The Poetry Winners

So this dirty, sultry, apartment-hived swamp of a city breathes and seethes life after all.

The call went out and you responded. We wanted poetry, we got it. By the truckload.

The blues was the first bona fide American poetic form, and a powerful one at that. Our first-place winner, "A Texas Blues," rambling like a Lightning Hopkins song, took us down that lonesome road with its author, R.T. Castleberry.

While "Ode to Tortillas" author Hilda Botello Bustos uses some traditional, familiar devices to get her message across, the poem amuses and informs and actually engages all of the senses in this, our second-place finisher.

We liked K.A. Thomas's portrait poem, "La Llorona," for third place because of its obvious intelligence and thoughtful poetic craft. It also really creeped us out and made us sad, in the same way that a frightening myth or an episode of The X-Files might.

-- Liz Belile

R. T. Castleberry
If you're not a friend of his, R.T. Castleberry probably won't read your poem. He doesn't browse the books at Barnes and Noble or go to random readings. He figures that in the hundreds of readings he has been to in 25 years he has heard just about every poem there is to hear.

The 43-year-old has been writing poetry since high school. Right now he's starting a strictly poetry magazine, The Curbside Review.During the day he works for AIM Management Group Inc., a mutual funds company.

Hilda Botello Bustos
Sometimes words come to Hilda as short stories, sometimes poems, sometimes plays.

"This piece came to me as a poem," Hilda says. "This piece -- it had a rhythm to it that required it to be a poem."

The 42-year-old works at the San Antonio Water System's Public Relations Department. She has been writing since high school.

K.A. Thomas
"Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I'm a liar," K.A. Thomas says. That's why she likes poetry. It lets her lie.

"It's just one of the places you can lie and manipulate your perception of reality," she says.

The 44-year-old started writing poetry seven years ago when she was working on her master's degree. She took a contemporary poetry class, fell in love with the poems and decided she could write too.

Bill Buetner
"I'd prefer to remain anonymous as much as possible," says Bill, an unemployed 45-year-old stage hand.

His grandmother got him started writing poetry when he was ten.
"We used to sit around her cottage in Canada and write rhyme," Bill says. "There wasn't anything else to do. There was no electricity, no running water. When it would rain we'd just write poems and listen to the ukulele."

Alvaro Saar Rios
Writing poetry's like taking a minivacation for Alvaro.
The UH creative writing major pens mostly fiction. Poetry's just something he does on the side when he needs to take a break from a story he's finishing.

"I can't really say I'm a poet, though," says the 23-year-old. He has only written eight or nine poems he cares about.

"What I love about it is it has no form.," he says. "It's nothing where you have to have a beginning, middle or end. You can just experiment and flow everywhere. You have no rules, you have nothing."

James B. Gavin
How could we resist? A kid who reads! Besides, his poem was pretty good.
He wrote us:
Dear Houston Press,

My teacher gave me information about entering your poetry contest. I am in third grade at River Oaks Elementary. My teachers name is Mrs. Bustamante. I am 9 years old. The name of my poem is Never Ever. My mom helped me with spelling.

Your friend,
James B. Gavin J.B.

First Place
R.T. Castleberry

A Texas Blues

My house is cold tonight,
My kitchen dark.
And Robert Johnson's singing
Will not warm them at all.
We have turned these images
Round and round:
Crow and calling bird.
My gift has been returned.
Her skin has no comfort.
Rain and reputation hound us
From every early morning door.
We are born from vanity and sin
And gathered from that station
Into another's light.
There is no evil in her possession
Though I founder in her wake.
We are left to ponder deuces-
Two gifts in celebration,
Two tricks to let us down.
And Robert Johnson cannot comfort us at all.

Second Place
Hilda Botello Bustos

Ode to Tortillas

You stood near me and I felt
In me
About you
All at once.

You are one fine man.

It took me a moment to tell,
My own breath woke me
As you stood by me
It was the push
Of the hum
Of life as it came out of my mouth
That told me
A man apart
I understand now, Be still my heart
you are dark and dreamy
Tall and steamy

You are one fine man.

Let me lay down in your honey eyes
next to your heart
Let me caress your Indio Soul
You make being a woman alright
Instantly sangre makes sense
Soooo rrright.
Let me hold you in a Frida-style baby like way
And paint you in colors of the animal jungle
You are one fine man
I bet you look good in a loin cloth too.
Oscar De La Hoya's got nothing on you.

You're Jimmy Smits and Emilio
Boots, hat all rolled up
And all that.

You walk into a room at high noon
Half man, Half horse
Vincente Fernandez
Strident, Strong, Sexy
Half gallop, half trot

maybe the walk proves where you've been
Who you are
I believe in.

I bet if I put my ear to your chest
your heart thumps
Like a Santana drumbeat
Underneath the moon and stars
So protected under thick, slick skin.
I'm sure it beats hard
Like a verterano's
In a war, he never chose to be in.

You make me proud
And I don't even know you.

You are one fine man.
You are my pai chulo
You are my hombre mas hombre

Being next to you
Feeling your t-shirt cloth smell of sweat
makes my abuela tortilla making heart
Swoon for the days of flour and baking soda
And mantelles and getting the house ready for my man
Come back in flash
From years gone by.

You stood near me
I felt everything
In me
About you
All at once

I want to make you a tortilla, honey.
You are one fine man.

Third Place
K.A. Thomas

La Llorona

Muher, it took me ten years to recognize you.
One decade of our sorrow flooding the back of my brain
growing more deliberate with every Spring,
when daily I paced Buffalo Bayou,
watched water lilies lift in its sweep & flow;
each time I thought I heard children crying.

Juana Leija, weeping woman, when you were a girl
in Laredo, the viejas de vestidos negro
spoke of men who strayed, took off in the night,
leaving washed out wives & fatherless children;
or worse, hissed talks of those who always returned.
Angry men who used their fists to no resistance.
But sometimes they were found face down in the river
or across breakfast tables; their overturned cups
of cafe con leche taken quickly, washed out thoroughly,
to eliminate any lingering of Oleander.
Pero, there were no brujas for you
once you made the trip North;
only telenovelas & daily breathing,
your seven children siempre hambre.

Llorona, I know that you cross yourself
when you step across that bridge
embankment bordering the bayou,
kneel when you drop your babies down into its water.
Madre de Mil Tristes, Dama de Los Ninos Perdidos,
I know the terrible lifting of their arms,
that they float only for a moment, then drift away.
I know how their darkening hair flows
when the current sweeps them under.

Honorable Mention
Bill Buetner

bending northern lights
ribbons, curls, faint-neck, sheet rains
dressing gown unfurls

Honorable Mention
Alvaro Saar Rios

The Obligations of Being Somebody

Somebody should write a book about that,
make a song about this,
make a movie about her,
come up with an easier way,
say something,
tell on him,
take a picture that,
pick that up,
eat this,
check to see if she is still breathing,
do something about that,
tell him that he can't sing,
buy some more beer,
make breakfast,
light a match,
tell him that he is bleeding,
give his wheelchair back,
drink that,
vote for her,
make sure he is telling the truth,
call the police,
tell them where she is buried,
assassinate him,
start a revolution,
at least pay them the minimum wage,
check to see if somebody is in there,
fix the system,
invent something for that,
call her mother,
stop them,
(fill in the blank).

Honorable Mention
James B. Gavin

Never Ever

I really hate school
cuz it isn't very cool.
Do you think it got better?

Had to do what my teacher said,
I wanted to take a nap in my bed.
Do you think it got better?

I had to go to lunch,
My food tasted like gunk.
Do you think it got better?

My friends weren't cool
cuz they didn't hate school.
Do you think it got better?

I had to go to the bathroom
But I had to stay in the classroom.
Do you think it got better?

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Liz Belile