The 2012 James River Writers/Richmond Magazine Poetry Contest yielded 349 poems written by 105 entrants who are either Virginia residents, attending college in state or JRW members. Joshua Poteat, a published Richmond poet currently in residence at the College of William & Mary, took on head judging duties a second time. Here, we present three poems: Lynchburg College creative-writing professor Wendy Miles' winning work "Egg," and two finalists, "Secret Room" by Allison Seay and "Theory on the Occurrence of Cicadas" by Darren Morris. The accompanying artwork is by students in Robert Meganck's Virginia Commonwealth University illustration class. Congratulations to all.
By Wendy Miles
Make an arc of your hand. Move the egg from nest
to basket. The henhouse door sags. Note the cardinal,
bees, rusted nail, the gate. Straw swims in the cuff
of your jeans. Beetles cloud peonies, a black snake
coils on a rock. One warm egg is slick with blood.
Down the road city girls wait in the big gold house
lilting ma'am and please until you're alone on the porch.
One finger to your collarbone, they ask if you know how to swim.
Their mother wears perfume, slathers lotion, pats your knees.
They dive for coins, your shoulders above the surface as they kick.
Once, at an egg hunt, a girl ate raw peas. Pop on her tongue.
Candy skins gleamed in the grass, on church steps, on bricks
below a silver oil tank. Your basket knocked along. Up
your mother said. Up to the crook of the tree, to the gold
goose egg. And the other girl, pop. Flutter of jacket as she ran.
ABOUT THE WINNER
An alumna and now an assistant professor of English at Lynchburg College, Wendy Miles wrote her winning poem in 2007. She often takes "shards of memory" and builds a poem from there, although the result is not autobiographical. In the case of "Egg," Miles pieced together disparate experiences, including egg hunts at her grandmother's home and swimming, while alluding to the narrator's insecurities. This month, Miles will have a poem published in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Volume IV (a poem she had to withdraw from our competition), and she also was recently a finalist for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize. Two years ago, she received an honorable mention in this contest. This bounty of good news comes as Miles serves as the primary caregiver for her mother in Lynch Station, her hometown 30 minutes south of Lynchburg. Before coming back to her alma mater, Miles taught at the former Randolph-Macon Woman's College (now Randolph College). "I'm as surprised as anyone to be back here," she says. "I love it." — Kate Andrews
By Allison Seay
In another life I ended myself and in another
I keep not dying; another, I am unlacing the animals,
pulling a rope through the grass, happy
and thoughtless. In yet another, I am my mother
ripping page after page from a magazine saying
this is what I want this is what I want.
Or I am hanging a painting and no one understands
what I say for the nail in my mouth.
In any of the lives there is always the figment
sitting in the living room or up against the walls.
Sometimes she is even with me in my sea-dark bed
and I jerk her around
and ask her questions in some other language,
a language my real self does not know
but that the sadness knows. The language
sounds like banging on an empty box
or on the bottom of a boat moored.
Theory on the Occurrence of Cicadas
By Darren Morris
At our origin, they hung from leaves
and moaned like sex. Or they were the leaves,
shed effigial shells of epochal birth.
They took seven years to circle the earth.
If I am lucky, I will see them four
times more, and only three if I am not.
But if I am not, the leaves will rot
and the manic wind will go insane,
and the rivers, confederate to their blood,
will finally flood the cannibal plain.