You turn around, sure there is a bird
inside the classroom. The air is disturbed
and you hear wings where there shouldn’t be
anything. You clap as if applause will bring
an encore. It does. The bird with its blooming
yellow breast amidst various shades of brown
hovers near the fluorescent honeycomb of light,
then leaves you staring into brightness. You watch
it leave through a hole you never noticed as your retinae
throw spots to blot it out like staunching a wound
with cocktail napkins. You wanted to hold the bird
and make it understand florescence, how even
the children suffer, how this classroom will soon be gone
and you with it, given the slip each year. Only this time
it’s different — crosshatch of nest marking your face
like a fence you’ve looked through since
you were a child. But you can’t help its offspring
incubating above you amidst the yellow tubing —
double-beaked, tweaked, wingéd freaks. So
with cardboard and duct tape, you seal shut the gap
between window and wall while the bird is outside
gathering twigs. You wait for the bird to return and watch
from inside as it thumps against its shape in the glass.
How it holds the blade inside its beak and knocks.
By Kristin George Bagdanov
Arnel Reynon illustration
What a Little Bird Told Me
For runner-up Katie O’Dell’s poem “The Engineer,” go online to
The theme of “Good News, Bad News” posits our human penchant for dichotomy: which, we ask, do you want first? The best entries, howev- er, question the illusion of clarity inherent in this phrasing.
Hence the title of Kristin George Bagdanov’s winning submission: “Amidst
Various Shades of Brown.” In this poem, a discovered bird’s nest does not signify
the expected “good”: the safety of home. Instead, what’s hidden in a classroom
ceiling’s “fluorescent honeycomb of light” becomes a “crosshatch” for an unidentified “you” — teacher? principal? custodian? — marking “your face / like a fence
you’ve looked through since // you were a child.” Knowing the probable doom
for what’s “incubating,” the you regretfully becomes complicit with the forces of
destruction, sealing “the gap // between window and wall while the bird is outside / gathering twigs,” watching as “it thumps against its shape in the glass.”
Kristin George Bagdanov is an M.F.A. student in poetry at Colorado
State University. She won a 2012-15 Lilly Graduate Fellowship and a 2012
Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship to support her graduate work. Bagdanov earned a
B.A. in English from Westmont College, her Phi Kappa Phi chapter, in 2009.
Her chapbook We Are Mostly Water was published last spring by Finishing
Line Press. Her poems have recently appeared in Rattle, Rock & Sling, Relief,
and other magazines. Go online to www.kristingeorgebagdanov.com or
email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Runner-up Katie O’Dell’s “The Engineer” explores “bad news” embedded
in the “good” on a global scale. The title character once “dreamt whole cities
built by graphs and numbers, / the marvel of human excellence / unfolding
from the compass.” But “progress” is also the architect of destruction, O’Dell
suggests. The contrast of windmills to “power houses cleanly” with wheels of
“the old cars we used to drag race” creates ominous overtones of climate
change, how “the cold starts to retreat, / whole winters at a time,” the “
moisture / of a hurricane come north beginning to build” along the engineer’s neck.
“It is difficult / to get the news from poems,” William Carlos Williams
wrote in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” “yet men [and women] die every
day / for lack / of what is found there.” The good news here is you, reader,
open to the accomplishments of these poems. Read on.
Sandra Meek (Colorado State University) is author of four books of
poems including, most recently, Road Scatter (Persea Books, 2012) and
Biogeography (Tupelo Press, 2008), winner of the Dorset Prize. She
also edited the award-winning anthology, Deep Travel: Contemporary
American Poets Abroad (Ninebark Press, 2007). Meek received a 2011
creative writing fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment
for the Arts and has twice been Georgia Author of the Year. She
is a cofounding editor of Ninebark, director of the Georgia Poetry Circuit, and Dana
Professor of English, Rhetoric and Writing at Berry College.
— Sandra Meek, poetry editor
Attention, poets: The poetry contest is open to active Society members, published
or unpublished. Submissions — one per entrant per issue — should be up to 40 lines long
and must reflect the theme of the edition. One original, previously unpublished poem is selected for the printed version. Runners-up may appear online. The summer theme is
“Dreams.” Entry deadline is midnight, March 6, only by email at email@example.com.
For complete rules and details, go online to www.phikappaphi.org/poetry.