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poetry contest: write a poem about portland
Powells.com celebrated National Poetry Month with an invitation to write a poem of your own.

The poetry lovers at Powell's chose the winning poem based on factors including style, originality, creativity, and artistic quality. Congratulations to all the winners!

First Place

Lisa (Steinmann) Akeson from Santa Cruz, CA

Making Jelly

It was a short bike ride
to a run-down fruit stand along the tracks.
Each day I watched for jars of quince jelly
to appear on the counter,
pale gold refracting light aimlessly.
Cradling a tin-capped glass, I rode back to my wheezing house,
stark grey clapboard, the chipped wooden table.
I hoarded my little jar — the whole season had a lifespan
of two weeks, maybe three in a good year.
The jelly's perfume would unfold in the hollow of my mouth
tissue thin, its spider scrawl
like an aged letter protesting love.
I wanted the life that jelly conjured:
arcane kitchen craft, white dresses, honeysuckle.
It's this ephemeral memory that still holds
all ten bridges, the Willamette River's current,
Sauvie Island's stillness, every jeweled garden
and the night lights from Mt. Tabor,
all my Portland years in a spoon
tipped over onto my waiting tongue.

Second Place

Devon Balwit from Portland, OR

Bridge up

I lean my bike and watch
           the morning tugboat handlers nose a coal barge.
                     Two migrating geese arrow their way southward
           as rain molds me, a papier-maché mother of three.
After work, I will return to my extinct volcano,
                     welcomed like a hero
by apple blossom and daphne.
           My head clangs as the span lowers.
                     When it touches, the gates will rise,
                               and Burnside will burst forth.

Third Place

Emily Walter from Missoula, MT

Sweat Pants

Portland swallows rain for a month
straight. Gutters fill, water parts in alleys
where men wrestle with cardboard boxes that collapse
into pulp, leach mold and disappointment. A man waits
by the bus stop without an umbrella, exposed
when a few of us hunch under a store front, slickered
in rain jackets, while this man stands reading
without a coat, just a grayed Henley and a pair
of sweat pants. None of us talk to one another, sulked
in silence. The man in sweats turns his paper, reaches
under his belly to scratch himself. Not a hesitant itch or rub.
A dig. He reads the Times and I wait
for something. A slight twitch, a nervous cough, or shrug.
Instead, for the first time in thirty-six days
I forget it's raining. I want to forget about everything,
except for this man in sandals, who stands back
when the bus arrives, letting a mother and her child,
who's dressed like a lady bug, board first.
The squelch of tires pushes water onto curbs,
trucks grind back up. The girl turns and waves
to the man. He tucks his paper and waves back
with both hands.

Honorable Mention

Sarah Cutsforth from Albany, OR

now preen in this valley

slim like scallions, the newly minted natives are smoking the center, gauging
the thrust and mellow hum of the small pond pandering for big and bigger fish
having not so many minutes for suburbaned hills and the tall tree patches that clash like
a pattern of marked-down carpet samples, they instead prefer to storm unnecessarily and
plot their hazy visions, peddling each parlor trick across damp sidewalks and soggy
weeklies, dragging their gigs efficiently over stretchy bridges basted with rain
pillaging a city is exhausting work and if they slept they'd be asleep by now
we just flew in from (some state here) and man are our arms tired
yet on they go! swimming with an equal mashing of stutter and champ they enunciate
every wet minute, pausing only to breathe, to stall and mix and shake out their calves
in time, a collection stands haltingly in a heap of several Stark and Grand seasons
kicking them aside, they could be ready to go west go east go
anywhere else and they might
on an accidental whim, they tuck inside one wild night's decision to scram —
goddamn let's do this — and soon their Focus is caulked and they're floating the
Columbia, sailing to Los Feliz or Minneapolis as a way to save their party
it's been too long, too small, too intimate
and yet a lovable place, they'll say, sheepishly admitting to dry and absent
friends yes we enjoyed our pale sickly shoulders, the moody gutters
cramped with leaves and a handful of chances for odd-flavored beer

Honorable Mention

Natalie Toogood from Eugene, OR

Near Jefferson and Park

Only February
and the sky deep blue like
summer at night
I cannot describe
the depth
and rich color
cherry blossoms already
lit by the streetlights as I pass under
pale pink on dark blue
I know a place in spring
where a circle of trees blossom
like a canopy of white
and fall like snow
in the wind

Honorable Mention

Bethany Sample from Portland, OR

Hold Your Breath

Come, water,
to a city of florid ladies;
Show me
a blue ceiling reflected
in glossy puddles
where upturned faces float
next to boats shaped like shoes.
Sailing away, without her umbrella,
a lost girl watches
the rain fall
thousands of miles away
and thinks only of this:
a drop,
drinkable but elusive,
at night splashing the streets
with neon rivers.
Remember this, when you are cold and wet;
Portlandia taught you
how to hold your breath.

Honorable Mention

Stephanie Taylor from Vancouver, WA

Propinquity

I've been disloyal:
I've loved the sun.
I've learned to love palms and white sand
          at Christmas and to flourish under humid skies
          (less like a rose; more like a frangipani)—
But now we pull close, and the mountain has become an
          aircraft magnet
drawing me home.
Landing over trees gone blue in the low fog,
I long to race along the flesh of her graceful arms suspended in fourth arabesque
and to run rings around her proud spine and dancer's legs.
To trace her, elbow to wrist, with the tips of my fingers as she holds life
in her veined hands and drops me like a sleeping child into the
dark slumber of her breast at night.
I land, feet touching wet dirt and sigh—
          stars, fireworks, skyline...
all the same
                    to me.

Honorable Mention

Michael Gause from San Francisco, CA

Geography (or words thereof)

And it's true that the fetters became
unbuckled. Gladly, yes. The rope and lash, bound
and slickened by spit and salt
could never contain a multitude
and I kept walking in this city of bridges.
California is fine this time of year. Is that
a statement or a fact? I have not lent
my ear to a fable in some time. Portland
was in our footsteps and I felt fine and
interlaced in the strings of your breath.
I have always known you. Known you
in an unconditional sense, known as in spoken
known as in latitude. I said the word map
and let myself become marked by its lines. I am
walking still. Walking in the path of your next step.

Honorable Mention

Jennifer Horne from Tuscaloosa, AL

What I Know About Portland

is that a gentle city-planner
left flowers at my back gate
for a whole month
before I figured out
it was him.
I should have known.
He was from Portland
and therefore familiar
with small gestures of beauty
and subtle generosities.

Honorable Mention

Terry Rillera from Berkeley, CA

The Weight

she misses Portland
like the slight weight of
metal no longer wound
around her finger
unthought of until
she rests hand to table
and there's no sound
only then does she run thumb—
and finger-tip along
the base of her ring finger
the promise long gone
but the memory of the weight
like a bookstore that isn't Powell's
a pub that isn't McMenamin's
a farmer's market that isn't Park Blocks
she might buy another ring
but it won't be the first one
like here isn't Portland

Honorable Mention

Matthew Dunlap from Old Town, ME

At the Portland Zoo

The monkeys, they came bounding up,
Up to the glass wall,
And tilting their heads, regarded us.
Some of our group laughed,
And pointed, and mocked them.
I thought—do we know
Which are the beasts?
At Pioneer Square, the train paused.
Flickering beauty, she slept on a bench,
The remnants of her world
Packed at her feet.
Through the glass, we pretended
Not to see; darting looks,
Afraid of what the window showed us
Or what it might reflect.
I thought—
This glass separates us
From too many things.

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