First Place | Poetry Writing Contest

54th New Millennium Award for Poetry

Damen O’Brien of Brisbane, Australia for “Begats”

O’Brien will receive $1,000 and publication both online and in print.




The frog is hiding in the tadpole, this is true,
so too, the tadpole in the frog, and in that tadpole,

on and on, teeming, ancestors and descendants,
nose to tail, a series of Matryoshka dolls, or

the gilt-edged illustrations of a Franciscan monk
dipping his quill by candlelight, to glorify God,

to demonstrate for the doubting, how it could be
that Eve could populate the empty plains and fields,

how in her womb a host of children waited, and in the
x-ray cut-out of his art, their wombs held children too,

and on and on, the last no bigger than a dot. Poor Eve,
her hands full. That’s the poem someone else should write,

but this is the poem in the poem, like a thought within
the thought, the wave draining softly from the beach.

My Grandmother had thirteen living children. Uncommon
even then. They shrunk her down to make their own space

and that was mainly what she was to me: the mother of her
tribe, the matriarch, the inked-out picture in a vellum text,

I never knew, because my father did not know, the names
of uncles and aunts that were not born, or if they were

the ones that didn’t live for long. It was a different time, when
such things were never spoken of: a mother’s private grief.

The truth is in the truth, shelled like a Pass-the-Parcel game.
A comment from her sister. A note found in her papers.

But nothing else. But nothing else to build a life upon. Little
enough to illustrate a book and nearly lost from memory.

When we grieve for one so hoped for, then we grieve for
all that did not follow, the empty wombs, and on and on,

round and round the parcel goes, the wrapping bright, but
if I am to be the last, or my sons are to be the last, if

there is nothing more to speak of and no one who knew what
could have been, don’t worry, you may find me in my poem,

and there is always another poem within the poem, just like
after it finally rains, there is always a frog in every tadpole.



Damen O’Brien is a multi-award-winning Australian poet. Damien’s prizes include The Moth Poetry Prize, The Peter Porter Poetry Prize and the Magma Judge’s Prize. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in many journals including New Ohio Review, Poetry Wales, Cordite, and Island.  His first book of poetry, Animals With Human Voices, is available through Recent Work Press.

Begats © 2023 Damen O'Brien 
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6 thoughts on “”

  1. I have only just read this poem, and only once, but I love where it starts, and where it goes, and where it returns to, as if knowing it for the first time. It’s a world of image and thought.

  2. this is really lovely, it has made my day reading it. And I will share with my students, I am sure it will inspire them too.
    Thanks mate. 😉

  3. Barbara Regenspan

    Aside from the beauty and wonder of the poignant narrative in this poem, it makes such a marvelous “template poem used as prompt” to inspire all of us poets and our students. Thanks so much for this gift.

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