2017 MIAD Winner's
Poetry - First Place
What Buddy Redwood Taught Me About Love
The river chips away at the bridge connecting two towns.
Beneath it, they say, is where you find the smoothest stones,
stones that have sustained hungry, watery lips,
laps of a selfish tongue,
stones that have lived submerged so long
dry soil makes them recoil, bruising their soft skin
like air browns the flesh of apples.
Throw us back in, they plead, and you might oblige them,
kick them with the toe of your boot
because you’re unwilling to bend down and touch them.
The stones speak again, but their voices are hushed
beneath the rush of the river, their bodies slip from your sight
and you imagine them back beneath the bridge,
that same one you heard Buddy Redwood dove from, head first,
last October when the leaves adorning the surrounding copse of trees
were blood orange and yellow and littered the water
that consumed the snapping of his bones,
those beautiful, ghastly bones meant to carry
your school’s team to yet another victory.
You heard the water kissed him breathless,
and as you watch it travel by you wonder what it might be like,
to be kissed breathless by water,
by anything, really.
Your boots dip into the mud, lips pucker,
your eyes shape into half-moons
as you lean forward in your fantasy,
prepared to see this through,
when you see a glint of silver and blue,
the number twenty-two.
You break your rule about touching and collect the toy car
into your hands, brush your fingertips over its familiar shape.
One of its tires is missing, the rest buried in mud.
You take your time digging out each surviving wheel,
check to see they can spin.
You’ve been walking and not realized it,
nearly bump into the arch of the bridge.
You close your eyes fully this time
and without another thought,
press your lips to the weathered stones,
the car, unforgotten and clutched at your breastbone.
Poetry - Second Place
Strip mall Jesus in search of careless student for important life lessons.
Reliable transportation a must.
No smoking, no drinking, no fatties.
Mailbox number 752.
He waited under the hum of the neon grapes above the Vineyard Church,
rain falling, filling the holes in the parking lot with iridescent swirls of water
that threatened to spill over the crumbling curb and through the now sanctified entrance of the former Dollar General.
The electric eye,
still malfunctioning since Jimmy Sedam (that little bastard) threw one of his multitude of Matchbox cars into it from the front seat of the shopping cart with a marksman’s precision, slides the doors
open, shut, open, shut
as it spies the water encroaching.
Strip mall Jesus pays the water streaming around his sandals no nevermind,
For there is a new disciple approaching: one with carefully coiffed hair, a car that straddles two parking spaces and an umbrella left at home.
One who can learn that the Waffle House down the street has better coffee than Starbucks at a quarter of the price and that you should never leave a Chick tract as a tip.
One who can learn that you need to be the source of the kindness you wish to see in this world.
Poetry - Third Place
I struggle from the cab into a world of longing.
So magical, so immediate, to leave one world where you are known,
Where you have history, accomplishments, where all is familiar,
Then step into a place of blank potential,
Where you have no place, you're nothing but a body to walk
I pay the cabbie and note the new world.
Not the ordered existence dark behind me,
That life of goals and expectations, of measured accomplishments
and short-lived failures,
Always the path before me illuminated.
To know your purpose is a blessing and a chore.
I peer about in the bright sunlight.
This new place is one of doubt and possibility,
A life ahead of uncertain chances, of shaky risks, a beginning in
failure, no place to go but up,
Or lateral movement here in the black pit.
To be devoid of purpose is freedom.
Once life was simpler. I played at marbles and Matchbox cars,
Winning orbs of glass and collecting miniature copies of steel.
The marbles taught me to win, the tiny cars patience.
To succeed at all costs and secure the details of living.
Whether in a felt bag or a shadow box, I put things in order.
But order has bags and boxes of its own and has marked a place for
I lost the marbles; they spilled through a tear in my worn-out bag.
I wrecked the cars as I wrecked my body. Play is hard and demands
As I crashed toy to toy and chipped off paint,
I crashed bone to bone and chipped at ligaments.
A seven-pound ball can wreck the arm that wields it.
Turn the wheels, the wheels will wobble; strain the muscle, the
Then you stand on a corner with dreams behind you and
No order here. Five streets intersect at odd angles.
Not one, but two fountains mark the confluence. Bad feng shue.
Something new. Progress in every direction toward either failure or
And three other avenues besides.
I look up at the sign on the building before me.
Duckpin Bowling. There's a start.
More real than the real thing will ever be again.
I enter the alley and walk to the counter.
"So, any jobs to be had?"
Poetry - Honorable Mention
Everything Must Go
In the alley
the kicked-in Magnavox
has borne its last NASCAR,
its final sitcom.
Down the way
the sounds of pent-up hounds pierce
Beasts must be fed, or perish.
At the moving sale on Woodlawn
everything must go:
a plush matchbox car
fat like a duck,
and a chunky chalice
from a strip-mall church:
$1.50 or best offer.
Again in the alley
an eviscerated couch mopes openly
in the air tangy with the smell of burn.
But still a moth stops to suck a bud
and the chicory weed whispers blue.
From the mural wall
Mother Theresa lords over a parking lot:
a wrinkled gambler
betting on goodness.
Prose - First Place
Summer Jewel Keown
“You don’t see too many females working in a barber shop,” the man said, as he checked out his fade critically in the mirror.
“You don’t say,” Clara replied.
“Not bad,” he said, turning his head this way and that. “Not bad at all.”
Clara heard the unspoken words for a girl. But comments like these were so common they were like the sound of water by now. He made his exit, dropping a few dollars as a tip.
Cleaning up, Clara admired, not for the first time, the owner’s records hung neatly on the wall.
Obscure recordings by The Four Tops hung next to more obvious LPs by The Beatles. Ray was an eclectic collector, and it gave the shop a classic feel the patrons enjoyed.
Some guys seemed offended at her being in their all-male space, one of the last places where guys could still be guys without women listening in. But Clara’s saving grace – and the only reason the owner kept her on - was that she had the best skills with a straight razor in the city. She could cut lines so precisely it was as though they had been done by machine. And slowly, she’d began building a clientele more interested in looking sharp than talking shop.
Tonight she was the only one working; no more appointments on the books. She read through a well-thumbed tabloid while she waited. It was funny how many men kept tabs on the private lives of the stars, not that they would ever admit it.
The door’s bell chimed, announcing a visitor.
“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice said. Clara jerked her head up, surprised. Other than herself and the rare visit from the owner’s wife, she’d never seen another woman in the shop. She jumped to her feet.
The woman standing in the doorway looked nervous, fiddling with the keys in her hands.
“Can I help you?” Clara asked.
“I’d like a haircut,” she said. Clara glanced her over. Her gray v-neck shirt tucked into her faded
black jeans, which tucked into short black engineer boots. Her blonde ponytail just reached her
shoulders. This was not the shop’s usual clientele, to say the least.
The woman looked nervous, before her face composed itself into something like resolve. Clara
was about to ask if she was in the right place, but then she caught herself. How many times had she
been asked that exact question, resenting it every time?
Ray wouldn’t like it if she started doing women’s hair in the barber shop, but since he wasn’t
here and there weren’t any other customers waiting, she decided to do it anyway. She led the woman to
the chair and fastened the plastic cape around her neck.
“What are you thinking today?” she asked.
“I’d like a French crop.”
Her surprise must have shown, because the woman explained, “It’s like a taper, but…”
“I know what a French crop is,” Clara interrupted. “You’re sure that’s what you want? That’s
quite a bit shorter than what you have now, and it’s also pretty…” she searched for the word.
“Masculine? Yes, I know. It’s what I want.”
Clara was reluctant to do it. A French crop wasn’t just a short haircut, like Halle Berry in that
James Bond movie. It was more Hillary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry.
“All right then. I’m Clara, and I’ll be your barber today.”
“I’m Elle. And I’m ready to be sheared.”
Clara pulled Elle’s ponytail out into the air, and, with three quick cuts, chopped it right off. She
held it up, showing Elle in the mirror. Elle smiled, and nodded.
Clara turned the chair so that Elle was facing the room now, not the mirror. She picked up the
straight razor, and readied herself to begin cutting. With a comb in one hand and the razor in the other,
she went to work. She worked like an artist, cutting each strand of hair into its exact length and angle to
create the vision in her mind.
She knew she should make small talk, but she hated asking banal questions about the weather.
“What made you decide to make such a big change?” she asked, after several minutes of near-
“Wasps,” Elle said.
Clara cocked her head sideways, waiting to hear more.
“Last summer,” she said, “I nearly died. I was taking my dog for a walk through the park, and he
upset a huge wasp’s nest. I wasn’t carrying my epi-pen, and they must have stung me dozens of times.
The next thing I remember, I was laying in the ambulance, staring up at its ceiling, sure that this was the
end. And that’s when I decided, if I made it through, I wasn’t going to hide anymore. That I was going to
live the rest of my life honestly.”
“And here you are,” Clara said, completing her last cuts. “Are you ready to see it?”
Elle nodded. Clara spun the chair around. Elle was silent at first. She leaned forward and turned
her head side to side, taking in her reflection. Clara held up a mirror to let her see the back, her heart in
her throat. What if she had done the wrong thing? What if Elle was regretting letting her take the razor
to her head after all?
“It’s perfect,” Elle said. A tear escaped and rolled down her face. “For the first time in my life, I
look like me.”
Elle thanked her, paid, and made her exit. Clara watched as she opened the door and stepped
out onto the sidewalk in the evening’s fading light. She thought she noticed a greater surety in Elle’s
walk, her back a little straighter now than when she’d come in. She swept up the hair, and turned off the
neon “open” sign. Tonight, it was all worth it. The teasing, the mocking, the stares. All of it. Because this
was more than just a job. It was a calling.
Prose - Second Place
Anna’s spry step belied her eighty-six years. Others her age bemoaned their aching joints,
but Anna never suffered a twinge on her two-block trek to the barbershop every Friday where her
son ran a thriving business. This September morning was no different. Anna maintained a New
Yorker’s pace along the sidewalks of her small midwestern town, cookie tin in hand.
The bell above the door jangled, and all eyes trained their attention on her. Friendships
thrive on cookies. Anna made her promenade around the room offering the tin to each customer,
keeping a running commentary. “Hi, Hank, has your grandson recovered from strep throat yet?
Terrible to be sick at this time of year.”
“Ain’t that a fact, Anna.”
“ William, I saw your wife at the euchre tournament on Thursday. Where were you?”
“Plumbing emergency. Don’t ask for details.”
And so on around the room until she reached the barber’s chair, kissed Peter on the
cheek, and found an empty seat. She was probably the only woman in town who felt comfortable
shooting the breeze in this all-male domain, but she’d become such a fixture, the old-timers
didn’t think twice about her presence.
The bell sounded again, and an extremely ancient man hobbled through the door,
supporting himself with one of those four-pronged canes. A middle-aged woman accompanied
him, one hand on his elbow, until he folded his tall, stringy body onto a chair.
“Papa, I’ll be back for you in about an hour.”
Anna riveted her eyes on the newcomers. The woman had spoken in German, a language
Anna rarely used anymore.
While the old man appeared cadaverous, no quaver weakened his voice. “That will be
The unforgettable voice spoke with the same precision and arrogance of seventy-three
years ago. All conversation stopped as the others listened to his accented English addressed to
“For the next four weeks, I will arrive daily for a shave at nine of the morning, and on
Fridays for a trim. I will pay in advance.”
Anna stood abruptly. “I must leave early today.” She plunked the tin of cookies on a
stack of magazines. “Seconds for everyone. Peter, I’ll pick this up later.”
Fearing she would drop dead of a massive heart attack, she strode out the door while her
legs could still carry her. Where to go. What to do. Think, Anna.
The park was a block away. She perched on the edge of a bench and gripped her shaking
hands. There would be no heart attack, there would be no panic attack. Wolfgang Muller would
not have that kind of victory over her. Not then. Not now.
Anna pulled up one pant leg and stared at the faded criss-crossed scars. Why did God
send this monster into her life again? Anna didn’t believe in coincidence. She didn’t believe in
fate. The one, true God, Yahweh, reigned in every circumstance. He had allowed her to survive
Theresienstadt and Auschwitz when the rest of her family perished. He had given her the
opportunity to come to America as a war orphan. He had a purpose in her suffering and a
purpose in the life that followed.
While she had never understood the why of the Holocaust, she thought she understood
God’s plans for her once the American hospital nursed her back to health. A wonderful husband
for forty-five years, two sons, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Her quiver was full. The
blessings outweighed the nightmares.
Until the nightmare voice echoed in her own son’s shop.
She must wait. She must plan. She must discover God’s purpose.
For the rest of the week, Anna made the walk to the barbershop every day. Peter
remained open on Saturdays, which annoyed her, but he claimed it was his best day for business.
She didn’t see Muller on Saturday, arriving too late after synagogue. She even walked over on
Sunday and was surprised to discover the old man sitting on the porch of a house only two
houses away from the barbershop. He sipped coffee and stared at the street. As Anna hurried
past, the daughter stepped out, squeezed her father’s shoulder, and settled beside him with her
own coffee mug in hand.
On Monday, she entered the shop, and Peter’s brows rose in surprise and concern.
“Everything okay, Mom?”
“This September weather won’t last forever.” Her bright attitude sounded brittle, ready to
shatter, if Muller made one move of recognition. But he didn’t. Apparently, her voice was only
one of thousands in his muddled memories.
By Friday, Peter no longer questioned her daily visits. Anna arrived with the usual cookie
tin, and passed around her famous lemon bars, perhaps with less than her usual verve. She saved
Muller for last, sure of God’s purpose, and uncovered a cookie wrapped separately from the
Willing her voice to remain steady, she spoke in German, which immediately captured
the room’s attention. “This vanillekipfel is for you. Special recipe from the Fatherland.”
Muller’s head jerked up with such force, he would have sliced his own throat with Peter’s
razor if he’d been in the middle of a shave. He accepted the cookie with a smile. “You sound like
a Berliner.” He took a bite.
“I was born there,” Anna replied.
“When did you come to America?”
“Ah. The war ruined everything, didn’t it?”
“My life has turned out well.” She watched him chew. “What did you do after?”
“After the war?”
“After Auschwitz.” She raised the hem of her pants for all to see.
The cookie dropped to the floor. “You have poisoned me.”
Her dark-eyed gaze penetrated the steely blue opposite. “Hitler poisoned you. My
forgiveness may be your only antidote.”
“Why would you forgive?”
“It is my only antidote as well.”
With a carefree smile, she removed a second vanillekipfel from the tin and savored its sweetness.
Prose - Third Place
Granny's Sunday Ride
The sidewalk kicked up puffs of dirt clouds in the wake of our trail. Sweat poured down my forehead as I
pumped the bike pedals and squinted against the harsh blaze of the rising sun. Early Sunday morning and the
heat already started to melt the tar between the cracks in the road. A black cat pounced out unexpectedly from
the brush that edged the sidewalk, and I veered to the left.
A car horn blared and tires screeched in response to my shunt into traffic, and to the right I felt a
wrenching tear as the sidecar with Granny went flying. At the same time she disappeared, the gears in my bike
jammed, and the chain came loose. I nearly toppled head over heels before I remembered to brake. Panting, I
came to a jarring stop. The driver that honked never stopped, not that many would on this side of town.
“Granny!” I jumped off my seat and jogged over, wiping the perspiration off my face in the crook of my
arm. Papa would kill me if something happened to Granny on her way to church.
The sidecar had been an invention of my papa’s. A man more prone to drink and complain than work,
his delve into the creation of Granny’s ride at least proved he had retained some of what the army had taught
him. We spent hours soldering, welding, and swearing our way through the process months ago. Granny never
learned to drive, and I needed a ride to work since my DUI. What we called a sidecar was really nothing more
than a flatbed big enough for a small person to sit on with a short steel grate on three sides to keep the
passenger from sliding out, at least in theory.
My heartbeat doubled as I dashed through the brush, only to find the flatbed empty and Granny
nowhere in sight. We were close enough to the Granny’s church that she may have headed up on foot. I gazed
down the road, north, towards the strip mall about a block away. Not there. How does one old lady barely able
to hobble around the house play stealth geriatrics? I spun around in all directions.
The patch of near-dead bushes along the sidewalk passed as landscaping for a derelict credit union.
Along the side of the abandoned building, near the rickety drive-thru remnants, stood Granny, a ghost-like
creature in her best dress, attempting to make a withdrawal from a long-dead ATM.
Instead of cash, a small ball of fur plunged from the machine and into Granny’s arms. I squinted, making
sure she wasn’t a mirage in the dry, summer haze. A brush at my leg made me jump out of my skin. I peered
down to be greeted in mews by the damn cat that caused the ruckus. My shoulders slumped. No way would
Papa allow Granny to keep one feline, let alone a nest of them.
I heard Granny giggle, and I looked over as she lifted the kitten up in the air, spinning them both like a
mother and daughter at a playground for rich folks. My throat caught a lump as she danced around in the old
parking lot and I wondered if anyone could be as happy as her in that moment. On her way to church which was
located in a failing strip mall, filled with folding chairs and no air conditioning, she found life inside a machine
that used to dispense cash to people heading to the surrounding area bars and liquor stores. If I had still had my
cell phone, I would have taken a picture. Not that the still-life image would ever match my memory of it.
Another mew from the black cat brought me back to reality. I turned my attention to my bike and sat
down on the ground to thread the chain around the derailleur. I had some tools in my backpack if I needed
them. After a few minutes, the gears and chain were in working order, but I didn’t have any way to attach
Granny’s ride without Papa’s help, so I used a bungee to pull it along. I’d have to walk, but at least everyone was
in one piece and the sidecar was salvageable.
Granny waved me over to the building. I wiped the oil and dirt on my fingers onto the thighs of my
jeans, and dragged myself, the bike and sidecar over. At least the awning of the drive-thru provided some shade.
“You see my kitty?” she asked, in the country drawl the whole family spoke.
“I see,” I replied, with a soft smile.
Years of college couldn’t shake the accent from my tongue. Hundreds of miles away, long nights of
working and studying in a faraway place, and I still didn’t escape the thrall of my family. College dragged me
down and after the grants and loans ran out, I returned home to my drunk Papa and wacky Granny and never
“You wanna walk up to the church?” I asked.
Her hand fell gingerly on my arm, the kitten still hanging in her other arm. The skin of her fingers were
soft, like gentle tissue paper. Our eyes locked. The same blue eyes.
“Honey, this is church. God wanted us to find these kittens.”
We glanced around the neglected building and the rundown parking lot. Her church seemed so far away
suddenly. I took in the quiet and found the stillness washed over me, like a cool breeze.
“Papa won’t let you keep ‘em.”
She waved her finger in front of me and grinned. “Your papa won’t say no to me on Sunday. You’ll see.”
As we trekked back home, black mama cat and her kittens bundled up in the flatbed, I knew she was
right. None of us could tell her “no” on Sunday.