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40th Poetry Award Winner

Claire Bateman - Greenville, South Carolina

Meanwhile, We Called Ourselves Human,

By Claire Bateman

having unblinked our eyes to an extravagance of middles,

the world in medias res from the get-go,

teeming, packed, where the song of matter was

the sound of everything not touching—

continental drift, the deaths of oceans,

moving plates on a molten core,

just a little prestidigitation on the part

of the phenomenal universe, with nothing

the same different as before.

Thus we aspired to be both inside and outside,

and so constructed patio kitchens and sun room gardens;

we cultivated disequilibrium,

relished rocking and being rocked—

if possible, we would have planted tree houses in boats—

just as we craved categories.

We: the living. You: the departed. 

Do not cross line.

And always, we practiced purification

by soaking, abrasion, radiation, steam,

sonic bombardment, saturation in snow and darkness.

Ever recursive, we instructed our children to inquire,                                                           

Why is this night the same as every other night?

since from time immemorial

we'd distrusted our relationship with time,

having detected a certain tendency toward drift;

apparently, we'd been assigned to occur

gradually and all at once,

though any of us could have slipped through a needle's eye

merely by erasing all the emptiness between our atoms,

like the honeycomb spaces in stacked pearls.

And concerning the sizes of various infinities,                                                        

no limitation was ever ascertained.

And most of the world's passageways remained invisible to us:

incendiary after-trails of music inside the skull;

backtracings of remorse burrowing into the future.

And each of us would have chosen, over all other gifts,

to possess a resplendent singing voice:

there was that much glory within us pressing for release!

As well as grief, the universal solvent.

For who did not find themselves                                                      

at the center of everything flying equidistantly away? 

No wonder we so easily fell into errors of transposition                                                     

and so exposed our wounds, bandaging everything else.

And it was evening and it was morning of the first day.

And everywhere our faces cast their penumbras

as we asked ourselves:

If it's not good to live in the past,

why are we here together?

Claire Bateman's newest poetry collection Scape is forthcoming in 2016 from New Issues Poetry & Prose.  She has taught at Clemson University, the Greenville Fine Arts Center, and various workshops and conferences, and lives in Greenville, SC.

Maureen McLane, celebrated poet and 2014 National Book Award Finalist, served as our guest judge for this contest. McLane had these words of praise for Bateman’s poem:

A poem both philosophical and grounded in this our concrete world, a beautiful unfolding reticulated lyric registration of what it means to live now and in deep time — to dwell briefly and complicatedly as humans in this ‘phenomenal universe’ amidst our ‘patio kitchens and  sun room gardens,’ amidst ‘continental drift, the deaths of oceans.’ A ranging, surprising, ambitious poem, with flashes of humor leavening its sometimes Biblical cadences: an unusual combination of intellectual and sensual engagement. Brava!

Express yourself, share your thoughts, and congratulate Claire in the comment section below.

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