Award Winners

Lyric Poetry Award - 2020

Michael Dumanis

The Empire of Light

The baby pulls my wrist into his mouth.
The baby wants to eat my face.
So does the dog, the one that I don’t have,
who lazes at the razor-edge
of vision, whose curved shadow, when I’m still
flat on my back, opening up
like a gift the new morning, clouds over me.
The sister asks me to apologize for 1985
to ’93. I screen all calls
from the persistent bank. The baker calls.
The baker wants her pie back.
Even the fan, worrying
the air from its perch on the ceiling,
sucks breath from my lung.
The future wants its diaper changed. I stroll it
past the drooping wisteria to the Family Dollar,
where I contemplate our next move.
In the suburban zoo, we gawk at cages.
We are surrounded
by musical notes of bright weather.
The panda turns its back on us
like an unhappy god.
I take the baby home. He’ll live forever,
I’m almost sure. He laughs like fire laughs,
inexorable heat, blue flame unraveling.
I have barely begun the day,
I think towards evening.
The baby presses at my collarbone.
You know what makes us happy?
The whole world.
We’re swaying to a prelude by Ravel.
We’re waving good-bye
to the empire of light. Our destiny
is red, purple, and black.

Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Hanif Abdurraqib on Michael Dumanis

I am choosing The Empire of Light as my winning poem for the lyric contest. I think the definition of what a lyric poem is can be broad, and I loved the way many of these poems explored the vastness of the form. I love this poem for how it uses language to bounce generously between scenes. How the imagery is playful and speaks to the a type of wonder I still crave, even now: the ability to take in the world as if I am doing it for the first time.