2015 adult winners
I march with you in shoes
that have seen better days,
wearing a face
that needs to be altered.
We smoke cigarettes
until our lungs shut down.
Lying on the grass,
staring at the befuddled sky,
I touch you.
We glide over palaces
holding glass images
seasoned with smiles
from the West.
Future batches of candied dates
must contain trace amounts
of American woman.
I impale myself
onto our tall date palm.
It pleases me
to think of you,
dropping a couple of those dates
into your mouth, tasting, chewing, swallowing.
… never losing me.
First place poet Sylvia Bowersox is an Army veteran who has served in Iraq and has been writing a column about her experience as a vet in the Synthesis. A native of Salinas, Bowersox moved with her husband to Chico three years ago and is currently working on a master’s in creative writing at Chico State. She also performs spoken word with her band, The People You Die With.Second place
South on Normal
Etched down by the railroad tracks
a horseshoe shaped road dead ends
screeching to a stop halfway between
yowling cattle and loose charcoal dogs
the almonds are ablaze in honeyed grinding bloom
all the fragrance stubs big visions,
shrinks gratitude to a dense happy now
we glide over Monday
distinct in the surrounding trees
a pleasure seeps out, spills over our feet
and does not disappear
Many locals will recognize second-place poet Muir Hughes as a popular local visual artist and fashion designer who helps put on avant-garde performances as part of the Chikoko collective, but she also loves working in the medium of words. “I’ve always been a writer; I just don’t necessarily promote myself as a writer,” she said. “I was writing poetry at [my daughter] Seven’s age.” Speaking of her daughter, Seven is writing poetry as well, as you can see with her first place poem in the junior-high division.Third place
My Mother Keeps Finding Lions in her Apartment
My mother keeps finding lions in her apartment.
Small ones. She says they steal things
and leave foreign objects behind:
feathers, turquoise beads, pieces
of clay pottery.
She says their snoring at night
keeps her awake, loud
like a New Orleans brass band.
She sometimes catches them staring at her
from between objects on the table,
and when she goes to pull them out
like weeds, they've vanished
into the lines of an old receipt
or a medical bill.
I tried to teach her the term “invasive species,”
but she says she doesn't speak Spanish.
A native of Minnesota, third-place poet Marta Shaffer is in Chico studying literature at Chico State. In addition to being excited and grateful for her poetry being chosen and published for the first time (three times actually; Shaffer also has two honorable mentions in this issue), she says she’s “thankful for the unending support of my dog, Goonie.”Honorable mentions
Snowfall at 7,000 feet
sheer white blades cutting through evergreen
we watch for ice and Yeti
tracks cover the vertical
cover the sloop and slide
each glimmering peak a slow lonely ship
cold captains beneath
each small wing of frost enthralls
the window, the salted asphalt
stacks of cloud against blue ceiling
blue rises, and nothing more
Like the neglected and forgotten
preteen rocker doll
Splayed on the cracked cement
In a puddle of too much
makeup too high heels too short skirt
Joints bent and tweaked in akward
leading the forward charge
wrist cocked back
as fingers point at
my plastic never beating ever still
My phone rang last week,
and after checking who it was,
I set it back down.
I feared a mining accident, an avalanche into
my emotional health.
So I sent my sister in—my unsuspecting canary.
“Mama wants you to call her,” I told her.
In the meantime, I cleaned my kitchen
until it sparkled like a diamond.
My sister called back. I could hear
that she was covered in soot,
her face smudged.
Spitting into a rag to clean herself off,
“That was a dirty trick.”
Kilroy Was Here
I saw it,
with my own two eyes
I saw it.
And I heard it,
with my own two ears
I heard it.
So I looked and looked,
and I listened and listened,
but those who record things
didn't record it.
I'm pretty clear that I felt it,
to the tip of my toes
I felt it.
And the taste of it,
I'll never forget
the way it tasted.
I learned that if
one were bypassed
by the recorders
you can tell them off
in your epitaph.
I carved my initials
in an old tree instead.
The black beetle
the forest floor
her magnificent exoskeleton,
of teal and purple
into the wan light
of deep winter.
the pull of the sun
as any creature knows it,
and she is certain
of the steady hum
of earth's energy
her beetle being.
In this thin light,
this pallid light,
all beings of the forest
know the brightness
is opening once more.
All creatures celebrate
the return of the sun
by shaking off
their cloaks of winter,
by shaking off
into the light.
flooded field glints the last light
while a sodden sky mists my windshield and
finding love in a wet, green spring
and my heart breaking in a brown, dry fall
those seasons nearly thirty years apart
the lovers not the same
but love was the same
and memory is
come here now in the same way
knit together into one cloth, seamless,
as if one season wore different coats
changed but undisguised
love and memory fit together
like the finger and the thumb of one hand
hold my life in their careful grasp
The first time you took me hiking
we climbed over the green gate
then down a hill to
a gathering of oak trees,
a creek cutting through the land.
We talked about sinking ships,
rising dawns, and the light you saw
when you were very sick.
At the bottom where we rested
you unpacked food,
almonds and mango
salami and cheese
an apple cut with a pocketknife,
and after we ate, you faced me
you rose up on your knees
kneeled in gravel and small rocks
so that you could look at me
and kiss me harder.
-Sadie Rose Casey
Three nights storms came pounding
skies fresh with spring
the radio sounded emergency warnings
for tornadoes and everyone stayed calm,
grew perhaps a little giddy,
because we don't believe in danger
this close to home even when it's said
through the distorted voice of panic
instead, we thrill,
fill our night bowls with salted potatoes
and meaty tomato pasta
we drink full bodied red wine
and because the tornado is heading our way
we open another bottle for good measure
Peeling back your layers
like opening a pomegranate
after playing catch with my boys
a little thirsty
and my throat's a little scratchy
and the fruit is so perfect
at room temperature
in the winter
I opened the pomegranate
and thought of your body
I thought of your secrets
how it manifests physically
how you nourish me
how I want to hold your cheeks
when I kiss your mouth
and my hunger
North Rim at Sunset
In the west, Snow Mountain
of her white robes–
but we paid homage to her anyway.
She stood–steadfast, blue,
and noble–against the sky
while the sun slid
like an orange cookie
into hot pink milk
the coastal range.
To the south,
the Buttes jutted up
like exclamation points,
or arched eyebrows.
We spoke of
rock shelters and blue heron
as the wild onion, lupine,
soap root, and oak
and made ready to sleep.
in darkening hills beyond
gathered to sing.
Little Girl in the Catskills
When I was ten, a year before Woodstock
my Father drove the 63 red-rambler station-wagon
into sunny Cairo of the Catskills
the family was to vacation at Kilcar Hotel
where she was swinging from a rope-swing on a tree
in the yard of a poor run down house
my mannish-boy heart crushed immediately
wild straight brown her hair, sensual in her country dress
dirty white legs straight out
in the summer air
I see the sprinters bent over
Like mathematical compasses,
Numbered by their backs,
Eyebrows arched at forty-five degree angles,
Haunches parallel to the painted white lines,
Waiting for the gunshot.
And, similar to the urge to jump
When looking down from a roof of a high building—
Which is to say, I would never consider it,
Unless chased in a dream—
I want to cheat, I want to rebel—
I want to run perpendicular across the track
And hand one of them a baton,
And watch the quizzical look appear
When they reply,
“This isn't even a relay.”
The musky slow river, purple
grapes on ropey vines
small and seedy where flooded fields grow
slick stalks of rice
in the hot valley summer. Fields
of geese and white crane, long-necked, hook-necked
big river rocks
above the water on wide
white wings. The flattened sun burning
mountains volcanic and seemingly far away.
A million insects might only be
thousands but they gravel my windshield
along the river road home.
Home… the place in this town where my heart like
a followed fox makes one last run for it.
Allen Ginsberg and Tuli Kupferberg are singing the communist anthem-
in front of the class,
and there's Joe Hill,
the rowdy worker to be hung in some Dakota.
I watch Tuli raise his fist over Allen's head as they sing.
We are having fun again.
Hallelujah I'm a bum with Ginsberg letting his bullshit flow.
Certainly a survivor should.
Skid row is long and sloped.
Too much overtime can put you there.
Ask the I.W.W., hard men.
Desperate men of bravado.
Now the whole world needs a handout.