First Place: "November" by Qingying (Susan) Li



& then, as if by magic,

                          the late light sweeps up the last stragglers
loitering outside of the Motel 6, stalking shadows half-crescent,

                          beating geese songs into the gravel, teething
on the ruins of this summer. Mother says this is just

                          the way of the world: how every tick of the clock
presses another bruise under the great white eye

                          of the moon. She tells me it is always dawn somewhere,
but it is hard to believe in anything beyond the tight mean pulse

                          of these hours. And down here there is no exit sign,
not a soul on interstate 95 for so many decades, nothing left to happen— 

                          mother shivering in the stillness, praying
to steal away from these bodies for one night, as if

                          forgiveness could make gravity unhinge all around us;
summer sucking its lungs in, moaning for any small mercy;

                          the dim flickering lamp between us a lighthouse
shining on the ragged edges of the world.

                          Meanwhile the geese are still singing their hymns, still
splitting open on the knife-points of their own limbs.

                          We know their need. Our throats furl their geometry
into hunger, circle in orbit around the matted

                          underbelly of the night. But in the morning
we will tiptoe out of our bodies- still enough

                          we can forget to be alive.
We will flay the room raw, bone white.

                          We will surrender
nothing to the imagination.