First Place | Poetry Writing Contest XLIX


Ian Khara Ellasante of Lewiston, Maine for “grandfather: a dialect of water”

Ellasante will receive $1,000, a plaque to mark the success, and publication online and in print.


grandfather: a dialect of water

Ian Khara Ellasante

i had one who fished rivers
through the night
who wept river water
when he said his prayers

my hand on his big knuckled heart
he would say    cry with me
this is baptism: walk with me     he would say
immerse your heart       not your head

i had one who was the colors of the earth
who was all of its crimson clay    blues and grey
this is Mississippi River mud     he would say
each color in its turn     turning the earth
and earth’s engine     churning
days and years     into the color of his hair
and into the deep shade of earth’s wet bridges
when his lost hair began to return

pray with me    he would say
                    grandchildren   i pray for you everyday
long of days grandfather
i want to know
the water memory loosening
a heavy tether in your voice

i had one who grew his hair long and thick
as wavy as a seaport   rolling down his back
who had a story about the flood
that saved him and killed him
both in the same night

grandfather who knows the ways of water
and the ways of beauty     i want to know
how do you keep a river
rising and surging like this
and why does it overflow you in these tears
come and see me     he would say
watch the rain   whisper it down from the clouds
let the thunder soften you              toward quiet

sit with me     he would say
grandfather of open spaces and tall trees
long of memory
long of lung
long of days     sunlit and full of rain

how should i plant this seed   i want to know
put it in the dirt and it will grow   he would say
and keep it there   until something becomes
                                                                 something more

i want to know     grandfather
why are we unbraiding
toward the water’s edge
               and wait please
i have something more to say

i had one who rose   at times with the haste
of a flood rising      who at others lingered
like the stretch and stillness of a long drought
                         speak the ways of water to me     grandfather
                         speak seasons  for healing and tempering
                         like flood following drought    following flood
i had one who knew balance and reasons
for unbalance       of seeds in seasons
      of reaping and then returning        and then

i had one who grew quiet
and waited in the flickering light

grandfather   sit with me
                                          tell me
i want to know    what is over there to see
let me look at you    he would say
river banks are not meant to hold
                                        cry with me   walk with me


Ian Khara Ellasante’s poems have appeared in The Feminist Wire, Evening Will Come, Hinchas de Poesía, and Originally from Memphis, Ellasante has also loved living and writing in Tucson, Brooklyn, and most recently southern Maine, where they are an assistant professor at Bates College.

grandfather: a dialect of water © 2020 Ian Khara Ellasante
• • • Thanks for Reading • • •
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17 thoughts on “”

  1. Thank you for the beautiful words, flowing thoughts, luminescence of memories, the power of words and water. Something about this just makes you better!
    Thank you, NMW, for being there and recognizing the beauty and necessity of art.

    1. Alexis Williams

      Juley, thank YOU for these affirmations. In this Time of Corona, the time I spend poring over all the talented writing we receive is more enriching than ever. I’m so pleased that this art is making your corner of the world a little brighter, too!

  2. Mary Fitzpatrick

    Thank you for this beautiful poem. I like the way you rode it all the way down the river — kept it flowing, until the speaker asks the grandfather to sit down and visit. Very organic and luminous — yes, a prizewinning poem. Congratulations.

    1. Alexis Williams

      Organic and luminous…well said, Mary. Ian’s imagery is spectacular, as is your description. Thank you!

    1. Alexis Williams

      Yes! Sherry, I love this take. A continuing ripple and flow of love and reverence. Thank you for reading and sharing this.

  3. That’s my brother. Very well done. We couldn’t be more proud of you. We love you. That hit the spot. Made your big brother shed a tear or two.

    1. Alexis Williams

      When Ian and I talked, they said our conversation “made my heart do a thing”…and that’s exactly what these comments do to my heart. Y’all are one fortunate family to have had this grandfather and to have each other!

    1. Alexis Williams

      Absolutely, Tresha. I especially loved the use of spacing as metaphor for deep and important conversing between loved ones. Thank you for sharing this.

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