Wednesday, September 29, 2021

September Challenge Winners - Dust


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Thanks to all who submitted poems to the September Poetry Challenge, and to the judges, Jim Lambert and jacob erin-cilberto. Again this month, the judges said it was difficult to select the winning poems because there were other wonderful poems submitted. For third place, they selected this poem:

Dreams of Dust

Every night, the same dream:
Transforming into a dust bunny
to do the limbo with skirting
boards and floating to unhuman
heights. Playing hide and seek
with silverfish and spiders.
Watching the others in my house
chatter in their sleep. I wake
to peeling myself like an onion.
Still no innocent dust bunny.
I consider sandpaper. Tools.
Too harsh. The moon's rough
cheeks wouldn't do, either.
I shed more than a cat. Admire
the build-up of dust above doors
daily, think of them like a mantra
to the state I aspire to. I pray. Hope.
A tuft of dust coarse as wire wool
hooks itself to my leg while cleaning
the kitchen one afternoon.
It bends itself into bunny ears,
offers itself to me like a gift.
How light I've felt in the days since.
I swear I could outfly
the humblest sparrow if I tried.

~ Christian Ward 

One thing that the judges liked about this poem is the references to dust in multiple forms, and how well they fit the category.


The second place poem took the prompt in a very different direction


Holy ashes burn forgiveness—at my core, my heartwood—they charcoal a cross on my forehead foreshadowing new life beyond the dust of bones. I am an alchemist, but do not seek to change lead to gold, only transmute the dull heaviness of my spirit to noble hope. 

So I transform to tree branch, throw myself into the blasting furnace with boughs of box-evergreens from chalky soil, together with reddish brown conifer yews, bluish willows, a sacred olive branch

—all palms of victory once under His feet when He rode into Jerusalem on a lowly beast of peace because it was not yet time for the warhorse. 

And I become ashes, stirred by the wind, lifted to the sky, glittering like gold.

~John C. Mannone

 The judges were impressed at how well “Ashes” succeeds as a religious poem but also as a secular poem.


First place went to “Hello Sawdust”:

Hello Sawdust

Hello sawdust.
I’m well. I’m back.
Scent of sap,
taste of tannin,
tickle of fine grit,
after rehab pain
through every portal
you awaken my brain.

Powder of sun ray,
powder of fog’s drip,
powder of soil thrust
through roots to the sky,
hot breath of the forest
you complete my healing.
Such a feeling!

Sing to me the rhythm of craft.
Guide my fingers, the work will flow.
Sing, sawdust.

~ Joe Cottonwood

This poem was previously published in Snapdragon (December 2015).

The “word pictures” in this poem won over the judges.


Winning poets retain copyright on their poems.



Joe Cottonwood has repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book of poetry is Random Saints. Visit his website at

jacob erin-cilberto originally came from Bronx, NY and lives in Southern Illinois. He has written and published poetry since 1970. erin-cilberto’s work has appeared in hundreds of magazines and journals and he has published 16 books of poetry. His most recent titled, Pour me another Poem, Please was published by Water Forest Press, Stormville, NY.  He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times but finds the periods of creation as well as teaching poetry workshops for The Heartland Writers Guild, The Southern Illinois Writers Guild and the Union County Writers Guild the most satisfying.

Jim Lambert is retired and lives in Southern Illinois with his wife of fifty-seven years (who refers to him as her current husband) and two 37-year-old desert tortoises. He is active in community theater, reads on a local radio service for the blind, and is a volunteer tutor for GED students. He was raised and educated in Texas, and lived for more than three decades in the Chicago area before retiring in 2007. He is known for dealing with serious issues with a sense of humor. In addition to poetry, he writes short fiction and plays. He says that his self-published book of poetry The Winds of Life disappointed critics in 2007. He has been published in several small poetry journals. He is a past president of the Southern Illinois Writers Guild and past Vice President of the Illinois State Poetry Society.

John C. Mannone has poems appearing in Windhover, North Dakota Quarterly, Foreign Literary Journal, Le Menteur, Blue Fifth Review, Poetry South, Baltimore Review, and others. He won the Grace Writers Excellence in Poetry Award (2021), Impressions of Appalachia Creative Arts Contest in poetry (2020), the Carol Oen Memorial Fiction Prize (2020), and the Joy Margrave Award (2015, 2017) for creative nonfiction. He was awarded a Jean Ritchie Fellowship (2017) in Appalachian literature and served as the celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (2018). His forthcoming (2021) collections are Flux Lines: The Intersection of Science, Love, and Poetry (Linnet’s Wings Press) and Sacred Flute (Iris Press). He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex and other journals. A retired physics professor, John lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. Visit him at or

Christian Ward is a UK based writer. Recent work has appeared in Wild Greens, One Hand Clapping, Eskimo Pie, Literary Yard and many other publications.


Tune in next month for a new Poetry Challenge.



© Wilda Morris