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Here they are — the 10 poems that made our editors’ shortlist for the Poem of The Year!


Here they are — the 10 poems that made our editors’ short list for the Poem of The Year!

 

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 May 10th, 2017. Arc reserves the right to disqualify results that appear to have been obtained by suspicious voting practices.

Enjoy!

de mens (Karl Meade)
The Body is A Here (Abby Paige)
Notes: October (Pamela Porter)
Harvest Moon Lantern Festival (Kayla Czaga)
If You Say So (Abby Paige)
Biography of a Story (Phillip Crymble)
Runner (Jessie Jones)
Galveston (Dominique Bernier-Cormier)
Breach (Blair Trewartha)
The Structural Integrity of the Universe (Robin Richardson)


 

de mens

what it means

All night we cling to the hills: scree face, foot hold, my words
scattered against the stars, back-dropped,
you and me, stones and we—

eroding? Sometimes I remember. What it means
cleaving the mind, leaving the earth, the rubble we came from, the stones I’ve lost—

the words you never said to me: pill box, taxi chit,

meal cart. Is this our new love: pharma
love? I remember. How it ends, our reduction to one, note, contracting,
my brain cleaving itself of you, and me. I remember our limbs

fused that last night, your last crystalline night:
sixteen pills and ten doctor hooks

on shuffle play. I remember what it means

how you loved the hook of my heart flutter, how we played it,
in and out, you and me, ragged-veined victims of your thousand day
lymph war. I remember, in your honour

my platelets stuck their plaque on the wall, the long fuse
of my brain’s scattering protein, tangles and angles, your womb, my stones

to mark the hole in the earth

where I’ll lay my flesh
on your bones,
my words

on your lips,
fuse our limbs

to the hills.

what de mens

Some days I stare at the words, all day. I stare
all day at the words: de mens. They tell me what it means, leaving
the mind? Now I have nothing

to lose, nothing to hold but our fractured stones
turned pure glacial music. I stare at the stones, I remember

how it ends: the glacier breathes, the canyon gathers: note by fissure

we die alone. It was you
who left first, your wide eyes upon me, all the way down,
my ear to the ground, I hear you

between water and stone, I hear your buried song
of creek and crack. I remember. You are my gift

and burden. You are my voice so clear

the words that left us, left us together. We are scattered moraine, terminal
and lateral. We are ground so pure our feet keep walking, our children
keep talking. We give them this gift

of river mouth from canyon, of rain from sea, I tell them
we are not just death’s creeping advance we are the open terrace of fracture

we turn ice into music, stone into water.

We give them the earth’s
metamorphosis:
what it means

to turn this
creak and crack

of you into me.

what de mentia

Some nights I hold the moon, all night. The window,
the moon, all night I hold the words your mouth
left me, the sun

rises, the moon leaves. Where
have you gone? I remember

you said the sun holds the moon

half in the dark. This is love, you said, split
luminosity. There are stars so pure
their own light won’t leave. The dark

is just light, you said, beheld. The holes
are just space

the words leave

for you and me
sun and moon

I remember now

how it ends
what it
means.

 

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The Body is A Here


When people say it’s friendly here, I think of the woman who called me a bitch
in the parking lot, not because she wasn’t friendly, but because only some of
the sounds that come out of our mouths are words. I wonder what here is

besides a point we’ve reached in an argument about who saw the parking
spot first. Here is a sound that depends on who hears it, like permanent
and Western and true. I’m from here— not in the sense some people mean,

but in the sense that my people, too, made themselves at home. In the sense
that borders are lines they painted on pavement, and I am a scar on the
landscape, which makes the landscape mine, in a way, like that parking spot

was mine. The sound of her car horn was the sound of her ancestors hollering
at me. I waved as though bitch were a greeting, which maybe it is, since I’m told
the people here are friendly. If I should die here, ship that bitch back home.

 

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Notes: October

Hay poor this year.
Took 2nd bag of weeds to Tom.
Told him weeds thick in 15 bales
so far.

ooooooo Underline so far.

Connemara arrived, black mane
and tail. Shoes on both front feet,
packs up wi. rocks & mud.
Have to clean out wi. hoof pick.
Will ask farrier to pull shoes.

ooooooo Check mark beside farrier.

Put Connemara in paddock wi. Shetland.
Dominance wars ensued.
Must separate by gate when eating,
come back after dark to open gate.
Don’t want to do this forever.

ooooooo Circle forever.

Picked up manure in heavy rain.
Pine needles floating in water trough.
Wheelbarrow piled wi. wet manure & mud.
Felt dazed by rain, isolated, alone.
Found shard of blue china in mud.

ooooooo Draw box around blue.

The old sorrel keeps clear
of the Connemara, grazes
opposite corner of pasture.
Only 2 months ago dragonflies,
dust, Queen Anne’s lace.

ooooooo Add memory, add momentary.

Two maple trees gone bright red.
Was it sudden or did I fail to look?

ooooooo Circle look.

Connemara wins dominance war.
No need to separate now.
Peace breaking out.

ooooooo Exclamation mark after peace.

Scrubbed water trough after storm.
Raised pump handle wi. both hands.
Water rushed sunlit, cold.
Felt hopeful again.

ooooooo Circle all of it.

Took Connemara on trails first time.
Wind swirling after storm, branches
cracking.? Connemara unalarmed.

ooooooo Two check marks after unalarmed.

Only thing growing now: darkness.
Checked temperature. Took flashlight,
blanketed 3 horses. Put out more hay.
Stars out, slivered moon.

ooooooo Circle moon.

 

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Harvest Moon Lantern Festival


We got lost by the salmon-shaped lantern school
watching roe bulbs hatch into tadpole matches
and arrive in a field of lantern wheat transfixed
by how they lit candles so small. A lantern
thought bubble above your head says maybe
we could hold hands inside your jacket pocket.

A lantern reads, FOLLOW ME FOR MORE LANTERNS.
We follow the crowd following directions
on their lantern phones. Great horned owl lantern.
Lantern Hamlet lecturing his unlit skull. A bouquet
of carnations in lantern colours. A lantern your niece
made out of a soup can, three nails, and her feelings.

A lantern I just wrote. A woman plucks a harp
behind an illuminated nativity scene—which half
is the lantern? Two tweenage lanterns kissing.

An electric lantern shaped like nothing in itself
emits silhouettes of geese and sighs of mothers
disapproving recent piercings. Their lantern book
club has just uncorked another Malbec.

A man drizzling food colouring on a projector
is a sort of lonely man lantern growing cold
in a field of impatient children. Impatient
children in neon windbreakers are excellent
lanterns and continue burning past bedtime.

Lantern shaped like that ugly thing I said
at breakfast, quit looking at it. Lantern lime
as a hangover, crying into the garburator.
A lantern says, it’s your turn to do the dishes.
Another says, let’s leave them ‘til tomorrow.

Historical lantern figures we’ve looked up
at since childhood. You photograph me between
Gertrude and a flying pig. Little boat who brought
my dad to Canada—float on that ocean of light
a while longer, ferrying souls to safer shores.

Click-bait lantern and us crowded around waiting
for kittens and life-hacks to load. It’s too shiny
and aimed at us. I just want to carve a face
onto an orange vegetable with you, a big
crooked grin with three teeth, but I know
we’ll leave it to rot on the stoop until February.

There’s nothing like a lantern to make us guilty
for our many moods. There’s nothing like a lantern.
Even in the hail it sits in its same face. Even
when I say, you’re a real asshole, it glows.

It’s ok, you say, we’re just lanterns waiting
for a volunteer’s hands to place candles inside
us—
then the crowd might huddle in our light.
Though we’re half-collapsed by the rain we’ll look
more human for it, our faces clumsily papered—
even though you’re a real asshole, you’ll glow.

 

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If You Say So

I’d like to be the bullet in the story of the hunter
who saves the heroine from a wolf. No authorship,

all instrument, aloft on the tailwind of someone else’s
moral clarity, released from my sense of direction, sent

headlong into the beast’s hot flesh. No bullet regrets its
trajectory. The terminal case is blessed by certainty,

endowed with freedom from doubt. The killing blow’s
beauty is that it does not waiver, only ends. I go on and

on, unsure of whether meaning is the target or the drag
coefficient, unsure of whether truths are measured by

the caliber of their countertruths or by the satisfying
thock ooooooo I think I’d hear if I ever got somewhere.

 

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Biography of a Story
ooo
for Shirley Jackson

ooooooo ?Shelved among the thirteen miles of boxes in the LOC —
protected now from light and migrant acids — stray lingins

ooooooo and humidity — the outsized leather scrapbook in your archive
waits in air-conditioned darkness like an overwritten codex

ooooooo or a clavicle of alchemy. On the cover, ripped and incomplete —
the folio you tore from The New Yorker, scissored, held in place

ooooooo by glue — the strips of old adhesive tape applied to mend it
frail and ossified — as yellow as a witch’s teeth. Inside, affixed

ooooooo with staples, paste, and rubber-based epoxies — all those letters
of displeasure, condemnation and abuse. “Outrageous,” “grim

ooooooo and gruesome,” “a perversion of democracy.” Subscribers
in their hundreds asked if what you wrote was true. As if

ooooooo they understood that blame and female sacrifice were things
they thought they recognized — things they thought they knew.

 

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Runner

Day one, gregorian
and organ-less. The streets

clawed at by frost, but the sky
an unripe peach

someone rushed to skin. You, in black
track pants, outrunning

the sunrise, manacled to the new year clock
grinding down. A reset. A time to meet

more eyes, to expose your curling thoughts
like toes buried in sand. Each morning

you run to the ocean to be crushed
by its motion and centrelessness,

to be needed for the blind white
roots of minutes

to stretch. Your shyness
a tidy narcissism

that strains under your desire
to be both noticed and left

for wolves. How long you can go on
alone is a skill one hones

over years, like prolonged
apnea or fingers making slippery work

of swollen ropes. The shy disappear
as most illusionists: fully human

and solid until bound to
misdirection, tilted mirrors lifting limbs

from their hinges into bolts
of dense velvet, into the wings. The gulls

are the first to see them reappear
along the warped coast and scatter;

see you, naked
obelisk, consuming the water

in one unblinking swallow, an element so still
and solitary that it is likely to eat them.

 

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Galveston

On the ferry to a brand new year,
I see the sky organize its legion of blue shields
into a Roman tortoise formation

and I know I’m fucked. Spears of sunlight
pointed at me and advancing, I try to strike
a conversation with a man from Austin

who is filming everything in slo-mo.
Good idea. At that speed, you can see
the ocean’s teeth are really full

of cavities. Couldn’t bite through a soft coral
shelf, much less my shiny new sense
of self. I take my socks off

because it’s a long ride, and for hours after
I can feel the ghosts of Merino sheep
bleating along my ankles.

Ew. I’ve got enough ghosts, thank you
very much. Plus, Austin over here
just sneezed (allergic to ‘marine

melancholy,’ he says) and I think I caught
a few of his. I can already feel
a beautiful song about Galveston, TX

tickling my throat. By tomorrow, I’ll know
all the words and be able to put a face
to that vague ‘her.’ That’s what happens

when motion-activated soap-dispensers
get motion-sick and start dispensing soap
to hands that aren’t even here, not even

close. Galveston, oh, Galveston, I still see
her dark eyes glowing. See? A deckhand clips
thick black curtains across the windows

so the cafeteria lights won’t disorient
other boats. They don’t sell beer on this ferry,
but they sell pyjamas with butt-flaps

that hang like tired gulls in the wind. Ugh.
That image is a tired gull in the wind.
Galveston, cough, Galveston,

am I right? OK, time to sleep. I close
my eyes so no one mistakes me
for a lighthouse. At the bottom

of my palm, a small sheep of soap grows
its wool back, out of the blue.

 

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Breach

Beaches Park (Victoria Day, 2015)

In crumpled leaves, gnats gnaw the backs of burnt necks
waiting for fireworks. We don’t worry about an eclipse
yet ‘career’ is a hurtling rock we never counted on.
Fear of overcast, constant tease of rain.
Everything sealed above will always hold,
but it won’t let us stray far from store fronts and awnings.

You worry about burn out and the intangible,
that we’ll never have a normal night again.
But that’s what saves me from my imagination,
that circus where it locks, where we ride cabs like battering rams
to hospitals, long swords singing the wood-splinter of our entrance.

Soon in this park, they’ll begin to blow things up.
Families will keep their kids up too late to watch that first crack
and flare—waves flopping onto shore, dark blue long gone
from the water. I think of that beach in Newfoundland that’s losing
all its sand. Shadows we can’t angle without the sun.

On those darkest nights to come, meet me outside the NICU.
Or let me hold you in front of our hatchback when you lose the keys.
How many nights will you open someone up, pull fresh hands and feet
into the room with you? How often, when everything goes blue,
will you return something no one even had yet?

The first one is lit. Spiral of yellow buckshot—confetti fire
snuffing out across the lake. I read somewhere that Orcas are learning
to beach themselves for a kill. Two weeks each year, their bulging bodies
breach a mere sand-dune away from suicide, wiggle back to blue-depth
before they’re trapped. I’ll bet that’s a trick we could learn
if it comes to that.

 

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The Structural Integrity of the Universe

There is an old man playing with the eels he’s about to eat there is an old man striking his right hand against a wooden rod his skin is coming off his blood is in my face his hand will be useless all bone he is doing this to punish me there is a cliff no one else is willing to scale halfway to the top there is a hole and through the hole I see an old man a king a samurai slaughter his daughter there is an old man who keeps some thousand fragile brightly colored birds in four-inch cages wants to take me out to dinner there is an old man wielding an ax he wants my head there is a man putting a gun in my hand and telling me to shoot to kill there is a blond man breaking into the restaurant he has a gun he is shooting randomly he finds me under a table says I need god to pay attention

There is a prehistoric lion eating a regular lion I am on the stairs at the bottom of the stairs at the top is a train and on the train I am cut repeatedly on the right arm with a blade held by a man there is a black panther on top of me in the largest room I’ve ever seen I sweep the room and once it’s clean it fills again with bees there is an opening in the sky through which bats come playfully there are horses with no skin there is a man who is a slug who is stuck at the bottom of the stairs there are unicorns in the nightclub who turn to men when I straddle them who want to fuck me there’s a maggot in my leg

He said I have to kill the elephant using only a straw full of water he said we had to get matching tattoos he dressed up as Predator and there were five of him in the theatre at the top of the stairs I was afraid to see the film he distracted me from the important little girl he keeps telling me it’s okay when I know it isn’t he is pushing me around in a shopping cart I get out and he breaks a dollar in half is angry I don’t care I go outside and put on white fur feel strong he is plucking the hair from my temple he is bending me over he is feeding me drugs he is obstructing my view of the sky he left the record on for years I had to stop it

 

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