But first, the runners up. Last month, we announced The Third Annual Best American Poetry Poem Challenge, for which poets were invited to write an inaugural ode, suitable for reading aloud on January 20, 2009. It had to consist of sixteen lines broken into four quatrains, rhyme scheme optional. Furthermore, the ode had to include one line lifted from a poem in The Best American Poetry 2008 or from the book's foreword or introduction, and also include at least three of the following words: honor, integrity, faith, hope, change, power. Poet Mark Strand selected the winner and runners up.
Tied for third place is this fine poem, American Meditation, by Valentina Gnup, of Portland, Oregon. Congratulations, Valentina, and thank you for your poem.
Your father wakes, kisses the soft curve of your mother,
rises with faith in the man who will collect his garbage,
the woman who will deliver the mail. His America
was always a train whistle, the honor of going to work.
The sky’s light behind the mountain changes from red
to blue. He walks beside a Walmart and Starbucks—
those make-believe Americas. At 81, his shoulders hunch;
he forgets to look up—the way we all forget to look up.
Your father rests beside a river as wide as hope—gold
maple leaves roil and churn in the cold foam, floating
like the faraway war dead we forget as soon as the news
is quiet. America is that river, those golden leaves too.
On his porch, any old man in a Dodgers sweatshirt,
he stares back at the last century, unable to recognize
the one he walks through now. Across the driveway
his neighbor calls out, It’s warmer today, a little warmer.
-- Valentina Gnup
The sky’s light behind the mountain—from Louise Glück, “Threshing”
The Best American Poetry 2008 p. 39