The Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize

2010


Two poems from Jane Springer's Murder Ballad

followed by a note on the author

 

Murder Ballad



Who made the banjo sad & wrong?
Who made the luckless girl & hell bound boy?
Who made the ballad? The one, I mean,
where lovers gallop down mountain brush as though in love –
where hooves break ground to blood-earth scent.
Who gave the boy swift words to woo the girl from home,
& the girl too pretty to leave alone? He locks one arm
beneath her breasts as they ride on – maybe her apron comes
undone & falls to a ditch of black-eyed-susans. Maybe
she dreams the clouds are so much flour spilt on heaven's table.

I've run the dark county of the heart this music comes from – but
I don't know where to hammer-on or to drop a thumb to the
haunted string that sets the story straight: All night Willie's dug
on Polly's grave with a silver spade & every creek they cross
makes one last splash. Though flocks of swallows loom – the one
hung in cedar now will score the girl's last thrill. Tell
me, why do I love this sawmill-tuned melancholy song
& thud of knuckles darkening the banjo face?
Tell me how to erase the ancient, violent beauty
in the devil of not loving what we love.

 

 

Salt Hill

 

I was born in a Tennessee sanatorium hours after my mother's father died & I know
how the womb becomes a salt-sea grave.

I was born in the last seconds of small crops & small change rained down on the
collection plate's felt palate & I know

the soul's barn debt to past generations, too.

Outside, ditchfuls of chicory flashed in the after-rain sun as melancholia's purple
scent rose & its steepled fog distilled in Tennessee hills.

& I know I'm not supposed to be here on account of all those crazy aunts & I know
great-grandma was five

when her Cherokee mother died & her daddy dumped her on the red clay curb
of an Arkansas reservation then drove away in a wagon –

how she just strode the fields of milkweed back to Tennessee & married her cousin.

When I was five I drowned a fly in a piepan of water then spooned it out & heaped
a hill of salt on its still body until I could hear a buzz again (as if within a belly)

& I know the rush of the resurrected.

I was born in the last decade of small town girls wearing white gloves to funerals.

As an infant my boy quit suckling long enough to wave to my mother's ghost –
who used to drift in the doorway of the hours.

& at three he told me that at my age he had red hair & broke his neck falling off
a runaway horse – I know

                                        the rocking chair's set too close to the edge of the porch.

 

 

©





 





Jane Springer's second book, Murder Ballad, won the Beatrice Hawley award and is forthcoming from Alice James Books (May, 2012). Her first book, Dear Blackbird, won the Agha Shaid Ali prize (University of Utah Press, 2007). Other awards include an AWP Intro Prize, a Pushcart, the Robert Penn Warren Prize for Poetry, an NEA grant, and a Whiting Award. She currently teaches poetry at Hamilton College, in upstate New York, where she lives with her husband, John Powell, their son Morrison, and their two dogs, Woofus and Georgia. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from such places as Fogged Clarity, Fugue, the Gettysburg Review, the Oxford American, and the Southern Review.

"Murder Ballad " first appeared in the Cincinnati Review, and "Salt Hill" first appeared in New Letters.



 
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The Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize