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Voting on the Poem of The Year Readers’ Choice Award is now closed. Thanks for voting!


 

From this shortlist, we are asking you, the readers, to pick your favourite and vote for one poem to be the Readers’ Choice Award winner. The poem with the most votes will receive the $250 Readers’ Choice Award.

After you’ve read the short list, be sure to cast your vote here. Voting closes April 10th, 2016. Arc reserves the right to disqualify results that appear to have been obtained by suspicious voting practices.

Enjoy!

As Spongebob Squarepants (James Langer)
In Recognition of a Quarter Century of Contribution to UMA (Curtis LeBlanc)
A Profusion of Handsome Japanese Papers (Matthew Hollett)
Hitler’s Taste Testers (Catriona Wright)
Butts (Wayne L. Miller)
Motherhood (Alessandra Naccarato)
Missing You (Glenn Hayes)
Self-Portrait, Skull and Ornament (K.T. Billey)
Gastromance (Andy Verboom)
Reluctant, Reluctant (Kateri Lanthier)
site (Doyali Islam)


 

As Spongebob Squarepants

If we know what’s good for us, we should first
Sketch it roughly and then fill in the details. I can’t
Change my habits. I inhabit them. Oh Patrick,
If only you really, really knew how many waves
Of lapping and overlapping vagaries it takes
To wear one’s actions down to this immaculate
Degree of stupidity and muscle memory, the squash and stretch,
To live inside it, accompanied by a soundtrack
Of slide guitar and relaxing ukulele, the chorus of which
Is as if someone ripped my arms off and beat me with them
To prove a point I invariably miss. Don’t laugh.
It keeps happening. I’ve learned if you get
On an elevator going down, you go down. It accrues
As second nature. The work vanishes into the work,
And we’re supposed to emerge within this wet machine of feeling
As the sudden embodiment of our final freedom? Sure,
No problem. Every man should know his end,
The craftsman his chaise lounge, the boiler maker
His boilerplate, but is this all there is for me –
The treadmill of this looping background? You hid
Under your rock, clung to the remote, refused to talk
Or look up to me as someone whose gratification
Confirmed your sway on the surroundings. That
Was the end, a punchline delivered late, as if
I’d mindlessly stepped into my own recurring brush with death
In a fiery explosion due to the carelessness of a friend.
Why not say what happened? Because hindsight’s
50-50. A story we tell ourselves, not physics, silly. See and see,
But don’t perceive. Though there are no failures, just results. Right?
We act within a view of ourselves whether it’s accurate or not,
And my day in, day out is when I’m most myself –
Totally oblivious, feeding my hard-wired hormonal jellyfish
Cans of forced laughter and happiness
Reverse engineered – someone you’re compelled
To root for, but if left alone with for five minutes….
See what I live with? As the good doctor says,
Biology trumps the ambiguous supplement. But I have thoughts
And thoughts about my thoughts, like a chase scene
Through a hall of doors. That’s just it. Every time I blame
This porous core system for squaring its vicious circle,
I anthropomorphize myself and the rest is contempt. I can’t do this.
Remember when we were young, the grotesque
Close-ups and blurred backdrops, when we shared a brain,
When all our cells seemed animated, and the storyboard was set?
Where was I? Oh, yes. You left. And it’s too bad I can’t be there
To enjoy my not being there, to be somewhere outside
The back of my mind, the illusion of life, the running gag.

 

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In Recognition of a Quarter Century of Contribution to UMA

They gave him a bad watercolour: two men
surveying a dirt road flanked by standing
water and train tracks stretched thin to three
red grain elevators no longer in operation.
The men stand behind their yellow tripods,
measuring the distance between something
and nothing. It is almost winter. Everything
is dead or dying. The trees hold no leaves.
The canola, barbered down to stubble.
For twenty-five years my father has been
assessing, with the precision of a person
born into nothing, the unpaved road to
something. I have watched him mark
the milestones like the longer lines
on a ruler—kneeling at the edge of the teak
coffee table, raising the orange cat high
above his split-level empire of berber
carpet and second-hand furniture.

 

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A Profusion of Handsome Japanese Papers

A hangnail of plastic
beckoned from the wrapper, as irresistible
as the pull-cord dangling over the bottommost
of my grandparents’ basement stairs. Pull here,
the package should have read, to open
a new age in space exploration, to open Beethoven’s
Fifth Symphony, to open hostilities.
I pulled,
five hundred species of paper spilled
from a plastic chrysalis, and every shadow in a small radius
leapt for the nearest corner to quiver there,
hissing. Diamonds upon diamonds
of chiyogami improvised a fireworks competition
on my unsuspecting desk, like wildflowers
forced through a pencil sharpener, like capelin rolling
in the glitter of a discothèque. Pull here,
it should have said, to begin your career
as a lepidopterist, a pyrotechnician, a capital letter
in an illuminated manuscript.
Leaning close, my eyes struck oil
skimmed from a moonlit pond, a medieval tapestry
writhing with maggots, a cross-section
of a stack of Calvin & Hobbes. The book publisher didn’t
use the proper print fixative. Needless to say, when I picked up the book,
all the letters slid off the pages and fell on the floor
in a heap of gibberish.
I’ve somehow come into possession
of Calvin’s palimpsest: here’s a cartoon fistfight
bristling with punctuation marks, here’s a flattened house
made of dust and housefly-wing chandeliers, here’s twenty years
scraped off a painter’s studio floor, here’s a Bridget Riley
fucking a Hokusai when the MoMA is closed. Here’s
where I drove off a bridge and a Portuguese man o’ war
hit the windshield, here’s the scent of the recycling plant
distilled into nine square inches, here’s a nautical map
of the moon. Mare Cognitum. Mare Insularum.
The names of lunar maria generally call up psychic states.
When Mare Moscoviense was proposed by the Soviet Union,
it was only accepted with the justification
that Moscow is a state of mind. Did you even read
the history chapter I assigned?
Here’s an artist’s impression
of the sound of snow falling on the ocean, here’s a spiderweb
gift-wrapping a gust of wind, here’s a cave painting
discovered in the tunnel of your bloodstream. Pull here
for altered thinking processes, closed- and open-eye visuals,
synesthesia, an altered sense of time, and
spiritual experiences.
Here’s Calvin pissing on
the words Your Text Here, here’s a strip of tiny squares
with Cheshire smiles, here’s a butterfly wing
magnified fifteen times, here’s where
I closed my eyes. I tried too, Miss Wormwood.
I think my excuses need to be less extemporaneous.

 

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Hitler’s Taste Testers

Me and fourteen other girls. After months, years, of sawdust
and ground acorn coffee, rancid margarine and biscuits
that required a chisel, it almost seemed a gift.

I am disgusted now to admit I was one of his yellow-feathered things,
but there it is. On that first day I shoved fresh vegetables into my mouth.
Asparagus sceptres ennobled with hollandaise, sweet roasted peppers, lettuce,

rice, rich clear broths. No meat or fish. He was a vegetarian
or pretended to be. It’s difficult to describe the solemnity of seeing each meal
as your last. We cried with relief when our bowels moved bloodlessly.

But I was hardly a medieval court taster. I never even met him.
We were kept in a separate room, a forced sorority. Forbidden
from seeing our families, we slept on hard beds in a concrete bunker.

At night Marlene and Ruth debated belladonna versus arsenic versus hemlock.
Anna and Irene swapped stories about boyfriends and brothers and other brutes.
Our cycles began to align. We laughed from time to time.

Ingrid did her best Lola-Lola, a blue angel falling
in love again while Ilse giggled, embarrassed, cheeks hot.
Ursula swept our hair into aristocratic knots and swirls.

I can’t explain why all fifteen of us had to test his meals
or why we were all women. Helga thought him handsome, deferential
to our fragile bodies. Gertrud punched the wall until her bones went limp.

Equally important was that we be upstanding German stock
as though we weren’t just tasting his food, but digesting it too,
his outsourced intestines.

We were lab rabbits twitching in our cages. Karin wondered if our shared diet
made us more like him or he more like us. Hydrangeas with the same blue hue
dictated by acidic soil. I still can’t eat Eintopf or Grie?kl??chensuppe.

Frieda concocted bold escapes. Eleonore recited verses
from the Book of Job. Lotte found her faith. Sonja lost hers.
We wrote each other’s obituaries, full of lewd jokes and accolades.

It went on that way until one night when a soldier who was sweet
on me dragged me from bed and pushed me through an open mouth
in the fence. The Russians got there soon after

and shot the other fourteen
while the newlyweds dined
on cyanide.

 

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Butts

fil !!ter !!ed
lo!!! go !!ed
p !a? !p !e !r
tu!!? !b!!! es
o !!!!! !!!!!!f
wrap!!!!ped
cru! mb!led
tob!!ac !? co
s o!a! k? e!d
i ! !!!!!!!!!!n
s!e !c !r !e!t
sol ! ut !ion
trans! form
h !!!!e!!!!! r
pat !!i!! ent
br !!ea !! th
t!!!!!! !!!!! o
em!! be !!rs

 

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Motherhood

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Some girls grow up wanting to shroud
themselves in a habit. Wear black to the ankles, pray.
Some girls want to give themselves up to Jesus, utter
and complete in the crush. Some girls curl and ribbon
for sermons, lead the lambs in the basement scripture
every Sunday. Some girls want to marry the silence
they can only find in that basement, while the kitchen
forms itself into meat and potatoes. Some girls would
rather not find out what a back seat is for, but Jesus
gives them a heart murmur and the church needs strong
women. Some girls are refused by the convent, 1936.
These women unfold themselves like the deed to a house.
In this house, situs inverses, a child born with her organs
on the wrong side. Cystic kidneys. Cerebral palsy. These
women turn the other cheek. These mothers can’t stop
sleeping. Their daughters are four to a room. Chew braids
in Mass. Become teenagers who can’t stop sleeping. Play
Eve in a school play. Act 1, they are a rib bone. Act 2,
hitchhike to a big city and get pregnant, almost die giving
birth in a living room. These grandmothers envy. Light
leaks through them. They carry you across the street
like you are a letter. Slap you hard when you steal a hotdog
bun before dinner. These grandmothers would prefer
you remember the carrots in their yard, neatly planted.
Their table, never empty. Grief at the hip like a seventh
child, still they set the table. Held your yellow crayon
as you drew a circle. And when the light came, all flash
and tumble, they hesitated a moment in the checkered
bathroom before turning towards it, wondering if their
daughter would remember to turn off the stove.

 

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Missing You

I made up words and kept singing how I loved you ….”
– Emily Dickinson to Susan Huntington 1852

A honey bee – unbalanced by
Its golden load – tumbles down
An ivory neck – drowned in balms.
Susie’s gone. Summer stutters – stalls.

Remember when – with hair unpinned –
You scolded Glory’s gossiping –
Pinched Snap for all her primping.
Remember singing – The Water Is Wide –
To Violets I pinned on your breast.

Sipping deep from plum-bloom eyes –
A store of honey for the frost.

At meeting – when the choir hallelooed –
I changed the words for God to Sue.

 

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Self-Portrait, Skull and Ornament

after Oppenheim, for country mothers

No sooner had Flood found her bracelet
than they chopped off her hand.

Standard punishment for counting cards, she replied
with an abacus of pearls, weighing my earlobes
in chandeliers. The x-ray wave is my maternal self, her

carbon reflecting my interest in women—the deluge
concept. I put her on the line when I need the carousel

time, the pause between numbers
when the dial retracts and the cradle stares back.
Her freshwaters became a pain scale, proving trauma

can sync, if not tally, so I salt what I can, on her
behalf. So what if earrings compromise the scan? Bangles

are shifty, and even before, her wrists were rattling
axles.If you had one body for the rest of your life, how
would you top it? What’s one bridge you want

to burn before the water reaches our chins?
My answer to most things is Flood—fur

on the saucer, dirt in the tea. I can’t build a boat
but I can face my face, looking like hers. When the clouds burn
off I’ll starfish, sprawling just outside her field of vision—she,

a femur distilled by the sun, me, a bleached-out familiar
faking a shrug. Stick around this time. See what happens.

But there’s noise below the image, her captioned
lip reads: No Higher Resolution Available.
Miles from the cemetery, I consider that

an epitaph. She already lent landlocked new meaning—
her legs became a tell in the last round, restless

around the kids. The four of us, pacing the prairie. Her
quarter sections. Her stage four. I inherited this arm
hair, the switch that trips when an ant

crawls up my sleeve. Black and loam, queen
of spades. It won’t bite. Call this a statement

piece, set in stone. A decent hand, tossed
on the table. Four of a kind. Pass the shovel.

 

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Gastromance

Neighbours know their ceilings. Pealing thunder
makes them strange, though—horror’s borborygmus.
What that says of knowing is a wonder.

Skunks fillet our garbage bags to plunder
futures, flaunt what we’ve been ordering. Most
neighbours know the spiel—unsealing thunder
at their fleeing tails is like surrender.
But we shout at what is bordering us.
What that says of knowing is a wonder.

You and I snort hellfire through a hundred
organs, shudder, lie unverbed. Our igneous
nipples know the ceiling. Peeling thunder
later, spooning into one another’s
laps the sulfur hints of our arrhythmias.
What that says of knowing is a wonder.

We fart hard from upwind, clumsy hunters.
We’ve been practicing our carb arrangements.
Neighbours know, their ceilings’ peeling, thunder
augurs certain scents. Will we out-tender
age? Well, would you rather burp or ignorance?

Our great flatulence will shine from under
door gaps, lemon days, and bourbon’s egress.
Neighbours know our ceiling-peeling thunder.
What that says of knowing is a wonder.

 

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Reluctant, Reluctant

If “nothing less than perfection will do,” you’re likely in talks with the devil.
You could prop up that régime with one foot. The Emperor never gets dressed.

The fortunes in these cookies are all “character is destiny.”
I’m surprised to find myself still on the menu. I must be there for a reason.

A blind owl’s eyes and the planet Mercury swim into my ken:
Blue unknowable jewels. I’ve left your tears on the shelf by the door.

In the tale of the princess and the pea, what keeps her awake is a pearl.
A pearl smothered in mattresses, the grit at the heart of lust.

The moon is a pearl we’ve lost and found and lost and found and lost.
Let me in. You know my iris. I’ll match you brainwave for wave.

The page wears a sliver of gold. Sackcloth smothers the hedge in winter.
A thorn from that hedge will prick you and spit rubies in the snow.

Reluctant, Reluctant, let down your long hair! The offer has almost expired.
So wise, the swans, doubling back their necks to sleep on their own featherbeds.

 

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site

on tuesdays in the cramped mustard kitchen
i tear open a swab, pull the white cap
from a vial, screw tight a syringe’s halves.
his sight is back – clouded lenses plucked out –
so i’m cautious as i spy the thin jut
of elbows; white shirt under which sutured
skin hides what the tumour took – a backbone
now of stainless steel, an internal cast
of rod and screws. look: he keeps an empty
chai packet stashed in his breast pocket
for the good scents of cardamom and clove.
my mouth is stern: i pretend not to love
the needle’s bevelled tip, its hollow
gluttonous guzzling. neupogen funnels
like sand through a timer’s slim neck. my hands
each week grow steadier than weather.
they drain the little bottle faster,
develop a square and useless pride.
the nurse mapped his skin, pointed to the sites:
abdomen (at least two inches away
from the navel); the back of the upper
arm (right or left); the thigh (never chosen).the nurse told me to hold it like my pen.
she warned, be swift.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!he kept calm, gave us nothing.but she was not there when, at the picnic,
someone said between bites of pie,
you’ve had a good life, and the shade of those
five words passed over his eyes. on tuesdays
he who would never laugh or cry or tell
a joke or work all the days of my life
learns to mouth thanks, and please. that’s when
i’m the closest i’ll ever be to him –
both hate and love the place i enter in.

 

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