John Amen, “No Longer July,” 2021 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize Winner selected by Judge Alexis Rhone Fancher
I loved the rhythm of this poem, how it riffed on popular culture while delineating among other things, a failed relationship, crime, the angst and trauma of the ongoing pandemic, and brought the poem back again to its devastating conclusion. I could not get this terrific poem out of my head. Extraordinary work.
— Alexis Rhone Fancher
No Longer July
Sometimes it jumbles,
beats from a K-pop project,
Stefan’s poem about the coordinates of war,
Detective Ana Garcia’s voicemail
sparking in the airwaves. I unscrewed the door from its hinges,
she bored her flashlight into a curtained room
– Richard slumped in his chair,
a scarecrow with a red tunnel in his head.
Now I rescan the email from his ex,
insisting that she loved him
despite the way their short summer ended.
Regardless of who loved who or didn’t, it’s been a year
since I swore off arguing with the dead.
The things we carry: how it’s never enough
to stand shirtless in a field, singing the truth,
you need someone across the fence to applaud, to say yes,
you were there when the gun went off, though you weren’t.
Yeah, you reached for the barrel at the last moment,
though you were five hundred miles away,
rummaging through bills
or changing a light bulb
or trying to get to the bottom of why
your newspaper wasn’t delivered.
I wish I could tell her that if she weeps long enough, he’ll return,
floating above her king-sized bed at three in the morning,
mouthing all is forgiven baby,
but even he can’t chase away that reek of sulfur,
it’s all yours, it hovers, thick as
guilt or longing or resentment,
until you don’t need it anymore, you roar
in the middle of the night it’s gone.
Photo credit: Chad Weeden