Actually, there are more than thirteen ways to get nominated for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry’s Association’s Rhysling Award. In fact this year there are 154 individual and unique poems up for consideration (which, if I’m not mistaken, is a record high). Here are two, which happen to be mine, which I am posting so you can read them, as they are featured today on SpecPo, the SFPA’s official blog.
“Terran Mythology” first appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact (October 2016). It is nominated for the 2017 Rhysling Award, Short Poem Category.
This talk of Old Earth is conflated,
it is—always was—a death garden
tree spines, titan turtle backs
native gutter talk.
No buried forests there, no vaulted mansions
tiered roadway arpeggios
beneath the dump-yards
no fish in those oceans
no thirteen stars in the sky.
It’s all folklore
from the firefields, factories
of more than fortified water rations
in these populated ovens.
(As if deserts ever
as if life evolved from mothers
from monkeys, was ever
but science spew.)
—Shannon Connor Winward
“Thirteen Ways to See a Ghost” won second place the SFPA’s 2016 Poetry Contest in the Long Poem catgory. It is nominated for the 2017 Rhysling Award, Long Poem Category.
Thirteen Ways to See a Ghost
As a young woman, your mother finds a dead uncle watching her sleep. The chair is no longer wedged against the door.
Neighbors tell her the couple who owned this house first lost a child. Your mother found him. The crayon marks in her closet could have come from her own, but she sees him, not much taller than the mattress, circumnavigating the bed, as children do, while your father and the boys are sleeping.
You make a joke of it, but he bit her once, left marks, and how would you explain that?
There’s a closet under the basement stairs, a perfect Bat Cave and hiding place. Not-it once, your brother hears, distinctly, Hi. He forfeits the game.
You never found him, but you’ve lost enough in that closet.
Your mother cleans the Hazard house, a squat yellow colonial leftover spitting distance from the old capitol with roots under the New Castle cobblestone. It reeks of piss and centuries. The basement stairs are narrow, dank. She prefers to leave it to the cats until one she’s never seen before climbs out and growls, Get out. After that, she makes the owner leave the Mop-n-Glo upstairs.
“I’m supposed to be here,” she spits back. “You get out.”
You do the Garrett mansion by the Pennsylvania border, too, when it’s still a school. Your job is to flip chairs for the boys, collect bits too big for the vacuum mouth. You visit the animals, nose to their cedar-lined cages, and the human skull, and play outside on the hill alone. You don’t remember the house, just the trees and open sky, the town of Yorklyn sleepy and rustling below, but Mom says those basements go deeper than any should. There are three, one under the next, and no one is allowed to go past the first. Slaves slept down there. It’s darker than dark, and what breathes out at you is not about freedom.
Your grandfather slept in the basement until your mother kicked him out for whoring, and then he died. You don’t remember him, either.
In second grade you start a ghost club. You hold hands over the drainage grates at recess (because the dead prefer damp, dark places) and tell lost souls to move on. The other girls swear they can see them too.
In the basement of your parents’ house, your bags are packed. You are used to things sitting on the mattress, tugging the sheets, but that is no Casper-friendly child. That is man-sized. It is an absence of light, still there when you click on the lamp, but not after you scream. It doesn’t want you to go.
You worked nights at the old school below where the Garrett house burned down. A caretaker haunts it, walking the halls, rustling papers, shutting doors—but this story is not about you.
When they escort your parents to the room where your brother’s body lies waiting, your mother stammers, “I’ve never met anyone who died,” which, by any definition, just isn’t true.
—Shannon Connor Winward