2021 Writing Contest Winners


It has been a helluva year. Yet, based on the outstanding entries in the Carolina Woman Writing Contest, our local scribes never put down their pens. As always, the magazine thanks everyone who submitted work. It was a tough call, but the judges managed to choose winners, which you can enjoy below.


– Debra Simon, Editor & Publisher





Grand Prize




Fiction by Anne Kissel of Chapel Hill

"Here," the hospice nurse said, "this might help, something to hold on to, something solid, for when you are anxious or afraid. It's what we call a transitional object, a small token to tuck in your hand. It may help you on this journey, to feel okay," the nurse said.


Well, how could anything be okay when most of your visitors were from hospice? Still, she had nothing to lose, nothing at all. She decided to try bonding with the small smooth shiny stone, black as the endless night. It fit neatly in her palm, as if made to fill that space she once used to grasp for hands, apples, flowers, time.


She called it Sisyphus, her new pet rock. They traded stories, her short life and its thousands of years, whispering to each other in the long, lonely wolf hours. Soon her hand felt empty, incomplete, whenever she had to set it down. Its cool solidity did distract from pain's big booming boulder that rolled over and over and over till she called, exhausted, for the next dose of liquid oblivion. The fear, though, nothing could pierce that fierce shadow sitting by her bed, mocking her and the little stone until, finally, she smiled back at its sly dark face.


One day the stone shrank, became a tiny pebble, porous and crumbling, as was she, to sand, to base elements. Together they rehearsed the burials to come, both returning to dust, to memory. She placed it on the bedside table, its work done, and looked deeply out the blue summer window. The sheer white curtain, flowing like a wedding veil, danced her into the sweet morning breeze.




First Prize


"Letter Writers"


Poem by Teresa McLamb Blackmon of Benson

My three fingers still feel the grip
of a Sheaffer fountain pen, full of blue or black ink.
My first fancy writing instrument was a gift from
my mother, a third-grade school teacher She always left
a comment, good or bad, as I did as a teacher
later on.


I liked the scratch of the nib on fancy thick
paper I bought. Way too sophisticated
for Blue Horse notebook paper.
Pushed gently, the pen took flight
across the page, leaving clouds
of words to settle and arrive,
when letters creeped through on little trucks.


Few handwritten letters ride
through towns now. We e-mail,
call, text. Anything to keep
from pushing words around
on plain white paper.
Yours truly and sincerely yours
have gone the way of ghosts.


Acronyms and abbreviations attack like gnats.
By the time these new symbols
are figured out, we could have
written at least half a letter to reach
sick Grandma in Topeka
who would love a missive.
and hurry to write back.


You have my address






Second Prize


"Backyard Poem for Early March"


Poem by Joyce Compton Brown of Troutman, N.C.


The sparrows made mad love,
dancing on the bird house roof,
then began moving into the nest.
They're waiting now, hovering,
keeping vigil while we watch.
I'm keeping vigil too - so many birds,
so many hues. Brave little yellow warbler
ventures among the glow-red cardinals.
House finch offers pink to his brown-gray lady.


An occasional towhee flashes
his black and orange beauty for some
like-minded female to admire.
The goldfinches too are beginning
their showy glow, the males,
the beauties - looking for love
from the sweet, color-muted
females who'll decide their fate.


I wanted bluebirds to claim the house
because they speak of memory and joy -
my mother finding a nest in the crooked
arms of a chinaberry tree, leading me
to discovery with soft steps. I gazed
at cerulean eggs, not to be touched,
lest their parents abandon the vigil.
Every visit was sacred, until at last
bluebirds sang on chinaberry limbs.


We have been hovering in darkness,
keeping vigil through loss and fear.
The bluebirds too once faced uncertainty,
dying from a plague created by our kind.
When the prophets cried warning,
we heeded, saved them from our folly,
brought them back to chinaberry trees
and oaks, built small houses just for them.
Now they feast, tend their blue eggs,
perch on powerlines in rows.


They are here today in my backyard.
Still I am more sparrow than bluebird,
more shadow bird than show.
I know what deep desires pulse within
gray chests– no different really from those
who shine more brightly in the sun.
I'll follow the lead of the mockingbird,
who sings all songs, obscure and showy,
knowing we're all sharing the verdant swell
in the same backyard of good and plenty.




Third Prize


"Mop Day"


Nonfiction essay by Emily Carter of Beaufort, N.C.


Wednesday was mop day. My mom put us kids outside like Dino the dog on the Flintstones, then she latched the screen door. We would be permitted back inside when the floors dried. Perhaps it was the North Carolina humidity or the specific brand of Mop N Glo, but there were days that drying was prolonged. We rattled the door, yet she was unphased by our requests for the potty or overdramatized cries of being near death from thirst. She was alone in the small brick house that was usually thick with five kids and my dad. Factoring in the square footage per human of the home I grew up in, it would be about the size of a two-person tent. My mom held the sacred space of self-sanctuary for about an hour every hump day.


I hated this. It wasn't that I was all up in her grill twenty-four, seven. We often played for hours in the woods, damming the creek and simulating military battles, summonsed home by her adamant bugling of the car horn. It was that she was my mom and I wanted an unlimited access pass. What was she doing in there without me? Why had she locked the door? I didn't care that my siblings were cast outside. I despised being excluded from her and I wanted in on the Wednesday secrets she was keeping with her said conspirators, mop and bucket.


I attempted all sorts of crap. I was being attacked by bees. I claimed to have what appeared to be a gunshot wound. I was foaming at the mouth, a sudden onset of rabies. The cows, chickens, and pigs were being abducted by aliens. There was a trumpeting in the sky signifying the apocalypse. She answered that I would probably live, that aliens were vegetarians, and that Jesus wouldn't return to earth on a Wednesday. She would open the door when the floors had completed their drying cycle. Period.


It was Rural Route Two in the 1970's and we were lucky to score three channels on a good weather day. The internet was still a twinkle in Al Gore's eye, so she wasn't binging on Netflix or pinning on Pinterest. When pressed about what else she was doing during her Wednesday alone time, because I was a pressy kind of kid, Mom said, "I was resting."


I narrowed my brain around this idea. Although my mom taught and modeled one of the best work ethics and healthiest lives I have ever witnessed, this resting behavior was sketchy.


I dig movement and measuring. I track the miles that I run, cycle, walk, and paddle. It's not that I'm in some big life competition, but if there ever is one, I'm prepared. I have a passionate love affair with the Garmin Forerunner data demon that I wear on my wrist. It tracks my steps and breathing and heart rate. We used to be one, but things have recently turned a little rocky.


It all started when I added a few extra miles on a Tuesday run and slowed my pace a little. In my defense, it was cold and rainy and at least I was out there getting it done. When I finished and looked at my results, Garmin called me, (and this hurt,) unproductive. I am a lot of things, but I am NOT unproductive.


I considered going back to my Apple Watch. It never resorted to name calling, but I'm a forgiving soul. Until the following Saturday, when Garmin called me, hold on. Sniffle.


Overreaching. When I clicked on the support data, there was some blahbedy about my training level being too high. It said, "Your body needs a rest."


My activity tracking device is slinging insults, demanding rest. Hmmm.


Smokin Hot Love Biscuit is a fan of breaks and naps. He likes to sit in the boat and gaze at the water. He likes to rock on the porch and hold my hand. He gets the art of being.


Over the years, on airplanes headed to vacation destinations, SHLB has tried to negotiate late sleeping and lounging. It made me twitchy to think about all that empty space, all that down time, all that hiatus-ing. I'm a filler but I'm starting to consider how all that movement, measuring, and stacking might be disruptive to meaning. The manic and frantic loud in their unproductive, overreaching attempts to drown out what might show up in the silence. Filling – the drunk, obnoxious roommate of feeling.


Recently, in a Man Cave harmonica jam session, SHLB demonstrated on his harp that the notes that bump against the quiet make the deepest kind of sound. The silence in between the blow, draw, and bend create a space in the music, opening my ear canal to a river of hearing. And when I really hear, really listen, to both the notes and the silence, I'm compelled to become part of the song. This can't be overexplained, overthought, overtaught, it's an arrival when there's room, the rests become a reverberation, hoisting the notes and holding them tight.


Such is true of great speakers, artists, and conversations that fill the void with a message while holding strong and steady in the space, expanding the experience.


Sitting on the charging station that rest provides opens me to the tranquil offerings of reflection, significance, and insight, perhaps the movement and the words and the notes ring truer. It's a lesson that eluded me back in the day on Rural Route Two.


Mop Day.


My mom has been resting in peace for almost fifteen years. In the space that has passed, the quiet hasn't made her disappear or less relevant, it's made her more poignant and real. I use the term "the rest" as though there's something else, the rest of the story, the rest of the pie, the rest of the week. Maybe the rest isn't what follows but rather in the still of the very space you are in.






Fourth Prize


"Testosterone in/at the Movies"


Poem by Mary Hennessy of Raleigh


The September garden exhales in relief.
An exhausted sigh, the dog days, all that
extravagant lush, behind it.    Enough.
Enough of a good thing, and it was good–


beyond the telling.
A return to school decades late,
I walk towards the auditorium
and an assigned film, anthropology.


Outlawed cup of coffee,
hot, its mocha fragrance held close
in the fertile dark.
A pony-tailed blonde and a young man,


megaphone careless perfection;
beetle their bountiful bodies
into the multiple-aisle
seats next to mine.


All that extravagant lush behind me.
Enough of a good thing
and it was good.
Nothing would do me but to have him.


I sip my coffee and smile.
Half a film later, almost giddy, with a relief
dense as iridium, that it is her knee
he is worrying and not mine,







Fifth Prize


"The Grenade"


Nonfiction by Tonya Lanier of Lexington, N.C.

Every time my Daddy came down that dusty dirt path, he would stop the engine of his mother's white Buick or his father's blue Ford pickup right beyond the crook in the road He would get out of the vehicle, stand with folded arms and stare toward the white country house My mother could sense him, no doubt, because within a millisecond, the screen door flew open and she pounced down the steps and into the yard Her stride was almost a run, even in kitten heels She was headed to his open arms No words exchanged...just an embrace that was too tight to be decent.


The high school sweethearts separated only when they discovered three pairs of eyes gazing intently Daddy instantly commented on how much we had grown Eulah, the eldest, would be anxious to show him her school paper with a big red "A+". His only son stood with hands stuffed into pants pockets and a growing afro While my father really wanted it trimmed, Clayton assured him that it was the latest fad.


"I hear you came home after dark last week?" Daddy asked "Oh, I walked WeeWee home," the boy quickly answered He knew if there was an act of kindness connected his chances of being punished were lessened "Well, that was very thoughtful of you But next time, start out earlier You worried your mother," Father stated "Are you looking after my girls like I asked?" he inquired with a grin "Yes, sir." Clayton replied sticking his chest out with pride.


These afternoons ranked almost perfect We were a family My father would find time to spend with each child one-on-one He was trying to get a clear picture of what was happening in school and at home Mom busied herself so he could play daddy for the day.


Before it was night there would be a yell, "Anybody want a present?" This brought everyone to attention He went out to the vehicle and returned with a bag Like Santa, he reached into the sack and out came a gift. This time, he gave my mother a small box which contained a sparkly brooch It was covered with colorful gems that surely would glisten in the sunlight While it looked expensive, she knew it wasn't real but handled it like it was priceless There was a book for Eulah The hard cover had a picture of a unicorn She gave him a quick hug before dashing into the other room Clayton's eyes grew wide when he saw the red drawstring bag that had "Super" stenciled in gold letters "Could it be the new super-duper marbles? None of the fellows had this set yet," he pondered in his head. "Here son, go get some practice. My brother turned slowly and made his way toward the front door He knew the perfect marble shooting spot.


Without warning he snatched my thumb out of my mouth and put it into his. "Give me that!  Is it made out of sugar?" my Daddy asked He was the only one allowed to do that.
"Oh, yeah, that is pretty sweet," and we both giggled.


For me he had a bright orange kente cloth giraffe. "Let me tell you about this little fellow," he stated "It is the tallest animal that lives mainly in Africa They all have a different skin pattern And you know what else, they sleep standing up," my Daddy wisely shared.


It was these educational sessions that I enjoyed most My Daddy knew everything about everything! With a firm grip around the neck of my new treasure, I soaked up my lesson for the month...or possibly for the year.


All of Southmont could tell when my father was coming because my mother freely shared this information with anyone that crossed her path, whether they asked for it or not Prior to his arrival, my mother inspected each child She wanted to let him see that she was taking good care of his children while he served in the United States Air Force Although it was hard, she could not let on that there was never enough money, time or energy Tremendous support came from her parents, James and Ida His parents, Henry and Jennie, helped out as well. There was always a package to pick up or a little something in the mail My mother was so grateful.


On "the" day, Eulah could be found in the mirror tying and untying hair bows Clayton practiced holding in his stomach to show off his new belt I pouted most the evening because of the frilly dress laid out for me.


My father dreamed of serving his country, so it was no surprise when he joined up in 1962 He enlisted as an officer after graduating from NCA&T University He was stationed at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas The original plans were to help out Uncle Sam, see the world, save money, marry the love of his life, and raise a family Some of this did happen, but not in dream order.


My mother had similar aspirations Attend North Carolina Central University, get a good job, save money, marry the love of her life, and raise a family.


Neither of them expected leukemia to show up. The diagnosis struck like a grenade. He assured her that he was getting the best care and with aggressive treatment things would be fine Six months later he was released from active duty and returned to his mother's home He died that June.


My mother watched as her hopes and dreams were lowered into a freshly dug grave She never fully recovered. Years later she went to sleep and never woke up The doctors said it was a massive heart attack I am sure it was shrapnel from the leukemia explosion My brother, sister and I carried on...not totally unscathed from the effects of this war.




Honorable Mention


"Bobby Sox"


Poem by Ruth Moose of Albemarle, N.C.



Pearls meant we were

pure as Grace Kelly. Ha.

Later we read she was a scarlet

starlet. Breck shampoo

and pageboy sleek...some

of us still blonde

with help. Ballet slippers,

petal pushers...mine were

navy blue, string ties

at the knees. Hats,

of course and heels.

White gloves for church.

Saddle shoes and bobby socks.

Screw on ear bobs. Girls,

became women

wearing elastic

chastity belts, Kotex

saddles for Evening

in Paris only the local

movie up town,

Cokes after

Purcell's drugstore

smelled bitter

as quinine



Where did we go?

The quarterback?

The cheerleader?

Homecoming Queen?

Girl on the back row

who never spoke

in class? She

wrote it all.