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First Prize
$1,000 Award


by James Henry Zukin

my mother pities him her special child
she calls him her little broken bird
never able to leave the nest
classmates mimic his shuffle walk
I grow up creeped out by his slight drool
his head misshapen by birthing tongs

mom loves him unconditionally
me she whelps spanks once
and hands me off to her spinster sister
here, he’s yours now, she says
he will practically raise himself

every time I hear this family story
it makes me the worst kind of angry
my father the great good doctor
has a special bedside manner
that he never brings home
to share with me and our family

he calls my dear aunt little miss biddy
a body never meant to make babies
she had a virgin hysterectomy
so all she has in life is me

dad died young but not soon enough
the wounds he inflicted still fester
my anger lingers

it returns full force as I hang on the phone
waiting for the nurse who never picks up
in the background I hear muffled conversations
his brother’s got a day, two days max
papers are shuffled
how is it the virus took half the ward and missed him?

I begin to yell
put him on the damn phone!
all I hear is static and then click

rage sticks in my throat but I call back
just to say goodbye for mom and I
he’s alone and dying and no one can visit
he doesn’t know there’s a pandemic
and I am helpless
and I realize I am the worst breed of sorry

what kind of older brother am I
to have been jealous of the life he led?
all I can do is cry into the phone
beg the silence for forgiveness.


James Henry Zukin is an LA-based poet active on the boards of Beyond Baroque Foundation (a literary/arts center) and Get Lit (an arts-based teen literacy program). He cofounded a scholarship fund in memory of poet Carlos Segovia. His poem “Reverse” is in the Get Lit – Words Ignite textbook. Jim studied under the tutelage of Laurel Ann Bogan. He has transitioned from a financial advisory career to poetry.

August 2021