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--- W E S   M U L L E N

First Place Winner of The College Alumni Society Poetry Prize, 2004 at the University of Pennsylvania
Judged by Christopher Buckley

He had learned by now not to trust the neighbors. Outside, the red bush was full of sparrows, so full he could no longer be sure they were not giant, angry bees.

The dog he fed from the back porch had not come for weeks. When it returned, all its food was rotten and he shuddered when he noticed

its different-colored eyes: one blue, one lazy and red. After that he locked all the doors before bed. He blew out the candles that used to ease him into sleep, and gave the cat to a neighbor.

He was careful not to walk too close past the windows at night, especially when the headlights shined through to the kitchen like prison spots. At the desk, he scribbled poems

to a woman he had never met, who wore sweaters and no watch, who knew the capitals of South American countries. When he had run out of paper, he pulled the dusty

atlases from their shelves, opened them on the floor, then cut the maps along the county lines and rearranged the states in the shape of her face: lakes for eyes and railroads to trace the

shadows of her neck. Soon there were no more borders to slice, no more highways for her eyelashes which were like the ribs of small birds. His hair had grown long and all the food in the house tasted

like cellar stairs, like tin or dust. In the attic, where he slept, he found a stamp album, held it open over the bed and shook the stamps loose to flutter down like moths. He

covered the old bed with postage and fell asleep hoping. In a dream, he flew over Connecticut with his atlas-love, letting her point out the topographic,

ever arguing over the political. When in the morning he awoke to find himself undelivered, not even routed or cancelled, he cut all his poems from the spine of his book, fixed them with the last crumbling

stamps, and stuffed them in the postbox on the corner. Once he was sure the sparrows had flown he hid himself and lay in the red bush, waiting to follow the mailman for a direction, to learn to what strange woman he had addressed himself.

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