Cecil Hemley Memorial Award - 2011
Peter Jay Shippy
THE CENTER OF WORTHWHILE THINGS
Then there's the story of the two Costa Rican brothers. So close were they they cut each other's hair with closed eyes. Each, on his way to work, caught Frisbees the other had thrown amiss, years ago, on a different continent. They lived in fact leagues upon lengths away… the one in Guam and the other in Halifax Bay. No matter. Did it ever snow when they were young in Costa Rica? Does it snow in Central America? I don't think it does but it was writ on the dirt the day of their birth—the snowstorm. The snow—in Guam! —that filled the roads with miracles as one pedaled to the bakery, the snow in Halifax—not snow at all, an accumulation of little silverfish scales—as the other pedaled home from it. It was dusk in Guam, dawn in the fishing village. I do not know how the time in the story was so exactly parallel. I do not know how the same truck could have hit them both, how the same truck was both coming and going. The experts say that it was simply coincidence, that snow is dangerous, that neither wore helmets. When I stand citing statistics my friend walks in circles around me, 44 circles, because 4, he says, is gentle and mystical and bakes pies. Dead center of the brothers' story there is, my friend says, something else. Maybe it is a magnet, dragged by the truck down the unpaved road, that wrote on the dirt of the brothers' birth. There is also their mother, confectionary sugar on her chest and shoulders, who baked white pies, she called them snowflake pies, she was famous for years for them, who, after the statisticians had had their say, baked 44 of these snowflake pies, and set them on 44 windowsills, and after they had cooled, she set out in the middle of the night, to feed the pies to each of us who had said that the lives of her boys made no sense. Who had said of the snow, coincidence.
Susan Wheeler on Darcie Dennigan
In an extended historical moment that makes the hazard of partial knowledge more dangerous than ever, the Hemley poems that stood out among an exceptional twenty or so were those that addressed, in some way, the Gettier problem, and how a belief can be circumstantially – or, conversely, erroneously – true. "The Center of Worthwhile Things" is the recitation of a simple, surreal narrative, wherein those who have dismissed the overlap of truth and belief get their just desserts. Along the way, the poem upends our assumptions about "magic realism" with sly, over-the-top assertions; doubles back to embroider upon earlier "facts;" and manages, with a fairly limited and understated palette, to make its rhymes and repetitions seem inevitable.