears,
hum ribbed lullabies
to apologize for empty glasses and
yesterday’s futile romance.