"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
— Anatole France
It was our first poetry contest here at the Flapper Press Poetry Café, and we were thrilled with the results. All the submissions touched our poetic hearts, and we thank everyone who participated by sharing their work.
Our panel of judges spent quite some time making their decisions based on each submission's poetic technique, effectiveness, style, creativity, and response to the poetry prompt: If I Could Talk to My Pet.
We are happy to share the work our our winners is in this article. We'll share all the wonderful submissions in another article tomorrow.
First Prize: Jennifer Jowett
Listen to the love that was my boy to share, the thwump, thwump echoes of a tail,
our noses pressed together,
a hand upon my ear, a finger across my heart.
Your heart was mine.
Listen to the joy that was my boy to share,
laughter wagging in a tail,
mud-mucked spring puddles,
snow-bound unschool days,
sleeping atop the dunes, a bear and his cub.
Your heart was mine.
Listen to the dream that was my boy to share,
a tale stilled,
a final walk, hear my being, let it fly away.
Your heart was mine.
We rescued Ripley at age 7. He had several health conditions, and we didn’t expect him to live beyond a year, but we fell in love with his kind spirit and happy personality. He managed to make it almost to nearly the age of 14 before he passed away a couple of weeks ago. My son was incredibly close to him, and I felt the best way to honor this relationship was in a poem from Ripley to my son.
Jennifer Guyor Jowett has taught English and Literature for thirty years to 7th- and 8th-grade students in the mitten state. She is a frequent Ethical ELA 5-Day Open writing participant and host, a contributor to the BlinkYA blog, and a member of #booksojourn.
Second prize: Loren Polans
For My Good Boy Comet
You were wandering the streets downtown I was in my new home, childless, Neither of us knew we were lost. A local saint of orphaned animals introduced us;
I walked you, bought you an ice cream I took you home. Neither of us knew for sure what would happen,
The difference it would make, To fill up a space in each other’s hearts
I wish I knew then that I was your last chance,
That you were adopted and returned twice; I would have shown more patience When you kept soiling the bedroom carpet,
When you kept chewing up my shoes.
You're my child now, We'll care for each other forever; I'll always melt when you tilt your head side to side, when you carry a ball in your mouth and look up at me, waiting;
I'll always scratch behind your ears, rub your belly; I'm your Daddy now, through the joy and grief to come,
My dog, Comet, was a foundling, running around the streets of downtown Tucson. My friend Lizzie who saved him researched his background with the local animal shelter. (Lizzie has placed countless dogs and cats with new homes). She discovered he was previously adopted and returned, then adopted by someone else. He escaped the second adopter by pushing furniture together and using them to climb over the backyard wall. That person didn’t want him back. Comet was a very difficult dog in the beginning of our adoption. He created much household destruction and had frequent diarrhea indoors (due to a then-undiagnosed parasite). We hung in there with him, and over time, he became a lovable goofball who stole our hearts.
Loren Polans (nickname Darklyng) is a native New Yorker transplanted to Tucson and a survivor of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He enjoys sculpting, constructing costumes, science fiction, and making his wife laugh.
Third Prize: Helen Hokanson
When he stopped eating,
I knew it wouldn’t be long.
But he lingered.
For two days, I coaxed him with boiled chicken. When he stopped, I knew it wouldn’t be long.
But he lingered.
More than a week since he’d eaten,
and I knew it wouldn’t be long.
Scrambled eggs did the trick. He immediately threw up, and I knew it wouldn’t be long.
After the injection, I knew it wouldn’t be long. The vet said, “His heart is strong.”
And he lingered.
I changed my mind. And his heart stopped beating.
I believe this is the first poem I've written outside of grade-school assignments. It started as an essayish thing in response to a prompt given by Abigail Thomas at a conference in about 2016. I suspect there was lots of telling, and it felt very flat; it bored even me. The following year, another writer provided the same prompt; write two pages about something you had to stop doing. Another writer responded with poetry, and I decided to mimic her in identifying what I felt and focusing on that.
Helen Hokanson is a Reference Librarian living and working in Overland Park, Kansas. Her focus area is Local Writers, and she finds inspiration directly from her work. Her menagerie includes a dog, two cats, a fish, and a snail.
Honorable Mention: Maryfrances Wagner Missing Emily Dickinson Dog
The rubber balls and toys she carried are no longer a color trail on the stairs. At the window, her brother Pablo and I watch a dozen deer hunker down in a bed of leaves and acorns. She does not come back with spring—not with the Blue Pearl Crocus or the Bethlehem Star. Not at night while we sleep, not in the sun’s mirages. On long walks I take with Pablo, Emily doesn’t lead the way, collecting news on the wind or in the loam of earth. Her urgent eyes don’t hurry us to visit neighbors’ dogs on our way to the trail. Pablo and I stare through the window at grass struggling to renew, at deer watching us from the stand of trees. Pablo sighs and moves to the spot
where his sister spent her last months keeping track of us and the dogs across the street. He drags a paw over his eyes and tries to sleep.
I am submitting poems about my dogs Pablo Neruda Dog Boy and Emily Dickinson Dog, they were litter mates and are both now gone. "Missing Emily Dickinson Dog" is about losing Emily and Pablo's own grief for her.
Maryfrances Wagner’s newest books are The Silence of Red Glass and The Immigrants’ New Camera. She is co-editor of the I-70 Review and served as the 2020 Missouri Individual Artist of the Year. Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including in New Letters, Midwest Quarterly, Laurel Review, American Journal of Poetry, Voices in Italian Americana, and Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry.
Honorable Mention: Elaine Alarcon-Totten
Just Another Death in Oxnard
1 In the garden with the old ginger cat,
the jasmine hedge spicing the air with nutmeg, I stroke his head,
grateful for his trust after a year of his wandering the streets
and watching me from the shadows.
Morning and night at feeding time he rushes towards me for his embrace, only later addressing his bowl. This is long-haired Orange Puffy
he-of-the-broken-tail, AKA OP Wan Kenobe.
At night we sit on the bench listening to the mockingbird embroider madrigals from the yucca tree, eventide on Bluebell Street.
2 Over the weekend a man died
in a hit-and-run homicide outside our door, dragged
from the alley around the corner, the rain washing away code blue stains. His mourners keep vigil at the light post out front where they have affixed a blinking cross and two skateboards making an x as if it were a railroad crossing. They arrive at dusk, grouping in quiet knots
around the flowers and balloons of their Golgotha, at first in broken attitudes, as if the blinking cross heard their breathing, a saint inside
allowing their prayers. The yellow tape is gone, the mourners revealing nothing of their secrets to the police
The owner of the donut shop claims he was a nice boy who fell in with a bad lot.
3 The mocking bird has lost his song
having found a mate, his intricate longing absent from night.
Perfumed by jasmine I sit with Orange Puffy listening to the mourners who now have increased in number
and who sometimes chatter and laugh.
Our neighbor complains about their nightly visitations, not knowing memorials grow dusty with time,
that mourners vanish in ellipsis.
4 The old cat nests on my lap
while I sing “Puff, the Magic Dragon”
and say to him, “This is your home now.
This is your home.”
One day, an orange cat came into our yard and hid in the bushes. I could see that it was old and sick and depressed. I began to leave food for the cat, and not long after the cat let me pick him up and pet him. Thereafter he would run to me whenever I went outside so that I could pet him and also brush him. He was indeed sick, with pancreatic cancer. I brought him inside and continued our routine of petting and brushing until he eventually died. A gentle, sweet cat, with the deepest eyes. At the same time as this, a young man died in the street across from our house. He was dragged around the corner by a car and left there. In my mind the two situations are linked.
The poem is about life and death and those of us with homes and those of us without.
Elaine Alarcon-Totten's poems have appeared in Spillway, the Denver Quarterly, Askew, The TOPANGA Messenger, ORBIS, and Solo.