Art is the true enemy of isolation, fear, uncertainty and hopelessness. The writers who contributed to SFR's 2021 poetry contest proved with 123 submitted pieces that creativity will always persevere—even in the face of adversity as seemingly insurmountable as that of the past year.

The first-place winner, Katy Yanda's poem "How Brave We Were," embodies a number of emotions we've all likely experienced lately: apprehension, wonder, love for those around us, and a settling into our lives in perhaps a different way than we've ever done before. "How brave we were / Placing ourselves in the winds / All those places that did not know us," she writes; but "that was another then." We used to be far from home, but now we are centered. It's the kind of meditation that has perhaps come to some of us (the lucky of us) after a year of civil unrest and pandemic.

The poem's end, a kind of mantra—"count, breath. count, breath"—echoes a ticking clock in a quiet room, a metronome in the silence. It's a reminder that no, time is not passing quickly or slowly; it's not fading into oblivion, either. The world still exists, and we're still a part of it, as strange as it all may seem—and that's a good thing.

Inaugural New Mexico Poet Laureate Levi Romero, who judged this year's contest, was appointed on Jan. 30, 2020, and had grand plans to travel the state and bring poetry education and collaboration to even the most far-flung communities. The world had different plans, of course, and the architect-cum-poet pivoted his methods to virtual education, meetings and readings. His four selections from this year's pool of submissions are diverse and poignant.

In addition to Romero's top choices, SFR also selected two poems this year, including 11-year-old Emily Busemeyer's "Dancing on Clouds," a delicate reflection on the freedom and grace of ballet.

'Til next year, poets. Keep reading, keep writing, and—most importantly—keep being brave.

—Charlotte Jusinski

First Place

How Brave Were We

By Katy Yanda

One night, a well of insomnia

not unhappily

Counting your breaths

Our children snivelsnort javelinas,

me glad at your side.

my fingers pressed on the Braille of a cheaply done stucco wall.

Amidst the slatted half dark,

I startle from half sleep, amazed…

How brave were we

Placing ourselves in the winds

All those places that did not know us.

That was another then.

This now is late and also early

I count my breaths

the shapes of my people

count, breath. count, breath.

Born and raised in Northern New Mexico, Katy Yanda lived many other places and always came back.

Second Place

To Bless the Space Between

By Chance Willey

The painter named the portrait

"The Measurement of Men"

in essences of Emerson

and Mary Magdalene.

The lone long-needle-pine

and the long-gone Nazarene

were singing songs in silence

to bless the space between.

The poet wrote a letter

to his lady, gone to Rome.

Picked up his pen and paper

and there trickled out a tome.

The tangle of his language

and all it meant to mean

were singing songs in silence

to bless the space between.

She spilled out of the wilderness

and fell down to her knees.

She asked to have her magic back

but got machinery,

The snaggle-toothed sawmill

and the aspens, gold and green,

were singing songs in silence

to bless the space between.

He came in with the north wind,

stranded in a storm,

following a window-light

to where it might be warm.

The snow below his boot-heels

and the copper kettle's steam

were singing songs in silence

to bless the space between.

The ranch-hand tied a bowline.

The fisherman picked his bait.

And both prayed in his own way

for a meal upon his plate.

The dry cast iron skillet and

the salmon in the stream

were singing songs in silence

to bless the space between.

There's fire in the mountains.

The city is full of smoke.

And the light hangs from the lamppost

like an Angel's petticoat.

The tabernacle of my eye

and all that could be seen

were singing songs in silence

to bless the space between.

Singing songs in silence

to bless the space between.

Chance Willey was born and raised in Santa Fe county, on a small farm by Cerrillos, then Santa Fe. Over his 25 years he has performed on stage and in film, written plays, a novel, an award-winning film and, as a lyricist, co-founded the band BrotherSound with local musician Jake Montiel. 

Third Place

Anson Stevens-Bollen

Wild Horses

By Andrea Broyles

Why do you run?

But take me with you.

Let me bury my face in your rough and tangled mane.

Carry me over space

and time –

leaving the pale quiet ghosts,

standing guard

on their pile of

brittle bones

behind in our dust.

Tell me how beautiful I am,

how perfect.

Your smell rises from your body

filling me with memories,

some hard, some soft.

Tell me why,

my crazy love.

Andrea Broyles is a visual artist as well as a poet. Both in her art and writing practice she finds meaning through the visual examination of the unconscious, aspects of the psyche and life's journey from birth to death.

Staff Picks

Anson Stevens-Bollen

Dancing on Clouds

By Emily Busemeyer

Dancing on clouds, spinning dreams with my feet

Falling lightly like a feather

But floating up like a butterfly

My arms are carried through the breeze

My legs sprout delicate wings

To carry me up and beyond

Leaving this world to dance on the clouds

The world slows and I'm deep underwater

It finally speeds up like a beating heart

Dancing with my heart

Leaving this world

With something

Simply Called

Ballet

Emily Busemeyer is 11 years old. She attends Turquoise Trail Charter School. She loves ballet, nature, poetry, reading, and art. She loves her dogs, Luna and Boomer.

Wounded Healer

Molly Ponkevitch

Although it is August and the mountain here holds a heat

like fat dashes of cayenne and ginger,

my neighbor Tom adopts a husky.

I don't know her name so when she trots up the rocky driveway

to peer in my window, I call her cutie pie, or husky,

or mama, though she is pupless,

and fumble for a water bowl,

though she never takes from me.

She is a desert anomaly, a silver cotton ball

floating in a beige and cactus laden backdrop.

She is constantly panting so she constantly looks happy.

One winter when it snowed in the high desert

she laid sunken in a foot of snow on my doorstep,

everything white and fluffy, like her.

Belonging like her is seasonal, though she is always

smiling.

That winter I pat her butt and she yelped.

A chunk was missing from her thigh.

The fibers of her muscle shone like rose quartz

or freshly halved grapefruit.

It was too much for me to look too long.

I wanted it covered, bandaged, protected

from the air and her mouth

which obsessively licked it, nudged it, nibbled it.

"It's never gonna heal if you keep touching it,"

I said, when her eyes, black and glassy, became a mirror.

Eventually a thick, cloudy mucous crawled over the wound

which I learned was the result of a coyote bite.

It mucoused, then scabbed, then ballooned, then became

a hefty cyst she limped around with for four months. Every morning,

cutie mama at my door, her big black balloon hanging from the side.

I couldn't demand Tom to help her, though I rehearsed it 300 times.

Maybe he is busy, maybe I should call a vet,
doesn't anyone want to help her?

On and on like that.

But even with a cone, dogs try to touch their wound.

They will tear the gauze right off just to be close to it,

to smell the rank absence of skin, to moisten what has never

been touched by air.

Before anyone interfered,

I would see her, sometimes,

hidden behind a pinon tree

curled in a secret crescent,

nose to wound, eyes shut, gently

tasting the opening.

Molly Ponkevitch is a student, musician and poet who currently resides in the Ortiz Mountains of New Mexico. She graduated with a degree in English from University of Oregon, and is now pursuing a masters in mental health counseling from Southwestern College. Raised in a family struggling with homelessness and addiction, her work focuses on healing intergenerational trauma through art and reconnection with the natural world. She has been featured in the literary journals Unbound, Buck Off Magazine, and From Whispers to Roars.

Runner Up

Anson Stevens-Bollen

The Stump

By Peter Goodman

The old house still stands, with the huge barn

where children were Indians attacking

the settlers in the loft, or were settlers

defending their families.  The old swing

hangs from the rafters, but there is

no laughter, no small person screams,

swinging higher and higher.

Horse and leather smells

persisting decades made me feel

the generations of others

who loved the house before us,

generations of shouting children,

of adolescents exploring each other secretly

in the loft, touching and talking

as if they were the world.  Then

our children brought new magic

to the place, a frenzy of comic mistakes,

pitched battles, deep questions, games,

and secrets that settled on the place

like a storm that lasted twenty years.

I still see Margaret's face

the first day we looked at the place.

Both young, uncertain, wondering

if we could have enough children

to fill all those bedrooms, worrying

about keeping the place up, yet sure

together we could do anything.

She died in this house, in the bed

where we made the children

and they first greeted the world.

They scattered long ago,

but returned with grave faces, watched

her burial, showed spouses the swing

or their bedrooms or the stump

of the huge tree where the treehouse was.

Tears sear my face.  Years of

laughing through sorrows welded us

into some new being

now suddenly ripped apart

by God's axe.  I sit on the stump,

missing the tree but glad

I need not build a treehouse today.

Peter Goodman is a poet and fictionist who also writes a Sunday newspaper column, does a weekly radio commentary, and hosts a weekly two-hour radio show in Las Cruces. He's also a photographer and sometime lawyer, and lives with a wonderful wife and a wonderful dog.