Shenan Prestwich

Contest Winner - 2nd Place

Shenan Prestwich is a Washington, DC-based poet and graduate of the Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing program. Her poems have appeared in publications such as Slow Trains, PigeonBike, Lines + Stars, Dirtflask, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Orion headless, Outside In, The Camel Saloon, and Seltzer, and her work has been nominated for both the Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes. Additionally, Shenan edits Magic Lantern Review, an online journal of writing and film.



Brother, I can never be your lover
which is why I’ll have to settle
for calling you my brother,
as if we had shared blood running
through our veins like thread
pulled from a common spool.

Brother, when I think of us pulled
I think of us pulled along the tracks
of the Norfolk Southern line
that ran behind the house where I used to live,
our feet crushing leaves and littered cans
in autumn, though you never set foot in that town.

I can never be your destination,
so I’ll be lying here
behind some house in your memory:
your rail line, your spine upon the earth,
the one you sometimes walk along
or glide over in a snake of cars,
my spikes and slats undetectable beneath you
as you sleep through the best part of the sunset,
the part that’s like two strangers
tipping their hats as they trade shifts
knowing of each other only what they see
from that angle, at that hour.
I’ll shoulder those evenings for you
so you can have a few hours
unaware of your own locomotion.

I’ll be the river that holds the sky
in the tight skin of its surface,
even when the wind whips the currents
too roughly for you to see your face in me.

I’ll be less of a spectre, and more the air
when you’re driving alone
and skirting rumble strips to stay awake,
the smell of hickory and water
as one season settles over another,
something sharp and sacred
for you to breathe for a minute.

And brother, I’ll be something burning in the distance
and swelling the daybreak on every drive,
even after you roll your windows up.

’Settling’ was written as part of a collection of poems inspired by the storytelling traditions of country music, where stories always seem to be couched in specific places, whether towns or highways or local dive bars, and populated by specific characters: characters who love and grieve, who ache for things and find things and lose things. They ponder greater truths, but it’s always an induction, trying to make sense of the greater meaning of our personal stories, rather than a deduction that starts with a universal certainty to try to solve the personal. It, like the other poems in the collection, draws on particular feelings and ideas I've personally experienced at some point in my life, but has allowed me to weave them into a time, place, story, and voice that aren't necessarily autobiographical.