The Stephanie Ellen Siler Memorial Prize:
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