White Mice 2013

The theme of the most recent White Mice Poetry Contest—Islands—invokes a paradox. “No man is an island,” the Anglican divine John Donne proclaims in his Meditations, reminding us how connected we are and must be to other people and life forms around us. Nothing can be truly separate. And yet we also long to stand apart, to find a place of escape, of solace. In the famous Simon and Garfunkle song, the narrator intones, wistful and wishful, “I am a rock, I am an island.” The poems submitted to this contest sponsored by the International Lawrence Durrell Society explored many dimensions and colorations of islands, both figurative and actual. The judges awarded joint first prizes for the first time ever.

The speaker of Michael Colonnese’s “Stray Goats on a Barrier Island” views an isolated barrier island, “this inhospitable place,” as a striking home for stray goats, who manage to live with a kind of freedom. Kateri Kosek’s “Night Crossing,” by contrast, takes place in Maine and at night, offering a “how-to” approach to human survival through water transit, where “danger is colorful” yet the “silvery wings” of a night heron catch “residual light.” Kosek’s other prize-winning poem, “Storm at Sea,” begins with the microscopic then pulls back to an island, part geographic, part metaphoric, of two people enveloped by music and the flickering sounds of isolation.

Katharyn Howd Machan’s “On Skyros: Grey Stone Beach” is a rhythmic sonnet set in “a hidden place, away / from easy path,” where “to come here all alone is to touch dream.” “Two Worlds” by John Laue contrasts the sense-awakening magic of Hawaii with the more down-to-earth yet worthwhile commitments back on the mainland. Michael Colonnese offers in “When Demolishing a Beach House on Pine Island, Michigan” an entirely different narrative: a detailed imperative about tearing out “worn linoleum,” “the last stubby pieces of pipe,” and “rotted joists” of an old beach house in the upper Midwest. The poem ends with sleep and renewal.

These poems taking us north and south, east and west, inward and outward, portray islands as loci of both enchantment and isolation. That is a compelling metaphor for the human condition: our desire to be separate, calm, healing, and our need to engage the ever-changing world that washes against us with its sometimes dangerous waves.

David Radavich


Co-First Prize

Stray Goats on a Barrier Island

What they live on I can’t say—
unless on sprouted thistle seeds

winds carry from the mainland
or on rotting strings of seaweed

or by digesting the bitter inner bark
of whatever twisted scrub survives

on salt-sprayed dunes, where it’s doubtful
even half enough rainwater for drinking

collects in broken bottles or plastic cups
that pleasure boaters leave.

So I’m certain that they suffer but
wonder how they came to be here,

to wander wild in this inhospitable
place—a quarter-mile long and less

than two hundred yards across.
Perhaps a hurricane marooned them—

some waterspout that lifted a small
scraggly herd from a lowland pasture

to miraculously deposit them
on this stretch of salty grit.

More likely some tender-hearted
farmer ferried them out here,

abandoning them to hunger and thirst
but imagining he’d set them free.

Michael Colonnese

Michael Colonnese lives in Fayettteville, NC, where he directs the Creative Writing Program at Methodist University and serves as managing editor of Longleaf Press. His most recent book is a mystery novel entitled, Sex and Death, I Suppose.


Co-First Prize

Night Crossing

First of all, don’t leave much.
A quarter mile of water
is enough
to make the island
an island,
and they are dark
twisting roads
that lead back to water.
In Maine, a coastline
is a tattered thing,
not as obvious
as you might think.

~

To bring yourself home,
descend the plank
to the dock. The night
cool and still,
fog so wet
you can taste it.
Step into the stern,
let the engine down
with a heavy plunk.
Breathe deep
of fog, get drunk
on salt. Don’t
take the last rowboat.

~

Someone must hold
the light, the bay
is full of buoys—
you don’t want a lobster line
caught in the engine.
Go slowly. Shine the light
ahead of you, sweep it
back and forth. The beams
will vanish into fog
until they hit bright green,
faded blue, striped red
or white or yellow.
Danger is colorful.
Keep the light on each one
until you are safely past it.

~

Near the dock, cut
the engine, come in
quiet. Let momentum
take you the rest of the way.
A night heron erupts
from the dock with
a harsh croak, silvery wings
catching residual light
and the quiet
buckles
then softens:
take note of
the dark space,
what it takes to fill it.

~

When the boat
bumps gently against
the dock, jump out
and tie it off. Your hands
know how to wrap the rope
in a figure eight, twist it into
a loop, cinch it tight
around the metal.
That, you’ll never forget.

Kateri Kosek

Kateri Kosek’s poetry and essays have appeared in Orion, Creative Nonfiction, Terrain.org, Crab Orchard Review, South Dakota Review, Third Coast, Rhino, and other journals. She teaches English at Marist and Northwestern CT Community Colleges and pens a birding column for the Poughkeepsie Journal. She holds a B.A. from Vassar and an M.F.A. from Western Connecticut State University, where she also mentors in the M.F.A. program.


Third Prize

Storm at Sea

Within an atom, I hear,
particles may form, smaller
than quarks, so small that they
blink in and out
of existence—
like when I stood late
at my upstairs window
light still on, straining
to hear your guitar
over the night—
the ocean uneasy
around our island,
pulling in all ways
at once, leftover
rain—
and if you turned,
whether or not
you would see me
watching there
depended on the winds,
my existence
flickering
as they moved the curtains.

Kateri Kosek

Kateri Kosek’s poetry and essays have appeared in Orion, Creative Nonfiction, Terrain.org, Crab Orchard Review, South Dakota Review, Third Coast, Rhino, and other journals. She teaches English at Marist and Northwestern CT Community Colleges and pens a birding column for the Poughkeepsie Journal. She holds a B.A. from Vassar and an M.F.A. from Western Connecticut State University, where she also mentors in the M.F.A. program.


Honorable Mention

On Skyros: Grey Stone Beach

for Richard Layzell

Lion-hearted Achilles left sadly
the island of unpredictable winds….

In afternoon the light is careful here
to silver softly, giving this old land
a quiet way of being, calm and clear,
rocks rough and pebbles smooth to human hand.
Waves push and pull, to careful listening ear
a lullaby of hush on glistening sand,
cool comfort strong enough to calm long fear
and ask the heart to venture what’s unplanned.
To come here all alone is to touch dream
when dream needs art’s embrace; to walk with one
well loved is to discover secret gleam,
and sharing this small shore with more, the sun
sets stories free: a hidden place, away
from easy path, where Thetis whispers stay.

Katharyn Howd Machan

Katharyn Howd Machan, Professor of Writing at Ithaca College, has published poems in numerous magazines; in anthologies/textbooks such as The Bedford Introduction to Literature, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013, Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now, Literature, Sound and Sense, Writing Poems; and in 32 collections, most recently H (winner of the 2013 Gribble Press competition) and Wild Grapes: Poems of Fox (Finishing Line Press, 2014). In 2012 she edited Adrienne Rich: A Tribute Anthology (Split Oak Press).


Honorable Mention

Two Worlds

Hawaii’s lands and seascapes
thrill me like fine poetry;
my eyes grow fresh;
my separate senses awake.

Now I understand Gauguin,
why he was never great
till he came to the tropics;
and Jennifer Markes, a favorite painter,

who spends most of each year
in the lush Caribbean.
I’ve thought about moving too,
but I’m committed to teaching

slow students on the mainland.
It’s contrast that excites me,
so once or twice a year I travel
to the white noise of the surf,

the rainbows of the islands,
become transparent like clear glass,
let imges pour into me,
bring them back alive.

John Laue

John Laue’s fifth book, Shadows, was published in January 2013 by Finishing Line, and his sixth and seventh, Word Gains and Head Lines and High Lights, by Writers and Lovers Studio, Taiwan. He has edited Transfer and been associate editor of San Francisco Review. He currently coordinates the month reading series of the Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium and is editor of Monterey Poetry Review.


Honorable Mention

When Demolishing a Beach House on Pine Island, Michigan

Tear it all out,
the worn linoleum in the kitchen
and the greasy white electric stove
with two missing eyes

and those cabinets of veneer and pressboard
and the laminate countertop
that somebody burnt brown

and the chipped enamel sink
and those old plumbing fixtures corroded and frozen
and the last stubby pieces of pipe
that the copper bandits left

and the soft plywood subfloor
beneath the linoleum
and the rotting joists beneath that.

Lift off the roof
so it no longer leaks.
Scrape off the three brittle layers of shingles with a shovel.

Pry up the tongue-and-groove pine from the rafters
so that the entire upper story stands open to the sky.

Next, demolish the narrow staircase,
the risers and treads and wet-rotted stringers
which will no longer support
what you once imagined they could carry.

Don’t even consider salvaging
those rusty iron radiators,
disconnected and clogged with sediment.

And cover your face
around that asbestos shrouded furnace
and the galvanized ductwork
blackened with mold.

Rip out the frayed aluminum wiring,
and the ungrounded outlets,
and those non-essential walls that are nothing
but studs and sheetrock
or else plaster and lath and animal hair.

You should probably remove
the exterior clapboard too
and the deteriorated sheathing behind that
and that framing
and the rough-cut beams
and those ancient sills that termites have eaten into.

And if there is nothing much left of the house, what of it?
It was only there like water holds an island
or as a poem contains words,
something to surround you, false comfort at best.

Tonight you will sleep beneath the frozen stars
by the stones of the old foundation
where perhaps you will build a fire
to warm yourself with fuel from the rubble

so that tomorrow you can start to rebuild.

Michael Colonnese

Michael Colonnese lives in Fayettteville, NC, where he directs the Creative Writing Program at Methodist University and serves as managing editor of Longleaf Press. His most recent book is a mystery novel entitled, Sex and Death, I Suppose.