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Winners of the 2007 Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Wednesday, 02 May 2007 02:30

The Midwest Writing Center has announced the winners of the 34th Annual Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest, and the River Cities' Reader, as one of the contest's sponsors, is pleased to publish selected entries. Other sponsors of the contest were the Sam's Club Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council (a state agency).

The awards will be presented at 7 p.m. on May 19 at the Butterworth Center in Moline.


First Grand Prize: Barbara Schweitzer; Smithfield, Rhode Island; "Not Least of All."

Second Grand Prize: Brooks Carver; Canton, Illinois; "The Road."

Adult General. First Place: Carol Carpenter; Livonia, Michigan; "The Italian Restaurant on the Corner." Second Place: Faye Williams Jones; North Little Rock, Arkansas; "In the Mirror." Third Place: Dr. Marian Shapiro; Lexington, Massachusetts; "Quaker Meeting on the Concord River."

Grade School. Winner: Tanner Schull; Aledo, Illinois; "My Very First Day." Honorable Mention: Ally Engle; Seaton, Illinois; "Doodle Time."

Middle School. Winner: Carly Haywood; Ottawa, Illinois; "Twas the Night Before Summer." Honorable Mention: James D. Keller; Brockwell, Arkansas; "The Song."

High School. Winner: Aaron Awkerman; Riverdale, Iowa; "When I See Life." Honorable Mention: Lindsey Maxon; Arlington, Texas; "Coy."

Ethnic. Winner: Mikki Mendelsohn; Naperville, Illinois; "The Man in the Glass Booth." Honorable Mention: Catherine Moran; Little Rock, Arkansas; "Working on Myself."

Humorous. Winner: David Hungate; Moline; "Pony." Honorable Mention: Elizabeth A. Hall; Moline; "Poor Bunny Foo Foo."

Rhyming. Winner: Joe Worthey; Sun City West, Arizona; "Where Blue Columbines Grow." Honorable Mention: Edward Hartman; Pipestem, West Virginia; "Where His Grandfather Walked."

Religious. Winner: Catherine Moran; Little Rock, Arkansas; "The Proof of Holiness." Honorable Mention: Francis Klein; Glen Ridge, New Jersey; "Seder."

Seniors. Winner: Carol Carpenter; Livonia, Michigan; "The Painter with Rheumatoid Arthritis." Honorable Mention: William Perry; Rock Island; "Senior Alert."

Haiku. Winner: Jerry Hardesty; Brierfield, Alabama. Honorable Mention: Cynda Strong; Springfield, Illinois.

Mississippi Valley. Winner: David McMillan; Moline; "Hello, River!" Honorable Mention: Joe Chambers; Davenport; "Command & Control."


Not Least of All


by Barbara Schweizer


By the time I got back to the squirrel,

The crows had found it too, a form now

Headless - the soft matter must be caviar

They pick first through the eyes, I imagine

Retina on the tongue, rods and cones and

surprise of warmth. Their fortuitous feast

took place behind closed doors, a quick repast

stolen while I locked up the cat to get

the shovel to give the squirrel a grave.


I don't' begrudge them their one-course banquet

as I feed the second to maple roots

counting thirty-three crows flitting overhead,

noisy neighbors, curators, connoisseurs

of backyard mayhem, their shrieks unsurpassed

except by the cat's quiet murderings.


Inside on the windowsill, the killer oversees

the burial, mild-eyed, patient like damp earth,

receiving like crows. All seem to know what

comes goes, all is forgivable, nothing is least:

a squirrel's defeat, a cat's feat, crows' feast.


The Road, 1932


by Brooks Carver


Dirty face with dark, hollow eyes,

Looked no more than about twelve.

The breeze brought his sour smell

Blowing through the screen door.


Baggy pants shredded, knees out,

In desperate need of mending.

He wanted work, but food mostly.

Janey made him wash at the well

Then fed him cornbread and cold milk.


The boy finished off the afternoon

Helping Sam cut fence posts.

She could see from the porch

That his ax strokes were weak,

Ineffective, feeble.


He spoke not a word but please,

A little more, thank you, and all right.

Then fell asleep in his empty pie plate.

Sam carried him to the porch

Wrapped him in an old blanket and

A worn pair of overalls for a pillow.


Next morning, the porch was empty.

Boy, blanket and overalls

Gone west in the dawn light.


Janey stared down the road.

Somewhere a mamma is

Grieving for her boy, she said.

I hope nobody steals the

Dollar I put in his pocket.


The Italian Restaurant on the Corner


by Carol Carpenter


Some neighbors say

the owner torched his own restaurant

one bitter December night when

his till did not balance

and the weatherman predicted

a long, hard cold spell.


That night fell below zero as I recall

and the stars hung in the sky like icicles.

I heard the sirens, saw the red flash

of fire engines from my bedroom window.

Flames licked the moon with many tongues

while water failed to drown its thirst.


When the moon fell from the sky,

even firefighters dodged the sparks

as the restaurant roof caved in and cans

of tomato sauce exploded. Tin shrapnel

struck the owner who stood in the ruins,

arms raised over his head, cursing.


For days, the restaurant kept shedding

pieces of itself. I found a fork, a shingle

a charred board and a restroom sign

in the rubble all coated with ice and snow

a place off limits where neighbors walked

their dogs searching for evidence.


These neighbors desire a crime to solve

while I embrace the mystery of ice.


In the Mirror


by Faye Williams Jones


I look at a familiar face

like a clown's blank mask

and begin the makeup ritual.

eyebrows arched,

connect the dots one hair at a time

over outlined eyes

once Elizabeth Taylor thick

on matte foundation-

skin's shade of healthy glow,

and rosy lips

curved in a hint of a smile.


I don the wig,

short pixie cut,

shake and pat

the chestnut strands

without a hint of

hidden gray-white wisps.

With ringed fingers

add simple silver earrings

reflecting light for living thoughts.

Fasten the birthday necklace around my neck

for the finish to daily ritual.

A blouse in favorite fuchsia

over slim blue slacks,

and flats with pointed toes

completes the look.

In elegant leisure,

I laugh and walk with you

to lunch under the rose arbor

we planted last year.

As from a favorite script,

We play our parts

With days of practice.


Today the face designed

to look like mine

must be convincing.

Our fingers touch

as we pretend

the chemo does not flow.


Quaker Meeting on the Concord River


by Marian Shapiro


Paddles slapslapping

box turtle splashes, startled

by us deer sweeping across thistled

field silence

blueback dragonfly cloudwisps

silence of heron

sipping at the marshside stretching sipping

sipping stretching

silence silence all

the way to the hollow where the ducks

are resting where

geese V-form overhead white

silence silence

you and I sky wind



My Very First Day


by Tanner Schull


I went to school

Having the brain of a fool,

on my very first day.

I tried to do the Pledge of Allegiance...

But didn't know what to say.


And during lunch

I was in the girly bunch,

the center of attention.

I mouthed off-

For a trip to detention.


I didn't spell

Encyclopedia well

During the spelling class.

Popular girls came to me.

Boy! All they did was sass.


The bus ride back

My back was whacked

I claimed the bully's favorite spot.

Now, if you think school is cool...

Trust's not.

Doodle Time


by Ally Engle


I doodled a dragon

it's not worth braggin'

I doodled some ducks

look, it sucks.

I doodled a face

What a disgrace.

I doodled a dress

What a mess.

Look, I doodled a line

Wow, it looks fine.


Twas the Night Before Summer


by Carly Haywood


Twas the night before summer, when all through the school,

Not a student was stirring, no preschoolers drooled.


The book bags were hung in the basements without care,

In hopes that vacation soon would be there.


The students were nestled all snug in their beds

While visions of swimming pools danced in their heads.


And my sisters in their pj's and I in my slippers,

Talked excitedly about vacation in whispers.


When down the stairs there arose such a clatter,

We sprang to our feet to see what was the matter.


Away to the door we flew like a flash,

Threw open the door and down the stairs I did dash.


I looked out the window and saw new fallen dew,

The first day of summer was the best and I knew.


When what to my wandering eyes should appear,

A vase had fallen on my old school work and most of it had teared.


With a little old laugh I quickly had masked,

I knew in a moment I should help with this task!


More rapid than eagles I tore and I shredded,

Every paper and grade my nails imbedded.


Come little sister Casey! And big sister Bethany!

Help me rip these papers until there aren't any!


Papers flying toward the porch!

Papers chucked at the wall!

Now rip away! Rip away! Rip away all!


So then to my upstairs my feet oh they flew,

With an arm full of papers and report cards too.


And then, in a twinkling, I heard down the stairs,

The creaking and squeaking of my parent's room's door.


As I dropped my papers and was turning around,

Through the door my mother had come with a bound.


She was dressed in warm pj's from her head to her feet,

They were covered in wrinkles because her dreams weren't so sweet.


A pile of blankets she had flung on her back,

She looked like a runaway with her blankets like a sack.


Her eyes were dropped, she looked very sleepy,

Her cheeks had big hand marks that were red like a cherry.


Her mouth was put in a very small frown,

Her hair was as fuzzy as fluffy chick down.


A small purple toothbrush she held tight in her teeth,

And the toothpaste encircled her mouth like a wreath.


She had a long face and a thin little belly,

Her nightcap shook when she laughed like a bowl full of jelly.


She was tired and messy, but when it was daylight she was a hold old elf,

I laughed when I saw her in spite of myself.


A wink of her eye and a turn of her head,

Soon helped me to know I had nothing to dread.


She spoke not a word but went straight to her work,

Picking up all the paper scraps and turned with a jerk.


And laying her finger on top of her lips,

She went back to her bedroom with her hand on her hip.


I jumped in the air and gave a shout and a whistle,

And ran back to my bed like the down of a thistle.


But I did exclaim as I snuggled up tight,



The Song


by James D. Keller


The song is a graceful tune

The beat is like the beat of a woodpecker

Slamming against a tree.

The sound is like the wind blowing through leaves

The instruments are joyous horns

The singer is an artist and

The microphone is his brush.

The C.D. is like a Frisbee floating in the wind.

The song is a graceful tune.


When I See Life


by Aaron Awkerman


Most, when they think of life, see a bird in flight.

Others who dwell upon it think of a rainbow at its height.

When I pause to ponder the concept, I think of none of that.

What I see, are two fronts locked in combat.

Thoughts dart from one cloud to the next as lightening.


Below the flashes, I see death and birth falling as rain.

In between the droplets I can feel the sparks, processes of the brain.

Human minds pounding the heavens like deep thunder.

The booming shatters the earth and creation asunder.

Trees sprout from the ground because of the downpour.


Animals join the rain as stinging hail.

Along with the painful ice came the winds of the sea as a gale.

Its blistering collection of fish and coral hides beneath the coast.

The black clouds of pain and extinction are indeed a massive host.

Yes, even the snow keeps the secret of birds soaring.


A tornado is what I see when I think of Sequoias and redwoods,

The hurricane of a forest hides Terra's goods.

Truly I'll tell you what is the portrait of all life.

It is not a perfect picture lacking strife.

When I see life, I see a storm over the sea.




by Lindsey Maxon


Slinking around underwater

I see your colors but not your shape

Vibrant golds, reds, blacks,

Bur not more than that yet.


Why do you lurk underwater?

Swimming away when one

Tries to catch you?

I wish I understood you

And why you swim the way you do

You have beautiful colors

So would not your shape be so too?


Why don't you swim near the surface?

So I know what I'm getting myself into?


Should I go underwater?

Try to catch you at your own game?

Can you see me coming?

If you do will you swim away again?


Maybe I'll put out a line for you

Hook you, pull you out of the water

But will I like finally seeing

What I've been following

Lying on the ground, gasping for air


It's not quite a dream, come true, to see you're

Just a koi.

Brighter than the rest, but still...

A fish.

So I'll let you lurk underwater

And admire your colors from downstream


The Man in the Glass Booth


by Mikki Mendelsohn


After WWII, Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann fled from Austria and made his way to Argentina where he lived under the name Ricardo Klement. In May 1960, Israeli Security Service agents seized Eichmann in Argentina and took him to Jerusalem for trial in an Israeli court. Eichmann testified from a bulletproof glass booth.


He sat there mute

headphones attached like skin

looking old, frail

innocence beyond reality

A world chosen to escape

not for those he tortured-

barely survived with souls intact,

if not bodies or minds

not fully healed

if ever.

Testimony only a week,

painful, scarred-for-life

exposé of human experience

seemed more myth than reality,

even translators faltered.

People cried, scenes unveiled,

documents produced,

my parents glued their backsides

to uncomfortable chairs

trying to empathize, telling

me to "quiet down"

when I didn't understand.

Everything made legal

by this new State,

though famous people balked.

at night my family debated

in voices racked with tension

back and forth

English and Yiddish

fragments of both

I shook my head

side to side

a tennis match

in black and white

good and evil

never understanding

America's role

so lacking.

"Shut up," said dad,

"that's not the point!"

on and on

not letting up



defense attorneys

making motions.

"Can you imagine defending him?" my mother said.

"You don't understand," said dad.

Legitimizes killing him, I thought

to my adolescent self.

the man sat through it all

adjusting his headphones.

He didn't look like a monster.


Working on Myself


by Catherine Moran


My son told me he is dating a woman

from another religion,

from another race.


I have always professed kindness

and consideration.

how easy it is to just profess

because that skims along the surface

like broken icicles skittering over slick roofs.

Nothing penetrates.


Now I am confronted

with reality.

That small room inside of my shell

will have to be opened

and swept clean of any dusty hang-ups.

It's time not only for open windows,

But also for open eyes.


In the city park stands a bronze statue

of a man and a boy looking at a world globe.

At the base

"Yours are the only arms that

Can encircle the earth."

Hundreds walk by it each day

like fretting ducks with eyes on the ground.


I have drawn charcoal pictures of hands

opened and closed,

rough and smooth.

The spirit of a person is revealed

by what he uses to touch the edge of the world.

I will be ready

to welcome her into my space.

An outstretched hand and heart

may be the best start




by David Hungate


My daughter had a pony that ran away,

On a cold and rainy September day.

I've got more temper than anyone needs,

And I was chasing him in waist high weeds.


He managed to stay just beyond my reach.

He knew there was a lesson I wanted to teach.

He finally stopped and did what I said.

By that time I was wishing him dead.


I was mad and wet and chilled to the bone.

I said, come on sucker, I'm riding home.

I jumped on his muddy, wet, slippery back.

If not for him, I'd still be in the sack.


He took off like we were running a race.

I slid around his neck and stared at his face.

I said whoa, please, whoa, you son of a B-

I swear to this day that he was laughing at me.


At home, I found a board about ten feet long.

I had blood in my eyes and was ready but wrong.

I tried hard to kill him as he jumped away.

He enjoyed every minute of our sadistic play.


I ended up exhausted and laying in the mud.

With about as much class as Elmer Fudd.

I lay there a while and laughed at myself.

Took the board in the barn and put in on a shelf.


When I think of that pony and our rotten day,

I guess he taught me some things in a way.


Poor Bunny Foo Foo


by Elizabeth A. Hall


Poor Bunny Foo Foo

Carcass on the road

Tasty rotten morsels

Breakfast for the crows.


Poor Bunny Foo Foo

Flapjack on the street

Soaked in bloody syrup

For the scavengers to eat.


Poor Bunny Foo Foo

I'm sorry you are dead.

But now I need a toothpick

You're stuck between my tread.


Where Blue Columbines Grow


by Joe Worthey


High in the mountains where cold winds blow,

Alpine meadows, covered deep with snow,

The hush of winter, but all lovers know,

With the coming of spring, Blue Columbines grow.


Beneath a blanket, of soft white snow,

Flowers in slumber...waiting...for winter to go.

Love will awake and flowers will show,

The colors of spring, when Blue Columbines grow.


Our young love blossomed, a long time ago,

We dream of high mountains and meadows aglow,

When our journey has ended, like the melting of snow,

We wish to return, where Blue Columbines grow.


Between Estes Park and Glen Haven please go,

High in the mountains, where spring breezes blow,

Gently, lay our ashes, upon the soft white snow,

Our love will continue, where Blue Columbines grow.


Forever each spring, after the melting of snow,

Lovers will thrill, with the meadows aglow.

On the steep hillsides, the mountains will show,

Our love is eternal, where Blue Columbines grow.


Where His Grandfather Walked


by Edward Hartman


High on the mountain in an old pine grove

The soft wind whispers as it gently flows

Whispering the secrets of years gone by

That made an ancient pine quiver and sigh

And ask the house that is standing near

Where are the children who used to play here

They went to the city the old house replied

And twenty years ago the last one died

They buried him here, said the old apple tree

I shade his grave as you can see

He's been forgotten by all his friends

And this lonely grave his children don't attend

My rooms are empty the grieving house said

And no one sleeps in any of my beds

I don't know how long I can stand this way

Before I start to crumble and decay

I need loving hands to brush on paint and stain

To save my walls from the driving rain

I pray that one of his grandchildren

Will remember me and come again

To till the ground and plant the seed

To grow the good his family will need

Then on my porches young girls will brush their hair

And boys slide down by banisters smoothed by wear

Once again I'll hear a mother's lullaby

Bring gentle sleep to a baby's blue eyes

Children laughing like old times I'll hear

There's nothing on earth that brings more cheer

Then another shaggy pine quite old in years

Said house old friend you make me weep sad tears

And dream in vain of precious times long past

Times we treasured but knew they couldn't last

Now like me it's time your dreams must stop

For soon we both will fall to the ground and rot

I know you like to recall those good old times

But you can't relive them again except in rhymes

Fantasy and self-deceit just make the end

That much harder to take my poor old friend

Be still old pine and listen - for while you talked

I heard a man speaking where once his grandfather walked.


The Proof of Holiness


by Catherine Moran


I deserved a vision.


At nine years old

I had heard all those marvelous religion stories

tilted to inspire eager young souls.


I quietly closed the bedroom door,

then knelt beside my bed with face upturned

just like those angelic figures

in stained-glass windows at church.

They always looked up and then the light

came streaming down.

In the stories there was a voice

telling you something holy or

maybe even God right there talking to you.


So I listened.

The scene was set,

and I was so holy and ready.


Decades later

the remembrance of that perfect scene recalled

a long-forgotten child of innocence

with an open face

that could never be reached.

Though the world seemed to be a lot sinful

and a little unforgiving,

it never proved too horrible to bear.

Yet, I wish for that vision if only to prove

some degree of worthiness.


I stand now,

stained with the colors of the world,

but still waiting at a glassed window

for God to speak.




by Francis Klein


Good lord, I have wasted so many days

And nights in my animal like need,

Trying to write the perfect sentence,

Imprisoned by the letters that define me.


Surely there must be a better way to live,

The grid of sidestreets making a straighter path,

Directing me towards open rivers

That surround my crowded, smoggy island.


It is now over three thousand years

Since we were led out of the land of Egypt,

And still my wanderings have not ended.


Let me read from a better book of life

This year, spring me from my winter cages,

Sit next to me at seder like a prophet.


The Painter with Rheumatoid Arthritis


by Carol Carpenter


Some days he cannot

grasp a fine-bristled brush

long enough to mix

purple or curve a back

on canvas. His fingers curl

into fists. His knuckles bulge

as if they were magnolia buds

plump with promise. He will paint


the color of pain, of petals

tinged with pink at the center

where hope perches

silent as he dips his fingers

in hot water, waits for warmth,

for the blood flow that fuels his vision.

His rheumatoid arthritis,

flares up, blossoms into red dahlias

erupting from green stalks. This garden

rustles, speaks to the painter who has

no insurance, no money for medication,

no desire to dull pain that whips

his hands into frenzied brush strokes

when he creates the texture of his life:


a whole world where morning glories climb

cyclone fences and trumpet his blue, blue name.


Senior Alert


by William Perry


When I'm older and growing decrepit

I won't gaze grimly into eternity: I'll

Pretend life is interminable. Some may

Squander consciousness and walk the malls

Aimlessly and wobble on the avenues, but

I plan to stand tall and straight as the

Yaquina Lighthouse never forgetting that

Deep breathing expels the demons.


I shall be a strike force of One. A Zen

Prince in a Brooks Brothers suit watching

Women with interest in their clinging summer

Dresses as I take a cop to a low fat lunch.


I'll be against rhinestone suits. CEOs

Pay in any amount whatsoever and foolhardy

Moonshots. Then I'll build the USS Constitution

In a seltzer bottle, strike out against witches,

And maybe write the Great American Novel with

37 major characters and a grandiose ending -

Three ways to glorification.


by Jerri Hardesty


Swelling point of dew

Reflects the surrounding world

Planet in a drop


by Cynda Strong


Drizzling April morn

Ominous rolling thunder

A lone crocus blooms


Hello, River!


by David McMillan


"Hello, river!" I exclaim

as we round the bend in the road

and climb the gentle curve

slowing into Albany.


My wife laughs

but we share the same

sense of awe and wonder

every time we see it,

spreading out, and out some more

to the tree-lined shore

on the Iowa side.


Who first was amazed

by the sheer majesty of it,

by its steely sparkle,

by its surprising coldness, and

by its quiet, but immeasurable



How many herons, egrets, and cranes

have rooked their young

in its marshy backwaters?


How many eagles and pelicans

have harvested shad

from its swift, rocky rapids?


And who can count

the soft-shelled turtles that have

gently laid clutches of eggs

in the banks of the Big Muddy?


Innumerable trains have crossed it

endless strings of barges have traversed it

from its head in the wilds of Minnesota

to the fabled Louisiana delta,


but I always say hello whenever I see it,

as though it were the very first time-


because, for me, it always is.


They say you can't step

in the same river twice,

and that's the way I see it too.


As always changing,

always growing,

like the wild and beautiful

living thing it is,

and always will be.


"Hello, river", I say,

"good to see you again,

for the first time."


Command and Control


by Joe Chambers


Taking command,

The tugboat's engines rumble louder and faster.

Water churns beneath its stern

Then rolls upriver in three-foot waves.


Against the rapid current fifteen barges,

Each containing fifteen railroad cars of grain,

Slow, stop, then reverse, direction while they pivot to slice a larger angle

Through the rose-hued Mississippi River sunset mirror.


Like the muddy water past the tugboat's streamlined hull

The captain's orders flow through his crew.

His boat drifts with the current

Only when that suits his charted course.


Considering the interplay of forces,

Wind speed and direction, strength of current,

The captain computes when and where and how

To apply the thrust of his diesel powered screws.


Through hours with its barges the tugboat floated,

Gently nudged them downhill with the current

Until this instant when it pulls uphill,

Slows, then reverses and pivots their massive load.


Angled on their new course, the barges are allowed

To slip into the lock where they will be moored

While preparations for the next downriver stage

Swirl across the tugboat deck.


Events and people pull my life downriver,

My will and strength exerted frugally

As by a skillful tugboat captain

Against forces that would compel me.


To keep my course I must determine

When to assert control,

When best to yield

And meander in the current's drift


Downhill, unchecked but not unheedingly

Until the time to slow, reverse, and turn,

Then moor briefly to prepare

For the next downriver stage

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