The Constance Pultz Prize
Dennis Ward Stiles
The wooden ones are best. I love the swollen bud
at the end of the stick, the quick hiss of pain it makes
when dragged across a rough, and then the sigh of ease
as flame lifts up and starts its subtle dance, works back
toward the fingers, in no great hurry, turning smooth blond
pine to twisted black. I love the hints of sulfur
that linger in the air.
And sports, of course. Soccer, tennis, boxing, wrestling
and chess played out in matches while baseball, basketball
football and checkers all are games. Who knows
what brain or brains perceived such subtle differences
in meaning, why language likes a branch
without a fork? I’m on the sidelines thinking idle thoughts
like these when an announcer, quiet and sure as a king
of libraries says, "Match point," and my son lofts a yellow ball
like a butterfly he loves, then smashes it across the net
and wins, for what that’s worth.
Or one thing like or just right for another. Socks. Shoes
that find a harmony with gowns. That dark-haired man
and the blonde beside him. Both beautiful. Both right
for the story in my mind. He has his hand on her hip.
They’ll score. My parents, father dead ten years
and mother two, were once a match. The swollen bud
burst into flame. The heat was delicate and hungry.
When I sniff deep enough, I still smell of smoke.