The John Edward Johnson Prize
The Blessing of the Animals
She brings her dogs to church, where Jasper yaps
his Chihuahua version of the Lord’s Prayer
while her Spitz howls the hymns, but neither snaps
at pious cats curled devilishly near.
The pews are filled with pets of every kind:
here, a groomed raccoon; there, a sweet-souled skunk.
Lizards, birds, one tarantula on hand
and a Capuchin shouldered by a monk.
These mild masters, do they seek salvation
for their beasts? Or do they feel the quick choke
of a golden chain, the wanting human
bowed here just to slip the spirit’s yoke, to shake
the Sunday clothes of consciousness right off
and naked-wild bay at the heart of God?
Comment by the judge: The marriage of form and content in the blessing poem was perfect. There was something already playful and wonderful in the catalog of creatures, but the truly fantastic thing is the tension between control and wildness. The poem juxtaposes our desire to bless the creatures within the domesticated constraints of a Christian faith with what the animals might act mean to us: the possibility for a wild, unconscious spiritual desire. And the poet situations this tension in the constraints (the golden chains, we might say) of the sonnet, which steadily corrals these images toward the wild turn at the end.
Honorable mentions: Louise Weld, Danielle Verwers