New Poetry, Fiction, Essay

8 poems by our runner up, Michael Griffith

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Thunder on a Cloudless Berlin Morning

Papa gives me the capsule,
white and smooth, so like a candy.
He had it in a brass tube,
so like a bullet.

Mama is crying, her face in the handkerchief
Kurt and I gave her on her birthday.
It has violets and lambs on it.
I am her violet; baby Kurt is her lamb.

Papa goes and lifts Kurt from his playpen.
A soft kiss on my brother’s blonde head,
then he sits Kurt on Mama’s lap.
She looks up shaking her head, her eyes so wet.

Papa whispers to Mama, stroking her cheek,
Shhh, now. It’s the only way.
She won’t stop crying,
won’t stop shaking.

He stands suddenly straight, as if to hit her.
Magda, look at our Elke. Look how brave! She doesn’t cry.
She knows this is what our Führur wants.
Mama sucks a deep breath in and holds it.

Papa comes back to sit next to me, straightening his uniform jacket.
His medals are all polished, just as his boots and belt are.
So handsome, my army doctor father!
He now strokes my cheek and smiles so brightly.

You’re a brave girl, my good girl, Elke.
I want to grow up and become his nurse.
I do well in school, but it has been closed for days –
Papa says the Russians and Americans are getting close now.

Now, my officer father says, ordering his troops.
He takes up his capsule, whiter than his teeth.
Puts it firm into his mouth, but does not bite down,
and talks like the circus ventriloquist.

Magda, now, Papa rumbles.
Mother groans as she takes her capsules from the handkerchief
and breaks one into Kurt’s trusting pink lips.
He kicks his plump little legs, coughs.

She looks to Papa, then to me, then Mama shuts her eyes and bites her white, her white –
I can’t look at her as she starts to jerk, and oh, little Kurt…
I look up at Papa.
His head is back; his mouth is open.
His mouth is white and open and he has spit-up on his uniform.

My doctor-soldier father.

Sunlight through the drapes makes Papa’s medals gleam.
I hear thunder coming close now and the sunlight is so bright.

I look down at my hands in my lap
and see that I have crushed my white capsule.



The Old Dinghy

Down along the shore
the old dinghy bumped the dock
forgotten by the son who once loved it.

My footfalls on his front porch,
my knocking on his front door;
sounds he’d come to resent.

The distance between us is not so great,
but the space …
it stretches out like darkness,

like the lake his dinghy is on.
Dark, even at noon, wide, can’t see the other shore.
Quiet and cold, this space between father and son.

Its paint’s almost all chipped off,
wood gray underneath, sunbaked,
weathered as we have weathered.

Rust of time on our hearts like rust from water
on the dinghy’s nails and rings
down along the shore.




The bone exposed

Too close to the surface
wound too deep

Fragments of white move in muscle
carried by blood

They will be removed
then discarded

Once part of me

Metal on bone
Knots in flesh
Hold me together
define what I am now

the care of others
some who can’t really care

Mending takes time
Time melting slowly

Nurses doctors aides
Forms and faxes
Pills injections IVs and tubes
Words I will never remember
names I could never spell

Define me this
defective me

In a bed not my own

the care of others
and my own




Ran fast with scissors sharp
and blood on her hands in her highest heels
and the fur of a borrowed woman,

to scandalize a mother born to not
bear shame, and rollick a dad born
to not bear regrets.

Never the reflection of anything,
she was always her own light.
A muzzle flash shot to the heart,

a hurricane to shake her family tree,
a sonic boom harbinger and echo,
to blow away the ashes of every bridge she’d crossed.

Never inched toward anything, only ran
until there was no place left for her to go,
this woman of so many stories.

A life lived loud until her unquiet death.




Let me tell you about the junkyards –
giant fields of Fords and Fiats,
broken old things, things once were,
things still is.

Refrigerators, flat tires, bad ankle struts,
cracked headlights, washer machines –
rats and dogs and broken people there,
there I go, there I belong, there I is.

Shocks rotted off the Cadillacs
just like those driven by presidents.
Rust, dead chemical smells, live buzzing noises,
a movement where none should be but is.

Junkyard man, junkyard dog,
I can bark and bite with the best of them,
the dirtiest of them, nasty like them.
Excuse the limp and the blind stares that I is.



Embarrassed or Ashamed?

Consider the difference
between the words naked and nude,
or rock and stone,
the professor says.
or, for that matter, hug and embrace.

Pens and pencils move,
but not all of them writing.
Minds are moving, too;
not all of them considering.

My mind moves to you, naked and nude,
and then I remember the rock
(Or was it a stone?)
that cleaved my head when I was 10

The solid crack of pain,
the blood in my eyes –

A boy whose name I don’t remember
threw that rock like a deadly Frisbee
and his teasing stopped
once he saw my blood.

All his stuttered apologies
lost within my mother’s stony embrace.

My mind moves to you. I think of your hug,
as I think of you nude, not naked.
An ache, not a pain.

I embrace you after I hug you,
after I am made naked before you.

Embarrassed or ashamed?

The professor is still talking.



The Dreams of Beasts

The lion wakes on the warm night savanna.
He raises his stony head and yawns.

He blinks then looks over to the cub he did not murder
and he blinks again, wondering with the mind of a man
if he did not make a mistake.

The cub rolls over to face his father with eyes wide open,
clear as the moon.




You called me “honey” amid your clutterspeak.

You will forget what you said to me
or that we spoke once you turn and leave.
You will roam the halls,
look into darkened rooms
for someone only you might see.

You will moan and wail and cry.
Wet will drip from your nose.
And the next time I see you, you could be calm.
You might even be laughing,
yet your eyes never seem to dry.

Only remembering patches of a life before,
thoughts so full of holes,
like the ivory doily
on your cluttered night stand,
brought here with your family pictures and more.

In your walker’s basket is all that matters:
Crumbled tissues, your stuffed toy, a bag of crackers,
an old church bulletin,
a younger woman’s rosary.
Jumbled things, memories in tatters.

Nursing home now your forever place.
Few here know your story;
none of us can tell it fully.
And you can’t share it with us;
you only remember a trace.

Words hold so little meaning now.
Use them still, some real, most not.
You understand you, we try to distract you.
Redirect, try to get a smile, to calm you,
give you some peace, but we don’t know how.

We call you “Nonna,” though you have no grandchildren to seek.




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