Milk

Julie Cadwallader Staub

Ruth Stone Poetry Prize

Winner 2015 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize

This goat kicked me only once,
as if to say she knows
I’m an amateur

but leaning my head
against her rounding flank,
I love the way her need for release
matches my need for her milk,
and I remember the ferocious little mouths
that latched on to me
relieving that overwhelming, dripping pressure of too much

and it was all too much then—
the endless stream of groceries meals
bills illnesses laundry jobs no sleep—
so to sit in the rocking chair was sweet respite,
to do just one thing:
watch the baby
drain the profusion of milk out of me
watch the baby
become so contented that nursing faded into sleep.

Now, this ordinary chore of milking generates
a similar contentment in me
the way her steady animal warmth warms me
the way my hands learn the ancient rhythm
the way the pail rings every time her milk hits it.

And a twinge of astonishment
quickens in me as well—
after you and I labored long and hard,
after we created so much together that is still so good—

how can it be that you didn’t live long enough
to come round to this side
where simple contentment gives birth to joy.

Pink
by Kari Smith

Ruth Stone Poetry Prize

Runner-up 2015 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize

like chrysanthemums, like tulips;
like the droopy pink heads of peonies
that filled our kitchen windowsill, spilling
over mason jars and plastic cups
until, it seemed, they could no longer bear
even the weight of air, their oversized
faces too heavy with touch. Pink
like a lily’s slow death, the mess of it
on linoleum—scattered wings
that catch, reflect the deep
pink streaks of sunset.

Pink like the color my mother smeared
across her lips, nights she disappeared
in her favorite outfit—backless top,
leather pants—leaving me alone
until she returned home in a perfume
of diesel and cigarettes; a man murmuring
through pink papered walls; and me,
curled beneath a dozen stitched blooms
I peered through until I heard the door’s
soft click. Pink like the smudged kiss
of sleep, like the stain of it on my cheek.

Pink like the playhouse,
where M. and I undressed each other—
the rub of denim, whisper of cotton
caught around our thickened breath;
the bed of throw pillows, our private palace,
taking turns with the mirror, small bodies
flung open, our pink parts splayed like a treasure
map, two crooked stars marking
what spots shimmered in the dark—this is how
we are the same, how we are different
pink like snapdragons’ puckered lips, that urgency
of tongue, a small pink flag of surrender.

Pink like the scar on my chin
from when a guy hit me, split me open,
with the edge of his ring, while a riot
of bougainvillea crept along a parking lot’s
chain-link fence. Pink, like the extra strip
on a plastic stick, the one meaning pregnant,
the violence of April as cherry trees drop
their canopies, pale stains blooming
down the brick and cement. Pink,
like the beginning of something,
or like the end. Or the slick, raised
pink of healing.

Time Under a Bridge
by Lisa Breger

Ruth Stone Poetry Prize

Runner-up 2015 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize

I don’t want to leave this world:
My friends are in it, and there’s so much beauty.
Even beneath the pigeon-pocked bridge—

the simple steel and concrete off-ramp
seeped with run-off, tubercular,
that runs over roadways and part of the river that leads nowhere—

there’s a park bench, a gathering of squirrels around a stale loaf of bread.
Who wouldn’t spend time here?
Yesterday, along the Greenway under cloudless late January sky,
a flurry of bluebirds sang in the branches.
Today, I follow blue hospital signs

near Boylston, neighborhood of pressure cooker bombs,
and recall survivor Heather Abbot as I take the elevator to the malignancy floor.
Painted toenails on a prosthetic leg.

My deviant cells abnormally split;
high-dose chemotherapies
target and destroy.

She decided they take the leg to heal the body.
I shut my eyes and see the harbor:
gulls squawk over fishing boats along the docks,
dive for entrails, fish heads, and carry them satisfied through salt air.