Poetry Centre

EAL category

  • First Place: 'Photographs' by Kostya Tsolákis

    On balconies, in sunlit rooms, embracing
    relatives I never met, holding long-dead pets:

    my parents’ youth is kept in the living room
    in a wooden chest. Deckled prints no bigger

    than my palm, formal studio portraits
    and light-starved slides span monochrome

    decades, peaking in Kodak Gold right before
    I was born. Again and again my parents are caught

    ignorant of me. Dad, nearing 90 now, his mouth
    a sparrow that no longer flies. How can he be

    the smart lieutenant Mum has yet to fall for,
    his uniform a brilliant white he can’t be trusted

    with today? Mum, her eyes dimmed by limitations
    and disappointment. Is she the girl, stem-thin

    in a little black dress, gazed at by pomaded suitors?
    Even then she felt like a displaced floor tile,

    but in that girl’s beautiful, composed face,
    there’s no hint of the anxious woman watching now

    in terror, as the cold light of life without him
    leaks in, like a new development, from under the door.

    Kostya Tsolákis
  • Second Place: from 'To Die A Little' by Romalyn Ante

    ‘Partir es un poco morir,
    llegar nunca es llegar…’

     – Oracion de migrantes

    ‘When I left you, I had to kill a part of my heart.’

    – Mama

          You stood on the other side of the barrier. Time is a tattered blanket
          that draped down your shoulders. I slit my chest open to excise a chunk

          of myocardium. My tympanic membrane beat what you held back,
          Ma, wag mo akong iwan. Ma, don’t leave me.

          Our day clattered down the litter, a snail-slow plane cut across our sky.
          I learned the routine – drawing a cross on each day block

          of the calendar, Crocs clogs slap across the street. In and out,
          in and out of the automatic-door mouth of a concrete god.

          Here’s the truth – I could buy our barrio’s botika and any blanket
          but there – in the unchecked wound of the world, under the fat

          of clouds, you lie on a bed, a smack of IV drips hang over your head
          like a battery-drained cot toy. While here, I am setting a vomit bowl

          under someone else’s chin, watching him sleep as the walls convulse
          in magma-hot breaths. Here’s the truth – my tympanic membrane beats,

          wala kang kwenta, useless mother.

    You said all I needed to do was to sleep and before I knew it,
    you’d be back. But I woke to the rice that needed rinsing,
    my siblings’ school uniforms that needed ironing.

    I woke to a refrain of drunkards across the road.
    A man in a cowboy hat plucked his gitara
    and sang about a person who packed a suitcase,
                  Just when I needed you most.

    I woke when the washing machine broke
    and beat clothes at the backyard.
    A sleepy face frothing in a puddle,
                  Just when I needed you most.

    I raised my head above the waves
    of smoke from a burning wok, and wondered
    if the swirl of black mist would reach you.

    But I believed, Mama – before I knew it, you’d be back.
    When I yanked my sister by her hair for answering back,
    I held onto what you said.

    When I choked on phlegm at midnight,
    missing the ginger-kick of your tinola,
    I held onto what you said.

    When other mothers climbed to the stage
    and pinned medals to my classmate’s chests,
    I held onto what you said.

    On Sundays, I played tumbang preso with the other kids.
    We laughed because we were not orphans, only left behinds.
    A swift hit – a rubber flip-flop knocked down an empty can

    and the years clanked down the street. The smell of rain
    lifted the dust from the road. I sprinted for a shelter,
                  Just when I needed you most.

    Romalyn Ante
  • Special Commendation: 'Conversion' by Kostya Tsolákis

    Cured in the church my parents got married in,
    I was made to kneel for hours on the marble floor,
    facing the gilded iconostasis,
    as chants and swigs of holy water rooted out
    the homosexual demons from my body.

    20 years later, marriage required few words from me.
    The painted saints that witnessed my translation
    watched over my union with you, dear wife.
    Their cool expressions, just like yours,
    gave nothing away.

    My mother smiled. The priest chanted:
    And the wife, see that she reverence her husband.
    You stepped lightly on my toes.
    Did she tell you to do that?

    The wreath on my head felt surprisingly heavy.
    I wore my father’s velvet suit,
    tight over my chest and under my armpits;
    I had too many ouzo shots at the reception.

    It’s been a year now.
    Are you my ideal match?
    My mother certainly thinks so.
    Unlike me, you know how to drive,
    you never gave up on your German,
    read Balzac and Zola in the French.
    Your Greek betrays only a smidgen of your mother tongue.
    You had a stint in the diplomatic corps,
    dice vegetables and meat like a pro.

    Men give you the eye in the street all the time.
    I pretend to mind, but can’t make myself.
    You spend a lot of time with my mother,
    hanging off each other’s lips.
    In the kitchen, just now,

    you giggled like girls with a crush.
    It’s strange, sometimes I feel I’m imposing.
    I try to join you, but you shoo me away.
    We’re talking women stuff, you laugh.

    I sit on the steps that lead down to the garden, smoking.
    I picked up smoking recently.
    The apple tree is looking worse for wear.
    It hasn’t rained since we got married.

    Kostya Tsolákis