James Howe First Prize (2013)
I tried to find us a love poem.
I looked in the grocery store behind the Kraft Dinner
and down the aisles we wander weekly,
debating breads and popcorn. I tried
to extract one from the car,
where we belt out Nicki Minaj and apologize
for fights with leg squeezes over the gear-shift.
I thought I could get something out of the piano
or the waffle maker,
but all I got were lines of dust and crumbs—reminders
of bad housekeeping. I even went back to that parking lot
in Armdale, searching among discarded cigarettes
for an epiphany I know I once had, but I was distracted by crows
pilfering garbage cans and the crackle of plastic in the wind. I looked,
devotedly, for our love poem.
I stared at my toes and listened
to infomercials, pulled apart orange segments. I almost had it
as I was falling asleep—something about the way you squeeze
the last bit of toothpaste out for me—but suddenly I ended up
in a dimly lit basement, cracking billiard balls and circling tables,
until you whispered me awake, tracing my nose with a fingertip in the dark.
I tried to find us a love poem,
but all I found were the white acid marks
of an orange on my palm, making city grids from my life lines—
a little life for us drawn in citrus chalk, with radio pop, deli counters,
and microscopic tubes of toothpaste.