White Mice 2021

White Mice 2021

The theme of this year’s contest was “history revisited,” in connection with the forthcoming International Lawrence Durrell Society Conference in Toulouse, France in June 2022.


Preface

Each of us has a history.  A personal history, some of which is known only to ourselves.  But we also participate in communal history, not only in the events and relationships of current times but also those of previous centuries, which we have inherited from our ancestors, still present both in our blood and in our collective consciousness.

The theme of “history revisited” for the 2021 White Mice Poetry Contest was selected for two reasons: 1) to honor our commitment to the 2020 On Miracle Ground conference sponsored by the International Lawrence Durrell Society, scheduled to take place in Toulouse, France that year but canceled due to the pandemic; and 2) to honor the history of the current moment, which involves revisiting much that has become suddenly relevant and revelatory by the intensity of our suffering and dislocation.

We became suddenly re-aware of the devastation wreaked by the flu pandemic of 1918, as well as by the mid-14th-century Bubonic plague, which wiped out a huge swath of Europe’s population.  We also became re-aware of signal events like the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiment on unsuspecting African-Americans, a history suddenly re-vivified by the racial injustices still rampant in American life.

The winners of this year’s White Mice Poetry Contest address historic resonance in a variety of ways, both personal and cultural.  In Laura Budofsky Wiesniewski’s “Hartford Rail Disaster, 1877″ (Third Prize), an historic event remains ever-present, “frozen” in the speaker’s consciousness.  Jane Mary Curran’s “Army Chaplain receives news of the death of Ezra Pound, November 1, 1972″ (Second Prize) describes the arrest and incarceration of the famous poet, narrated from the perspective of the chaplain who reflects, years later, on his death in Venice.

The other three winning poems offer a more personal perspective. “Are We here Yet?” (Honorable Mention) by Partridge Boswell delineates a boy’s experience seeking to locate “the toy machine gun he lost in the leaves behind our house.”  The poem becomes a meditation on war, devastation, and the enduring struggles of love.  In George Held’s “Legacy” (Honorable Mention), the speaker describes the powerful after-effects of his mother’s suicide, a famous poet whose work “burnt / Her legacy into literate / Minds.”

The overall winning poem, “Flora,” by Jesse Arthur Stone of Hedgesville, New York likewise focuses on conflicts, this time in the family home.  Those skirmishes continue to resonate in the life of the speaker’s sister, as her now teen-aged daughter rebels against her authority in a continuation of earlier domestic histories.

All these poems evoke ways in which distant events interact with and haunt us in the present, turning us somewhat askew but with enriching insights that only time and thoughtful consciousness can provide.  You could say that our histories live us forward, as these meditations make abundantly clear.

—David Radavich

First Prize

Flora

Dear Sister, after I chased you
around the house with a pair
of opened scissors when you whispered
Dad had built the tall latticework
to shut me in the backyard, I learned
to climb the lattice, and unhook the tongue
from the eye of the latch.

One morning, when you were just bursting
into womanhood, through the half-slit
eyelids of pretended sleep, I glimpsed
the reddening buds of your breasts.
You complained to Mom, and I never
saw you naked again, though I was sure
I would marry you.

This gave way to brotherly pride, when,
in your third year of high school, you stood up
in biology class, told your teacher: “Miss Smith,
I don’t like Biology, and I don’t like you!”
and walked out of school forever.

At dinner, you sassed Mom, and she threw
the metal salt shaker, hitting you in the head. Dad
yelled at her as you sat stunned and fingered the lump
on your forehead in disbelief.

Days later, you married the man you thought
was a “creep” the first time you saw him, and moved
away, swearing you’d raise your family differently. Now,
your grown daughter tells you to back off and let her
live her own life, and you lament, “The mother
always gets the blame.”

You recognize the old complaint, and begin to see
the irony as you trim your backyard trellis— bloodroot,
bittersweet, forget-me-nots — and you admire how
some keep coming back year after year, no matter
how harsh the weather, how tender the shoots.

—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.


Second Prize

Army Chaplain receives news of the death of Ezra Pound, November 1, 1972

At the end of the war we arrested him,
locked him in a cage in the Italian sun,
set up flood lamps so he was lit all night.
He hunkered and sweated in that six-by-six cage,
an old poet without paper or pen,
curled behind wire while
GI’s sprawled in the shade, told stories of home,
drank casa vino rosso
and watched him burn.

Ezra Pound, the Fascist Traitor,
a good-looking sixty, crazed around the eyes,
bragged he was a friend of Mussolini,
told me Hitler was a saint.

The colonel sent me to talk with him.
Who better to contend with Judas than a priest?

Pound hunched on the scalding concrete,
stared through wire walls, as though I were the animal,
an ape on display. Heat rose through the soles of my boots.
We cooked together on his doorstep of hell.

He never stopped talking through pealing lips, wrestling words
around his swollen tongue.  He piled philosophies, loaded
with Latin, on top of Confucius, intellectual noise.  A brilliant mind
but his soul rattled, lost in its cave of conceit.

His eyes … his eyes burned in his face, enflamed from sunlight
and dust. He reeked of urine. And weeks of sweat. I requested water
for him and a hat. Requests denied. The Army mourned
their dead and missing, not an old poet, lost to treason.

I dipped my fingers in holy oil, offered to touch his face through
the wire, but there wasn’t enough oil in heaven or earth.
The mad man crouched and babbled on.

*
The news says you died in Venice today,
traitor, prisoner, trenchant ghost.
Yet here you crouch beside my chair.

I still hear your monologues
through the wires of your cage
where the Army locked you to shut you up,
but you kept talking, building worlds.
If suns could spring from single words,
you’d have created galaxies.

I listened,
watched how you turned the cage to a nucleus,
sweated out poetry from your heated brain.
I loathed the sight and smell of you,
the sound of your voice beating against me.
I was too pathetically sane to follow the maze
of your intoxicated mind, full of tricks and false turns,
drunk on itself.

Look at me!  Me!

I offered you oil,
but you had yourself,
A Poet in chains,
your own salvation.

—Jane Mary Curran

Jane Mary Curran lives in Asheville, North Carolina. She is retired from a college professorship in piano and a second career as a hospice chaplain and spiritual director. She is the author of Indiana Girl: Poems (2019), and Midwives of the Spirit: Thoughts on Caregiving (2002).


Third Prize

The Hartford Railroad Disaster, 1877

The train derails
a hundred, a thousand times a day.
I am always ten minutes away
from White River Junction.
I am always speeding
north to Montreal.
The last car
is mine. It always jumps
the trestle
floating
in that endless
weightless moment,
then
drops.
The river is frozen solid.
There is always the fire, the screams, the arms
stretching out to me
in gaudy blouses of flame.
There are always my father’s new boots
pushing me out through the window
breaking me into pieces, a hundred, a thousand pieces.
I am punished
by the cold. I crawl
on ice in darkness.
I do not turn around.
My hands are dead forever.
I never turn around.

—Laura Budofsky Wisniewski

Laura Budofsky Wisniewski is the author of the collection, Sanctuary, Vermont (Orison) and the chapbook, How to Prepare Bear (Redbird).  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in NarrativeImagePeripheries JournalHunger Mountain Review, American Journal of Poetry, and others. She is winner of the 2020 Orison Poetry Prize, Ruminate Magazine’s 2020 Janet B. Mccabe Poetry Prize, the 2019 Poetry International Prize, and the 2014 Passager Poetry Prize.  Laura lives quietly in a small town in Vermont.


Honorable Mention

Are We Here Yet?

There’s a little boy in me who wants to go back and find
the toy machine gun he lost in the leaves behind our house.
He’s sure it’s there somewhere beneath the rotting detritus,

its rat-a-tat-tat still intact inside impervious plastic, waiting
to be reawakened. His itchy trigger finger doesn’t know
war’s legalized hunting of other humans is now more

cannibalistic than heroic, or that the warrior he emulates—
only a few years older than himself—is a slave of fear’s
contagious seed. On his knees in oak duff and loam,

shielded from napalm villages, bodies of women and children,
police nightsticks, firehoses and dogs trained to maim, he’s
oblivious to God’s plan for an Eighth Day monochromatic as

the moon, its blackboard erased, bereft of books and schools.
Moon as our witness, ledger-keeper of lies and decommissioned
innocence, there’s a little boy in me whose mother likely made

his “toy” disappear, after coffee with his best friend’s mother
who wouldn’t let her son come over and play at his house.
A little boy who weaponless nevertheless plays violent games

in his head in the name of causes he deems righteous and just.
He doesn’t know love is built on trust, or that peace in our time
is a fantasy Neville—unreal as the spirit level bubble in Nirvana’s

Nevermind. Moon as our whiteness, he’ll learn there’s no peace
without love, that love’s its own struggle, bloody and sweet,
indefatigable, incapable of defeat. Little boy of mine, leave the birds

to their branches, the foxes to their holes. Come out of the woods,
it’s suppertime. Your mother is old, quarantined in sepia light,
and can’t even find the thought she laid on her coffee table a mask ago

now hiding in plain sight—let alone a plague and riots and
abrogated lives, let alone the litany of disbelief she handed
her son who stands ready to fight with his bare hands the silent

apartheid of home. Come inside my boy and listen to the lost
story of her life: a blank page burning with an omen only
you can write, her skin glowing black as the new moon.

—Partridge Boswell

Partridge Boswell is a troubadour of Roma and Luso-Sephardi descent.  His poems appear in the Grolier Prize-winning collection Some Far Country and in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, SalmagundiThe American Poetry ReviewPoetry Ireland Review, Prairie Schooner, etc.
Co-founder of Bookstock Literary Festival, he troubadours widely with the poetry/music group Los Lorcas, whose debut release Last Night in America (2021) is available on Thunder Ridge Records.


Honorable Mention

Legacy

My mother was a famous poet
Who killed herself – no, not that one –
But the one who made sure to save
Her kids before she took her life.

“What has my life been like?” you ask.
I was a baby when she died,
Then grew up in my father’s house
With a series of surrogate

Mothers and my older sister.
Reticent since youth, I applied
Myself to my studies and tried
To bury my family’s shame

In the backyard of my unconscious,
To ignore Mother’s reputation,
Noted more for her final act
Than for her bitter art – lovely,

Too, in all its intensity,
Which I could never comprehend
Until I reached my own thirties
And got lost in her last poems,

The ones that settled her accounts
With men who’d hurt her, like a last
Will and testament, and that burnt
Her legacy into literate

Minds. What have I made that will last?
Of course, no poems, like the ones
My sister assiduously
Writes in emulation of “Mom,”

No volumes of work like my dad’s.
No, my obit will simply spool
Out my parents’ travails once more
And say my life was a model

Of steadiness, compensation,
That I fathered the grandchildren
Of great poets and helped them trace
Their roots and find whatever place

In this world without poetry,
Where suicide, celebrity,
And scandal share equal acclaim,
And little helps a child of fame.

—George Held