The Ventura County Poetry Project is pleased to share the good news that Oxnard poet Gabrielle LeMay recently received. LeMay is the winner of the 2023 White Mice Poetry Contest put on by the International Lawrence Durrell Society.
The name of the contest is taken from a phrase in a letter that Durrell wrote to Henry Miller: “Words I carry in my pocket where they breed like white mice.” The International Lawrence Durrell Society sponsors a yearly poetry contest, and this year, it seemed most appropriate to them to center the contest on the theme of ‘Ruins.’
Gabrielle LeMay’s poem, entitled “Child of War,” is based on a photo taken in Afghanistan which combines two of the worst human tragedies: the devastation of war and the suffering of a child, in this case, a wounded boy with crutches and dreams of rescue. The initial witness in the poem is the photographer but then the perspective shifts to a sympathetic speaker who hopes to help the child cope with “tidal waves of grief.”
LeMay will receive publication on the International Lawrence Durrell Society website as well as in their print journal, Deus Loci. In addition, she receives a membership in the ILD Society and an invitation to read at a special poetry event to be held in Athens, Greece in July 2024.
Poets in Ventura County are delighted by her success! Many congratulations going out to you, Gabrielle!
Child of War Too young to fight, too poor to flee, legions of children scrape out a bare existence in the rubble of Kabul. —John F. Burns, The New York TimesMagazine, April 2, 1995. Photographs by Laurent Van der Stockt. The photographer stands amid shattered Himalayas of ash and fragmented masonry: it’s all that’s left of this city. Bombed and bombed again, the solid old buildings crumbled like stale cake to scatter stones, mortar, chairs, dolls, arms, feet, human dreams everywhere—leaving crushed, blackened heaps from which iron wires stick up like stiffened hairs. Here and there, stricken walls still stand, ceilingless, eroded at the tops to jagged peaks; in pocked, brittle towers, holes gape brightly where bricks were shaken out like rotten teeth. Howling gales from the Hindu Kush slam across the land and through the sun-baked ruins flinging dervishes of dust into the air— and threatening to topple the spiderlike tripod planted in the center of the street: the photographer wipes his stinging eyes and squints into the glare, straining to see what he’s been coming up behind: A small, frail boy on a makeshift bench, struggling to keep his balance, looking to the side as if determined not to see the pole-like prostheses projecting like antennae from the tightly harnessed stumps of what had once been his legs… He sits, alone but for the crutches at his side, staring away to where mountains meet sky— that elusive place where all brutality ends… that magical, tragic paradise where blessed amnesia begins— The photographer takes a single picture, uproots his tripod and leaves. * * * I wrench the tripod sideways and my Nikon cracks on rocks. I turn to run in swirls of dust so thick I look and look again but the little boy is lost. Even his bench is lost. Sucked into billowing whorls of sand and hissing ropes of wind that snake like smoke through broken walls: I will catch him as he falls. Sky the color of a dead eye hangs in frozen sheets that loom like grief above my head: my legs are trapped in lead…. I want I want a magical horse to gallop me up to the sky— my arms embracing his surging neck the stones the dolls the bricks no longer bashing their way through my head— Some wood for fire I am cold —wild— my lungs burnt out by dust I cannot find my shattered lens it cost so much My mouth on fire my tongue seared dry gasping hauling red-soaked ropes I raise my fantastical tent— Flaming shards of window sash slap out like molten knives— my tent in hell its ropes on fire my entire flimsy orphanage exploding in crimson mist I pound the stakes with bloodied fists the boy lies screaming on the ground his crutches shoot up in a blast of flame to ricochet off in the wind— My tent now tightly raised I call Come in, my child—come in… * * * Come in, my child—come in. Come in out of the wind. Join hands with me that we may fly from here deep in the warmth of our dreams, where the sapphire-studded Amu Darya flows in freedom and grace— and where roses that bloom on its velvety banks grow as big as your face! We will ride as one on the finest steeds from the stables of Kataghan, whose bridles are trimmed in hammered gold and bits that flash white in the sun… We will gallop up into the mountains, where fleecy sheep and snow-white goats doze upon carpets of jade… where rolling skies of lapis lazuli and tumbling hills of blood-red rubies stretch further than eyes can see— Listen to the wind in the distance: it brings the songs of the leopards, cheetahs, and wolves and the scents of all that you crave… We will ride that wind through amethyst shade and burst out into that golden place where melons, figs, and wine-swollen plums will drench us in fragrant waves: beauty and food and joy enough to last us the rest of our lives… * * * The rest of his life is coming brutal and swift. He is homeless, cast adrift: a sea of flame beats against the borders of his sanity. Brutal and swift, he is homeless, his mother dead…overwhelming agony beats against the borders of his sanity and down where his legs used to be; His mother dead, overwhelming agony shoots from oozing stumps; the metal stilts down where his legs used to be are what he wakes to shrieking… The oozing stumps, the metal stilts are all he has left; are what he wakes to shrieking, thrashing in his nest of sooty bricks… They’re all he has left… He stares ahead, numb from crying, thrashing in his nest of sooty bricks and sending tidal waves of grief into the morning; He stares ahead, numb from crying, cast adrift on a sea of flame— and a tidal wave the size of the rest of his life is coming— * * * Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who Before us pass’d the door of Darkness through, Not one returns to tell us of the Road, Which to discover we must travel too. - from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.