“New Year on Pleasure Island” By Brian Sneeden (2017)

Wallace Stevens Poetry Prize, Second Place (2017)

What I did not know to make made itself
in vestigial hours between two o’clock

and dawn, when the shapes of birds
stitch together in my mind, and a single

cicada peels the air. Each letter I write
returns to water. I start one now and already

the flashy ceiling of a sentence
begins to fade, and I am left with nothing

but the island and its circuitous thought
like the bulb shards of sunsets in the reeds.

Without going to the place I had to go.
Without any of the particular things

I was told that I needed to make my life,
I walk again down this desolate bank, sitting

with the occasionally given happiness
of a cup with the last opaque drops

fingered, as the wet sand is fingered
by a blue roving thumb. There is no set time

for the clouds to lose their inherited gold,
no moment when the wind will stop

and the stenciled islands far out
melt into an even line. The last of

the season inserts its sun-wide button
into the waiting hole. The year is closed.

This poem first appeared in the 2017 edition of LRR.