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Posted on December 20 2019

Malika writes of runner-up Michael Coplen: 'The use of strong enjambment in the poem ‘Fortress’... is impressive. Particularly the succinct couplets in the latter half of the poem, where the lyric draws on and defines an emblematic ‘red.’'




The day we moved to the Fort Campbell house
my mother stole from the neighbors.
Kentucky slickened the barrack-bare
walls, the boxes soft with sweat—

she winked her way through the slam
screen door, wrenched a little silver valve
from the neighbors’ house & brought it
home to make our air blow cool.

She riveted white walls with red: teapot, dog bowl,
red-framed squares. My sister, my grandmother,
me: in each our separate rooms. Her: four hours
asleep each night, alone in the red-striped chair.

Sundays making rows of soil we’d later learn
carcinogen. Seeped beneath, the Army’s
old reserves of mustard gas; nothing grew
but weedy grass, the mums in their thick red pot.

‘Red’ is everything-but-red. Red
is the eye’s denial. Red as absence,

planet-storm. Red as when she leaves
for war, her body canvassed green.

For the first few weeks this is all I see,
the house in photo negative:

chair as everything-but-chair,
love the absence of love.

We make of missing a soldiery.
I bury tulip bulbs. I brush the dust

from her red bookshelf,
keep myself and the dog alive.



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