1st Place

The Tale of the House of Vasquez

Most people want to hear about the tamales,
the sweet yam empanadas, the mariachis
and how you can’t listen to them and not cry.
And there was all that.

But there’s this, too: open front door
and windows in slick summer.
Old lotto tickets collected on
the side table. A faded, framed image
of a bison cave painting over the sofa.
Sticky. Order of pizza, warm coke
in cracked coffee mugs. John Wayne
on for the grown-ups, sometimes cartoons
for us.

And Nana, always with the stories,
sometimes sung all out of tune over Polo’s
black oil guitar. Sometimes she’d weep,
sometimes she’d make coffee,
pour it back and forth between two glass
cups so the heat could fly away.

My grandfather’s constant cheap
cinnamon rolls on hand. He’d bring them
back from the store in his bike basket,
then dip them in his café con leche.

Once, he asked me, Raquel, if María
is the Mother of God, how could God
exist before her?

Though he is long gone, I want to tell him
this: Because all four of her eyes
were opened like stars.

 


Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a poet, painter, mother, and aspiring micro-farmer. Her poems have been published in Fairy Tale Review, Rattle and Dark Mountain. Her first collection, Dirt and Honey, will be released in March 2018 by Green Writers Press. raquelvasquezgilliland.com.

 

2nd Place

Josef the Pigeon Poem

Your lips sip the words “I love you”
like a breeze that pecks at faulty pinwheels.
PUT_CI swallow pinot noir from a flower vase. Finger
knotted mats of auburn hair. One day,

you find a pigeon in industrial Kelowna near a loading
dock. Snap a picture. Name him Josef. I make him
my screensaver.
PUT_CStare at inky purple feathers, probably born
from a littered Daily Courier. Or a McDonalds

receipt. Josef puffs his chest like a finicky congressman
and I crack a fat joke.
PUT_CxxxxxxxxHe’s just chilly, you retort. Fluffing
himself up for warmth.

Of course you’d defend him. You and Joe are bros.

In a past life, I decide, Josef was probably aquatic. Playing
chess with tadpoles under lily pads. Juggling glubs
behind algae-stained glass.
PUT_COr he was an automobile. Cutting bicycles
off at the Harvey-Cooper intersection.

Maybe he was a toddler. Shoving crayons
through air ducts. Through wall art. Through The Lion King
on VHS. Stomping mandarin oranges
into the hardwood.
PUT_CBut whatever he was,

he flitters away. Disappears, briefcase in beak,
to the 9 to 5 that feeds his family.
PUT_CYou text the crying emoji. I whip back a sarcastic
Rest in Peace. Chuckle into my hoodie. Which isn’t to say
I think you’re a silly, emotional dork.

It’s to say, “I love you too,”
you silly, emotional dork.

 


Melissa Weiss is a Creative Writing major at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. Her work has appeared in Prairie Fire and UBCO’s Paper Shell, as well as being short-listed for CV2’s 2017 2-Day Poem Contest. She also co-runs a chapbook press based out of Kelowna, BC—One Button Press. twitter.com/melsince93.

 

3rd Place

On Almost Loving an Activist

I love him
the way I reclaim bitch
and nigger—
I paint his namesake too proudly
on my revolutionary chest.
Love him in spite of or because of his blackness
instead of against it like a backdrop.
I go to sleep with my lips twitching from the fiction
of loving him in languages lost on the trans-Atlantic passage,
of him wearing me like a dashiki he bought at a department store,
both of us too terrified to admit
that our feet hurt, that we don’t want to walk anymore,
that for nine of these ten riotous miles
we have not known where we are going.
I love him
when I’m listening to Kendrick and Chance,
reading bell hooks,
watching Kevin Hart’s stand-up—
I love him when I watch 12 Years A Slave,
during heated debates in Intro to American Studies & Ethnicity,
during the inauguration,
during the week of the election
when he takes me to my first protest—
When I tell you to run, I really need you to run, okay?
and a cop draws his weapon,
a toy soldier at the bottom of the staircase,
watching us raise our arms through the scope of a rifle—
each of us with one hand clenched like a panther’s fist
and the other gripping our cell phones,
filming.
I love him on the record,
on the news,
on the path of most resistance.
I love him
like resistance.
At some times,
my heartbeat follows the law
of the love.
At others,
my whole body fights it.

 


Jensen McRae is a 20-year-old writer from L.A., and a junior at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music as a popular music major with a songwriting emphasis. Language is her life. jensenmcrae.com.

 

Runners-Up

Heaven Help the Roses*

For Pauline Davis, aka “The Peace Lady,” 1943-2017

Toronto knew her as the Peace Lady:
For hours she’d stand athwart an overpass
That spanned the Parkway through the valley Don;
On Steeles, on Finch, on Lawrence, Eglinton.
She wore a white robe, her brown hand held high;
Two fingers telegraphing, simply, Peace.
When driving past we’d roll the windows down
And wave Peace back as Dad tapped on the horn.
At school we traded true Peace Lady facts:
She lived in the ravine, she kept raccoons.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, cold war scares raged.
In Sunday school, we read When the Wind Blows.
Our seventh-grade science teacher confessed
Where he’d wish to be if the bomb got dropped
On Toronto: “Directly beneath it.”
In English we read Wyndham’s Chrysalids.
On TV, muppets sang “Can’t we be friends?”
Max Headroom unearthed radioactive waste
And several times a day the networks played
Emergency broadcasts, as grey and dark
As Reagan and Chernenko, null and void
As country roads shown in The Day After.

One night the evening news displayed how wide
A circle of fallout would spread in case
An ICBM struck the city’s core.
That circle’s edge — that emptied area code —
Engulfed our neighborhood. Sleepless that night,
I lay and pictured houses on my street
Intact but vacant, windowless, and still,
All marred with carbon shadows, disused toys.
The air a thick green, toxic algae bloom,
Through which survivors shuffled, half melted,
Like plastic action figures burned by kids.

Through nervous years she graced our roads with peace,
A figurehead of hope on Toronto’s
Concrete prow; but when the millennium turned,
When cold war turned to market war, and we
Put movie studios in our pockets,
She feared they made her mission a new threat.
She was weaponized as mass distraction,
As drivers courted carnage in pursuit
Of perfect shots. So she stood down, gave up
The call for all to bid farewell to arms.

“The ‘state of emergency’ in which we
Live is not the exception but the rule,”
Warned Benjamin, in 1940’s storms.
I want the news to tell us Pauline won,
That she got a Nobel or the Order
Of Canada, or has been canonized.
Made statutory. Cast as stone icon
For all guerrilla artists to raise up
On all the city’s bridges and highways,
A figurehead to help us navigate
To any year but 1984:
A year whose end we’re all waiting for, still
As silhouettes burned to windowless walls.

 

*The title of the poem is a line from Stevie Wonder’s song “Heaven Help Us All” (Motown, 1970). The Walter Benjamin quotation is from “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (Illuminations, translated by Hannah Arendt, Shocken, 1969).

 


Mark A. McCutcheon is from Toronto, but lives in Edmonton where he teaches English literature at Athabasca University. His poems and short stories are published or forthcoming in literary magazines such as On Spec, EVENT, Existere, and subTerrain. His literary criticism appears in English Studies in Canada, TOPIA, and other scholarly journals. academicalism.wordpress.com.

 

Washington Square: Woman Accused of Arson

Whitman noticed two sorts of people touched
by college and the war. He came to think of them

flocked in the courtroom of popular faith
as villagers at a reception for broken hearts,

the sweet corners of their eyes upturned. He
preferred, in those restless years, brawny dreamers

to the well-dressed male clerks in service;
flagstone alleyways to good-looking streets;

this soggy field yielding a flow of damp legends
to the epidemics and bodies and parts interred

beneath the parade grass and these Potter’s leaves.
Whitman knew other shapes in the air here — though

gone, remembered — a shadow that falls, like
the space an object displaces. In that ether, Rose

Butler’s body hangs. Bells silence song birds,
drowning them iron on iron to the body’s swing.

 


Chris Pillette is a teacher and poet from New Jersey.

 

Sharing Our Bodies with Gods

My mother would rinse my fresh face with lavender.
I knew not the reason,
could only assume that spirits stood at the other end of
PUher ritual,
that a fear of fire she learned from the anatomy of
PUenslavement
kept my skin stinging sweet.
Her father, similarly secretive,
left full the same glass of water at his bedside
until it became its own home for pests
before beginning his silent prayer to unnamed spirits.
This too was a mystery;
how my grandfather caught things larger than mosquitoes
PUin his wasting wares
and would not talk religion
and walked everywhere he could go.
I knew not the reason,
and never thought, in a time
of roads in clear sky and open space
where my descendants sleep among distant stars
that a thing could ever mean less.

Now, as my soul
is pushed against my own bones
to make room for Osin Imolé,
I see a world more real
than the fantasies of invention.
When I forsook my mother’s superstition,
claimed the old gods did not move us into interstellar,
the deities awarded me the rest of the truth —
that Yemanja herself drowned her children,
that Shango is the only mountain-high rebel slave,
that Ogun — me, now, I suppose — is the crafty hand that
PUbuilt the city-planets we disperse to now,
all with our calloused negro bodies.
That we share our bodies with gods
even after we tore down the ilés
to make room for our starward mansioned egos.

Now I know —
all of my aging mother’s ritual island life
was standing between our people
and the gods that our skin ripens to inhabit.
Now I know
that we are Olofi
or Asé
or whatever words I need to learn
to translate the secrets our mothers kept all these
PUyears.
Now I know
that there are things more real
than our own egos, mansioned starward,
that when I cannot do,
an Orisha will push me aside
and clear a path out of megalopolis
and make miracles with my frail hands.
Now I know
that the few who remove the layers
between themselves and their immortals
will make miracles.
All others
will simply make do.

 


Brendon O’Brien is a spoken word poet, playwright, director, and activist from Trinidad and Tobago, writing and performing on stage since 2008. facebook.com/brendonjobrien.