Spring in New Mexico requires searching for signs of hope—at least at first. Case in point: On this year’s inaugural day of of the season, enough snow fell for the City of Santa Fe to delay opening offices, libraries and rec centers, while at the same time a careful peek revealed the start of green shoots from the ground.
SFR’s annual call for spring poems reflects the annual maelstrom of blowing winds, seesawing temperatures and nascent blooms. From the more than 200 entries that arrived in February, we present seven, along with one from poet, guest judge and Institute of American Indian Arts Associate Creative Writing Professor Anne Haven McDonnell, recipient of the 2021 Halcyon Poetry Prize from Middle Creek Publishing for her book Breath on a Coal.
“There is a strong sense of voice in all of these pieces,” McDonnell says of this year’s winning poems. “I can feel the specificity of the speaker and the world that is being evoked and I think there’s an intimacy to each poem. They’re all working with memory and with weaving together different times, different scales—an intimate scale with a bigger vaster scale. On some level, they’re all doing that.”
First-place winner Bianca Barela’s work is rooted in the culture of Northern New Mexico and the strength of women, she says, “I love when a poem invites me into a vivid, specific world and I felt like this poem did right from the first line.”
Second-place winner Eleanor Channell, says McDonnell, “works with different scales of time and space in a way that was really interesting and powerful to me. There was just this sweep of time and vastness and also a really small, close-together intimacy.”
McDonnell picked two poets for a tie in third place: Théo Ceridwen, who used “really inventive language play” that “wove a lot of different things together such as gun violence, tender human vulnerability and plant science,” and Tamara Baer, whose short portrait of pregnancy was full of pleasant surprises.
Yearning for more chances to write and read poetry? The city is accepting applications for its next poet laureate through April 19. Find out how to apply at santafenm.gov/arts-and-culture-department/
—Julie Ann Grimm
“Knead the Masa”
By Bianca Barela
Call out to the hijas the primas the tias
the ones who grew up in the kitchen
and the ones who did their best
to escape it
Who will tell them
about the wagon built from scraps
full of beans tortillas posole
fresh eggs from the chickens
being pulled up the dirt road every Friday
by their four foot nine inch matriarch
awake before the sun in the morning
to knead the masa
heat the water on the wood stove
defy her husband
with her generosity and quiet dignity
despite his protests of waste
share what she had with her neighbors
heal what she could with her herbs
I struggle for the words to tell
how she stopped and prayed
with every family along the way
bringing her grandchildren along
I turn these stories over
like masa in my hands
spreading them out
with a wooden rolling pin
looking for clues to guide me
trying to remember how
we used to make tortillas
Bianca Barela is a poet and mother working in the health-tech industry. She was born in Santa Fe and is currently raising her two daughters here alongside her husband. Her work has been featured at Quiet Lightning and LitQuake in San Francisco and in the IHRAF Publishes Literary Magazine.
By Eleanor Channell
a dream inside the dream: your child soul peering at the world
door ajar, ribbon of light, a sunbeam sends its invitation
it takes a deft hand to find the fingerings of childhood
to climb back up the rope one knot at a time
onto a hand-built perch high above the blaze of sea
elms bending, fields of timothy your green horizon
it takes a delicate touch to raise again the father
who tenderly called you Chief, who called his hat
the sky, a giant beside you bucking hay in summer light
and dust, at whose whistle the dogs came bounding
you wanting nothing more than to stay at his side
in that small valley, blue mountains rising in the haze
if continents can shift, surely we can loosen
the door from its jamb to see the white house
its luminous uncertainty, the grace of childhood
clear, plain, in staggering smallness all-encompassing
a sunbeam sends its invitation, dreams ajar
ribbon of light, your old soul peering at the world
After years of teaching English, art history and creative writing at an international high school in the Pacific Northwest, Eleanor Channell relocated to a small village in Northern New Mexico, where she leads a life of arts and letters on her own terms. Most recently her poems have been published in Rattle, American Life in Poetry, and the West Marin Review.
Third Place -- (TIE)
By Théo Ceridwen
we are fragments flying out
through which light passes --
a mother untangles sleep,
breathe, baby bundle.
now, they call me soft target
practice. kick back in
war sands while we invent quick
death in the many-worlds
even now we have no way
to see if wet-blessed-
thistle, daisy-cutters shoot.
time fuses set to bloom
into striped bell-curves, thinning
tallies, managing the
mess, whether you look bares
no resemblance to
perception in attention:
that is to report,
the art of staying alive
is to pluck deadheads.
the million bells plant grows best
in full sunlight. still,
understandable if one
reads ghost signs to learn
the art of staying alive
depends on how well
you steal fire from fanned worlds to
hum mud into dust.
Théo Ceridwen (they/them) is a writer, artist, and quantum poetics researcher living in Santa Fe, New Mexico with their dog, Cosita. Their primary interest as an artist and researcher is in compressing the manifest image of the world with the scientific image and mathematical visualizations, thereby rendering difficult-to-grasp concepts more accessible and accurate for general human consumption. Théo earned their Poetry MFA from the University of Pittsburgh in 2021.
By Tamara Baer
Once I loved your fat heel
arcing the round of my belly,
and the bulging ball
that may have been your head.
Even before there was a you to you,
I loved the idea of you –
the improbability, the commonplaceness.
Little chickie with your gold fleece winging,
the fluff of goose down budding
over nape, when you call me
in the middle of some fameless night
to rock you –
I will hold and rock you
longer than I have to, returning you
to your own sleep, rocking
regular as the vigilance of heartbeats,
your tiny wrist inside two fingers of my hand.
Tamara Baer has lived in Santa Fe since 1994.
“because the sun will die if we stop talking about it”
By Kristin Lueke
at least one person, anywhere, at all times,
must have something to say about the sun.
because the world doesn’t want us to trust
each other—or maybe it’s just too big
a job for the kind of animal we are,
i mean, who would keep track of whose
turn it is, this second, to save us—
there are those of us who simply never
stop talking about the sun.
where, given the season, it’s sloping through
the sky, how bright it is, how missed,
how it burns the clouds away. but there’s only
so much you can say about the sun before
you miss asking your friends how is your heart,
or making plans to make soup and eat bread.
so we find new ways to speak to and of each other.
the other night while passing marigolds between us
you said look how it shines
tucked between a photo of my grandfather
and a prayer card for his daughter’s son. later
i told you how the sun laid down the day
we drove into the desert, and i couldn’t find
my breath. you asked if when i woke
did i first think of sunrise, how to dress
for the weather, where to plant a garden?
and i asked, in turn, if the sun didn’t rise
would it bring me closer to you?
Kristin Lueke is a poet, author of the chapbook, (in)different math. (Dancing Girl Press, 2013) and co-founder of a small design firm called Field of Practice. Her work has appeared in the Acentos Review, HAD, Blue River Review, Kissing Dynamite, Hooligan Magazine and elsewhere. She writes a Substack newsletter called “The Animal Eats” and says hello to every dog she sees.
“Epistle to Will Shuster”
By Liana Woodward
Dear Will Shuster,
I used to see your self-portrait every Sunday
on tours up Canyon. No lips just downturned dog-jowls & the easel
a dark triangle to hide behind. I liked that you put the scratchy brown part
of your art in the foreground, that you let your face frown. I liked
your white shirt & your glasses round like an owl’s. Looking again now
I can’t believe your thumb tucked into your trousers like a snarky wink.
You must have loved whimsy to build a fifty-foot puppet. Build him
specifically to cry like a megaphone. Fill him with fireworks
& everyone’s worst days. Name him for anguish. With so much affection
give him eyebrows like an irritated child, climb into his dry paper mouth for a nap,
then, suddenly turn & burn him alive.
I used to take old rich ladies in a group, point to buildings
where your friends drank bootleg booze, slumped in dusty sunsets.
I’d point my fingers through wrought iron bar windows where Claude’s was
which is now gutted & gagging with cotton candy insolation. The owner must not
know how Alfred Morang used to sleep above the bar. How he died there in a fire.
Now only statues & paintings
get tucked into bed. You have to pay for parking & walking
around at sunset you can’t hear anyone going home. No one making a quick stop
at a corner store for eggs or bread or wine. No whining
dogs or hopscotch girls.
I want to paint a house fire like you. Isn’t this what artists do? Sit up on a hill with a palette
of yellow & orange, make someone else’s losing beautiful
instead of passing water to the fire brigade. Instead of being useful?
Liana Woodward is a poet born and raised in Santa Fe. She received her BA from St. John’s College and her MFA in poetry from the University of Montana, where she served as a poetry editor for CutBank literary magazine. Her work has appeared in Peach Mag, Hot Pink Magazine, The West Review and elsewhere. She works at the Southside Library.
By Laura Hitt
I dream of you sometimes, glowing eyes
And yesterday in the woods—hanging out with a diminutive juniper tree
a little patch of moss, cicada exoskeleton, deer droppings—
I missed you acutely, how we used to explore
the wilds, identifying birds,
traversing the mountains and rivers, examining minutiae.
But friendships fall apart
as surely as vireos winter in the Amazon.
Ours molted one fall in the Midwest, laying bare
a vast, subterranean ecosystem that couldn’t be reconciled.
And I’m sure you still go birding, excel
without me there, asking stupid identification questions.
Sometimes I miss your face peering into a spotting scope
at a body of water, cursing with glee
at the sheer quantity of species to identify, individuals to count.
I saw you: feral rebel, genius naturalist, emotional spelunker
your gifts manifold, your darkness deep.
In my dreams we reunite, no biggie
like last night when you were making poop jokes about your fiancé.
If time is indeed elastic, if the distinctions between past present future
are “a stubbornly persistent illusion,” as Einstein said,
then I would bend us back to the first time I saw a vermillion flycatcher
with you, at that wooded campground in Texas.
Maybe I’ll glean a sighting of you again someday, sudden as a rare vagrant,
a vireo ojirojo in our Southwestern town.
And when I do, I won’t disturb you,
will silently note plumage and behavior in my field journal
perhaps make a brief sketch for memory’s sake
and carry on
wishing you keen eyes and sharp ears,
a lifetime of insect-filled canopies.
Laura Hitt has an MFA in Creative Writing & the Environment from Iowa State University. She works as a tutor in Santa Fe and enjoys birding, podcasts and staring off into space.
FROM OUR GUEST JUDGE
“I am rooting for this river”
By Anne Haven McDonnell
and for the bare twiggy willows,
those rooting wizards, dropped
in augured holes six feet deep,
those skinny little cottonwoods planted
along this dry arroyo that, just now
seeps and trickles with a thin clear
ribbon of snowmelt. I hear the sip
and murmur as it drops off chiseled
boulders some workers fit like brick
along the shore, across the channel
forming little riffles and pools for six
sweet weeks this river runs.
I am rooting, too, for those hated
Siberian elms, voracious water suckers
that shimmer and sing with the first
rich greening above the river and around
this town, their papery seed discs
bundled like money, spreading and coating
gutters and hoods and garden beds.
I am rooting for a doomed river,
I know was once a living river,
with trout and beaver and reedy ponds
before it was sucked dry and filled
with broken bottles and broken cars,
and now sculpted, bulldozed, cleaned,
readied to receive water and all life
that follows water, which looks less
and less likely will come. Still,
I root for everything I want
and know won’t return. Sometimes
in spring, they fill the shallows
with fish-one week for kids to catch
those poor trout before they shore up
when the water runs dry. I root for those
doomed fish, for kids with worms
writhing on hooks, for the worms,
for all our unlikely watered futures,
for each hungrier and hotter year.
Every spring I’m here to see
when those cursed elms burst their greedy
green and this river gets on its trickle
I plan to go on rooting.
Anne Haven McDonnell lives in Santa Fe and teaches as an associate profesesor in Creative Writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts. This poem appears in Breath on a Coal (Middle Creek Publishing 2022).