Carol Lee Vail Prize Honorable Mention 2021


        by Denise Merat

Inuit hunters listen, moving as one
watching the natiqvik sift like white sand,
the drifts growing tall with the wind.

The smooth, slick ice cave,
stenciled in frost gives shelter.
Slush puddles give way to hidden streams
where knuckled chunks of snow
drift and meld.

Piece by piece,
the ice flow, corpse cold,
floats, freezes, cracks again—

Splintered ice under footfalls,
Quietly, the men move deeper, away from the storm,
breaking for cold jerky.

They chew dried tuttu and drink piqaluyak –
fill their skins, and speak soft
ice fog breath.

Outside, the Pirtuk rises –
screaming like frightened owls.

And all the night was buried.
Their huddled forms now
Kikittuk – white marble,
still waiting for home.

Inuit to English translations:
natiqvik – snowdrift tuttu – Caribou piqaluyak – stream water Pirtuk – blizzard
Kikittuk – ice block

Carol Lee Vail Prize Runner-up 2021


        by S.J. Cahill

I remember the soft velvet darkness
of night and the first colored cusp of dawn
the rocking rhythm of the loaded truck
and the sounds of the animals inside.

I remember the cattle pens and chutes
narrowing down and forcing them to go
into the slaughterhouse in single file
to the waiting men on the killing floor.

I remember the man with the hammer
and how he delivered that stunning blow
letting the cows bleed out while still alive
and eviscerated before they died.

I remember seeing their liquid eyes
watching the hooks and pulleys winch them up
while they are being flayed and dismembered
by men wearing bloody aprons and boots.

I remember their knives, so sharp and fast
like flashing lights along the moving line
where hundreds of cows were killed every day
packaged up as fodder for the masses.

I remember political functions
campaign banquets and rich donor dinners
serving tenderloin with lofty language
new promises for last election’s lies.

We’re at the portal of the abattoir
—which is another name for slaughterhouse—
looking at the labyrinth of pens and chutes
—hoping for ways to save democracy—

but its still the same old abattoir door
leading us back onto the killing floor.

Carol Lee Vail Prize Runner-up 2021


      by Meg Weston

I picture my mother perched
at the end of a dock—her skates—now mine—
kicking into the air—her arms reaching
to the sky in joyous anticipation
of gliding across the ice,
spinning, smiling, skating
in crisp wintry air.

In my twenties I skated on river ice so black
I could see leaves float downstream beneath my feet.
Thick ice at the edges, open water in the center channel,
we cut our marks on polished mirrors believing
our lives would last forever.

I lace up my skates—her skates—
with torn white leather toes
new laces replace the old knotted ones
too frayed to support my older ankles,
unaccustomed as I am now to standing
on a single sharp edge.

I walk onto the pond, conquering
fears of falling by conjuring her joy,
until I am sailing—arms spread wide,
side-stepping leaves, cracks, bubbles
in the uneven ice, feeling the past slide by
on each single glide of the blade.

Carol Lee Vail Prize Runner-up 2021


        by Alinda Dickinson Wasner

And, oh, finally, tonight
The husbands are away,
(Who knows where?)
so, we roll up the carpet
shove the furniture back against the wall
and someone brings out finger zills from a purse,
and another reaches up under her shirt
whisks off her bra and we all laugh
like the girls we once were
and for an entire night
belly dance to Hachig Kazarian and Ramzy
shimmying around the room
until so hot and sweaty
I throw open the French doors to the back yard
and after we dance some more,
we sprawl naked on the grass beneath the silver maple in full moonlight
each leaf shimmering like a silver coin.
branches dividing the sky into constellations
as if from a chapter in 1001 Arabian Nights
and for a while we take turns being Scheherazade,
telling each other all the reasons why our own husbands
might think they would have cause
to have us sewn into the carpet
and thrown into the Bosporus come morning.

Carol Lee Vail Prize 2nd Place 2021

Seeing Champ

          by Cindy Hill

A shape below the surface of the lake,
below the line of sight, a memory
repressed in more polite society.
To mention what you’ve seen is a mistake
you’ll not repeat. The look on peoples’ faces
shames you. Late each night, you reconsider.
Water laps the shore and moonlight shimmers,
creates an explanation which replaces
the image seared in mind’s eye clear as day:
Elegant curved neck, majestic eyes
locked on to yours, with all that look implies,
your life before that moment cast away,
locked under water flowing cold and deep,
swimming through the currents of your sleep.

locked on to yours, with all that look implies,
your life before that moment cast away,
locked under water flowing cold and deep,
swimming through the currents of your sleep.

Carol Lee Vail Prize 1st Place 2021

Machias Sea Island

      by Judith Janoo

     One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—
waiting for a gift from the sea.
             —Anne Morrow Lindbergh

In the quiet of shared borderland,
in the solitary air, the fog lifting off

the Maine coast and Canada’s Bay,
in the lighthouse, the keeper

keeps sculpting darkness
in the silence that is the island,

the borderland’s weathered rock
and scrubgrass, old Passamaquoddy

fishing grounds so remote,
neither country claimed ownership,

sharing the sculptor of darkness,
wind-riven grasses and eroding rock,

the flagman for fishing boats
the petrels, razorbills and prim puffins

emerging from rock crevices, awkward,
stocky, but dressed to a T, safety-orange

bills stuffed with supper: herring,
briny strands of bladderwrack,

waving surrender where no treaties
sculpt the joined silence, no claim

widens abstract differences, where sea
and shore peacefully share a border,

and the keeper shines a light
on conduct in deep water.

Selected Poem – Old Milkweed

Old Milkweed

by Elizabeth McCarthy

New grasses, wild parsnip,
goldenrod stems, green
weeds that wake
in wispy breaths
of morning dew
wiping away
night’s blank stare
to see

old milkweed still standing
there — since last season,
rattling death
on the edge of field
and garden,
brown leathery husks
shriveled and hollow,
relics of seeds with feathers
that flew with the wind
the day they burst open
the pod door — escaping
to whorl and dance
in the autumn sun.