Tor House Poetry Prize 2005




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2005 Prize For Poetry Awards

We are pleased to announce that the 2005 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry,  an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Molly Fisk
Nevada City, California
for her poem
"Little Songs for Antoinette”

Honorable Mentions, each with an honorarium of $200, are awarded to:

Noreen Ayres
Bartonsville, Pennsylvania
for her poem
 "Soul, Smoked”

Temple Cone
Annapolis, Maryland
for his poem

Jan Koenen
South Lake Tahoe, California
for her poem
 "An Education”

Deborah Kroman
Parkville, Missouri
for her poem
"Crib Death”

The final judge for the 2005 competition was poet Naomi Shihab Nye.

The annual Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry is established as a living memorial in honor of American poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962).  The Prize is underwritten by Tor House Foundation Board member John Varady and supported by Honorary Board member Allen K. Mears.  This year we received over 2,500 poems from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and eleven foreign countries.

The 2005 Prize Winning Poem

Little Songs for Antoinette
Molly Fisk


While my mother is dying I pursue a new man, leave
messages arranging dinner, asking about his book.

Standing behind her, hand on her back, a washcloth ready
as she throws up what's left inside, I think of his long arms

winding my waist, the blue eyes closed in pleasure. I am never
going to die, and not like this:

an eight-months-gone pregnancy of tumors, morphine
every 20 minutes under the tongue. Her cancer makes me want

to have a baby quick, not to replace her but to prove that somewhere
life is winning, still believable. This man doesn't know what he's in for,

big hand on the small of my back as we enter the restaurant,
his apartment—he hasn't seen her mouth gape in sleep,

the bones of her hands outlined in parchment, he doesn't understand
the honor: that our hips cupped together hold a single ray of light,

that my tongue against his throat spells her name.


The tears we cry rinse our big hearts clean,
and our mother—past the wail-and-shudder
stage, losing everything—throws up
the two bites of scrambled egg she had for breakfast
and the half glass of water, fills the sink over
with waves from an inner river, the earth
now calling her home. She says she's not
afraid of dying, just the pain and leaving us,
her quartet of old children. Who will take care
of her in heaven? Whose lips will she read there?


At times she dozes, one knee cocked
and her hands lightly holding the bed rails.
If you lean against the door's white jamb
and watch her, love pouring out of your cracked heart
and spilling into the lives around you, she's just
as likely to smile as groan, open her eyes and whisper
beautiful, spinning into the arms of the plum tree
out her window, taking a bow. She asks us
what time the wind gets up in the morning,
hums in her sleep, drums her toothbrush
against the side of the spitting bowl before
we can empty it, happy, laughing at us.


Now every dream is of my mother
carrying the years she'll never have, her hair
grown in and whiter, approaching rooms
she'll never enter now, and then leaving them
to stroll down avenues she'll never see
because she is almost finished with us
and lies asleep after another dose of morphine
and some chipped ice. I look twice
to make sure she's breathing and the quick
pulse in her throat has not stopped.
I sit beside her crying. The room's temperature
has dropped: she is no longer always cold,
she who will be so cold soon, awake now, briefly,
looking out the window at a new moon.


Helping her die may be better
than watching her age and falter,
but we'll never know, sponging her back,
filling syringes. Her eyelids open like hinges
on the door to the other world, whorl
of new hair behind her head, skin pearled
with a luminous sweat, stretched over
cheek bone and jaw line, beginning death's
paring away of flesh. This is a test—
how strong are your children? Who loves you
best? Will you come back to us all in our dreams,
hawk on a fence post, rush of clear water?
Two sons, two daughters, dozing, talking,
laundering sheets, wiping the counters,
waiting to hear one more breath.


Molly Fisk  is the author of Listening to Winter, and recipient of National Endowment for the Arts and California Arts Council fellowships in poetry.  She teaches people all over the world through Poetry Boot Camp, and locally with U.C. Davis Extension and California Poets in the Schools.  For a few years as a child she lived in Carmel and made up scary stories about Tor House.  Now she lives in Nevada City, CA.

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Honorable Mentions

Soul, Smoked
Noreen Ayres

If I had known she'd lie there as in a narrow boat,
bedded in no more swale than shadow surely
weighs, balding head capped with a creation
of her own: wild crocheted multi-colored hat;
if I had known her hips would be squared off

by crackling diapers, her glasses lost and teeth,
perhaps, boxed at the welcome desk; if I had known
we'd see her sleeping there only to ease away
and whisper, "Let her be,” then years before
I would have come nearer, tried to understand

her many cruelties. Said, "Here, have what you want.
Take all you need.” There'd be no cause for fury
then, nor drunkenness and misery. Go, live, be,
until the suffering cells convert to ash. Then rest,
my mother, rest. Forgive our lack of wisdom, please.

Noreen Ayres' collection of poetry, Sorting Out Darkness, was published in 1992 by Pacific Writers Press.  She has published over 40 poems in small literary magazines but has been away from the poetry scene for many years.  "Soul, Smoked” is her fourth award-winning poem.  As a mystery novelist, Ayres has published three forensics-based mysteries (A World the Color of Salt, Carcass Trade, and The Juan Doe Murders, 2000).  Her fourth novel, The Heir of Justice, has just been completed and she is at work on another.  Her published short stories are included in a number of anthologies, most recently, Murder In Vegas (writing as Micki Marz) and Creature Cozies.  Now living in Pennsylvania, Ayres was reared in Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Southern California.  She has worked as a technical writer in the construction, defense, computer, petroleum, and environmental industries and has taught creative writing at community colleges.

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Temple Cone

Before I listen to you,
explain that eagle, trapped on the lake
near an ice-fisherman's hole,
that dark lily tearing frantically
at its frozen shins.

Whether you like it or not,
you have to step in the same river twice.
There is no other world.

When wind blizzards through firs,
a hollow forms
beneath the inner branches, where deer go
to wait the storm out. Don't ask me how
the deer know to do this.

Just follow your own cold bones.

A spring ephemeral
will tunnel through feet of old snow
to bloom under
the shifting March light. To guard
its nest, a blue jay
will adopt the redtail's cry.

For years, I've clasped trout
behind their gill-vents,
slit their long, white waists, and tossed
ropy guts on shore
for the minks and osprey. I'm glad
my hands lived those things.

It took forever, and then took nothing
at all. Remember that. Before learning
to speak, the tongue first lives
as a muscle. Remember that.

Temple Cone lives with his wife and daughter in Annapolis, Maryland, where he is an assistant professor of English at the United States Naval Academy.  His first chapbook of poems, Considerations of Earth and Sky, was published in 2005 by Parallel Press.  His poems have appeared in many journals including Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Green Mountains Review, North Dakota Quarterly, and Midwest Quarterly, and have won awards including the John Lehman Award in Poetry from Wisconsin Academy Review and an Academy of American Poets Award.

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An Education
Jan Koenen

Trees stood in their dreams.
The city park climbed its hill.
I had a desk in the school
on the street with stop signs and curbs
nine blocks from the house where I lived.
Each morning I washed away
my face, but it returned, so I erased
my words, wore a shadow over my
shadow, became a population
of zero. I drowned half of myself;
the other half walked to school.

Bells with no mystery in them
rang. A motor clicked on behind
every chalkboard. When no one
looked I counted on my fingers.
I sang the alphabet song to keep
the letters coming. My hands
under the fluorescent tubes
were hopeless as laboratory rabbits.
We read the abridged version
of Great Expectations.

Taught to pretend the body had no news,
I died in my skin and resurrected
as a horse, a wolf, a hermit
living in a wilderness made from
the Girl Scout manual
and National Geographic.
I sailed pieces of myself
to railroad crossings and empty lots,
flew away from halls and doors,
remote as a long-distance runner.
Girls had children, boys spat out
blood and teeth. The teachers
never talked about the bleeding
inside the walls but we could smell it.
Clouds became letters home.
Roses opened themselves.


Jan Koenen lives in South Lake Tahoe, California, where she is on faculty in the English department at Lake Tahoe Community College.  In 2002-03 she received a $5000 fellowship in poetry from the Nevada Arts Council.  She is a member of the Ash Canyon Poets, which meets weekly in Carson City, Nevada.  Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Cream City Review, The Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Seattle Review, Rosebud, and Fourth Genre.

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Crib Death
Deborah Kroman

For a long time she could only fold towels,
warm from the dryer, work for her hands.

She never knew when his hand would pull
her back into the well, from whose cold waters

the world of made things, folded and stacked,
was out of reach. She wanted to cover her face

with her hands so that no one could see her.
When she had bent over the crib, her legs folded

under her. Now she climbed hand over hand
up slippery rungs toward a cloud

like peaks of egg whites ready to be folded
into a heavy batter to lighten it.

Only God's hand on the small of her back
kept her standing. Her grandfather

gave her a box he had made in shop class,
with a note from his teacher folded inside—

perfect miters—written in a clear, slanting hand.
After she folded away pale blue sleepers,

tee shirts and his christening gown, she sat
with the box on her lap, her hands resting on top.

Deborah Kroman has studied writing at the University of Houston, Rice University, and the University of Missouri—Kansas City.  Her poems have appeared in New Letters, Louisiana Literature, and in Writing Poems, fifth and sixth editions.

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