2015 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize Winner!
We are pleased to announce the winner of the 3rd Annual Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize. Our final judge, Sharan Strange, selected: Hijito by Carlos Andres Gomez
Read her comments below:
“Hijito” is moving…haunting and haunted…invoking as it does the name and specter of the brutally fallen body of Trayvon Martin in tight, terse lines. The poem opens by conflating personas—speaker and “boy, almost a man” becoming one through the sleight-of-vision offered by a store window—fixing them and the reader (who is made to “see” as through the speaker’s eyes), and even Trayvon (who belongs to all of us now), in an unwished-for enthrallment. Its imagery effectively captures the speaker’s visceral tensions, thoughts moving from a coming-into-being child to an “almost eighteen/…first son calling out breathless/ from the hollow lungs of night”—reinforcing such anxiety by describing them as “mirage” and “invisible.” As the contemplation moves from boy to unborn child to the conjured image of a dying Trayvon, the speaker connects them all in a kind of kinship, although undeniably fraught with fear and, perhaps, guilt, as the poem closes with the image of “a still-shaking/ hand crowned by smoke, uniformed/ in my skin.” I’m struck by the complexity of this closure, its suggestion of different possible readings, one of them being a paradoxical sense of complicity—an acknowledgment of the discomfiting understanding that no parent, with any true certainty, can protect a child in this world? The stark language of “Hijito” embraces and memorializes all our Trayvons, evokes the inherent disquiet of life and death, and gives voice to a sense of personal fragility that also speaks to our collective vulnerability and, thus, responsibility to one another. In that way, it is evocative, too, of Lucille Clifton’s unsparingly human poetry. — Sharan Strange
for Trayvon Martin
I am enthralled by the image
in front of me: my face overlaid
with his— a boy, almost a man, inside
the glass of the grocery store
reaching for a branch
of seedless grapes.
This sly mirror. This taut mirage,
a coiling limb slithers in my gut, its roots
(invisible). Like I am on this asphalt
to any soul that is inside, right now,
like he is. Today, she is
nine weeks along, he is almost eighteen
years old, I am grasping for any thought
that isn’t my first son calling out breathless
from the hollow lungs of night, abandoned
as the barren branches of a dying poplar,
a maroon river’s sticky nectar drenching
the back of a sweatshirt’s hood,
seven feet from the hood of a patrol car
where a hubcap swallows secrets
beside a pavement-clothed mouth
heaving for breath, his jawline borrowed
from my face, above it a still-shaking
hand crowned by smoke, uniformed
in my skin.
Carlos Andrés Gómez is an award-winning poet, actor, speaker, and writer from New York City. He is the author of the coming-of-age memoir Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood, released by Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and named Artist of the Year at the 2009 Promoting Outstanding Writers Awards, he costarred in Spike Lee’s #1 movie Inside Man. He appeared in the sixth season of HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and, most recently, in the third season of TV One’s Verses and Flow. He has headlined festivals all over the world, including Indonesia, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Canada, the U.K., and as Guest of Honor at the Berlin International Literature Festival in Germany.