She was bone-sick when she arrived, sea-tired,
bandy-legged, skin blanched by the voyage
and wilted marrow, too young to be paper white,
unable to attend even the easiest receptions.
Something must be wrong, reporters wrote,
their bets on radium, the gram they said she carried
everywhere, like Freud’s cocaine or the Heart of Mary.
They were right, of course. Her thin blood no match
for a somber itinerary — honorary doctorates, compulsory
teas and train rides. But for each cancellation,
pillowed retreat from pressing crowds, she mined
the continent for a true tonic to recharge her constitution,
shock joy into that small, irradiated body: Pittsburgh
radium refinery tour, women’s colleges, howling Niagara,
star-punched nights on the south rim spent at El Tovar –
juniper winds, wild sheep, endless Arizona wrapping
her in its golden canyon, light sizzling like uranium glass.
Then, the alchemy of grace: rest for tingling hands beneath
hotel sheets, coiled, as if waiting to crack open earth’s
friable magic, as if everything in America was softly glowing.
[img_assist|nid=10062|title=First Place Winner Deborah Fries|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=300|height=433]
Deborah Fries began writing poetry in earnest in 1994, when she moved to the Delaware Valley from the Midwest. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq – work nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is the author of Various Modes of Departure (Kore Press, 2004) and anticipates publication of a second book of poetry, The Bright Field of Everything, in 2013.