Cheryl Smart

Germantown, TN


It only happens two places in the world, or so scientists say – Southeast Asia and the Great Smoky Mountains. Photinus Carolinus, or synchronous fireflies, as they are called in the mountains. They flash in total unison, sync up, along with all the people sprawled out on blankets, lawn chairs, and soft patches of grass to witness it. I think maybe the few dozen fireflies dazzling my yard are migratory then, headed to the Smokies further east. They fill up the place, blink ancient messages underneath low-hanging oak branches stretched out like a mother’s arms. Float over Hosta lily blooms, Lenten roses and Japanese red ferns.

They are transient. Here for her.

Bare toddler toes rush the ground. Drops of sugary orange popsicle trail behind – her interest in sweet treats fading now that the show has started. Her nightgown is in her way, she lifts one side with her un-popsicled hand and twirls through the twinkling mass.

There’s tickling at my wrist. One of them takes a lazy stroll up my hand. It lights there once. Twice at the tip of my finger, then stretches its tiny wings and flies to the others. Lifting over soft brown curls, it whispers tender green thoughts at her ear. She giggles, her face incandescent with their secret language. They are glitter all around her. She seems almost one of them and it’s luminous. I don’t want to touch her with all that magic on her.

I don’t want to break the spell.  


Sarah McCall

Norfolk, VA

New Elegy for Old Grief

He is slipping to dust, my hands inform me, 
you’d better remember this.--Cornelius Eady

As if this, memory, is ever something that sticks.
I touch the plastic photograph sleeves,
each page a small feast, hungrily scanning
for what I can’t hear:  motorcycle engine
grumbling awake, tin cans hopping on asphalt
after a wedding, a screen door hanging open,
a baby’s cry from the Sunday baptism.
He is already dust, don’t you remember?
As if that fine powder could stay on my skin,
as if I could remember his mouth, laughing.


Melanie Almeder

Roanoke, VA

(Route#45,  from the Goodwill to the Veterans Administration Hospital) 

We should add it up. Each church’s promises. 
Each forged miracle. Even, as West Main widens
out into its shopping clutter, we should
keep faith in the count, especially the mundane: 
how many haircuts on just one average Friday? 
How many scissors shearing? Every car
in every parking lot for a one-mile stretch.
Every fingered trinket at Big Lots.  How many, 
the pills tendered at the CVS, their small ideologies
of cure? Each anti-depressant, anti-psychotic, 
each regulator of heartbeat? Because to count 

is to name, is to defibrillate, the amount of gas pumped
at station after station.  We must tally the luck-
for-sale, lottery tickets, hanging coiled,  with names like, 
“Winner Takes All,” “Beginners Luck,” “Aces To 8’s,”. .

How many lunchtime drive-thru burgers sold, 
the cows they once were—dream them back in their first field, 
numbered among the blackly articulated flies
haloing their heads. Because each count is incantation
can we trace the lineage of these shoes back from this Wal-Mart
in Dixie to the woman’s fingers who stitched them? 
Her name? Could we count this very road back
to dirt beneath it, which must hold the bones
of the first lost languages, the headstones of slaves?
It’s late in the day, O, my country. If we persist, 
because each knowing is a reckoning and a prophecy, 

O, how many days, until spring, until the Bartlett trees
rain their armistice parade confetti
on our day-to-day empire and anesthesia? 
How many soldiers gone forth. How many ghosts. 


Additional Finalists
“Sermon on the Weed,” Kevin McDaniel,  Pulaski, VA

“If the Silt in the River is Heavy with Flood,” Rebecca Lauren, Philadelphia, PA