Editor's Note: Below is our second winning submission from January. We are pleased to have published both this poem and Jude Tulli's short story. Remember, the submission window for February is open right now, but closes tomorrow night!
Another year has come and gone.
If they had not sent him to town
to sing in the bishop's choir,
if that summer had not brought the sweating sickness,
her son would have been twelve.
(Her husband left soon after,
following his own blank stare.)
The first year she believed they'd return.
She'd worked the fields, learning to harness
and plough, spent summer
watching the grain get taller,
the autumn preserving, then keeping to
what she preserved. She'd believed
in the lie of the sun's warmth.
Each successive year
more and more of her lay fallow.
a man came by
asking for one night's shelter,
paying in story and song.
His teeth unworn
by gravelly bread, his mind quick to point
and follow thought. His hands white
even in harvest season. If she said yes,
who could blame her? His eyes green and strange.
After he left, the rains came.
Crops rotted. Milk soured.
Winter nothing but
snow, phantasms, hunger.
Lady-day: she remembers a story.
Climbs the hill
with a jug of sweet ale,
whispers a promise to the standing stones. Waits for a song.
One way or another, she'll not be the same.
One way or another, she'll not go home again.
Jennifer A. McGowan lives near Oxford, England, and has published widely on both sides of the Atlantic. For more poetry, info about her first collection, and for samples of her medieval calligraphy, visit http://www.jenniferamcgowan.com
Image by August Malmstrom.