The Marjorie E. Peale Prize:
H, Randolph Spencer “Understanding”
Lisa Sloan, Elizabeth Robin
They are nesting now, the oystercatchers,
in shallow scrapes, spooning out discarded clams
along this low shelf of dredge-spoil, wily birds—
hardly master builders—their households
set up little above high tide, exposed,
open to any capricious spring flood or sudden storm.
Our own tide-wrack home was equally exposed,
scooped minimally from a different crust of shells,
our shallow depression always too flat
to the ground, too vulnerable,
our footprints disappearing in pluff mud.
You left as noiselessly as the male oystercatcher,
he, when he finished instructions to his brood,
teaching them how to pad slowly across the inter-tidals,
waiting to find the half-open mollusk,
a quick jab of the beak into the opening to wedge it apart,
the hapless clam, mussel, oyster devoured.
Your own instructions took longer—were more speculative,
but speculation aside—tell me what I should have noticed:
what signals determined when fatherhood should end?
When was it the nest should be deemed derelict,
when to be abandoned? When for you to take flight?
"Understanding" seamlessly weaves vivid imagery and nuanced narrative into a tapestry of rich sounds and colors to evoke both landscape and the spirit of South Carolina.