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.