First Place, Joe Bolton Poetry Award
Lethe, a Bathroom, and Bottles
No paddle. How concise. My lamp shade head.
like a room in which many hurricane vases
were laid to waste.
Waste for the lilac, asters and daisies. Waste
of good times
turned to wine raised in cheers at the wake.
are stowed in the library among the lace collars
left in the will to every son and daughter this side
of good memory.
No luck. Some luck finding a mess in a grown man’s
shorts and understanding
our hands in it a stroke of grace. It was near
five in the morning
when I returned to our shared room. My grandfather’s
moans. The clock.
A door opened to a blank wall. He had no chance
A drunk’s chance in my unsure hands. Unsure sounds
clumsy. I was worse.
In my dreams now, the ones mustered to cement guilt,
both our heads are ocean.
Thanks, he says, being pulled from the toilet. His light hands
trace my shadow.
We take a few years to make it down the hall and back to shore.
Recording the Burial
Your body was laid down on pillows of nettles
and wet leaves. A mattress of mud and salamander.
Down here the thrush is as silent as the mockingbird
is not. A wren is a wren. A body is blood then bloodless.
But stick one thumb, visit just one town lit in geranium,
say a name the flowers recognize and the body is alive
for a minute or spell. Though, tear a wrist and bone
and the procession becomes trash and forsythia
and everything makes more sense than your injuries.
And no sense. The soil will crack in the sun. The distance
between a thumb and nail is gone. The briar, the skin
do not matter. Sing, so sing. Give up if the butterfly
is hope. Leave your head and take your heart. This morning
the Beechwood wears your name, as the sky, as you
slant your way to the creek, back to your box and pail
full of catfish and cottonmouth and minnows. As
your reel and lure in mud and tobacco are lifted.
As pollen is released like smoke from a shell.
Poking Dead Things with Sticks
I saw a dead baby deer in the middle of three lanes
out past the cemetery.
Sunday morning and sunny. Its body spread into
the dotted lines
and the white pattern of coins on its hind quarters.
Every one of us
could see it. A dream for an inspired photo exhibit.
Or a dramatic poem.
In spiritus. To breathe a methylated sense out of this death.
But I think I am not moved.
After so many afters—the things we say, the things we read,
we see and do and forget to take a picture of.
Like a selfie
before an ultimatum. Before divorce papers and
diagnosis’ and dead
baby deer in the road that remind you all beauty
in the world is complicated
by you. And I wonder stupid, why no one with a truck
can just stop
and pick the dead thing up. How can we all just go
after this dead deer?
This beautiful and arresting dead deer? Dead things
everywhere, I cry,
blubbering in my fumble for the radio dial
to turn a tune
that makes my nausea nuanced. We are idiots in our fear.
All through the night
the deer’s mother probably watched from behind the tall fence.
I don’t know
what sound came from her throat. If her fawn could hear
over our passing.
The mother watching us as if we were never there.
NICK READING is the author of Love & Sundries (Split Lip Press) and The Party In Question, winner of the Burnside Review Chapbook Contest. His work has appeared in many journals including Barrow Street, Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, Painted Bride Quarterly, and jubilat. He conducts workshops through the Indianapolis Writer’s Center and for the Indiana Humanities Creative Writing program. He lives in Indianapolis and teaches at Butler University. For more, visit nickreading.com