Winners of the 1975 Poetry Writing Contest

By Maxine R. Jennings

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    Leap, River, Toward Sky

    1st Place Poetry Contest
    You, said my father in the forever of my youth,
    Are like a river seething on a slate-blue morning.
    Your malcontent reinforced by a cloudburst,
    Your strength full and surging with eagerness, you shout,
    May the regiments of birch and willow be defeated!
    Down with banks!
    But like unyielding walls, my stalwarts towered on my right
    And on my left; and they channeled my rushing.
    Now, calm in a tall noon, I know about rivers.
    For once I saw an armed and arrogant stream
    Proclaim its triumph and promote itself to waterscape
    In a muscle-wild invasion of everywhere.
    Banks tumbled in chaos, weeds waded in shallows—
    And a valley lay prostrate under gray waters
    Knocking, shuddering, muttering zeros,
    While the cracked dome of heaven wept, no shore, no shore.
    Then the voice of the lost water rang with the words of my father,
    And I recalled the wisdom of banks.
    Bewildered in brassy hours, I think about rivers:
    Another young stream, caught in the fren of his youth,
    Presses to escape containing.
    How this river, loud in its rush from beginning,
    Argues with banks—pounds them with watery protests,
    Attacks them with waves, with waves!
    Away with these absurdities
    That tower on the right and on the left
    To confine and to coil these waters.
    And the river recruits from the mountain
    Other young streams waving foam banners and shouting.
    Their logic demands the instant repeal of banks—
    Is not river, whose form is the form of all rain,
    Worthy of sun on more surface, more flowing room?
    Let the hammered air report these banks’ unyielding:
    Surge, river, and meet frustration.
    Shout in your fullness—bellow overflow slogans.
    Boast of your depth with your cataracts of half-reason.
    Hurl your threats and your havoc, your wrath livid with current.
    Certain in their holding are the stalwarts that tower
    On the right and on the left; they will channel your rushing,
    Till the valley for miles around is electric and light silvers the darkness.
    Leap, river, toward sky; you are spilling freshlets
    That lilt and linger on a tilting field,
    And there is singing in the valley and plenty in the land.
    Is there not also gratitude for banks?


    3rd Place Poetry Contest
    Seeing the village—
    low hills and brown and bare of grass and lambs
    around the clustered shops and homes and stables—
    this Bethlehem, I tell myself, is where the Baby lay beneath a star
    while angels sang the shepherds down these hills
    to see the Savior.
    Seeing the city—
    blue and cold under the alarming cannons of Ramadan *
    and turning gold in the morning of a December day,
    labyrinth of pungent passageways and stuccoed dwellings
    coated with centuries of smoke and dust and blood—
    to Jerusalem, I remember, the Child came, lost in wisdom,
    and the Man here scourged rabble
    from his Father’s holy house,
    then gently healed the lame and blind ones there.
    Seeing the garden—
    gnarled branches on the twilight slope
    where nuns sing vespers now inside a convent wall—
    Gethsemane, I feel, was not in these gray, twisted trees:
    but in his divine and breaking heart
    and in the blood upon his brow—
    he, kneeling here, gave all
    for all he knew of what we are.
    Seeing the hill—
    ugly, jutting, lonely mount
    where eager guides now sell their claim that this,
    “This is where he died”—
    I consider the power of Calvary:
    I know it was for me.
    Seeing the tomb—
    a sepulchre at least like his
    within a private garden place—
    I imagine Mary looking up, hearing her name
    and seeing—what I know by another quiet voice—
    that he does live.
    Seeing it all—
    Jerusalem and Bethlehem,
    and the stormy Galilee reflecting black and stars—
    I understand:
    It is by the knowing
    that I see.
  •   *

    a Moslem holy day