McKinney 2016: 2nd Prize Poetry

in Creative Writing/McKinney 2016 Winners/McKinney Contest/Poetry/Undergraduate


We may Shatter


Nicole Mowder

Undergraduate Poetry


Used Up

Faded coffee rings on strawberry milk

pink table tops,

A lone ant weaves its way across a dirt-speckled

white window sill.

Trails of dried suds that once dripped from stainless

steel washing machines,

A chipped clipboard empty except for a bright

orange biohazard sticker.

Parked cars with dozens of microdents line the edges

of the streets,

A group of girls giggle as they stagger by

on the sidewalk.

The contents of a trashcan have been ravaged and devoured by

raccoons and squirrels.

Lying in the stream of light beneath the front window,

a mangled bunny carcass.

A sharp buzz; my quarters have been used up.



The Man on the Hotel Room Bed


He shifts on the bed carefully, so as

not to press through the first layer

into the second, which is permanently sore.

For him sleep means lying as still as possible

for as long as possible thinking the worst.

Nor does it help to outlast the night-

in seconds after the light comes

the inner darkness falls over everything.

He wonders if the left hand of the woman

in the print hanging in the dark above the bed,

who sit half turned away, her right hand

clutching her face, lies empty,

or does it move in the hair of a man

who dies, or perhaps died long ago

and sometimes comes and puts his head in her lap,

and then is gone and lies under a sign

in a field filled nearly up to the roots

holding down the hardly ever trampled grass

with mortals, the oncelovers. He goes over

the mathematics of lying awake all night alone

in a strange room: still the equations require

multiplication, by fear, of what is,

to the power of desire. He feels around

no pillow next to his, no depression

in the pillow, no head in the depression.

Love is the religion that bereaves the bereft.

No doubt his mother’s arms still waver up

somewhere reaching for him; and perhaps

his father’s are now ready to gather him

there where peace and death dangerously mingle.

But the arms of prayer, which pressed his chest

in childhood-long ago, he himself, in the name of truth,

let them go slack. He lies face-down,

like something washed up. Out the window

first light pinks the glass hotel across the street.

In the religion of love to pray is to pass,

by a shining word, into the inner chamber

of the other. It is to ask the father and mother

to return and be forgiven. But in this religion

not everyone can pray-least of all

a man lying along to avoid being abandoned,

who wants to die to escape the meeting with death.

The final second strikes. On the glass wall

the daylight grows so bright the man sees

the next darkness already forming inside it.




This skeleton couch,

cradled by ribcage I

slump farther into

the sloping curve.


That first rose,

its petals revealing

secrets like a child’s

paper fortune teller.


Wind chime promises,

broken glass hung

to be tickled

by the wind.


Play me a sad song,

deep black wrinkled petals.

I’ll make the heart my pillow.




Even the pristinely chiseled marble statue

with the smoothly contoured rolling hill muscles

and the delicate soft curls above his brow

with his face searching the heavens he

poses proud

and tall in the square courtyard at the center

of the busy fountain

with arching jets of water like playful dolphins

and ornamental Grecian urns a man could hide in

which spill water from their lips

into the gurgling pool of crystal

surrounded by shrubs like planets circle the sun

that boast fuchsia bud moons in the late spring,


even he can’t stop a tear from escaping down his cold cheek when no one is looking.



The Ashes



We stood huddled beside the graves where his loyal golden retrievers lie buried,

his ashes still clung to our fingers though we released them into the breeze.


When I took that first powdery handful, the tears I hadn’t been able to cry

burned more than his cherished whiskey in my throat, a toast.


His closest friend of twenty years cleared his throat for a funny story

of how they had met a man on a hunting trip, and while at dinner


my good old grandpa made up a grand tale, said he used to be a pastor

The man said, What got you kicked out?


And he said, I molested children

And Mr. Al laughed at how crazy his sense of humor was-


but the quiet stares at the ash covered ground and the half-drunk

angry whiskey tears from my Aunts’ and mother’s eyes


told him otherwise.





We sit on the wooden picnic table

your back pressed to mine

years of carvings beneath our jeans

  I mckinney heart U


loves HLK

the chilled white ale

brown bottle in my hand

bubbles on my tongue

fire in the trees burns circles around us

we are the sacrifice on the alter

consume me


acorns drop, scatter the ground

that one was close

if one hits us, I fear

we may shatter.



The Unsaved


His hand singes the skin of my back

sliding under my shirt

His tear gas breath on my face

my goose-bumped neck

it will feel so good

it will make your toes curl

he draws out the words

(this isn’t

what I want)

it’s so late

just stay here tonight

His lips, little wasps,

stinging down my chest

my stomach, writhing

hand, tugging at my waistband


(I want to run



the other voice     freezes

my limbs

you got yourself here

                                you led him on

it’s your fault

now you have to

you’re already broken goods



I go

somewhere else

my mind, goes

anywhere else

so he can do

what he wants

with my body

I’m already lost.