Co-winner of the 2019 #DignityNotDetention Outside Prize
judged by Ilya Kaminsky
What Welcome Feels Like
I would wash you with the softest words I know. Maybe
whalebelly or azucena. I’m embarrassed by my country
and how we didn’t welcome you with garlands of light.
I’m sorry for your midnights and hard bed. I’m sorry
for your bruises and itching hours. I would wish you
something more helpful than a poem, exchange words
for medicine, tampons, cartons of milk. Please know
not everyone here has fermented fear into bittertaste
& legal tape. If we met, I would smile at you, turn arms
into a comforter, a quilt, so you could remember
what welcome feels like. I would give you fresh bread,
so you could know how asylum should taste. After
the long night there is sunrise. In the dark, stars.
After the winter, rain. After the rain, flowers. Keep
after’s hope in the pouch of your heart, and know you are
whalebelly. You are azucena. You’re garlands of fresh
flowers and garlands of the brightest, warmest light.
Notes from the judge, Ilya Kaminsky
This poem is beautifully made, with refrains, memorable images, strong music. But it is the combination of imagery and emotion that finally sways me, a voice that’s tender and yet bold: “I would wash you with the softest words I know.”
About the poet
Dayna Patterson is the author of Titania in Yellow (Porkbelly Press, 2019) and If Mother Braids a Waterfall (Signature Books, 2020). Her creative work has appeared recently in POETRY, Sugar House Review, Ruminate, Thrush, and Tupelo Quarterly. She is the founding editor-in-chief of Psaltery & Lyre and a co-editor of Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. daynapatterson.com