Winning Writers
Champs in the annual contest



This was a banner year for the Carolina Woman Writing Contest. We received hundreds of exceptional entries, and the primary theme turned out to be an exploration of the lives of women and girls in all their complexity. Learning to make cornbread from a grandmother. Instilling a positive body image in a daughter. Joining the girls in aqua motion. Achieving love of self. While specific topics and perspectives varied, powerful narratives displayed their characters' audacity and fortitude as well as passion and joy. As I poured over the piles of entries, I experienced many strong emotions, chief among them pride. I'm proud that, year after year, Carolina Woman publishes the writing of women in the Triangle. And, I'm proud of the deep well of talent displayed by those who submit their fiction, nonfiction and poetry. My gratitude goes out to everyone who has the courage to tell her story.
– Debra Simon, Editor & Publisher



Grand Prize


"First Kiss"


By Nancy Reade Watkins of Chapel Hill

Nippy Doyle. My first sweetheart. At least, it seems he must have been, given what happened...we're swinging on swings in his backyard. I can go fast, faster than he can, higher too. The wind helps me. I talk to the wind and it listens to me. When I open my mouth to breathe, it blows against my body, and I go even faster, higher...


Here comes Nippy's mother. "Hellloo-oh! I've brought you some pineapple-upside down cake!" Yellow cake, shiny plates. She sets them down on the back porch, goes back inside.


Nippy leaps off his swing and it twists up, looping back, almost hitting me. But I keep on swinging. I'm so high, no stopping now, not yet! He's eating his cake and I'm laughing in the wind. He picks up my plate and heads for me, holding it out in front of him.


"Come get your piece," he bellows. I pretend I can't see him, can't hear him. I have better things to do - I'm higher and faster than he ever is. I don' t even know what pineapple-upside-down-cake is. My Mama doesn't make cake. She works.


"Stop swinging!" Nippy yells at me. But I can't. I'm blown up and back, my legs sweeping straight out, curling under; I'm pumping hard and it feels so good...


"If you don't stop I'm gonna eat your cake." Sing-song. I sing it, swinging, "Nippy's gonna eat my ca-ake."


He better not. Just better not. But I'm not gonna jump off now – not yet.


Nippy shoves the whole piece into his mouth. It' s sticking out between his lips, his cheeks look like balloons.


He's eating my cake!


That does it. Fly off that swing, land hard, my P.F. Flyers solid on the ground. Only my hands hurt a little, hitting the dirt. I'll get him –
It's almost gone. He's chomping furiously, faster than I can eat...and it's gone. My cake! All gone!


We're facing each other. Like wrestlers. Neither one of us moves 'cept the swing's still swaying. Nippy grabs me, presses his lips against mine.


Kissing me! Eats my cake! And kisses me!


Nippy's mom's outside, quicker than - well, she sends me home. Says: "Young lady, you go on home this minute!"


So here I am. Upside down, hanging from the monkey bars. I don't care if my underpants show – it's Saturday and no one's at school anyway.


The whole world's upside down.





First Prize


"Screen Porch After a Storm"


By Joyce Compton Brown of Troutman, N.C.

I like it best at the last moment
of day's light, when the birds
use that glow-surge just before
shadowtime to grab another seed,
end the day's rites with a little
scuffle as night draws down.
Here in the green shadow I sit.
No worry about nightwatches,
whether the rain will pour in
or a snake will slither up
lured by sprawling plants.


It's a clutter here, with the
Kimberly Queen's brown fronds
shedding the floor and new greens
uncurling, my aloe littering the place
because I can't toss a living thing.
The spiderplant is oversized and
the Christmas cactus setting its roots
for winter bloom. There's barely room
for the cats and me, with their
presumption in hogging
the best cushions. And
the rain again–piddling
along like paws, soft
with memory–


My mother's porch
held no such space for plant or chair.
She'd carry buckets from the well,
wash our clothes and sheets
in the big round porch Maytag,
and feed them to the electric wringer
I was forbidden to explore.
Then she'd dash wash-water
into that hard-swept yard
which snake never dared traverse.
She'd brought her hoe from the farm,
the one she'd used to chop
more than cotton in her day.


On rainy days I'd curl
quiet upon porch floor
and listen to the water-patter
upon our shingled roof.
I'd watch rainbow bubbles
travel along that thin gap
between spring-tight door
and well-oiled boards, riding
water's mysterious tensions,
while my mother sat nearby,
allowed herself to rest,
to simmer a pot of beans
on the warm kitchen stove,
sit and drink a glass of tea,
remembering her own rainbows.





Second Prize


"Ain't Just a River"


By Cindy Brookshire of Pine Level, N.C.


Crystal and Jimmy were two kids right out of their "I do's," with little more than an old camper backed into a small lot at the tail end of Six Pines Mobile Home Park, near a minor branch of a lesser branch of the Neuse River.


Jimmy was a supervisor at the air filter factory. Crystal worked at the Dollar King. He had to have his daddy's truck, so she walked three miles to work. By the time she returned home to heat up fried meat, collards and biscuits, he'd pull in. In the cool evening, they'd take their plates outside to the lawn chairs in the side yard to watch the sunset and listen to kids and dogs being called in at the end of the day. They made love with the heat and passion of youth, though Jimmy could be more than a little rough at times.


The park owner was a short, stringy man named Deets, who wore a faded railroad cap. He loved his minor branch of a lesser branch of the Neuse River. He built a bridge over it, so anybody could cross over and pick the wild berries that drew deer and possums. Crystal liked to lean down and watch tadpoles, tiny as fingers, fluttering in between the stones as the water moved over them. Some nights, when Jimmy was in a mood and tension made the camper shrink in size, she would stand on the dark bridge, listening as the towering pines sifted the breeze through their needles. Each hesitant step back released earthy scents of decay.


The couple was still taking shape when Jimmy exploded at work and was fired. That's when he started hurting her. They were shameful, hidden injuries. She could feel them as she reached up or bent down to stock the shelves – a rib that caught her breath short, and a place on her inner, upper thigh that got stretched too far, too fast. There was no money for a doctor, and anyway she was afraid. Jimmy started driving rideshares in Raleigh. His daddy threatened to take the truck, 'til Jimmy promised he'd stop drinkin'. But waiting near the campus bars, bored and angry at the rich kids, he did. He came home reeking with sour smell all the way to his pores.


One day she was walking home and saw Marsha Tomes, the retired high school art teacher, working outside her Six Pines home. In fact, two of the original Six Pines were in Miss Marsha's yard. Her brick rambler was near the road, with porch rockers and a welcoming door wreath.


"Hey Miss Marsha, what'cha doing?" Crystal called.


"Adding art to my garden." Along the path leading to an outbuilding she could see little clay chickens, square, with painted beaks, peeking out from maidenhair ferns and eastern blue stars.


Well looky there," Crystal laughed.


"Come on back to my studio," Miss Marsha invited.


Crystal followed her inside where their entrance stirred the dusty air and shelves lined walls with blocks of clay and chickens in various stages of shaping and coloring. Miss Marsha spoke of bisque, glaze and firing, pointing to a corner kiln that heated to two thousand degrees! "Would you like to take one home?" she offered.


"Yes, please." Crystal reached for an unpainted chicken.


"Not her, she's still greenware. We can pick a glaze and fire her tomorrow, but you'll have to come back for a second firing. If we rush her, the glass in the glaze explodes." She talked as much to the assembly of feminine fowl as to Crystal. "The potter decides, with good clay and careful firing, when the girls're ready. Otherwise, the same purple glaze results in this one violet and that one aubergine – sorry, eggplant, honey. Well, pick another." Crystal did, speckled orange. Miss Marsha walked her to yard's edge. "Come back, I'll teach you."


Crystal walked home, cradling the artwork. Jimmy was already there, hungry and angry. Tossing a beer can, he lurched forward.


The first thing he broke was the chicken. The next thing he broke was her arm.


Deets called 911 when the neighbors came running. The whole place was a-wail with sirens. Crystal went to the ER. Jimmy went to jail.


She worked double shifts at Dollar King to pay bills, stopping often at Miss Marsha's. Crystal decided to create fish instead of chickens. The arm cast didn't impede her fingers, and she finished one after another. Miss Marsha ordered glow-in-the-dark blue and green glazes, just for her.


Crystal lined the completed fish along the front of her camper, a sunny fence by day, a luminous ring by night.


After nine months, Jimmy got out of jail. He went for his daddy's truck, hitched up the camper and drove off. All she found when she got home, was her clothes scattered and embedded deep in muddy tire tracks in the empty lot, as if he'd backed over them again and again.


She followed a trail of broken pottery to the bridge over the minor branch of the lesser branch of the Neuse River. There, glittering in the water, were her fish, most of them smashed.


"Sorry 'bout your camper," said Deets, approaching her on the bridge. "But this here is the prettiest sight I ever seen."




"Them glow fish. I want the whole branch brimmin' with 'em." Real fish darted in and out of the cracked pottery. "I'm sayin' if you make more, I'd put 'em on the other side, too."


"But everything's gone."


"This slot's still yours. I can pull a single-wide in. If he come back, I call the sheriff." Deets kept talking. "You need to 'nul that marriage. Old Mark Twain sez 'Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.' I know a good lawyer in Benson."


Crystal was melting like one of those pyramids that signal when the kiln is hot enough.


"Water makes 'em sparkle," he said. "Please stay and make more."


And so she did.




Third Prize


"Greetings From Trinity Church Cemetery, New York, New York"


By Alice Osborn of Raleigh


From the Hop-on Hop-off bus
I'm on your right:
the first Trinity burned down long after George Washington
prayed the damn bickering in Congress
could yield for five minutes. I remember
the horses biting hard into their bits, braking
at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street.
Wonder if their tongues bruised after a while.
Back then, my tower rose higher than Jack's beanstalk
when seen sailing into New York Harbor.
Now, skyscrapers dwarf all my stones and shuttered vaults
along boundaries next to a shoe store
promising "The Lowest Prices in NY!"
I heard the low roar of the planes before they hit,
gas tanks full. I gave solace when
the firemen and policemen changed their shoes
the Tuesday that should have begun a normal week.


Foot traffic is constant at Alexander Hamilton's
gaudy pyramid. Can't forget the three volleys
and four of his sons weeping on benches.
Never a devout parishioner like his wife, Eliza,
he forgave Burr after killing him.


I'm the only one who knows where
his son Phillip lies,
his grave never marked. His murderer also rests nearby,
but I've witnessed no fights in the afterlife–
their ghosts have long gone on to the light.


When everyone's gone, I'm still
smoothing out the gaps of legacy,
of stories lost and found.






Fourth Prize




By Babs Mountjoy of Arden, N.C.




my god, what was that...shook the windows and everything. is that thunder?


no, can't be thunder, not with me hanging laundry today, please god, after three weeks of rain, i need this to dry. But hell, there's not a cloud in the sky.


maybe the oven, i knew i shouldn't have left the oven on for mike's birthday cake while i went to the store even though susan says she does it all the time. what does susan baker know anyway she don't know about kyle and that tramp at the frontier lounge...


huh. not the oven. that's funny, a noise like that. like an explosion really, an explosion, maybe it was something in town. plenty of people around miami who want to blow up something. maybe at the airport. let me see out that window. damn these plants and their leaves all over. a person can't even get through. open the curtain here and then we'll see what's what


god help us what's that? Looks like the whole city blew up fire all the way to the clouds looks like...a mushroom, don't it?


a mushroom.


a mushroom cloud, my god, my god, and that newsman talking about that crazy man in north korea just the other day, and we live thirty miles from town, and it'll be here soon and my boys five miles away at school, i'll never see them again, never, and george in his real estate office when I told him time and time again to work out of the house here and me all alone with nothing but the goddamn dog jeffy brought home after I told him no pets and it had the mange a hundred dollars at the vet for someone else's dog


i gotta hide. why don't they have basements in florida? if we still had our house in indiana we'd have a good storm cellar there, lived through the ninety-nine tornado that way, stored food and water and everything. not here though.


i guess it's the closet for me quick ruth you better hurry but maybe it'll burn out before it gets here, yes that's it, it'll not come all this way, surely it'll not come all this way oh god i don't want to be alone not now


dog, here dog, come hide with me in the closet, i know there's not much room, but we have to dog, we have to, because the world is coming to an end, that wacko kim did it just like they said on tv


jeffy, mike, where are you now? it'll be all right, jeffy, it'll be all right, don't you worry, there are no monsters in your room, nothing in the closet, well there is someone in the closet but it's only mom and the goddamn dog, we're just hiding for a few minutes until the thunder quits like you used to hide under the bed


why doesn't the thunder stop it's so loud and the house is shaking I don't think I can stand it it's getting hot so hot why isn't the air conditioner working I just had the man out I paid him two hundred dollars it's so hot its





Fifth Prize


"Those Summer Evenings"


By Ruth Moose of Pittsboro


When her father sang
To her, she heard Hank Williams
Who was so lonesome
He could die. She heard
Johnny Cash in his ring of fire.
She heard Elvis singing
Of love so tender.
On the back porch
Of her grandfather's farm
She heard whippoorwills
And bobwhites. She saw
The moon as cheddar cheese
A cow jumped over. And Humpty
Dumpty when her father fell
And broke her life
Into a thousand thousand pieces.


Later she would write of hoot owls
And those whippoorwill evenings
So still she could hear the meadow
Grasses whisper secrets of knowing.
What did the grass know?
What did it not know? All the life
Beneath and below that and above.
Air and earth, water and light.
That was all.




Honorable Mention




by Rebecca Lippert Huber of Durham

In blades of tender grass
and opulent black
raspberry bushes edging the woods, I look
for myself.


Barefoot, I pad along the steaming road,
incense of sun-ripened pine
filling my breast, these green giants incline
toward me with every zephyr, benevolent
nudging toward an exploration
I cannot see.


My hands and lips are
sticky with nectar berry,
I'm green at the knees,
jewels of dew drops and
slugs garnish my legs: glittering
stockings. Tiny sun-yellow
cowslips and Queen Anne's lace
crown my hair, speckle my skin.


I am neither girl
nor child
nor lost
nor found,
embraced and subsumed.