First place, Poetry -- 'Luncheon in South Garden of the Art Institute of Chicago'

By Martin McGowan
Arlington Heights
Posted4/8/2022 4:52 PM

I lunch among strangers gathered to the sound of splashing,

collapsing water spears not quite


drowning the sirens, motors on Michigan Avenue.

Prone upon the pool edge, arm over eyes,

a barefoot secretary rests before return to work.

Matching her across the water, a tee-shirted construction worker lies,

yellow helmet domed on chest,

clasped hands behind head.

We rest in mottled shadows of dwarf trees bearing orange berries.

Shafts of water topped by smooth knobs shatter

as they fall, splashing.

One vainly seeks to touch a reaching bough.

Wind aids, pressing down the branch,

but pushes too the water spout

-scattering spray away from the branch.

No kiss but near miss.

The secretary sits up, slips on her sandals and strolls away.

In the breeze, smooth liquid tops flow to glass tresses;

soldiers, spears, dissolve to fleeing

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heroines, dripping naiads bending,

diving to the bubbles below.

Pivoting on his butt, the worker plants his feet,

swings helmet onto head and saunters off.

Wary sparrows alight carefully among the thorny branches overhead,

Bold pigeons with rainbow necks and shoulders

click along the pebbled walk seeking crumbs.

Judge's comment: This poem achieves what is, for me, one of poetry's most important functions: it freezes in time a moment, as experienced by the writer, in a way that makes that singular moment available to everyone. It allows us to inhabit that moment, in that place, with those who were there, and gives us the time and space to consider and appreciate that moment as if we lived it ourselves. Thanks to lovely details about the "splashing/crashing water," or the secretary slipping on her sandals and the construction worker swinging his helmet, we feel present in the garden. The brief line "No kiss but near miss" carries the poem's emotional undercurrent -- in any moment, how close may we be to connection?

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