A poem of “beauty, wit and grace” that explores an encounter between the living and the dead has won the National Poetry Competition for a single poem in English.
Lee Stockdale’s My Dead Father’s General Store in the Middle of a Desert was chosen as the winner from more than 17,000 poems entered into the competition from poets in 103 countries.
All the poems are entered into the competition anonymously. The judges called My Dead Father’s General Store in the Middle of a Desert a “remarkable” poem that “caught and held our attention from first reading”.
Stockdale, who wins £5,000 ($6,170), says that winning the prize is “so validating” because his work is so personal.
My Dead Father’s General Store in the Middle of a Desert
It has gas pumps with red horses and wings,
but is not merely a gas station, your father is not my father,
standing over me with a clipboard, checking off things done and left undone.
He seems happy at this last stop before death for those living,
before life for those not yet born,
where his general store deals in flour, sugar, pieces of hacked meat,
or liver, reddish purple, a heart he wraps in brown paper.
He cuts my hair beneath the tin awning. I must have gotten here
from one direction or other on the road that stretches horizon to horizon,
the desert heat shimmering my eyes into pools.
I crawled in on my hands and knees,
he handed me an ice-cold orange Nehi drink.
It’s pure coincidence that this store is my father’s.
I ask him where all this stuff comes from, as no trucks travel this road
to replenish merchandise no one buys.
He doesn’t like questions that challenge his existence.
I become quiet, he’s cutting my hair
and might consciously or unconsciously make me look bad.
You’re doing a great job out here, I say, which he knows is bullshit -
how many fathers, even if they’re dead, set up a general store in a desert.
I persist, You keep the shelves stocked, floor broomed, bathroom clean.
The more I talk, the more I encourage myself to love him for the trouble he went to
making all this seem real, with cans of various sized nails, beans, rice,
shelves of liquor, deli section with giant pickles.
I begin to see what a dear, sweet man he is. Is this because he is dead?
I wish he were alive again.
I don’t think he killed himself to be mean to me personally.
At night, he says, howling coyotes come down from the mountains
and leave notes, bible verses, threatening messages, love letters.
Everything a coyote wants to get off its chest.
I ask if they come every night.
He says, Without fail.