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Rebecca Dunham
Winner : 2011 Poetry Contest
Selected by Alison Hawthorne Deming


Listen to Rebecca Dunham read this poem:

Morning: Joplin, MO

     May 24, 2011


1. Refuse

Brown-yarned, the doll’s hair
loops round a hickory’s jagged
limb & she dances

the wind like a human body

clinched above
the gallows. See—your own

eyes stitched open as hers—
there is no difference, batting
or flesh, still you will
hang, emptied by my breath.

She could be dead. Easily

she could be your daughter.


2. Hampshire Terrace

Search & mark with a spray-
painted X. Nothing left
to salvage. You do not like

to say it, but you need
the dogs. Like a doctor’s
stethoscope, no tools you have

can help you find silence. 
We’re always hopeful but we briefed
the guys to plan for the worst.

Crowbar, chainsaw, chisel
you dig, hail beating
in time. In time, you think,
            please let me be in time.


3. List

Tilt, slant, heel—a careening, a leaning, to one side. Incline. To please, to like, to desire. To cut away in narrow strips, stave & plank, to shear. To lister: to furrow the land—plow & drill—drop & cover. Who is the one who compiles? Roll clouds scroll the sky. Call it & we will listen: anything but there is no list, there is no list. Call anything, but call it.


4. Broken

Stripped & strafed—another
casualty—their skeletons

spear the sky. Shag-barked
hickory, catalpa, a 135-ringed oak.

Debris perches like turkey
vultures on their arms.

Each one, a splintered body
to be hewn & dragged out

of town, to be put to the pyre.
They deserve this much, at least.

Smoke masses, teeming
thick as grief re-greens the sky.


5. Catechism

What is the chief end of human life?

Sirens like a trumpet’s call.
Roll the beds to the hall
& pull the blinds—Too late—

What reason have you for saying so?

Burst rose of sharded light.
IV-lines ripped loose, beds thrown
against the wall, blood-drenched

What is the highest good of man?

& bathed in life. & these
are the lucky ones, the blessed
who walk among our ruin.

What is, what reason, what is
the good of man?

The very same. Bathed in life,
the burst rose. O sharded
light, sirens like a trumpet’s call.


6. Mucormycosis

puncture wound            hard black
center              —press—
let the pain remind you
what it means            to survive
decay             a petri dish     leaf
mold & wood             what the skin
admits            all nature needs
to destroy you            Spore           
fr. sporá     sowing seed   see sperm

I will see your toll               & raise you
one hundred fifty one


7. Dovecote

windows blown-in
& empty-socketed as a skull
against the hospital’s
bone-slabbed concrete—

roost, thou forsaken

—absence is its own home



Rebecca Dunham is the author of two collections of poetry: The Flight Cage and The Miniature Room. Her awards include an NEA Fellowship and the Jay C. and Ruth Halls Fellowship in Poetry from the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing, and her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Antioch Review, The Colorado Review, and AGNI, among others. She is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
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