The Lauren K. Alleyne Difficult Fruit Poetry Prize
I am fishing for your name
to remember you gave me mine.
How our mouths make the same
lures of sentences. How we wait
for others to apologize. My father,
don’t you remember
forcing shame down my becoming—
did I not, like someone who wanted
to make their father proud, hang
myself by the fine silk of your every
wish? Did I not rip? You gave the silver
fish nipping our toes—
spoon feeding me dinner.
You spoke about how I would one day
feed you if I could swallow my tongue.
How I want to accept the apology
which floats between us but
I remember too
that sunset burning at the edge of this lake
consumed my childhood —it reminds me
I was your son and you were the sky, distant
yet visible. How growing up
I was easily sunburned. You told me how
I could do anything
one day, I might even stop acting like a faggot.
And I never did but you began looking at me
the way I looked at fish, something to catch
and release but not eat. The wound of my shut
mouth is healing. Swimming, I could be miserable
but I chose
wading in the bottom of the sea. I could have
bitten the bait of resentment and not let you speak
to me. My father, how you have morphed from leech
to algae. How I could not grow without memory.
How I will remember what I don’t want to. I remember
fishing with you.
Wheeler Light lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he writes and leads poetry workshops for Art From Ashes. A Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of the Fortnight Poetry Prize, he strives to create poetry in which trauma and healing can exist together. His work manifests in publication and performance; Light was a member of the 2017 Mercury Cafe National Poetry Slam team and has featured at open mics and poetry slams across the country. His poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in Hobart Pulp, Pretty Owl Poetry, The Meadow, and Ghost Proposal, among others.
We're sharing, with his permission, Wheeler's response to winning the Difficult Fruit Poetry Prize:
I am so thrilled to receive this prize. I've been running around the house in joy since I found out my poem won. I'm also realizing that I need to use exclamation points to seem excited in this note—I'm so freaking excited!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It's like that episode of Seinfeld, where Elaine doesn't know how many exclamation points to use or not use in a memo, and she gets in trouble because of it. That is to say, I am still anxious about how my writing comes across even with my work validated. Publishing poets are constantly being judged and rejected (more often than not for me) so to actually win a contest like this is huge, and it's part of a continuance; the work goes on. I thank IthacaLit and Rachel Eliza Griffiths (whose work is so wonderfully sharp) for choosing this poem, which meant so much in writing and editing. I hope readers find this poem healing in some way and find moments of peace and healing in the new year as well.