Poetry 99: adult winners

The poets among us

Markanthony Alvidrez

Markanthony Alvidrez

First place

My Little Brother

Got into trouble,

Bad stuff,

Ripped off the cholo priest

Who talked like a girl

And told our jefita

Her son was a devil,

Un diablito,

When they lowered his fragile body,

My little brother’s body,

I heard the somber flight

Of moths,

They flew about his grave

Crying in midflight,

His faded tats,

Smile now,

Cry later,

The Old English Corco

Inked across his sunken chest,

Slowly faded away,

He was my little brother,

The vato they found,

Face down

In that blue dumpster

Behind Orange Avenue market,

Next to el campo,

The camp

where we were born

-Markanthony Alvidrez

For a Poetry 99 first-timer, Markanthony Alvidrez wasted no time making his mark, taking first and third place, as well as garnering an honorable mention. Now a case manager for Butte County’s Alliance for Workforce Development, the married father of three has recently returned to writing after taking some time off since his days working in education in the Fresno area, where he’d written scripts for plays and produced community theater for at-risk youth.

Second place

The Last of a Sun-Dried Heart

I think I have one more in me.

Just one more piece of myself to give

before I am left with only spider webs

and cookie crumbs.

Afterwards, I will lock myself up in one of the drawers

of my mother’s sewing cabinet;

lie down between the knitting needles and the ribbon.

I will dry up like the husk of a beetle

’neath the September leaves;

become a forgotten toy for children to poke their fingers at

on dreary summer days.

Love is not limitless, you know.

-Rachel L. Karp

Rachel L. Karp

Though her current Chico State studies are focused on getting a master’s in marriage and family therapy, Rachel L. Karp’s background is in writing. Before she moved to Chico, she earned a bachelor’s degree in literature and writing at UC San Diego, and she said she prefers writing fiction—short stories and novels—over poetry. She’s currently working as an editor for three different bridal magazines. In her spare time likes to go backpacking and spend time in the outdoors.

Third place

His Father

Would drink

That Cold Duck

Drunk out of his

Goddamn mind

Pa’ quitar el coraje

Pure Mexican anger,

His old lady left him,

As he worked at that old

Cotton gin,

And his father,

Leftover from

Drunken love songs,

Serenading strays,

As they slept

Behind cantinas,

Would bleed

from his palms,



He would bleed as his brittle limbs,

Scarred from those

Short handle hoes,

Broken across the knuckles,

Stitched at the wrists

As razor blades

Exposed his pink flesh,

Pa’ quitar el coraje,

Because the Cold Duck

Was gone

And his songs

Were swallowed

By the strays.

-Markanthony Alvidrez

Honorable Mentions

The Time I’d Mistaken an Angel for Some Lemonade

Sweating heavily in a glass, as if it

had nerve problems,

I filled it with ice until it brimmed,

the fruit and sugar spinning

in dog-like abandon,

just happy someone was there

who needed it.

-Marta Shaffer


I lean against the old black oak

on my friend’s red dirt farm.

Thick chunks of bark

like the gnarled knuckles on an

old hand

dig into my back and shoulders.

There is a burned out hollow

at the center of the tree.

An old lightning strike.

Smell of ash and charred wood.

Smooth silver skin rolls

over the edges of the hole;

scar tissue.

An altar, where

I offer up my own wounds.

Against blue sky,

the glint and rustle of green leaves.

The tree tell me,


keep growing.

-Joan Walters

Mountian Boys

In Sheep Ranch,

The boys are all red dirt and manzanita.

They battle the redwood trees

For light.

Branches like great hoop skirts fill the sky,

Under which

The children hide,

Peeking through the seams,

Waiting for snow, or rain,

Or anything that will flush out

The shadows,

Sending all the dead leaves

Swiftly down the drain.

-Heather Bonea

At Night

Lights out

and the sounds of night

begin: branches snapping

and leaves crackling

beneath the pads

of stealthy feet—

the scratching,

the scurrying,

the rustling

through tall grass,

the trees

softly squealing

in nighttime breeze,

the distant hoot

of the lonely owl,

the chirp and whir

of the unseen and—

the thundering silence,

that cavernous envelope

into which

the sounds

of night

are tucked.

-Shannon Rooney

the poet

one line

he wrote

on his arm

with a pen

one line

on a napkin

with pencil

one line

tumbled out

of his throat

to his groin

and groaned

like a devil

in heaven

a saint

in a brothel

-Bob Garner

It’s no surprise

When I see people giving tender spankings to melons in the grocery store

I think about you.

-Dante Ashby

After 50 years

my friend

a body of memory

drove in from out of town


sparked with the same old humor

yet subdued

when we met

for lunch

his wife

lovely mother of two

let us alone

then moved over and talked

for him

as mine talks for me

— and this is right

this is love

at high school

he was wry, still is

dug jazz, still does

is quietly

watchful without a trace

of bitterness

and we agree

ours was a dumb war

and we thought dumb

would improve

but didn’t

-Tom Evans

Ode to the Dirt

Bird Chirp Branch, giant as a trunk,

drops to the ground.

Quite a sound and a leap,

then gentle nestle, soft as lush mullein

atop the high ridges.

O dark dirt floor,

how do you take impacts

so ceaselessly?

No complaints, no sighs—

Merely a pat! and it’s flop-to-earth


-Kevin Svahn


High schoolers, with

Their jeans and colored hair,

Blossom through the crosswalk

Past me rolling down my windows.

Maybe kids are buying cassettes again

Because they want something warm and fragile,

Like us.

A week before,

When earthworms scrawled for survival

Like my doubts along the sidewalk

Between my feet and the raindrops,

When my distant hometown

And dead high school friend

Crackled loudest,

I would have wanted to join

This two-week Spring Secession

And revel to distraction;

But, turns out, an hour with Duke Ellington

Clattering in my sun-bleached console

is just enough of a pause.

-Jesse Houser


Down old Bell Street

Where field mice

Fed us dreams

Of Bobby dying

In a cold gutter,

I ran away,

Like jefito

When his favorite son

Fell from His grace

landing on a tainted syringe,

His brown body,

Tingling from his sins,

Was lowered unto earth,

I was running,

Running through the fields

Thorns raked my flesh,

Tumble weeds at my ankles,

Dust in my parched mouth,

God is good,

I screamed

Nobody listened,

Old Bell Street was empty,

Deserted from this rapture

There was fear,

Old Testament Fear,

The fear of turning back

Becoming a pillar of salt.

-Markanthony Alvidrez

Baby’s Way Home

Slower by the night now, Baby,

bedtime business done,

malingers on the leash

she’d once lunge on.

Over planted paws,

her tail describes


she doesn’t mean.

What she means is

her own way home:

through the breezeway,

then along the lawn, her

grey coat shadow black again

by guidepost pines,

now the meadow, next

the mountain, no

need for clouded eyes here

on this scent track

laddered to the dog stars

-David Bell

The Blackout

Our mock suns blink

And flicker once,

A teasing jab at our dependence

Before the darkness swallows us

Some moments, like a father fish

Who swallows his young to

Guard them from a pike.

Our phototropic eyes all

Swivel to the side-doors,

Where a little modern sunshine

Beckons us to the wide world

Where its warmth holds

Sovereign sway, still—

Over our weather,

And my work by a

Luminous window-sill.

-Jesse Houser


The flesh

a light green


freckled sugars glinting-

my mouth begins to water

juice droplets quiver

splash sticky sweet

onto gathered stones

sun makes rainbows

flash in our cavernous mouths

we were each of us


by months of steady tears

to reach this moment

of supple stems waiting

bodies easily plucked

sudden weight released

into open ready hands

-Emma Schutz Fort


We are hibernating, but it’s not winter.

We are in the middle of the lake,

but we are not swimming.

We’ve made an island of a canoe.

I brought berries, nuts and plums

and you brought beer, and some poems

that I wrote. Staring out into the woods,

I wonder how many mountain lions are prowling,

scraping their huge paws against bird carcasses

on the ground. “They don’t eat dead animals,”

you correct me. “And they’re nocturnal.”

And I point out that we’re not swimming,

but we’re still in the middle of the lake.

-Marta Shaffer

Full Moon Dream

Desolation Wilderness is the name

of the place that we are.

Loaded down with our homes,

like snails or crabs, moving with the weight of them.

Perched on white granite, the moon rises and shines intrusively.

We sleep an unrestful sleep, pressed close together, riding on

this moon’s tide.

I dream of a large spider hiding

in the corner of our tent.

I try to kill it but it’s too fast, its body too soft.

In the morning, your face becomes

my mirror,

and I see my weakness in it.

-Gabrielle Walters


My father slowly closes his hands around mine,

wrapping them like smooth, old leather gloves.

The grooves of his palms, deep and meandering,

feel like powdery walls of sand gathered high on a beach.

His fingers look like thick, curving carrots

bunched to a fist: tight, broad, and scarred.

Yet his knuckles rise and fall

with the serenity of the great eastern mountains.

My soft, little white onion bulbs in his grip;

they are pebbles among cliffs.

-Kevin Svahn