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Poetry Competition adult runner up and highly commended

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Adult Runner-Up

“The Journey…”  by Mike Nicholls

Sorry to inform you, stage 3B is what you have
Lymph node melanoma, was not on my satnav
Those days of immortality, a relic of the past
Replaced by life expectancy, how many years forecast?
The journey just beginning
Panic permeating
Mood swings oscillating
Post op excruciating
Lightness follows darkness, medicine on my side
Immuno long word therapy, my defences amplified
GHA oncology, firmly in the chair
Bloods and drips and test results, a body in repair
The journey aggravating
Brain ache escalating
No longer disbelieving
Day to day upheaving
Christmas comes and Christmas goes, normality quite close
Not long ago so healthy, now a juxtapose
The zeal for geniality, banishes the fear
Belief in perpetuity, a resolution of new year
The journey undulating
Belief reverberating
Anxiety abating
Katrina, Jess and Jason, supporting Dr B
Grateful to professionals, and my family
Now the treatment’s over, it’s fingers crossed and prayers
Postponement of that trek, up eternal stairs
Panic obviating
News once devastating
Hope now radiating
… the journey.

Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:

 “Mike Nicholls with The Journey……We have all encountered cancer either in ourselves or in our loved ones. In the 21st century, almost 50% of the population will either battle through this most devastating of illnesses, or succumb to it after a long, agonising struggle.  Mike’s poem reflects the harrowing experience of a patient who has faced the reality of a cancer diagnosis and is now enjoying some kind of reprieve. 

3B is already an advanced state cancer and stage 4 could spell ultimate dissolution.  The speaker is understandably non-plussed by the revelation: panic sets in, moods are uncontrollable, convalescing from the operation agony, then the long, excruciating journey into adjuvant chemotherapy or radiotherapy with their distressing side-effects. 

 Mike then rightly celebrates the friendly, professional help and support of the chemotherapy team (I’ve met them all and can vouch for Mike’s admiration).   Then there is a glimmer of hope when the treatment seems to be working.  The poem, which is so personal and intimate in its details, is testimony of Mike’s resilience and his lust for life. 

 Formally, the poem is expertly structured with alternating stanzas of long and short lines.  The short-lined stanzas, with their plethora of present participles, catalogue the patient’s daily struggle with pain, depression and fear.  We can only wish Mike the very best in his journey to a permanent recovery.  A very poignant, brave poem. (I am assuming the persona and the poet are one and the same person)”

Adult Highly Commended

 "My mother's hands” by Gabriel Moreno

My mother's hands are now my hands.

In my skin I see the geography of her skin.

I remember, as a child, gaping

into the furrows of her hands,

wondering what journeys, what nights
inscribed texture in her human wings.

Back then I fretted for my mother's hands.

I cursed the clothes that irked her hands

as she bashed the dirt of our days

against the sides of the stone basin.

If only it all stopped, I thought,

this endless cycle of dirty shirts

and stained kitchen cloths.

But my mother's hands are now my hands.

I marvel at the crevices and the holes.

Now I know no amount of leisure

can keep our hands from returning

to the rugged leather of the earth.

I remember the soft touch of her fingers

on my hair as she lay me down to sleep.

My mother's hands are now my hands.


Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:

“Gabriel Moreno with My mother’s hands.  Gabriel’s poem is a loving testimony to the way we inherit some physical characteristics from our parents.  Our bodies reflect the physical nature of our progenitors, so that we carry not only their genes, which are, after all, invisible, but also the colour of hair, eyes, shape of our mouth.  Hands are specifically human; they not only shape the universe we inhabit, but create beauty, and convey our love and desire when we fondle and caress another human being.

 The speaker here endeavours to interpret the deep message he finds inscribed in his beloved mother’s hands.  Before the invention of washing machines, female hands bore the unmistakable signs of the daily washing of clothes, shirts and sheets. Hands were chafed, deformed and raw. The son now ‘curses’ the fact his mother had to endure this daily torture.

  He has inherited her hands and even though they don’t have to wash clothes, they yearn for the close physical contact he enjoyed as a child.  She ruffled his hair, and his hands now feel the ‘rugged leather of the earth.’

 We are often surprised at how often we repeat in our bodies the physical presence of our parents, and this becomes more uncanny as we get older.  Gabriel’s poem is sincere, moving and unpretentious!”

 Adult Highly Commended

“The Octopus” by James McNally

She knows it’s time. He knows it too.

If he has any sense, he’ll leave.

She doesn’t mind. She’d eat him alive –

but not because of malice. No,

because that’s what love is. Unconditional love.

A love that was once his is now hers

and is no longer his. Wisdom retreats

while she falls to the bottom of the ocean.

Above her head she strings a clutch of eggs

that almost look like offerings –

like grapes, or passements around a bed,

crocheted comforters, plaited braids –

they might be many things. If you’d ask,

she’d say, “they are my chandelier,”

an honest smile gracing a mouth

that has forgotten hunger.

Day by day they hatch and leave her;

gram by gram, the heart grows lighter.

Air rushing into an empty nest,

she swells like an upturned sail

and drifts towards the sun.

Specks of gold on the blue pass by

with their regards. She too regards them,

but memory paints grey on grey.

They forgive her. Why wouldn’t they?

All that time waiting for one moment

only for it to go unrecognised, unspoken.

It happens to us all. Words are loaned

but love cannot be reimbursed –

this much is understood, even

while her mundane garments wash ashore

to be picked apart by scavengers.

Judge Charlie Durante’s Comments:

“James McNally with The Octopus.  If you have any romantic notions about love and sex, a quick look at the mating habits of the octopus will quickly dispel them. James has thought hard and long about the way octopuses mate and procreate.  The startling message of this ingenious poem is how James has managed to describe what is in essence a form of murder and cannibalism so delicately and sensitively.  The beautiful vocabulary, ‘passements around a bed,’ ‘plaited braids’ and ‘an honest smile gracing the mouth’ endows the macabre ritual with dignity and a sense of purpose.

The young become ‘specks of gold,’ and the dying mother octopus, her task completed, ‘swells like an upturned sail’.   Her once magnificent body is now mere ‘mundane garments,’ food for hungry scavengers.

The semelparous octopus seems to exist only to ensure the continuity of the cephalopod race.  Tentacles, hood, large gloopy eyes, become senescent once mating and birth have taken place.  James has written an absorbing poem, and the readers of his poem may need to brush up on their octopus lore!”

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