Still Literary Contest Poetry Winner: Jane Sasser
Jane Sasser’s poetry has appeared in The Sun, The Atlanta Review, The North American Review, Appalachian Heritage, and other anthologies and publications. She has published two poetry chapbooks, Recollecting the Snow and Itinerant. She lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, with her husband, George, and rescue greyhounds.
Poetry Judge Jesse Graves writes of Jane's winning poem: “'What the Dead Want' opens in the most direct way, and builds on the expectations we have for elegies, with details that remind of all the things we miss when a loved one is lost. These details feel both personal and universal, for who hasn’t secretly believed the dead might return to us, that they couldn’t be lost forever? This poem gives me a sense of belonging to a larger experience, though essentially a private one. 'What the Dead Wants' makes an astonishing turn toward the end when the speaker informs us that the dead may want to rejoin us, but not in the way we might imagine. The poet also shows intense command not only of emotional weight, but also of language, as in these vivid lines: 'And last, you: all of corporeal you./ To tunnel into your tautened skin/ cling to the curves of your graceful bones,/ wade in the tides of your borrowed breath.' This poem reminds us, as Emerson has his angels say, that we 'mount to paradise/ By the stairway of surprise,' and that poetry will always find new ways to express the mysteries of our lives."
What the Dead Want
At first, grief. The anguish of your wails,
nights at the window, your certainty
they’ll come home after all, the drawers
you open, burying your face in their clothes,
the way you speak aloud their names, alone,
hours squandered doing nothing
at all, oh, anything, anything
to anchor them still to the world, weight
to balance against eternity’s pull.
And then, the mornings when you wake,
thinking not of them, but of work,
the coffee to brew, the beans to pick,
the evening when you notice the slide
of summer into fall, sunflower heads
drooped on dry stems. The day when
you pack up the past, hats boxed in the attic,
shoes shipped away to ferry other feet.
And the inrush of life, laughter’s sharp joy,
for why should your heart be ceded,
fallow land no one else can claim?
And last, you: all of corporeal you.
To tunnel into your tautened skin,
cling to the curves of your graceful bones,
wade in the tides of your borrowed breath.
It’s all wasted on you, numb mortal.
How little you know of life,
you who presume to guess
what the dead want.