Award Winners

Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award - 2003

Brian Henry


By the time the sun touched the grass
beneath my back where I lay
beside my wife and son who seemed
to be breathing a fog of breath
I thought hung above each mouth
I knew I had died and was dead
though thinking through where I was
as if the thinking could bring me
where death is not an is
instead of where I found myself
watching my wife and son without
seeing them beside me on the ground
but knowing they were there
breathing as I was the air above
the mouths there and perhaps thinking
as I was thinking to keep myself here
where I could not be dead could not be
dead could not be anything but alive
and tracking the sun coming over the trees
even though the moon had not moved
and my wife my son and I were growing
into the grass beneath us and the moon
does not care about the bodies there
in that field on the earth at dawn
the moon cannot see and if the moon
could see it still would not care


We had been pulled from the trees
at the other side by the feet
by men in charge of clearing
the town of the sick the dying
the dead dead we were cleared
I remember my son died first
my wife three days after
I was relieved to hear him stop
screaming whenever he screamed
I felt like screaming my wife
only cried she blamed me for
she blamed me for everything
I had brought it into our house
I was the cause for his death for hers
she never mentioned mine
though I was as close to death as she


I went to the river most nights
and returned home near dawn
to sleep briefly before work
and I slept again briefly before dusk
and my wife knew where I went
and she knew why but said nothing
could smell the men on me
the water and dirt their semen and sweat
and she hated me from our beginning
and until she died she hated
I wonder if she hates me now in death
her love so far from where I was
I cannot remember how our son was born
cannot remember when or how

Caroline Knox on Brian Henry

Brian Henry's Quarantine seems to start in your working-day world: a man and wife and child spending time in spare, standard English. Yet pretty soon the reader is subject to Conrad's imperceptible maneuvers into layers of horror, more dreadful because deadpan and forever unexplained. The horror includes the landscape of war, disease, domestic violence, ecological damage, all in the voice of a feverish I-narrator.

The examples above show gradual and shocking discoveries: Quarantine is a no-names apocalyptic thriller—what is going on? The dead speak, dead of a nuclear plague, or of AIDS? The family group is riven from within and without. A high-octane content—the horror—is sustained across a whole work (mostly in trimeter) in its flat coherence, and that's what wins the prize.