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1st PRIZE – OPEN

Jessamine O Connor "Hellsteeth"

1st PRIZE – EMERGING TALENT

Kerrie O Brien "Blossoms"

HIGHLY COMMENDED – in alphabetical order

Ronald Carey "Mexico City"
Jane Clarke "Waiting"
Laura Cleary "Breaking Point"
Colm Farrell "Burn After Reading"
Dan Juday "Your Place"
Noel King "Sons"
Brian Kirk "Still"
Paul McMahon "Junkyard Full of Flowers"
Jessamine O Connor "To Samar Hassan"
Chris Pearson "Stephanelle"

1st PRIZE – OPEN

Jessamine O Connor

Hellsteeth, by Jessamine O Connor

His house is sinking
The tin roof crumbling
He was springtime
Up on rotten ladders
Painting it red
A balancing act
Juggling brush, can, and glass
I used to sit on cushions outside
Looking up squinting
Pouring the drinks, laughing
Cautioning him on the treachery of ladders

Now a hedge eats the front of the house
I try not to see it
Flying past on the road
Because I can’t stop
He isn’t belly-deep in rushes
Or chasing pigs
His dog doesn’t hear my car coming
There’s nothing out-of-date to drink
No one there
Since he’s been gone
Every day of the last ten years

© Jessamine O Connor

1st PRIZE – EMERGING TALENT

Kerrie O Brien

Blossoms, by Kerrie O Brien

Do you remember that night
I woke and couldn't find you?
You were out on the porch
It had been raining and those stars
lit you up in the dark.
We couldn’t name them,
but what did it matter?
I knew your name
and breathed it softly
over and over
wrapped around you.
We were falling - quietly
like those small petals in the garden.
That was so long ago now.
You probably don't think
of that night - or my body -
which is so bare without you.
This thin branch aching in the rain.

© Kerrie O Brien

HIGHLY COMMENDED – in alphabetical order

Mexico City, by Ronald Carey

At night there’s a roaring trade of whores in the alley, where
all next day the coffin-maker nails
silence in a box.
He rolls below my window, a cigarette
between chipped fingers. As he kicks his way through
blonde curls of wood, a pall of smoke follows like ectoplasm.

What a strange bird he is when he looks out
from his sombrero nest; his Aztec eyes nice and sharp
as a condor’s.
He has a large, complementary smile
that reminds me of the sugar-skulls
the children eat on the fun-filled Days of the Dead.

Thank God, I have found a new woman to paint.
She is more beautiful than the others and therefore
very proud.
Agreement to her undressing is slow
and we lose the morning light.
It is almost noon before she is naked among the fire lilies.

In the evening, between the Ford Motor Company
and the Palace of Fine Arts,
I meet my lover.
We take a boat to the floating islands on Xochimilco.
At our favorite cantina we have to wait ten minutes
while they remove a dead soldier from the pavement.

Traces of cordite and death in the air excite our conversation.
We finish our meal too quickly and rush out into the dark.

© Ronald Carey

Waiting, by Jane Clarke

Stopping by his jacket
on a nail at the end of the dresser,
I breathe him in; cigarettes,
silage and brylcreem.

Rough tweed, worn collar
and cuffs, pocketed coins,
hay seeds, and the cold steel
of his bone-handled penknife.

Those mornings in fields
white with hoar frost,
when the heat between us
would thaw the frozen pond,

I’d watch him cut dark twine,
shake out bales in slivers of warmth
for breathing clouds of Friesians,
circled round, waiting.

When the children came,
he stayed longer outside,
always a lamb or a calf to mind,
or a fallen wall that needed him.

He stayed in bed this morning,
said, all I want
is to wait for the Brent overhead,
please God, they’ll not be late.

© Jane Clarke

Breaking Point, by Laura Cleary

For weeks our books sat
Steeping, layers of print
Lifting, Thickening the air
We tried to breathe.

We’d been fighting our way
Through essays, formulae, that
God-forsaken cat (it deserved to die
Either way), wretched idea

Aside we sintered some time
Off to sleep in, between spec
And metallics, white flags
Shot up, and rest descended.

Your breasts broke the dark,
Leavening toward me
A white band around them
Announced you (back a year, tan intact)

I reached and you caught and
Held fast and withdrew and
I sank after you, fastened to this
Splitting need in my belly, and you

Tore paths through me, I
Scythed new riverbeds
Canals to link us,
We needed to drink

But scrambled and snagged
And dangled from each other
Instead. I woke, soaked, staring
At your two open eyes.

We lay still, polarized,
Then both inhaled,

Began again.

© Laura Cleary

Burn After Reading, by Colm Farrell

I promised I would abandon primitive ways for a fuller life
She consistently denies the fact that we are at opposite ends of the spectrum
We are in perfect equilibrium.
I always suggest the scenic route
She often agrees, allowing me to roam
We are bound by a magnetic field.

I am a malevolent tyrant, easily misled
She prevents any further decay and leaves all actions justified
We have a bond.

I sometimes stray so far from my chosen path that it’s hard to rectify
She keeps me bound by ribbons
We are tied together.

I break down walls I don’t understand
She wears her heart on her sleeve.
We are complementary.

I recoil and reserve transcended terror
She buries my head in a rainbow that she carries
We are archaic.

I am for her
She is for keeps
We remain together.

© Colm Farrell

Your Place, by Dan Juday

I cannot, in my mind,
given what we had before us,
work out a way that would have been
better for either of us:
your fast declining health, going,
at your insistence,
unremarked upon;
my mute certainty
that you would not survive;
the oncologist’s furtive diagnoses
spooned out one shock at a time.

I wanted to bear your pain,
unwilling as I was to bear your loss,
but had I succeeded in taking your place
you would be here now in mine,
clenched in grief at my absence
bereft and unconsoled
for as long as you can imagine.

© Dan Juday

Sons, by Noel King

Drawings of shells litter her attic,
we’d no knowledge she’d art in her.

Art was something we did at school
or Saturday classes up to the ages of ten or eleven.

My brothers and me were knee deep in mud
at football; Glastonbury; helping Dad farm.

Of what Mum did at home we knew nothing –
the food always ready, the laundry done.

We never knew either why she left him, and us, suddenly,
took a house by the sea, had women friends her life revolved around

waiting for the grandchildren none of us three sons gave her.
Today, with our shoulders under her box,

the weight of her
weighs upon us.

© Noel King

Still, by Brian Kirk

Still in my dreams
I search for him.
I lower a knotted rope,
secured by blood,
into the pit where I was raised,
climb down, inch by inch,
until I reach the bottom,
plunder the remains
of half-written histories,
the skeletons of childhood pets,
the shadowed photographs
of summers in warm clothes.

That day in the pub
in Canning Town, after he died,
still trying to play the hard chaw
among real villains.
We sat on in silence after they left.
All my bragging was done,
I was tired and hungover.
I wished I could cry, but I couldn’t,
not then. Not ‘til much later
when we were alone in my room,
on the bed, worn out,
with the lights off, no sound,
a single thread of cum
connecting us to the world.
I waited for a ripple to stir
the surface of a pond,
a tiny sign of life as it is lived by others,
but I gave you only tears,
the inarticulate sobs of the habitually scared.

© Brian Kirk

Junkyard Full of Flowers, by Paul McMahon

As she fumbled with the buttons of her jeans
the damp animal musk of her warmth rose
from the swan of her neck and mixed
with the fog-wet of the cold alley wall.
The streetlight, covered in a speckled veil
of drizzle, flooded the alley in aquarium-blue.

The muddy puddles we had just splashed through
had settled, tapered in winding rainbows, smooth
as her silk eyes – they lay on the concrete
gaping up, like apertures photographing
the wild moonlight, recording poet’s dreams
into the scriptures of riverbed churches.

In her husky voice I heard the rumbling
of mad oceans and the bums of salvation
came to life, jumping in the pools
of petroleum rainbows
and I saw stars and trembling bridges
walk frail light to the ledges of the visions
beyond the woodland path
as it turns through the forest and out of sight.

A car swerved past. In its headlight, the cloudy mirage
of her breath lit up in the air, leaving the rose
of its afterimage hanging there for the second
before the darkness snatched it. As the car drove off
the illuminated perfume of its wrung blossom
spread through the blue alley, leaving,
in place of the strewn cast-offs,
a junkyard full of flowers.

© Paul McMahon

To Samar Hassan, by Jessamine O Connor

—and after the death of photographer Chris Hondros—

I had to wake my baby this morning
Pink-faced, her head was damp and hot
Stuck, soft, in the corner of the cot
Unusually late at ten o clock

I needed to hold onto her heat
Weigh that bulk in my arms, and squash
My dry face against her clammy cheeks, when
I saw your picture in the paper again

Your 5-year-old loss on the shadow road
Open-mouthed and raddled in your parents blood
Standing alone, and barely hip-high
To the G.I, still holding his gun

I remember you, your black+white scream
Was it seven years ago? I felt something
Turned the page, carried on
And now even the man with the camera is gone

So you’re back on that road in a spotlight of grief
The blood rains around you, frozen in grey
That day, the day that can’t be undone
And the G.I is still swinging his gun

I see you, and hear that thing people say
How you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone
So I breathe this new life in, and know what we have
The luck that it hasn’t been taken away.

© Jessamine O Connor

Stephanelle, by Chris Pearson

You came one weekend but you stayed for good
That warm first kiss has lasted through the years
Our bodies not our minds knew where we stood.

When first you came we both thought that we would
Just turn our backs and part, not shedding tears,
You came one weekend but you stayed for good

Since then we’ve learned our lesson, understood,
That our two lives were linked. It now appears
our bodies not our minds knew where we stood.

We kissed, unknowing, but our dumb mouths should
- if not tongue-tied - have told we were blind seers.
You came one weekend but you stayed for good.

Then sweet content flowed in, a rising flood
That swept away all worries, doubts and fears
Our bodies not our minds knew where we stood.

We’ve grown together since, in parenthood,
Till now we fit and match like well-meshed gears
You came one weekend but you stayed for good
Our bodies not our minds knew where we stood.

© Chris Pearson