2022 Poetry First Prize Winner


Paper Boats

by Ellen Lee


When the snow is melting and the alleys are rivers

My sister and I make fleets of paper boats

And send them one by one along Downing Drive.

We turn our backs, cover our eyes,

One, two, three, four,

And race to save them before the gutter opens its mouth.


Often we find them capsized,

Pulp slurry clouding the snowmelt.

Sometimes we can’t find them at all

And we know they’ve turned their course up Downing, across Constitution,

Into the Platte, the Missouri, the Mississippi,

Off to ferry passengers between horizons

In an ocean wide enough to leave them be.


Sometimes we catch one with its edges still crisp and folded

So we send it down again, and again,

Until our gloves are heavy with water

And the sails tear apart in our hands.