“Turkeys” by Barbara Lange

2014 Salveson Prize in Poetry

I saw five wild

turkeys in a frozen field,

scratching icy clods of dirt,

meandering through broken

stalks of last season’s corn. Unaware

of our passing, unperturbed

by the highway

or us, riding in silence.

The only sound between us

the rhythm of the tires on the road.

You, driving stiff and silent. Your face

hard as the unyielding ground

they just kept scratching. Me,

forehead against frigid window,

looking out, wishing I could join them,

trade our icy silence for

the warmth of winter sun

on frozen clods and broken stalks.

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“Battle of the Pink Balloons” by Desiree Diaz

2014 Salveson Prize in Prose 

Emma leans back in the corner of the booth, tapping her manicured nails on the edge of the Formica table, gazing at her reflection in the tinted window to her left. A few minutes pass, and she turns her attention to the woman sitting across from her, who has recently turned sixty. The old woman has dull gray hair, green eyes framed in wrinkles, and lines around her mouth. But it isn’t the gray hair that bothers Emma─ neither the crow’s feet, nor the laugh lines─it’s the flat-chested figure.

Sitting to Emma’s right is her daughter. Emma turns to study the wavy locks of chestnut hair, framing a pretty round face set with bright green eyes. Stephanie looks so much like her that Emma thinks, It’s like gazing into a thirty-year-old mirror. Hovering just above her daughter’s head are two pink balloons filled with helium, tied together with pink ribbon, attached to a loop on Stephanie’s jeans.

Interrupting Emma’s thoughts, the waitress places a menu in front of her, fills the water glasses, recites the Tuesday specials, and says she will give them time to decide on their order. They thank her, and Emma watches her walk away.

“Well,” the old woman says, “what shall we have to eat, dear?”

“I’m not really that hungry,” Emma says.

“You need to eat something, to keep your strength up.”

Emma rolls her eyes. She leans forward, places her elbows on the table, and says, “Will you please stop talking to me like I’m five years old?”

“Momma, you can’t be five, ‘cause I’m six,” Stephanie says. Emma gives her daughter a stern look, and Stephanie slouches in her seat.

The old woman leans forward. “That’s not what I’m doing.”

“Isn’t it?” Emma clenches her fist so tight that her nails dig into the palm of her hand. “You don’t have to coddle me, Bernice.”

“I know that,” her mother says. “And stop calling me Bernice.”

“If you know, then why do you do it? Coddle me, I mean.”

Her mother closes her eyes, takes a deep breath in, and slowly exhales.

Breaking the silence, Emma says, “Stop it. Stop coddling me.”

Bernice shakes her head. “So damn stubborn, just like your father.”

“Nana, don’t swear,” Stephanie says, shaking her index finger.

“Sorry, Sweet Pea.” Turning to face Emma, Bernice says, “So stubborn, just like your father.”

“I just don’t want to talk about it.”

“Emma Jean, you have to deal with it.”

“I’m dealing with it.”

“By not eating? That’s not how I dealt with it.” As she says this, Bernice points to herself, a habit that’s always irritated Emma.

“Fine, Mother. I’ll order something.”

The waitress returns, and the two women place their order. Emma looks at her daughter as if to ask whether or not she’s made up her mind.

“Tell the waitress what you want, Sweet Pea,” Bernice says.

Stephanie studies her kids’ menu. She glances at Emma, eyebrows arched, and places her order. “I want Mickey Mouse pancakes and a large Dr. Pepper.”

“We already had breakfast,” Emma says, “and lunch. It’s dinnertime. Order off the dinner menu, and have lemonade, not Dr. Pepper.”

“But I don’t want dinner and lemonade.” Stephanie sits back, arms folded over her chest. “I want Mickey Mouse pancakes and Dr. Pepper!”

The waitress offers to give them a few more minutes, but Bernice shakes her head. “No,” she says, “that won’t be necessary. Bring the child what she wants.”

The waitress looks up, admiring the balloons, and asks the girl where she got them. Stephanie’s face beams, her eyes lighting up. “Momma had a ‘pointment in the city, and then me and her and Nana went to the fair, and I got balloons and I got a teddy bear with a big pink bow─” She pauses, taking a breath. “─but Momma said I had to leave him in the car.”

“We had great fun,” Bernice says, “didn’t we, Sweet Pea?”

“We had sno-cones and cotton candy and I went on rides and everything!”

The waitress smiles and then tells the girl she’ll be back soon with the pancakes.

Emma lets out the frustrated sigh she’s been holding in─for so long, in fact, that she’d been thinking her cheeks would burst from the pressure of it. Her eyes are drawn to the pink balloons. So round. So full. She blinks to hold back tears as she studies the figure of the woman sitting across from her. Slowly, she moves her gaze upward until she meets the old woman’s eyes, anger building inside of her as she tries to give her mother the meanest look she can muster. “Why do you always have to do that?”

“Do what?”

“Let her have her way like that. You know I don’t want her filling up on junk food.”

“It’s just pancakes, not like it’s going to kill her.”

“Mother! She’s my daughter!”

“Stop bein’ mean to Nana.” Stephanie rolls her eyes. “Just ‘cause you’re sick, doesn’t mean I’m gonna be. I don’t hafta eat healthy all the time.”

Emma slams the palm of her hand on the table and glares at her mother. “See what you started?”

“Don’t sass your mother, Sweet Pea. Tell her you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry, Momma, but you’re not bein’ very nice, and Daddy says it’s a sin not to be nice.”

“Well, it’s not a sin when you’re sick,” Emma says. “When you’re sick, it’s okay not to be so nice sometimes.”

“But Momma, are you gonna turn into a boy?”

Emma gasps. “Where on Earth did you get that idea?”

“My friend Betty,” Stephanie says. “She told me that after you get ‘em, then if you lose ‘em, you turn into a boy.”

Bernice nearly chokes on her drink of water, struggles to get it down, and breaks into a fit of laughter.

Emma frowns. “Well, your friend Betty is wrong. I’m not turning into a boy.”

“Good, ‘cause I sure don’t want my momma to be a boy.”

Bernice, still trying to regain her composure, laughs so hard that tears run down her wrinkled cheeks.

Eyeing Bernice, Emma says, “It’s not funny.”

“Momma, I gotta go to the bathroom.”

“Okay, honey. I’ll go with you.”

“But I’m six already,” Stephanie says, “I can go by myself now.”

“Are you sure?”

“For Heaven’s sake, let the girl go by herself,” Bernice says. “We can see the door from here. Go ahead, Sweet Pea.”

Stephanie heads for the bathroom, and the two women watch until the door closes behind her. “There you go again, Mother,” Emma says.

“You know, this pissy attitude of yours is getting quite tiresome.”

“You don’t understand.”

“I do too understand. I’ve been there, remember?”

“I said, I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Well, you damn well better do something, before you piss off everyone around you!”

The other customers in the café turn to stare at the two women. Emma looks down, her face heating up. As the other patrons lose interest and return to their own conversations, Emma begins to cry. Bernice looks at her daughter, her own eyes pooling with tears. “Emi, dear,” she says, “please don’t cry. I’m not trying to fight with you, only help you.”

“I know.” Once again, Emma stares at her mother’s flat chest. “I just don’t want to look like, like─ ”

Bernice reaches across the table, covering Emma’s hand with hers. With her other hand, she wipes the tears from Emma’s eyes, searching them with her own. “Like me?”

“Oh Mother, I’m sorry. I really don’t mean it that way.”

“Yes you do, and I don’t blame you. Do you really think I wanted to look like this?”

“Well, at least you were okay with it.”

“Oh no, I wasn’t, not even close. I was just like you. Didn’t even want your father to touch me.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“I never knew you felt that way.”

“How could you? You were just a little girl.”

Emma leans back, rubbing her temples. “So,” she says, “how did you get over it?”

“You think I’m over it?”

“Aren’t you?”

Bernice looks up, seeming to be searching for the right words. “You don’t get over it, not ever.”

“But you had Dad, and us kids.”

“And you have me. And a husband. And a daughter.”

“I know.”

“And you also have options I never had.”

Emma looks down─the dainty, wrinkled hand covers hers once again, tightening its grip. Their order arrives, just as Stephanie returns from the bathroom. Once the waitress has gone, Stephanie looks up at her mother with puffy, bloodshot eyes. “Momma, I popped a balloon.” She cries, her eyes puffing up even more, cheeks flushed.

Emma fixes her gaze on the balloons. One remains round and full, the other reduced to a shriveled rubber morsel. She turns her head, locking eyes with her mother. “Don’t cry, honey,” she says, wrapping an arm around her daughter’s shoulders, “losing a balloon is not the end of the world. We’ll get you another one.”

Bernice smiles and says, “Now, how about some Mickey Mouse pancakes?”

 

“Cherry Street” by Kevin Moore

Cherry Street

By Kevin Moore
 

I took her home

to the small white house with the blue trim

around the windows,

just off Cherry Street.

Her mother wouldn’t be home

for hours.

There’s a first time for everything

I thought to myself

as I wiped my sweaty palms

across the backside of my faded jeans.

I could blame it on first time jitters

I suppose.

I put on some Marvin Gaye

That’s a little cliché,

she said with a giggle

while taking off her bra.

It was mind-blowing,

that’s how I put it.

She thought interesting was more fitting.

I guess sex can be interesting, does that mean it was bad?

Whatever,

it was still special for both of us

I think.

 

 

I saw her once more after that night

in the third column of the

Kelly Caldwell, age 19

struck by a drunk driver

on her way to

Silver Bay, Minnesota.

She was going to see her Dad.

What a terrible way to die.

I often think about her

and that night.

When I took her home

to that small white house

with the blue trim

around the windows,

just off Cherry Street.

“Dear Dennis” by Molly Maschka

Dear Dennis

By Molly Maschka
 

Dear Dennis,

I remember the first we met, back when the both of us were only six years old. It was the first day of kindergarten; we were seated right next to each other in our little seats. Both of us were shy youngsters, neither saying a word. I was a tiny bit shocked by how you looked differently from me- flat facial profile, upward slanted eyes, small ears, and most of all you were small in height. Only later would I find out you were born with Down syndrome, a chromosome disorder that caused those physical features, along with speech impairment. After a while just sitting in our seats, you was the one who finally broke the silence between us and said hi. Even though your speech was not up to par, I could clearly understand you. I said hi back to you and asked if you wanted to play. You had shaken your head yes, and this was the start of our friendship that will always be cherished.

After that first day in kindergarten, we were basically attached at the hip. We played together, ate lunch together, basically did everything together. One memory of us is play dates, you and I had many adventures, most of them were cowboys or Power Rangers. I remembered you always had to be the red Power Ranger, a character most known for being the warrior, leader. I did not really care what Ranger I was, I went from the blue to green, even to the pink warrior; I mainly followed you with our adventures, because as the leader, you always knew how to save the world from evil.

Dennis, even though we believed we were heroes, you and I were troublemakers, always causing commotion. I remembered one time you and I were playing Power Rangers when we decided to search your older brother Jimmy’s room as one of the bad guys’ “secret lair.” We looked around the room, beholding for any evidence. You had picked up a picture of Jimmy with one of his friends when Jimmy came into the room and started to yell at us. You shoved the picture at me, telling me to run. Jimmy started to come after me first, but you decided to jump on Jimmy, wrestling him. I climbed over the bed and ran out the door into another room. Jimmy shut the door, clearly holding you at ransom. I walked back to Jimmy’s room, pounding on door, yelling at Jimmy to give you back. Jimmy yelled back only if I would return the picture would you be set free. I crumpled the picture with madness. I opened the door, threw the picture at Jimmy and grabbed you out of his hands. We ran and hid underneath Dennis’s bed, hearing Jimmy telling your mom Karen, what we did. You and I hid for the longest time, hoping your mom would never find us, but unfortunately she did. She told us if we ever pulled a stunt like we did again, I would be sent home. We promised her we would never do it again and apologized to Jimmy. After that play date, you and I decided to stay outside with our adventures, keeping us less out of trouble.

As you and I grew older, reality of school kept us . In school, I attended regular classes while you need special education classes for your Down syndrome. On top of school, we both had activities- I was involved in swimming and softball while you participated in wrestling, but we would always try to find a spare moment to see each other. The only time we hung was in the morning before classes started for the day. We would usually just sit at our lockers and talk about anything. You would tell me how wrestling was going or what you had learned in his classes. Sometimes when we saw each other during the day, you would always run up and give me the greatest of hugs. One particular time in school, I was having a bad day. All I wanted to do is go somewhere and cry, until I saw you in the hallway during classes. You usually knew when I was not in a great mood. When you saw me, you ran up to me, gave me the greatest of hugs, and said “Relax Molly, everything will be alright.” Just being around you Dennis, you always made my days brighter, making me realized never to take life for granted.

Then, the summer before our senior year, God decided to take you home. I remembered as if it was yesterday when I heard you had passed away. You were involved in an ATV accident. You had hit a tree and sustained serious injuries. The doctors tried to save you but there was nothing they could do, and went home to heaven. Hearing about your death Dennis devastated me. I did not know how I would handle life without you. You would never be at homecoming, prom, or graduation. I thought my life would never be the same without you until you came to see me, in a form of a blue butterfly. It was a few days after your death, at a softball game. You flew into the dugout and landed right by my feet. I looked down and you opened your wings. I knew it was a sign from God that you were safe in heaven. You stayed through the whole game making sure I would be alright.

I am writing this letter to you to let you know thank you for always my best friend, my buddy. Thank you for teaching me how to be compassionate towards others, to never give up on my goals in life, but most of all, to “relax.” I am writing this letter to you to let you know that I will be alright, that I am not giving up on my dreams. I am at college fulfilling my dreams as a writer and as a softball player. Do not worry about me buddy; I know I will always have you as my guardian angel by my side.

 

Love you always and forever,

Molly

“The Ash Grove” by Daisy Wallace

The Ash Grove

By: Daisy Wallace
 

The ash grove we planted is still there;

Dirt under our nails, cricks in our backs, but

We planted all thoserows of trees that day.

They have grown tall with thick, rough, trunks.

The diamonds in the bark are all but gone,

the ridges so deep.

The Tin Lizze is still rusting in the tall grass, but

In a month, a man will come, take it to his garage,

Sand it down,

Rebuild the engine, and the rest.

I’m sorry, but

He will not paint it the pearl violet you always loved.

“Hold Me” by Angel Heller

Hold me

By Angel Heller
2011 High School Contest Winner in Poetry

Hold me
Tight in your arms
Keep me
Safe as the bombs fall
Crashing all around us
Wait for
The calm to seep through the cracks
We wait
Together in this holocaust
Waiting in each other’s arms
Tears fall
Down our cheeks showing
Raw need
Showing the child inside us
Needing unconditional love
Hold me
Tight as this battle ground fog
Clears out
The screams and crashes
No longer audible
Hold my
Hand as we search
Through the
Debris and find my
Teddy bear full of bullet holes