Poetry 99—adults

2015 adult winners

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First place


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

containing crimes

against humanity,

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.

-Sylvia Bowersox

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

we walk

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

-Muir Hughes

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.

-Marta Shaffer

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

Donner Pass

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

-Muir Hughes



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

Painful motion

Elbow hyperextended

leading the forward charge

wrist cocked back

as fingers point at

my plastic never beating ever still

Broken heart.

-Erica Martin


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,

she whimpered,

“That was a dirty trick.”

-Marta Shaffer

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.

Checking around

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.

-John Brennan

Winter Solstice

The black beetle

lumbering across

the forest floor

shakes off

her magnificent exoskeleton,

tossing glints

of teal and purple

into the wan light

of deep winter.

She knows

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

their exoskeletons

and lumbering

into the light.

-Shannon Rooney


night ride

levee road

flooded field glints the last light

while a sodden sky mists my windshield and

I remember…

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

-Malama MacNeil

Hwy 32

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

-Muir Hughes


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

your sweetness

how it manifests physically

how you nourish me

how I want to hold your cheeks

when I kiss your mouth

and indulge

my thirst

and my hunger

-Alec Binyon

North Rim at Sunset

In the west, Snow Mountain

appeared robbed

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

dunking down

into hot pink milk

poured upon

the coastal range.

To the south,

the Buttes jutted up

from shadows–

like exclamation points,

or arched eyebrows.

We spoke of

rock shelters and blue heron

as the wild onion, lupine,

soap root, and oak

all yawned

and made ready to sleep.


in darkening hills beyond


gathered to sing.

-Shannon Rooney

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

-Christopher Barry

Chaos Theory

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.”

-Marta Shaffer

Butte County

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

lifting soundlessly

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.

-Ken O’Connor


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.

-Christopher Barry