Tuesday, January 26, 2021

January 2021 Winners - Family Poems


                Afghan Made by Grandma Larkin
                (Photo supplied by Kate Hutchinson)

Thank you to Caroline Johnson for serving as judge this month. She picked “Woven Legacy” by Kate Hutchinson for third place, describing it as "a colorful, poignant portrait of a matriarch." She singled out the last line as being especially beautiful.


Woven Legacy

for Grandma Larkin

Patterns swirled across her lap as she spun yarn
     into afghans, one for each of her ten children –
blue and green, black and white, brown and gold,
     to match each home's decor. Then, even as arthritis
began to gnarl her hands, she set off again knitting
     for the grandchildren, eldest to youngest,
committing to another each year as more were born –
     pink and purple, black and blue, brown and orange.

Bright octagons of blues and greens cascade
     across my bed each winter like islands connected
by an azure stream. The yarn has begun to fade
     under December's rays, as have my memories
of her – at the stove making pancakes for twenty
     on a summer Sunday, in her rocker humming
another crying baby to sleep, or at Thanksgiving
     presiding over tables spread across three rooms.

One day, after Granddad had died, she finally
     sat down in her favorite chair and said she was done.
She was not rising again to serve anyone.
Only her hands kept busy, reaching into the basket
for another skein of yarn, another blanket knitted
     for another baby born. She must have known
that by stitching herself into our lives this way,
     she could keep us warm long after she'd gone.

~ Kate Hutchinson


In her second-place poem, “Supper Sacrifice,” Irene Alderson has an “artful way of weaving the recipe and cooking in with the closeness of the family, according to the judge, who concluded that the p0em “distills a nostalgic feeling.”

Supper’s Sacrifice

Years ago when I came home from school,
I sometimes helped my mama with dinner.
Shifting from one foot to the other, I grated
cabbage and carrots into a bowl, wondering
why salad-making had to be so tedious, unaware
that the food processor beamed on the horizon.

I shaved the vegetables down to nubbins, leaving
a circle of debris and scraping my knuckles on the grater holes.
I didn’t complain. Instead, I gazed at the emerging
cabbage core which I’d nibble when my task was done.
“You’ll get a stomach ache,” my mother warned,
but I didn’t listen. I craved the crunch, the sharp, clean bite.

A handful of raisins and a shower of sweet
mayonnaise dressing finished the salad,
which accompanied pork cutlets or fish sticks,
my first seafood experience, with instant potatoes
on the side. My family never detected
the splash of blood that seasoned their dinner.

If only I could bring back just one of my salad days.
I would trade all the skin on my knuckles
to see my mother and father still alive at the table,
the faces of my siblings unclouded by adversity.
I’d gaze at them while savoring every bite,
yet still eat in silence, as we generally did.

~ Irene Alderson


First place, this month, was awarded to Karla Linn Merrifield, for her poem, “Father and Son.” Caroline Johnson wrote that “This poem has strong diction and description. The snake imagery works to illustrate the narrative in the poem, but it also works as a metaphor as well. The poem has an underlying violence, tension and truth which grips the reader.”


Father and Son


Daddy, I am the red tear,

one of at least a thousand & one

hot, angry rubies

rained down in a child’s garden of fears

or, as I was, deposited

under the bed alongside dust bunies

where she crawled to hide

on nights when the welts rose

& darkened. I was dropped

& bounced on the hardwood floors,

glistening, still listening

to the throb.




The older brother, James, once took his customized

Luger to the water snakes living in the cove,


shot once, twice, a clip or three

& obliterated all those slitherers’ nests.


His sister dialed 911, reported the misdemeanor,

& mourned the scaly creatures thus crucified.


He’d nailed the mother to a maple tree.

For that silenced slack serpent she cried


topaz tears, scattered them on the stones

over fossil fragments of Devonian-age shale


where Jimmy got so drunk the rocks could not

stop him, nor the neighbors, nor Jefferson


County cops, too busy dealing with dope

dealers running stuff from Canada


to bother with another drunk gunman.  Those

yellow drops poured on the trilobite


shoreline, fell among broken outcroppings

of Earth’s crust, wave-hewn in an ancient


history, heaved up like this fathomless

new grief as the season changes.


A snake sheds its skin & too many smoky, yellow

topazes lie strewn on the coast of Lake Ontario.

~ Karla Linn Merrifield


Congratulations to these three winners. Congratulations, also, to Patrick Cabello Hansel whose poem, “Bottle Feeding Talia,” was awarded an Honorable Mention.



Irene Alderson performs regularly with the Bosso Poetry Company, a collective of poets and musicians based in Minneapolis. She loves the way a poem or song can stop time as it unfolds. Irene lives with her husband, who can suspend the moment as he sings with his guitar, their demanding cat and the backyard critters.

Patrick Cabello Hansel is the author of the poetry collections The Devouring Land (Main Street Rag Publishing) and Quitting Time (Atmosphere Press). He has published poems and prose in over 70 journals, including Crannog, Ilanot Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Ash & Bones, RiverSedge and Lunch Ticket.  Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, he has won awards from the Loft Literary Center and MN State Arts Board. His novella Searching was serialized in 33 issues of The Alley News.  He is the editor of The Phoenix of Phillips, a literary journal by and for the most diverse community in Minneapolis.

Caroline Johnson has two illustrated poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Mother’s Artwork, and a full-length collection, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018), inspired by years of family caregiving.  In 2012 she won the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Poetry Contest, and she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She has led workshops for veterans and other poets on such topics as Poetry and Spirituality, Speculative Poetry, and Writing About Chicago. She currently serves as president of Poets & Patrons of Chicago. Visit her at www.caroline-johnson.com.

Kate Hutchinson has recently retired from teaching high school English and now spends much of her time as a family caregiver and library volunteer. She's had many poems and personal essays published over the years, as well as two books, The Gray Limbo of Perhaps (2012) and Map Making: Poems of Land and Identity (2015). Her poems have garnered several awards and two Pushcart nominations.

Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had 900+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 14 books to her credit. Following her 2018 Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry Box Select) was the 2019 full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. She is currently at work on a poetry collection, My Body the Guitar, inspired by famous guitarists and their guitars; the book is slated to be published in December 2021 by Before Your Quiet Eyes Publications Holograph Series (Rochester, NY). Visit her blog, Vagabond Poet Redux, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com. Tweet @LinnMerrifiel; https://www.facebook.com/karlalinn.merrifield


Poets retain copyright of their own poems.