Forward is a collection of poetry showcasing the work of UW-Madison’s second-year Masters of Fine Arts graduate writing students and the undergraduate winners, honorable mentions, and finalists of the 2005 George B. Hill Poetry Prize. This annual contest is sponsored by the Creative Writing Program and is named for George B. Hill, who was a member of the class of 1908 at the University of Wisconsin, and who was a writer and editor-in-chief of The Daily Cardinal. This year’s George B. Hill Poetry Prize winners were selected from more than one hundred contest submissions. The 2005 contest judge was Kirk Davis, the Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing.
— Excerpt from the Preface, written by Amy Quan Barry, Associate Professor for the Program in Creative Writing, Department of English
“firefly: the time we got baptized” by Donald Dunbar,
a George B. Hill Award Winner
As always, we were children, only newly thinking
in complete sentences, only newly compared in our childish qualities:
the pace of our laughs, the quality of our teeth, our slap-shod vocabularies,
the loops and stutters of our arms and legs . . . Not to make claims,
not to call a lake a river (for both have natural graces,
most graceful without the sun), but it was obvious to us then
that our particular glow was a tower of light, of glass, or tracer-bullets
shot up a chimney. Sad times, this greatness, and like a white elephant
in a Hindu’s story, we were hard to feed. And firefly, our dads
held us by the ear, our moms draped us in white.
Our uncles hit the bottle on the lonely kitchen table
like all good uncles do, and knew, they said, that we’d run good to
God’s high halls. Baptism, dearest, is done in the spillways
before the waters recede, before the fish are dried and picked,
before the ants trod their ways. Baptism, firefly, is a one-time,
some strobe that deposits a constant light behind our faces. I’ve never since
been a spiritual man; I’ve avoided those murky depths, the tired waves.
I’ve prayed, yes, I’ve fired indiscriminately.
My prayers have been longer ones: for crimes to call mine own,
for personal addictions, plagues, locusts; yes,
I’ve prayed like breathing, I’ve huffed what’s put before me.
I’ve stopped my heart for days on end. Girl: I tap that bottle three times
before bed, I murder night-tremors, dreams.
When you touch me I feel the break and spray
of heated glass; I know the quiets inside waves. You know,
firefly, that I will joke, sometimes, but sometimes I am serious.