Thursday, June 30, 2016

2016 First-Place Winning Poem

First-Place Winner: Building a Brace by Joe Cottonwood 
Joe Cottonwood has worked as a carpenter, plumber, and electrician for most of his life. He is the author of nine published novels, a book of poetry, and a memoir. His novels for adults include Famous Potatoes (1978) and Clear Heart (2009). His novels for children and young adults include Quake! (1995) and The San Puerco Trilogy (1990-1996). Joe Cottonwood's 2013 memoir, 99 Jobs: Blood, Sweat, and Houses, based on his experiences as a contractor, carpenter, plumber, and electrician, is available electronically and in print—readers and reviewers have praised its humor and authenticity. Joe lives in La Honda, California, where he built a house and raised a family. More about Joe at

I am Building a Brace
by Joe Cottonwood

I’m a carpenter. There’s a mindfulness of craft—of any manual labor, actually—if you open yourself to it.

I am building a brace for the front porch
of my brother who is on the other side
of that door listening with headphones
to a recording of Chinese poetry

(in Mandarin, which he understands)
while he is dying, slowly,
brain cell by brilliant brain cell
in that rocking chair
whose joints are creaking,
coming undone.

He no longer remembers his phone number
or how to count change at the grocery store.
He is in denial of any problem
but the crack in the porch grows wider
millimeter by millimeter
so out here in the rain
I set four-by-fours upright as posts,
then I jerk four-by-eights as beams
     lifting on my shoulder
     held by my hands     transferred through my spine
     pushing with my legs
     anchored by my feet
as the useless joists of the deck
drop termite shit onto my eyebrows
like taunts of children:
nya nya you can’t fix this.
But I can brace it for a while.

Long enough, at least
for my brother to forget ten languages.
I will repair that rocking chair.
I will change his sheets,
install grab bars in the shower
because he’s my brother.
I won’t let his porch collapse
out here in the rain.
I simply won’t.

Holding a baby is a window to meditation.

2016 Second-Place Winning Poem

Second-Place Winner Jacqueline Jules is the author of the poetry chapbooks Field Trip to the Museum (Finishing Line Press) and Stronger Than Cleopatra (ELJ publications). Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications including InkwellQuaker Life, St. Anthony Messenger, Christian Science Monitor, Soundings Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, Potomac Review, Imitation Fruit, Connecticut River Review, and Pirene's Fountain. Jacqueline Jules is also the author of 30 books for young readers including the Zapato Power series, Sarah Laughs, and Never Say a Mean Word Again. Visit her online at Jacqueline is a previous winner in our Spirit First annual poetry contest, winning first place in 2014 for her poem "To Be a Gold Droplet Floating." 

Mirrored Light
by Jacqueline Jules

The moon’s light
is only an illusion,
a reflection of the sun,
shining beyond sight.
Yet each month,
I watch a slim crescent
wax to a brilliant orb
and consider
how luminous
my life would be,
if I could mirror light
from the heavens

like that.

2016 Third-Place Winning Poem

Our 2016 Poetry Contest Third-Place winner is Arlene Gay Levine for her poem "Marigolds."

Arlene Gay Levine, author of 39 Ways to Open Your Heart: An Illuminated Meditation (Conari Press) and Movie Life (Finishing Line Press), has had poetry and prose appear in many venues, including in The New York Times, in an off-Broadway show, and on radio. Her poetry is frequently anthologized. She lives with her husband in New York City where she tends a garden of words, roses, and herbs. Learn more at

by Arlene Gay Levine

There are days when nothing works.
Not forgiveness, not gratitude, not

even an excursion into the silence,
inside, which currently sports a
“Do Not Disturb” sign.

No, nothing works.
Quirks and quandaries cut
like knives while the dismal
drone of the daily quotidian
beats a bad rhythm

in your fragile heart
yearning to stay present,
like I said –
it doesn’t work.

Yet amidst the sludge of such
dark sky thoughts, twirling your
life round to the ground like the
spiral of a falling feather, you
sense a nudge, happen to look up

and see that pot of marigolds,
you know, the ones you planted
in the hopes that the sun of
their faces would shine you
back to the bright side of now

and it does. 

2016 Editor's Choice Award

Editor's Choice Award for our 2016 Poetry Contest goes to Jon Wesick for his poem "Meditation Instruction."

Jon Wesick is the author of the collection Words of Power, Dances of Freedom; he hosts San Diego’s Gelato Poetry Series; and he is an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. Jon has published over 300 poems in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Pearl, and Slipstream. He has published almost 100 short stories, and in 2015, “Visitor” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His poem “Bread and Circuses” won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. Jon Wesick has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts.

Meditation Instruction
by Jon Wesick

Even if an A-frame of chicken bones
is all that’s left of your last meal
and the executioner will come for you soon,
settle your awareness in the here and now.

Even if the turkey is still raw
ten minutes before the banquet,
Even if you lost the winning lottery ticket
and your future prosperity tumbles with pants in the dryer,
practice the here and now.

Even if your joke about the porn star
brought a grimace to the pastor’s lips,
Even if a fart loud as an air horn
erupted at Toastmasters,
let waves of awareness return you to the here and now.

Even if your neighbor uses your lawn as his dog’s toilet,
Even if that SUV takes two parking spaces,
Even if you obsess over your upcoming scene in Tarantino’s film,
Even if your Nobel Prize acceptance speech is tomorrow,
let your mind be a redwood rooted in the here and now.

Even if a naked Angelina Jolie (or Brad Pitt)
calls you from the bedroom,
Even if a new Lamborghini gleams in the driveway
and the keys are in your pocket,
let your mind be an immovable mountain in the here and now.

Even if you fantasize this immovable mind
will make you an action hero,
Even though this poem is only a metaphor
and such a mind is impossible,
Even though Einstein proved that now does not exist,

your here and now are enough. 

2016 Special Category Award--Haiku

Our Poetry Contest 2016 has added a Special Category Award—Haiku, and the winning entry is Awareness ~ Zen Haiku by E.B. Littlehill. 

E.B. Littlehill is a former journalist and marketing communications writer. After being downsized from her corporate communications job during the Great Recession (she is still trying to figure out what was so great about it), she started a new career as a freelance event photographer. In 2014, she began a Tumblr blog of poetry and photographs called Smoke Signals from the Hill. She recently reached 800 followers. All but a handful are complete strangers. Her poem, “Instagram Photos” was chosen for inclusion in the Montclair Write Group Sampler 2016. Her first book of poetry, See the Dragons ~ A Collection of Zen Haiku, is currently being considered for chapbook publication. Read more at The Spirit First 2016 Meditation Poetry Contest was the first poetry contest she ever entered.

Awareness ~ Zen Haiku
by E.B. Littlehill

I am awareness
Secrets of the universe
Are all inside me