2019 poet laureate award winner

Maureen Sherbondy won the 2019 Poet Laureate Award with her poem Gretel. Maureen lives in Durham, NC. She teaches English at Alamance Community College. Her forthcoming book is Dancing with Dali (FutureCycle Press, 2020). Her work has been published in Prelude, Calyx, Feminist Studies, Southeast Review, and other places.

Asked about the first poem she ever loved, she says:

When I was young, my mother bought me a poetry anthology called Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…And Other Modern Verse.

I memorized several of the poems in that book. My favorite poems in the collection were “Husbands and Wives” by Miriam Hershenson, “Ancient History” by Arthur Guiterman, “Rebecca” by Hilaire Belloc, and “Why Nobody Pets the Lion at the Zoo” by John Ciardi.

I really fell in love with all of these poems, but the one I repeated again and again was the the poem about lions by Ciardi. John Ciardi lived in my small town of Metuchen. I recall passing by his house on the way to school. Back then (and today) poets were my movie stars, so you can imagine how exciting it was for me to pass by the house of John Ciardi. The poem still delights me.

Maureen shares this poem, Published by Connotation Press in March, 2015:

Cousins I Never Met

Fire burns down the entire forest
but still one flower thrives. The moon’s
silhouette against the sky reminds me
yes, we are still alive. We ran and walked
through yesterday’s parade. You thought
the kite you ran with on the sand could
fly up to the night-imprisoned moon. My cousins, too,
(all gone too soon) watched this same light
in Germany as night-time, day-time prisoners in
rooms fit for two or three, not fifty.

Two years ago we let go of white balloons
at the newborn’s funeral. Five days
he lived. Son, nephew, brother. Five days. We looked up
until white globes blurred into white clouds.
Devoured. We throw rocks at death both now
and then. Still death stays with you and me hours,
months, through years of lingering. Remember

Painting the German Shepherd thick
with tomato juice to release the stink,
oh, that stink, it lingers. Oh, this scent
of death too. Stink of burning flesh
I have heard about it, read about it.
Lamp shade flesh they whisper in the halls.

Now walk with me inside
the burned down forest, take in the sweet
perfume of one flower reaching up
to the sun and moon. My relatives made it
through until the final hours and then
and then. Auschwitz, final hour. The end
when release could be tasted, sulphur burning
on His defeated tongue. Fuhrer fury. The end arrived
when release could be swallowed from the air
so close, and yet. Their blood, our blood waters
burnt soil. We plant new seeds. We march forward.

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