White Mice 2019

White Mice 2019

Inasmuch as the 2020 Conference of the International Lawrence Durrell Society, On Miracle Ground XXI, takes place in Toulouse, France in late May, we thought a suitable theme for the 2019 White Mice Poetry Contest would be “The Heavens.” Though renowned for its architecture and history, Toulouse is also the “aerospace capital” of France, an appropriate place to contemplate human interactions with the other-worldly.

Heavenly bodies (both human and astronomical) make many appearances in the work of Lawrence Durrell. In his poem, “Lesbos,” “The Pleiades are sinking cool as paint / . . . Like dancers to a music they deserve” (Selected Poems 15). “The dispiriting autumn moon, // In her slow expurgation of the sky / . . . is brooding on the dead” (15).
Thus have humans since the dawn of time contemplated the movements of the stars and seen in them omens, refractions, evocations, and commentaries on themselves. The poems submitted to the 2019 White Mice Poetry Contest explore wide-ranging intersections between the galaxies and human experience. The first-prize winner, “Reflections of an Astronaut, Looking Down on Earth Below (a love poem),” is a persona poem as well as a sestina, a challenging lyric form masterfully handled by Daisy Bassen of East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

“August Missions,” by Daryl Scroggins of Marla, Texas, is more light-hearted yet also touching. Ten-year-old boys shoot a little sister’s Barbie doll into orbit in a re-enactment of rock-launching that earned this poet second prize. “Slippages,” the third-prize poem by Jesse Arthur Stone of Hedgesville, West Virginia, features an elder poet whose pages “open and close / like butterfly wings” and become “a ball of ice burning in space.”

This year’s cohort of entries was the largest we’ve ever received, so selecting winners was exceptionally difficult. Among three poems selected for honorable mention was Katharyn Howd Machan’s “Haiku in Terza Rima,” carefully-wrought tercets in which the moon and stars weave through and “[leap] down from the sky.” Marie Henry’s “Filling in the Spaces” focuses on the singularities of middle-age and the enchantments of naming and claiming stars and constellations. Graham Burchell’s “Traveller” offers a double-voiced perspective riding on a boat along the Nile “perfumed with diesel” while contemplating the moon, “a sunken crescent . . . darker than the sky.”

Given the record number of submissions this year, our judges decided to recognize four additional finalist poets, listed alphabetically by author’s last name: Bo Niles, Rev. Jennifer M. Phillips, Marjorie Stamm Rosenfeld, and Eileen Van Hook. Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to all those who submitted their work.

The rich textures of these poems reiterate the human need to situate our lives in space and time, not merely on Earth but also among the ongoing circulations of stars and planets. The universe is ever a place of wonderment and projection, hypothesis, counterfact, dark matter, and blinding light. And somehow the movements of sun and moon touch us viscerally. We know suicides and murders increase at the full moon, and depressions deepen during long periods without the sun. So the astrologers may have a point that the patterns of the heavens designate our lives in unforeseen yet noticeable ways. The 2019 poems demonstrate that fascinating gravitational intersection between human consciousness and worlds beyond.

David Radavich


First Prize

Reflections of an Astronaut, Looking Down on Earth Below

(a love song)

You become accustomed to awe, the moon
Filling up the window, too close to believe it pearl
Or a fine round of waxy cheddar. Bleached of the rose
Sunset brings to a waste, a desert is left, the dream
A coyote might wake from, desolate, and cry
That the night was empty. Abandoned, love

Having fled with all rich color, with heat. There’s no one to love
So far away from our home. You’re solitary as the moon
Whose goddess is usually a virgin, whose sharpest cry
Is reserved for the revelation her breasts are not pearl,
Not the silky, milky flesh of his fatuous dream.
The discovery there is no thorn-less rose

Can’t shock me. I’ve always known the seas that rose
Swallowed what they wanted, anything that tending love
Made particular, set apart; everything collected using the logic of a dream,
The dirty jumble of a mind or the sweeping tides. Once in a blue moon
Means never, here– it means the deceit of bent light, of a pearl
Hiding at its center, contamination; it’s a hopeful cry

Or hopeless. Those I’ve learned are more the same than not, the baby’s cry
We never stop hearing, the incurious hairy bee in the rose
Both stinging, breathing; both such sweetness. The pearl
Is the abscess’s sister; the assertion it’s better to love
Disruption into form than cast it off like the moon
Was from early, unruly earth, relegated to the object of dream,

The strain of ocean upon shores, our ovulations, to desire. Dream
On is an order than says you’ve failed, darling, and cry
Me a river has lost all ordinary sense, faced with the moon
And her waterless, tranquil seas. Any exile who rose
Up and demanded to return to her first love
You would understand better than me, my eyes made of pearl

Layered, removed, anomie sustaining me. What pearl
Do you not put in a lined case? What I now dream
Of, the dark cetacean noise of my own heartbeat, all I could love
Since I have been here, much closer to nothing than you. My cry
Is the sound across the deep that creates. The sun rose
To my ululation and if I turn away, only the battered moon

Remains, a bitten pearl. My soul has no refuge, no moon
Asteroid caught, or expelled with a mother’s cry, her long, labored dream
Laid in her arms like roses. I am all, all I have left to love.

—Daisy Bassen

Daisy Bassen is a poet and practicing physician who graduated from Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and completed her medical training at The University of Rochester and Brown.  Her work has been published in Oberon, The Delmarva Review, and The Sow’s Ear, as well as multiple other journals.  She lives in Rhode Island with her family.


Second Prize

August Missions

Everybody was ten then, I
mean except for
parents off somewhere working,
and my friend Paul,
who had an ammunition collection
and also rockets—kits with
shotgun shell sized cardboard engines
that would send your balsa-finned tube
and payload out of sight until
the red parachute bloomed—sent his little sister’s
favorite Barbie almost into orbit as she screamed and
tore at his shirt tail.
But when we all ran into a field of
weed stubble and recovered the doll, she was
scorched and smudged, silent, but still brave.
Paul’s sister quieted, taking her back, and was from
then on famous among her friends, who all
wanted to see the Barbie that never complained once
about reentry or fire at the window.
Paul looking all important
as he headed back to control.

—Daryl Scroggins

Daryl Scroggins has taught creative writing and literature at The University of Texas at Dallas, The University of North Texas, and the Writer’s Garret, in Dallas.  He now lives in Marfa, Texas.  He is the author of Winter Investments, a collection of stories (Trilobite Press), and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash novel (Ravenna Press).


Third Prize

Slippages

The elder poet reads a book in the light
that slips away. Words meld together
in the air, and soon he hears voices
speaking of stars, those quickening seeds
in the soil of darkness that grow like ideas
in the leaves of the book he is reading. He turns

a page and the forest leans in the wind.
Is this how it goes, he wonders, the mind passing
like the moon through the slow slippage
of constellations? The pages open and close
like butterfly wings, and before his astonished eyes
the book rises up and flies back to the treetops

and he follows it. Swaying in the dark, he sees
a ball of ice burning in space.

—Jesse Arthur Stone

Jesse Arthur Stone’s poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines.  He has won awards from the Arvon International Poetry Competition, Artemis, Atlanta Review, the Dallas Poets Community, Paumanok Poetry Award Series, and West Virginia Writers 2018 Annual Writing Competition.  He lives in West Virginia with his wife, poet, novelist, and dance educator Lynn Swanson.


Honorable Mention

Traveller

Khonsu, Chonsu, Chons, are names I recall
as I find the Easter moon tinged orange
and bloated behind branches.

Back in winter on the upper deck of a boat
on the Nile, with whisky inside me
and no-one to hear except the moon god himself,

I whispered these names. I even called him Traveller,
for that’s what he is, what his ancient names mean,
alluding to his nightly crossing.

But on that night, perfumed with diesel,
he seemed to hang there, looking down on me,
watching over, showing only as a bright smile;

a sunken crescent under a disc darker than the sky.
The only sounds were the rhythmic throb of engine,
and river being sliced.

Then, from somewhere far out, a cry,
and I could feel him turn,
be on the move again.

—Graham Burchell

Graham Burchell lives in Devon and has four published collections.  A 2013 Hawthornden Fellow, he is the winner of the 2015 Stanza competition, runner up in the BBC Proms Poetry Competition 2016, a 3rd prize winner in the 2017 Bridport Prize, and a poem highly commended in the 2018 Forward Prize.  He helps organise the Teignmouth Poetry Festival.


Honorable Mention

Filling in the Spaces

If you were to ask me about the stars,
I would have to tell you
I’ve always had trouble with constellations.
Those vague shapes belong to someone else.
Though I have seen foxes and old men’s faces
in the eucalyptus trees.
No one has given me the night sky—
too many city lights,
a dull wash swallowing the dark.

Today is my 48th birthday.
I was born in ’48.
This kind of thing happens
only once in a lifetime.
Today, I have been given a mountain
and a salt marsh creek
with moon geese flying,
and a hot wind
clicking reeds in a rush towards evening.

Tonight, I will take back the stars
and name my own constellations:
The Swimmer,
The Jazz Trumpeter,
Harp Player from the Grassy Plains.
And I will swim among them
drawing out their sounds
clear as glass wind chimes,
or blue and sultry
as a desert afternoon
dreaming of ice.

—Marie Henry

Marie Henry is a San Francisco-born poet and musician.  Her poetry and short prose have appeared in numerous literary journals including Runes, Exquisite Corpse, and Yellow Silk; and in anthologies including Bite to Eat Place, Full Court: A Literary Anthology of Basketball, and Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction.


Honorable Mention

Haiku in Terza Rima

for Raul Palma

Who is your mother? Who is your father?
The Japanese rabbit who cleans the moon.
The Caribbean poet and his song of the sea.

What will you wear on your next birthday?
A white fur muff. A hat made of notebooks.
I will blow out candles in a cake of rock.

Where do you sleep when lightning strikes?
In a patch of ripe green cabbage.
On a hidden library shelf.

When do you spell your secret name?
The dusk she starts her monthly climb.
Noon when he swims past live coral.

How have you truly come to be?
A whisker fallen from a trembling star.
A whisper when black waves rose high.

Why are you a spinner of tales?
A lizard once looked up at night
and light leapt down from clear sky.

—Katharyn Howd Machan

Katharyn Howd Machan is the author of 38 published poetry collections, most recently What the Piper Promised, winner of the 2018 Alexandria Quarterly Press chapbook competition.  She is a full professor in the Department of Writing at Ithaca College, specializing in fairy tales.