Award Winners

Lucille Medwick Memorial Award - 2021

Devon Walker-Figueroa

Noise Cancelling

To think I’ve gone
to all this trouble
just to lose
my looks & mind
too much that I am real
only to myself. No matter.
Even heaven goes to hell,
in time, in
time. Yet in the revision of
the future, I am still here,
speaking my monde,
unminding my mouth,
preaching to a mountain
whose only sound is my moan
gliding down it,
where water once carried
on & on, amusing
wasted gods in ways
we humans never could.
Amass delight.
Weigh your words
until they’re free.
Babble. Bubble. Treble. Try.
When the noise is finally gone,
what will miss it?
I unwind myself
at my mother’s feet, touch
a match to the hem of her
emerald am & make it
an ember as another
sound learns what sleep really is.
She, too, adored
ideas of continuance, cultivated
songs that helped her
breathe. But now she is winded.
Now wounded.
Now new.
& my math is bad,
my science reduced
to a sigh. A child says,
“How dare you
disturb the universe!”
“How right you are,” I say.
All this singing
about what’s collapsing
has grown
older than I’ll ever be. No matter.
No muttering over
spilled blood & milk & tea...
Though I dream of orchards
no one can discard.
Though I stare toward stars
starved of distances to defy—
Yes, the world minds me.
Or I mind the world,
the few places in it
I’ve touched, its winds
that plague me as harp music
might. & so I harp:
you act like it’s my fault
youth went elsewhere;
I’m tired of watching
my mouth; my head
feels like an egg
no one warms with their waiting;
even to sleep is humiliating; etc.
But when the grief is gone,
what will miss me?
No matter.
Everyone dares a door to close
on splendor, I am told,
as I extol the sun for beating me
at my own name, for numbing
this plenum that casts
its small adorations on times
out of mind, my mind, my—
Say I’m sitting on the floor
in the children’s section
of a library July set on fire
& the blaze is not near
so guttural as anyone guessed.
All I ask is you warm your hands
over the folktales adorning the night,
the clockmaker & his stolen
eyes rising from the page.
Or all I ask is that you scatter me
where Babylon once was,
for I mined my mythic data
from tangled tongues
& trees & deities. No matter.
No master
watches this dream
verse itself in gravity. No mystery
eavesdrops here,
though a stream converses
so fluently with the stones it smooths,
I can hear it, every word,
& its vanishing. & speaking
of banishment, should I leave
my belongings
to the desert? Should we say
so long & mean
so very long? As for the song
my mother sung to herself,
may you never hear the end of it.
Which is to say, please forgive
the tunes I can no longer carry
into the future & please
forgive the fortune
tellers their crumbling
bones, for they are thrown
as no voice & know
inside us is our beating.

Amit Majmudar on Devon Walker-Figueroa

"Noise Canceling" gets to its destination(s) by divagation and wordplay. One of those destinations is interior, personal. What noise surrounds the poet that needs canceling for the poem to get written? Rather than exploiting the blunt tropes of activism and rhetoric, the poet has allowed outer havoc to impinge on inner monologue. The poet seems resigned to the ever-young nature of apocalyptic thinking—"All this singing / about what's collapsing / has grown / older than I'll ever be. No matter...."—while still finding something fresh enough in it to create art afresh. "Amass delight," the poet counsels, amid so much that is amiss. The poem's rhythms, the heart in the poem, and the human violence that the poet's "noise canceling" headphones can't quite cancel out are all consummated in the last line's insight: "inside us is our beating."