Poetry 99

Adult winners

RH Ober

RH Ober

Photo By jason cassidy

First Place

The Farm

There wasn’t nothing good in there,
only chipped plates and piles of clothes,
no running water even so it all stank
[of something unspeakable maybe,
like a clipped conversation after the children were in bed]
and the siding worn down to [bone grey weathered wood] nothing.

Shoving it over took [the color from the trees] hardly a shove,
could have done it with bare hands [calloused faith],
but the tractor made short work. That farmhouse
is forever underground [the field is full of bent nails].

-RH Ober

RH Ober (the “R” is for Richard) has entered the Poetry 99 contest before, but this is the first year his work has been chosen—two pieces in fact, one honorable mention and this year’s top poem. A tech editor for Landacorp software company, Ober, who has an MFA in creative writing, has been writing for 40 years. And, it turns out, the poetry fruit doesn’t fall from the tree, as his daughter, Elizabeth, took both first and third this year in the junior-high division.

Second Place

The Gardener Who Was Impervious To Gravity

He is a dandelion wrangler;
he depends on the wind
and on the pulleys that Junior weaved
throughout the yard last winter.

He is a dangler and a rake wave-arounder.
The secrets of the earth are nestled
in the harbor of his mustache.
His tears are now our radishes –
see how he multiplies?

Sometimes, when he thinks he is alone,
he lowers to the wood chips,
a single toe extended like
Michelangelo’s Adam or a child
testing a bath.

But the gossamer of solitude is severed
with the snip of Junior’s camera
and his facade of helplessness

-Evin Wolverton

Evin Wolverton

Photo By

Even though this is his first time entering Poetry 99—or any poetry contest—many Chicoans are already very familiar with Evin Wolverton’s poetic skills. He does confess to writing “plenty of poetry” as a kid, but these days the local singer/songwriter more often puts his carefully chosen words to melodies, and any day now the fruits of that work will be released in the form of his debut EP, The Midnight Hour.

Third Place

Fishing Triptych

The Cathedral
Blue, cloud frescoed dome
Pious cliffs, virtuous trees
Unruffled water

The Question
Sky reflecting lake,
Am I fisherman or fish,

Andy Hanson

Photo By jason cassidy

Lake reflecting sky?

The Mass
Solemn children watch
the long knife. Terror stricken
I gut the first fish.

-Andy Hanson

After teaching language arts in junior high and English in high school, Andy Hanson moved on to Chico State as a professor—that was in 1972. Hanson retired six years ago from the Department of Education, after more than three decades at the university, and says that his recent poetry writing has come about in large part due to his involvement with the Derelict Voice writing group’s weekly workshops at the Jesus Center (Wednesdays, 9-10:30 a.m.). (Visit the blog at www.derelictvoice.blogspot.com for regular poem updates.)

Honorable Mentions

A Night at Grandma’s

Grandma babysits me, I watch TV
Her house like a vintage restaurant
Chicken tea towels, stitched by hand
Old pantry, and I’m looking for sweets.

Rub her feet for a quarter or an ice cream cone topped with fingerprints.
Relatives stare from off the wall, they’re depressed by the depression.
Scare me a little. No one’s smiling.

Space heater, terrified of charbroiled feet, Hurdling over it to my bed
To await my parents return.

Closing my eyes, brain absorbs my evening.
Dark wooden walls sinking in remnants of light.
Wheel of Fortune screaming at me to buy a vowel.

-Brooke Johnson

Pair Bond

With gusto, I break myself
to be more like you,
to learn the way you
suffer graciously,
effortlessly wild,
with glint in eye of
feral freedom.
No other being more
compellingly directs
the course of my flight,
your long migration
bolstering the strength
of my wings.
For my love of you,
I would suffer,
snap of bone,
break of heart
crease of skin,
exile from home,
In trade for
walking in my skin
with the mastery
of the wolf
who is at his home
with every step,
who calls down
the moon in song,
at most
because he can.

-Rachel Libby

My Father’s Clothes

My father’s clothes hang from a rope
Strung between two trees in the front yard.
The family has decided to ask fifty cents for shirts and pants,
A dollar for the sweaters. Evening brings slow rain.
We spread a blue tarp over the line and one of us says,
I hope it’s clear by morning.

-RH Ober


of course, she said, we wander
into clouds

and pummel them
and justifiably so

for sneaking up behind things,
mainly us

and taking on the shape
of shapelessness.

they pillow us with memory
then fly,

the everchanging soft
and swollen sky.

-Bob Garner


Who would you be today
if you’d never been torn
limb from limb,
if red lips couldn’t
be restored by a whistle,
or a lost voice
recovered by a song?
What then if Brahma blinked
his speckled eye
and universes scattered
like a cloud of chalk
from the clap of erasers?

-Jeff Barnreiter

For Gerry

Gone way too soon.
Most silver sliver of moon.
Fading into the night sky.
Leaving still the stars
To tickle our childhood bones.

Gone way too soon.
Golden heart of light.
Golden mane of curls.
The lions laughter.

Gone way too soon.
South African traveling man.
Pulled back into where time began.

Remembered always.
Green-eyed sparkler.
Papa bear.
Wizard of the ridiculous.
Dancing fool.
Man without a mask.

-Lynda Efros
El Cerrito

she sets

with her eyes on
the horizon

the sun sinks sallow
doused by waves,
beaten from the day
left behind

and falling farther
she drowns

but only in the sound
of fire meeting water

-Blake Husen


brace yourself, no,
nevermind. fall
into this one
slowly. Don’t be
frightened by the stage-
lights, or the orange

you’ve always been
my heroine, my female
lets talk about our lives,
but not too deep.
it’s getting toasty
in here,

my memory
is fire

-Bob Garner

Walking in the woods alone

And I hung there, suspended by a single high keening note of an electric guitar,
juxtaposed against the sound of the forest breathing.

-Steven Hammond


From my son with autism
I accept approximation of the action
and reward good intentions:
to raise a hand suffices for a wave good-bye.

I must accept my own approximations:
my microwave bleep sounds gourmet cooking,
vacuum cleaner in the center of the room
portends Spring cleaning come this summer.

Email’s my memoir
shopping list my poetry
run to the car late my marathon
push the shopping cart my dance.

My long sigh’s my song
touch is my embrace
exhaled breath my gift
for good intentions.

-Joan Goodreau


They are writhing in the streets tonight
and the eyes are all aflutter

Long running from the exceptional beast
the noose, the pomegranate, the shudder, the offing
the body of a firefly, light, webbed angel

I want you to undress me
to turn this fulcrum into a blooming mess
to pull lethargy from ligament
and spear this desolation with the hungry tangible

You, the sonorous peal
the speaker from the nucleus
the tangle in the thread

this ship is sailing
from the inlet, freshly elected
in its marrow, mastic and loins,
your call

-Muir Hughes

The wonders of chemistry

Sitting wide eyed and bewildered they’re lost in the wonders of chemistry
All their endorphins fire at once flooding each receptor with false hopes and broken dreams
Declaring fuck it they proceed to nibble through empty boxes
Defeating their own purposes becoming completely useless
With all the motivation in the world they’re lost in transition
In the depths of convenience taking forever to get nowhere
They pop, chop, shoot, rail or base according to their preferred poison and throw themselves away.

-Tommie Couch

The Clearing

The woman by the window boxes
watering the marigolds
may not have much time to live,
doctors say;

she coils the hose,
talks about the seasons’ passing;
she will plant impatiens
coloring the winter gray.

Calling us, she saddles up
horses in the barn,
walks us past fence line
to the redwood forest.

We follow along the stream
to the green and yellow clearing
where we pause,
where horses bend and drink,

where we riders rinse our senses
and return, refreshed,

we, the not yet diagnosed,
shed our cloaks of condescension,
see like she does
short sweet days ahead.

-Kenneth Fries