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Fall Poetry Contest Winner: Jennifer Hambrick


A Pushcart Prize nominee, Ohio native Jennifer Hambrick won First Place in the 2018 Haiku Society of America Haibun Award Competition; was selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser to be featured in his newspaper and online column American Life in Poetry; was appointed the inaugural Artist-in-Residence at historic Bryn Du Mansion, Granville, Ohio; and authored the poetry collection Unscathed (NightBallet Press), nominated for the Ohioana Book Award. Hundreds of her poems appear in The American Journal of Poetry, Chiron Review, the Santa Clara Review, The Main Street Rag, POEM, The San Pedro River Review, Maryland Literary Review, Third Wednesday, Mad River Review, Oyster River Pages, Modern Haiku, The Haibun Journal, Frogpond, the major Japanese newspapers The Asahi Shimbun and The Mainichi, and in many other journals and anthologies. A frequent recipient of poetry commissions, Jennifer Hambrick has also received numerous awards and other recognitions for her poetry, including from Tokyo’s NHK World TV, Haiku Poets of Northern California, the Ohio Poetry Association, and others. A classical musician and public radio broadcaster and web producer, Jennifer Hambrick lives in Columbus, Ohio.


There is no child I can teach this to –
troweling slits in dirt,
dropping sunflower seeds,
with a stoic prayer I guard against
disappointment from still, cold
ground, settling to hope for not
the feeling it might bring, but
just the thing. Seeds crack
the flesh that feeds them,
oblong leaves on spindly stems
unwind into air and space
they know they do not have
to earn. They’ll grow tall
if other creatures don’t
destroy them. Every child
needs to learn that sowing
doesn’t always lead to reaping.
Inside this house are doors
we do not open. Windows ache
with the grime of silent years.
In waking hours my fist uncurls, anxious
of what might drop into its palm,
the heavy hollow pit it has to carry.


they dig through all they have
to build that leaning house
on this dirt, to touch broken teeth
to meat or milk each day
a horse limps a rust-eaten plow
through a tangle of wasted stalks,
bridle clanging like a city facing west
where no one sees the dawn
the salt of their sweat in the furrows
rises on my tongue, stings
in the arches of my feet,
barbed wire nailed to rotting posts
pins me to a parceled tract
bought with barren work for those
who say their families never owned a slave
the horizon opens across the field
my legs work to steady on these ridges
gouged with the only tools on hand,
stretching through generations
still holding on to their wounds


It seems birdsong is outdated,
that I can’t bathe in it or drink It.
And they tell me that we’re over
cicada song, too, and that I’m not
allowed to wrap it around my husband’s
shoulders. That means the sun rising
as day begins is so last century, and
watching moonlight sparkle on a river
is what all the old guys talk about
at the barber shop, and the barber steers
the chatter just like he used to hairpin
turn that red Chevelle at night on narrow
dirt roads between his parents’ house
and hers, knowing that the stars
wouldn’t give away their secrets.
Whatever stories on an average day
well up in hackneyed hearts and stumble
out as platitudes, mixing with the clear
blue Barbicide air of this Americana
scene from Central Casting, its pole
twisting red-white-blue outside
with the trite laziness of summer,
and the barber inside shaping necklines,
snipping gray away from temples,
taking a little off the top down
to the pompadour held in place so firm
and deep inside each one of them.
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