The Stephanie Ellen Siler Memorial Prize:

Brian Slusher

Happy Family

Outside the mayonnaise factory

perched on a picnic table top

in the scrawny shade of a

cottonwood, Cora smokes, sighs.

 

She doesn’t mind the clattering line,

the hairnet full of sweat, or

Guiermo’s gutter-talk, as long

as she gets this moment with a

 

cigarette, as the locusts shiver

overhead, to precisely visualize

one choice on the menu board

of the Great Wall Restaurant

 

with its faded pictures of each

dish, as though your meal is

brought steaming from the 70’s

when Cora, too, was fresh and hot

 

as the Great Wall’s counter girl

in her low-slung jeans, with her

round, doll face flush from the

fryer’s roiling heat, and when

 

you order Happy Family

the girl shines an abundant

smile, a string of paper lamps

glowing on a summer night.

 

Small containers of delight:

takeout, a pack of cigarettes,

the slender shadow of a tree,

and two words that save your life.

 

Comment by the judge: I really loved how "Happy Family" moved through time and space, even as it centered on a moment, a menu item, a memory--the way the food is more than food, is commodified desire, is memory, is nostalgia. The poem is both condensation and expansion, and haunted by the wicked pun of the title.

 

Honorable mentions: Ann Herlong-Bodman; Debra Daniel