2016 Poetry Contest Judge's Choice ~ Rick Mulkey

An Explanation

I know nothing of the way
a comet sings its melancholy song to the ether, 
or how it scores its cold path repeatedly.
The sun and moon are as alien to me 
as the colony of ants busily foraging, or the herd
of buffalo swaying in the prairie’s tall grass.
I’ve little understanding of farm subsidies
or urban blight, of how a town called Prosperity
is little more than an abandoned Rite Aid store 
boarded and smothered in kudzu, 
all of it ditch weed scented, a breath the wind
trapped and forgot to exhale.
I know nothing of Wall Street bandits
or political priests in their great marbled halls.
There is little I can say about the rich
or the poor or women and children.
Or men either. And while I’m told
there are many gods and many prophets:
Jaweh, HaShem, Bhudda, Vishnu, Shiva, Breged,
Allah, and Mohommed, I fear there is
no god, no prophet, no shaman,
only profiteers and con men.
While there may exist an afterlife,
the cradling void is all we’ve discovered.
And though I want to understand 
the intricacies of time, light and the everlasting now,
the ways in which retrocausality suggests
in the quantum world the future shapes the past,
this, and more, eludes me. Instead, I sweep coal dust
from the floors of my mother’s house
because I know that’s what she’d do
if still alive. And she did it because it needed doing,
simple as that, a moment of grace.
How else to understand the comfort
this repetition offers, how else to explain
the rhythm of blood navigating veins,
wind surfing corn stalks, planets orbiting, 
galaxies expanding. The raspy whisper
of broom straw across linoleum 
calls me to the only prayer I know.


Rick Mulkey is the author of five books and chapbooks including, Ravenous: New & Selected Poems, Toward Any Darkness, and Bluefield Breakdown. Previous work has appeared in Poet Lore, Shenandoah, The Literary Review, Connecticut Review, Poetry East, The Georgia Review and The Southern Poetry Anthology: Volumes I and III. Rick currently directs and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Converse College.


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