First Place | Poetry Writing Contest

52nd New Millennium Award for Poetry

John Cullen of Big Rapids, Michigan for “Almost There”

Cullen will receive $1,000 and publication both online and in print.


Almost There

John Cullen


My son and his friends, well 
beyond the age of a burping
contest, flex spaghetti muscles. Almost
beard serious, they have yet to dream 
of bank accounts, the grave plot molding
tragedy, or the blur of clouds racing
failed parachutes. Regrets are distant cousins.
They hammer together a chicken coop 
behind the garage, hoping that egg 
baskets will carry wealth. Our neighbor claims
one hen in the pandemic is a talisman.
They need to believe it can be built, and I
watch out the study window as nails insist
boards stay in place and the balance levels.
Inside, I line up my little collection
of past projects: one lopsided bookshelf, 
one crate for Picasso’s dog, and skeleton wiring 
writing God knows what story behind addition walls.
Now the retriever comes inside and looks at me. 
He’s seen it all before and knows rivers gotta flow 
and birds gotta fly, each beating stroke
of the hammer the heart of youth attempting
to fix the world. One poem will tell you 
the western sky darkens, but that is always true.   
Instead, let’s imagine each egg is one more rising sun, 
round and perfect, broken or composed,
both meal and marvel.




John Cullen attended school at SUNY Geneseo and BGSU. His work has appeared recently in American Journal of Poetry, Raven’s Perch, Grist, Harpur Palate, North Dakota Review, and Stone Hamilton Review. His chapbook, Town Crazy, is available from Slipstream Press.

Almost There © 2022 John Cullen
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12 thoughts on “”

  1. What a gorgeous, bitter sweet poem. It touched my heart. This mother of sons will read it again and again.
    Thank you John Cullen for your powerful words. And Congratulations! Well deserved.
    Teresa Burns Gunther

  2. Thank you for this exquisite poem, weaving meaning so seamlessly together, wielding proximity to convey connection, each word singing. I particularly loved “the grave plot molding | tragedy” and “skeleton wiring | writing …” The suspended youth in the suspended word “Almost | beard serious” “A crate for Picasso’s dog” with its instant picture of scrambled carpentry. The unmistakable rhythm in “each’ beat’ing stroke’ of the ham’mer the heart’ of youth’ attempt’ing to fix’ the world’.” Brilliant. Complete. — Marilyn Mathis

  3. Wonderful. Evokes the many projects I, a young and hopeful world shaper, attempted, none making a difference in the world’s spin rate.

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