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by Alisha Gard
There was a man with wind-up hands who lived like a child in a closet. But when the children
came, to shuffle against each other and stare, he shooed them away saying, "You are not
potatoes; you cannot grow in the dark. Go outside and let the sun fall down on you." They turned
to leave with faces too solemn and leather shoes that squeaked. He never called them back but
his neck would ache from craning to see them go, and from watching for their return. Sometimes
they brought offerings in their tiny hands—acorn caps, jelly jars fogged with breath, strips of
film. Sometimes leaves which were never as vibrant the day after, which crumbled to dust in his
books. Everyone said he will never accept a radio because he only knows how to dream alone.
To this day, he sits bent with coattails brushing his head.
Together we are making something. I have grains of sugar between my fingers and your teeth are
stained purple with beets. I tell myself the color comes from crisp sweet plums and kiss you to
prove it. We are writing everything down as it comes to us; we are patient with quill and ink. But
the script of our lives is senseless on paper, and the letters keep growing tails, and ears to hear.
You promise, "When we are finished we will have a formula to stop the death of the heart." I say
I hope it's good for eating. Periodically, we lick spoons and scrape the insides of bowls. You ask
me what it tastes like, and when I know, I'll tell you.
There Are No Ducks
My mother thinks there's something poetic about a yard full of roosters. The lone goose,
however, is like a sentence trying to end with a semi-colon, as he stutter-steps past the laying
house upon his mismatched legs. But my legs are strong, even if my ankles are thin, and I need
no wings to balance me. Mother says people forget how to be glad, so she insists that I lose
myself to joy regularly. I flail my arms in the ivy; I leap out of my baths and leave wet footprints
that flicker like gold on the whirling wooden floors. The floors like amber and honey that my
father laid down, almost as gently as he laid down my mother. She comes to my bedside each
night to tell me that the center of the universe smells like raspberries, that I can know this for
myself. Outside the goose heaves himself into the washtub half-submerged in the ground, and
peers toward my window with a gleam in his depthless eye.
Judge's Comments: Alisha Gard's "Three Scapes" is an inspiring exercise in the fantastical that reads like a triptych of abstract short fiction bound by vivid imagery. Bloch, the first installment, begins, "There was a man with wind-up hands who lived like a child in a closet." No less than a Lewis Carroll novel, it exaggerates loneliness, playing in the realms of innocence and naiveté where solitude is an exercise in "how to dream alone."
The Keepers, the second "interval" of "Three Scapes," highlights a palate-rich lather of purple tones as the narrator, creating a meal with a lover, paints dense, violet metaphors for love and its nameless recipe. "I tell myself the color comes from crisp sweet plums," the narrator discloses, "and kiss you to prove it."
The triplet closes with There Are No Ducks, which performs much like a photo from a family scrapbook captioned with mother's anecdotes: "Mother says people forget how to be glad, so she insists I lose myself to joy regularly."
"Three Scapes" appeals to the secret compartment in us where dreams secure themselves from an all-too-encroaching reality while showering our most discerning poet, and more important, our inner child, with whimsical flights of the imagination. —Shirlette Ammons
Alisha Gard, the lone poet among this year's winners who has won before, is also the only one who is still in college. She's in her senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she majors in English and also studies French and German, two languages she would like to write in someday. Gard, a Raleigh native, says that in the time since she placed second in 2009, she has become a wiser, more knowledgeable writer. "I realize now that when I started out I knew nothing, I hadn't read anything!" She's delighted that of the three poems she submitted, it was her riskiest, most experimental entry that attracted notice. "It was a dark horse poem," she admits. "But I thought it would be killer if it won." For "Three Scapes," she credits the influence of Charles Simic and his 1990 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection called The World Doesn't End. "I've been passing it to everyone I know," she says.