Award Winners

Lyric Poetry Award - 2008

Wayne Miller


The child's cry is a light that comes on in the house,
when the street is empty and the trees are still.
The light in the window gives voice to the cry,

so when the windows are closed, we still know
her voice is pushing against the walls of her room.
Her cry: a light that comes on in the house,

quivering the filaments in the bulbs, lifting
her parents out of their beds in the dark; at times
a neighbor's light will echo the cry. Her voice

arriving from what seems to be nowhere—
from inside such a tiny body, it comes on
and on, that cry somehow filling the whole house

when her parents are sleeping, when the world
is sleeping. Like a lighthouse beam it swings around
and out of her body, flooding the window, a cry

emerging from inside a dream, a need or fear
she can't yet utter; all there is is her breath
pushing the cry, the light coming on in the house—

and her voice: a light planted deep in the cry.

Elizabeth Macklin on Wayne Miller

The deeply attractive work submitted for this year's Lyric Poetry Award included a poem on the Civil War battlefield at Antietam ("Antietam"), one on the disorienting variety of definitions of the word "country," ("Country and Country") and two uncannily near-mirror-image poems, one titled "I foresee the breaking of all that is breakable," and the other, "Large Optimistic Bowl." I finally chose the untitled lyric that begins, "The child's cry is a light that comes on in the house," a nineteen-line contemplation of a localized scene that is just that: in a cul-de-sac at night a light comes on in a house where a child has started to cry. The music of it was important to me: the cry rhymes with the light, as well as being it; and over the length of the poem that "voice" comes to rhyme with the "house." And yet what was most compelling was the continual visual shift, as if in point of view, from stanza to stanza, from the filaments in the light bulbs and "such a tiny
body," to someone seeing the lighthouse beam that "swings around and out of her body" while being simultaneously aware of the whole "world [that] is sleeping." For me, a lyric is something that causes itself to need to be reread, over and over, from the beginning, and "[The child's cry is a light that comes on in the house,]" is that. We gradually come to see it and hear it from all sides.