The Department of English is pleased to announce that Josie Price has won the first annual Student Poetry Contest for her piece “Floor-Scrapers.” Josie will be awarded a prize of $500. We also expect her to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and/or a Pulitzer some day.
The competition garnered forty-one excellent poems, and we thank everyone who submitted … and we also encourage all those who composed a poem for the contest to keep writing.
Here, for your enjoyment, is Josie’s prize winning poem.
You can’t see any of their eyes in this
oil painting—they weren’t brushed in—the three
floor scrapers keep those hidden, heads bowed, their
faces faded into shadows, features
little more than a few careful touches:
lighter browns and pastel almond neutrals
for their sweaty brows. The three men are what
honest, urban labor is—they are not
scrapers, but rowers: plowing water, caught
between shaved waves of piled sawdust, curled
collected scraps of wood flakes, freshly peeled
from the boards like lumber hangnails, furled
into thick, crumbling hills in the landscape
of flat plains, the landscape of wooden planks.
The men are like ships, great hovering shapes,
their shirtless backs wan sails pressed by the wind,
cupped and hunching bodies with arms and hands
outstretched before them, their tools like oars—and
rib bones show through the flesh of their backs like
a boat’s own fragile skeleton. Sunlight
from a Parisian window paints noon light
into the hot, humid room, poured but un-
filtered through spaces in the coiled design,
nineteenth-century brass. There is just one
window, flanked by aged walls the color of
grey-blue robin’s eggs—but darker, they have
dirty turquoise shadows to them—above
pools of the sky’s light blue-white reflection
and the dark wood’s uncovered pale nude skin.
A factory exhales outside. Then,
is that a cigarette in the first one’s
mouth? A wedding ring on the middle one’s
finger?—You can almost see the last one’s
eyes, with his face tilted up and over
from the dimness. The floor scrapers, covered
with sun, work in silence and forever.