Sixth Annual Wild Violet Writing Contest Winners (2008)

Poetry — Third Place

Arlene L. Mandell, a retired English professor, was formerly a public relations executive and writer/editor at Good Housekeeping magazine. She has published more than 400 poems, essays and short stories in newspapers and literary journals, including The New York Times, True Romance and Women's Voices.

Penultimate Chapter
By Arlene L. Mandell

Cherry tree surrounded by green

She's trying to read a scholarly essay, but keeps putting it down, absorbing the atmosphere of the campus at dusk, students scattering down the hillside on their way to their cars.

The April air is heavy with pollen and birdsong as she sits in the dappled shade near the music building. Someone is practicing scales on the obie, sweet, imperfect sounds rising and falling.

Warm breezes stir the branches of a weeping cherry. A few blossoms have opened; most are still dark pink buds. Her gauzy flowered skirt seems to flutter in time to the notes.

Next month she'll retire, her place filled by an eager young Ph. D. with stern expectatons. Her brief legacy of brilliant lectures, compassionate counseling will fade.

She reads a few more passages. The oboe falls silent.


Judge Eileen M. D'Angelo's comments:

"Penultimate Chapter" is a study in the steady build-up, and the reader feels something monumental is about to happen, all the way to the turn: "Next month, she'll retire." There's a reverent quality to the words, as the teacher cherishes the last moments of a long career, absorbs every single sensation, committing it to memory. There is a hint of wistfulness, of sadness, and the last two lines say it all, so eloquently. These are the poems that kept calling my name, poems that had the power to make me read them over and over again.


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