The Best Poem -- Honorable Mention

Stephanie Anderson, “Belsnickle”

He walks this lonely forest now;
forgotten, verboten.
Scowling a dark anger that once
frightened all who walked,
that once terrorized dreams
of sugarplums, that once woke
the bad from sweaty slumber--

that now frightens the deer,
sometimes, though it could
be the sound of his whip.

There is a cloud of could have
swirling around his ears, calloused
with years of auld lang syne;
there is a wind that teases his hair
and whips at his face, reminding
him of days long gone when he
trekked from shack to shack and
was the haughty judgement of
this land. Of course, then, his
eyes teared from joy.

Two dark coals, having lost their
slight twinkle, glower from a
craggy face of yesterthen and
take it all in through a bluster
of snow, hungry for the sight
of some bad child, some lost
soul to set on edge with crackles
and pops.

There is no blood here; but this
is not new. The crisp air carries
the scent of a thousand killings,
awakening the lust inside him--
he glances, a spirit gone bad,
a fallen saint, and all the deer
have left.

A scritch-scratch on the light
blanket of snow, still further
incites a new greed, a new
grin, a new hope. He twists
to see a dormouse slip
away, and pays it no mind--
not big enough. Not by
a long shot. He has not
feasted for too long now
and he is growing weary
alone.

As the crow flies, she is
not too far, and though
the crow has lost interest in
the girl-child, the pretty
little bauble, the stockings
and the pigtails and the locket
for her ninth birthday--her
scent is heavy on the evening
air, and he is on the prowl.

Mutti tucks her in, smelling
of security and pride, and
she, drowsy, meets the
Sandman in his world, under
his terms. But little girls
and their little dreams can
only last so long, and she is
so thirsty. And the well
is just outside.

Some dogs howl when they
smell him, but her dog is
old, faded, worn-out. She
pats him on the head, gently,
and unlatches the gate on tiptoe.
He raises his head, and
grins.

And walks toward that warmth,
that sound, that soul. It has been
so long--it has been so long--
he hoists his bag and starts
up the cobbles.

The nine-year-old world
is best described as trusting.
Perhaps better as naive. And
so she thinks nothing of
this man with the whip and
the scowl--stranger things have
come out of those trees.

Wirst du mögen einen süssen
Kuchen?
he questions, a mouth
full of gravel and a throat like
a demon. He holds it like a
peace offering, and grins, again,
though she has not seen those
teeth before. She takes it. It
has been a hard fall, and the
snow was scaring her mother.

She bobs--danke, herr--and
takes the cake, nibbling around
the edges and tucking a piece
aside for later. She licks the
crumbs off her lips; birds
scatter; she leaps toward him.

And there she is--pulsating--out,
out, brief candle of life, flickering
and playing shadows across
an ancient hunger, and he can taste
the youth. Wafting. And her heart
is beating so fast. There is a
decision to be made; he has no
regrets.

He knocks her to the ground.
Bist du gut gewesen? he asks,
a little later than he used to,
but things have changed. She is
pinned--and suddenly his lips
are on hers, but for something
more pressing than carnality.

He is sucking hard, and
passers-by would see a
yellow ghost, of sorts, leaving
her and filling him. Her
eyes are suspended in pre-
scream, her mouth open,
her tongue out. It is her first
kiss.

After what is an eternity
for some, a wink for others,
he draws back. She does not
scream; there is no noise but
the steady drip of the well.
It is brilliant white as far as the
eye can see in the dim light,
except for thick brown crumbs
sprinkled on the snow.

He breathes, perhaps for the
first time in a century. He is
unaccostumed to it and chokes
at first, sputtering leftover
phantoms. There is a noise
from deep within his soul.

His long nails, or claws, as
the old wives say, rip into
her flesh with a passion
unbridled, a pleasure unknown.
She is so sweet--he gobbles
and gluts and hoards.
Bones snap; tendons crack;
an innocence is lost on
this morning.

Mutti awakens with the full
dawn, for the last time,
and looks out the window.
She faints; but all she has seen
is the trail he left while
plodding away. The crow’s
interest returns.

His mouth twitches, and
he drags a blood-brown palm
across it. He sits, and though
his whip is silent, the deer
scatter. He shakes his head--
the clouds scatter, and day
breaks--for one morning,
anyway.

 

Prizes:

George S. Diamond Prizes
Beck Shakespeare Prize

English Prize
The Erskine Prize
Zinzendorf Prize
Beck Oratorial Prizes