2018 Winning Poem – Driving at Night in October by James Cooper

We know this familiar road at night,
leaning into curves, headlights scowling.
It’s treacherous to leave our lane.

We know of ditches, boulders, a gravel pit,
it’s a wonder how calm we are. Like we’ve
got an agreement to keep the story going.

It’s not the story of the shadow of the tree
falling across our moods, not the seasonal
variations of light. And it can’t be the burst

of wind that makes the dandelions unravel.
Certainly not the man/woman conundrum.
If I were Houdini, and you, just now,

Mrs. Dalloway, we’d have a riveting talk
about the curious company we keep,
driving at night in October. Bright fresh

thoughts circle us in the dark. Ironic,
their source is puzzling. We wonder
why the sun won’t have them.

J.L. Cooper received the Tupelo Quarterly Prose Open Prize, TQ9, judged by Pulitzer winner Adam Johnson. Additional awards are First Place in Short Short Fiction in New Millennium Writings, 2013, Second Place in Essay in Literal Latte, 2014, and First Runner-up for the 2016 nonfiction prize in StoryQuarterly. His full-length book of poetry, An Ocean Large Enough (David Robert Books) is available on Amazon Books. His short stories, poetry and a craft piece have appeared in numerous journals including The Manhattan Review, Oberon Poetry Magazine, Hippocampus, Leveler, The Tishman Review, 3Elements Review, Structo, The Sun (Reader’s Write), and in other journals and anthologies. His website is: jlcooper.net