The Alabama State Poetry Society’s annual writing contest offers numerous awards for poems in various styles and themes. The ASPS has a long history of supporting emerging and local writers. For the past three years, I’ve sponsored their David Kato Prize, for poems on the human rights of LGBT people. The prize honors a Ugandan activist for sexual minorities who was murdered in a hate crime in 2011. He was the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda; follow and support their important work on their website. The ASPS has kindly permitted me to publish the winning poems here.
by Sylvia Williams Dodgen
An inexplicable moment, how did it happen
so quickly in such an unlikely place
or did it happen at all?
For I had seemed to hold my breath
not to dispel that surreal slot in time:
a sweltering summer midnight,
the corner of forty-second and tenth,
edging Hell’s Kitchen.
Following a bow-tied foursome
in white top hats and tails
into a pharmacy, the magic began.
The foursome asked for novelties.
I veered off and met a tall young man
in platinum wig, Marilyn style,
arrayed in light blue plastic bubbles, neck to thigh,
long legs gartered in silver hose with tiny bows,
ascending from stiletto heels,
taps clinking, as he moved along the shelves,
a larger-than-life Marilyn in moveable bath.
Gliding by, “Love your outfit, darling.”
“Yours too,” I smiled, rounded the aisle and
met an older woman in floor-length, rainbow vest,
hugging a cat in a pink crocheted cap.
Wagging his paw, the woman said, “Say, ‘hi’, Sunny.”
I smiled at Sunny
then moved to stand in line behind white tuxedos
The young man in bubbles approached from behind
followed by the rainbow clad woman,
carrying her cat and a bottle of wine, like pots of gold.
Our collage exuded such energy the
air around us hummed.
I grinned and felt my hair roots lift,
my skin shine, as though I were a polished lamp,
with genie inside.
Bubbles whispered down to me,
“Feel the vibe? It’s show time,”
and burst into John Lennon’s lyrics.
Exiting tuxedos turned and sang in unison,
“Imagine all the people, living for today,”
Bubbles raised his arms and began to sway.
by Debra Self
My husband, our two children and I
passed through Indiana
as we traveled back home from vacation.
A cacophony of harsh sounds
emitted from Steve’s stomach
in rhythm to the girls’ bellies
so we pulled over at a Bar-B-Q dive.
As we walked in and sat down,
people began to stare at us
to the point of rudeness.
Then, instead of a waiter,
the manager walked over.
“Are you two gay?” he asked.
“Why, yes, sir, we are,” I replied.
“Then you need to get out.”
We were incredulous.
“Excuse me?” I blubbered.
“Did you not see the sign
on the door when you came in?”
“It says that due to my religious beliefs,
I do not serve faggots. So get the hell out!”
Other people sitting around also began
name calling and yelling for us to leave.
Some even threatened to take away
our daughters. One woman actually tried
to grab them from us.
We gathered the girls, rushed to the car,
and quickly jumped in. The people had followed
us out and as we sped off, picked up rocks
and threw them at the car.
Both girls sat in my lap crying
as Steve carefully drove home.
We happily left the dust of Indiana
The Man Jesse
by Myra Ward Barra
Regretfully, Jesse was gone when I entered the family,
A young man, I’m told, who painfully dwindled away.
His loved ones often speak of him:
“Jesse, our brother with HIV.”
“Our cousin, Jesse, who had AIDS…”
“Jesse, my gay son who passed away.”
Over the years, I came to know Jesse in my own way,
Through thumbprints of his life, Jesse made himself known.
Once his siblings placed him in a box and took a photograph.
He was a rosy faced doll, a child’s present, gift wrapped.
Through his writing, I met a poet with incandescent light in
the darkness, a lamp of life glowing during bleak hours.
In a glossy, clay figure, I saw a potter transferring his thoughts to his hands,
forming a pudgy man in plaid clothes and a perky hat.
In a home video, Jesse was a ballroom dancer,
Pulling his grandmother to the floor, his free-style hair falling east and west,
His Versace tie swaying to Glenn Miller.
There was Jesse the animal lover, best friend, big brother, avid skier,
New York graphic designer.
Jesse deserves to be recognized apart from his illness.
Jesse was born a baby, lived with purpose, and died a man,
Jesse was not his disease.