First Place | Poetry Writing Contest

56th New Millennium Award for Poetry

David Sloan of Brunswick, Maine for “Lines in Algonquin”

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


Lines in Algonquin

Paddling these familiar waters,
I savor the outstretched sky,
the day spread out in leisurely horizontals—
lake lines quilting towards the far shore,
sleek silhouettes of canoes,
long shadows of clouds cruising overhead
like dark underbellies
of unspeakably huge fish, wings of looping gulls,
of loons slapping water,
blue heron creaking almost noiselessly over the marsh—
and my paddle
feathered above disappearing funnels,
tiny invitations to plunge in, to divine the secrets
of the up and down
in the irresistible in-between,
the sky-in-water.

A younger self relished the respite
of aluminum scraping sand, beneath portage signs
singing me towards safe passage.
I reclaimed my legs, shook out the stiffness,
tilted the dripping hull up on bent thighs,
reached across to grasp both gunnels—
the ballet of clean and jerk and twist—canoe
now inverted, padded thwart
on my shoulders. It felt so reciprocal,
the bearer now borne aloft,
like seasons of leaves crumbled into compost,
succor for the maple seedling,
or the enfeebled father now cared for
by the grown son,
whose words would never have been enough.

Once, on an early morning carry
through a dripping thicket,
a young bear appeared
a few yards ahead, pawing rocks, nosing the ground.
He lifted his head. His gaze froze us both
for a long, breathless beat,
kindling less fear than wonderment.
The canoe vanished weightlessly somewhere above me,
my green eyes turned brown
and my suddenly snug fur smelled like the sweet and sour
of blueberries, skunk cabbage and fern.
The bear lumbered off,
but what had passed between us
remained lodged like stingers in my tongue,
some ancient recognition, some
—was this even possible?—mutual longing.

Moonless night on the lake, I lie
between thwarts and float face up,
rocked by lapping water,
listening to loon-laugh echo over promontories
and moose-muddied coves.
I wait for the northern sky show, blue-green lights fluttering
like curtains in a cosmic wind, for shooting stars
to write their impossibly short lives
in silent streaks,
gold thread yanked out of a black suit.
I drift far from the shadowed shore,
trees huddled like refugees.
Stars and reflections of stars begin to recede,
lifting me up, drawing me down.
How easy an exit—to yield, to flame out, folded
into the sky’s cloak,
or to quench my light in the lake,
to become bodiless—
but I draw a line, and reach for my paddle
that was made to dip and swing.



David Sloan’s debut poetry collection—The Irresistible In-Between—was published by Deerbrook Editions in 2013. A Rising and Other Poems, (Deerbrook), launched in the spring of 2020. A third collection—Earth School—will appear in 2024, published by Deerbrook Editions.
Sloan’s poetry has appeared in dozens of literary journals. He is a two-time recipient of Maine Literary Awards, the Betsy Sholl Award, and the inaugural Maine Poets Society Prize. After teaching for nearly 50 years, most recently at Maine Coast Waldorf High School in Freeport, he is now semi-retired, content to focus on the joys of more regular writing, grandparenting, gardening, cycling, and pickle ball.

Lines in Algonquin © 2024 David Sloan 
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4 thoughts on “”

  1. What a lovely poem! Such gentle leading into a patchwork of similes “huddled like refuges,” and encounters (the bear), and then the philosophical movement at the end. Moment and movement. A perfect union of sky and water, word and reader. Magnificent. Thank you!

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