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The DuBose and Dorothy Heyward Society Prize:

Cassie Premo Steele

Honorable Mentions:

James Engelhardt, Ruth Nicholson

Finding Laura and L.D.

        Laura and L. D. Nelson, an African American mother and son, were lynched on May 25,


        1911, near Okemah, Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, by a group of 40 white men, including

        Charley Guthrie, father of the folk singer Woody Guthrie.


When a friend asks you to burn sage for Laura and L.D.,

You tell her you already have sage and cedar in the car.

When she tells you where the lynching happened,

You research burial places nearby while your wife drives.


And you go there. You go, two women,

And find the Creek Church a few miles down

From the bridge where she and her son

Were lynched after setting her baby girl


Down on the ground by the bridge.

Down on the ground in the cemetery

A crow feather sings in silent greeting, saying,

Go to the unmarked stones near the back.


You light the sage and cedar and lack

The words to say what is happening

But the wind knows the story and tells it


In heavy tones from the south as you turn.

The ember, still burning, falls from your hand and burns it,

And as you kneel to retrieve it,

You notice a white feather who tells you

That the sage wants to stay.

Stay, sage, you say,

Waiting for the smoke to climb.

Stay, feathers. Stay, cedar. Stay, sage.

But release Laura and L.D. now. It’s time.

Judge’s Comment:

Neatly stacked stanzas expand beyond their forms to tell of contemporary folks making history through an act of recognition and remembrance. A sacred rite memorializes a double murder as it renders visible a story of personal loss and communal shame.

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