Winners of the 2016 ASPS David Kato Prize for LGBT-Themed Poetry

David Kato was an Ugandan activist for the rights of sexual minorities, who was killed in a probable hate crime in 2011. For several years since then, I’ve sponsored this prize for poems on the theme of LGBT human rights, as part of the Alabama State Poetry Society award series. Thanks to award coordinator Jerri Hardesty, 2016 First Prize winner Christine Riddle, and Third Prize winner Lynn Veach Sadler, for permission to reprint these winning entries. (The last line of each stanza of Christine’s poem is indented; apologies if that does not show up properly on this blog template.)

Defixio in the Heartland
by Christine Riddle

A curse tablet or binding spell (‘defixio’ in Latin) is a type of curse found throughout the Graeco-Roman world, in which someone would ask the gods to do harm to others. These texts were typically scratched on very thin sheets of lead in tiny letters, then placed in tombs or nailed to the walls of temples. Some texts do not invoke the gods, but merely list the target of the curse, the crime and the intended ill to befall them.

Elvis is dead,
and Barney and Floyd,
Bella, Princess, and Ethel.
And Buddy, still wobbly on legs one week old,
and Love, ironically, full with foal.

Epona alone the vigil kept
that Paschal eve. As Lucifer crept
from stall to stall,
she crafted from her cloak nine palls.
With roses white she plaited manes,
anointed with her tears each blaze,
fed them apples from her lap,
and stroked the cat.

But where was god that Easter morn
when daybreak found the stable door,
when dawn exposed the binding spell,
seared and scorched but legible,
“FAGGOTS ARE FREAKS” “BURN IN HELL”,
when loving a man was deemed the sin
that sparked the blaze made starlight dim,
and trapped the innocents within?

I’d like to think that at sunrise,
to consecrate the sacrifice,
as feathered cantors’ chants arose
he joined the blessed requiem
amid the smoldering skeletons,
and sang their spirits home again.
And sang their spirits home.

****

He/She
by Lynn Veach Sadler

He was my mentee in poetry.
A brilliant nerd, IT Specialist.
I was the first to cotton to the coming change,
had some small part in helping prepare the way,
was proud that a computer whiz would be female,
that a poet would have the opportunity
to live and sing the lives of male and female.

People talked, pointed fingers,
Though he had been appreciated, even loved,
for his long hours, individual help,
extraordinary expertise…

He/She was quiet, dignified,
kept all under wraps as those in power cautioned
until consent was gained to show herself
in heels, wig, dress…And she was (is) beautiful.

All seemed well when my husband and I moved away.
Then I heard that she’d been fired. I quested,
learned the story from her, was pledged to secrecy
but know the hurt, the plunge not just to ignominy
but poverty. She’s doing whatever job she can find,
now wearing Stoic, intent upon surviving
(will survive if worth and goodness have their day).
Will funding be found to complete the change?

We received a Christmas card from a friend
at the place we moved from,
the place where He/She used to work.
Among the enclosed messages was this:
He/She “got fired because of her alleged
inclination to watch porno on the computer.”
Not so!

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