Charles Prize for Poetry 2012 Competition Begins

I would like to announce the opening of this year's poetry contest.

The Charles Prize is awarded to the best poem written and submitted within the realms of science or medicine, as judged by a diverse and hand chosen panel of jurists.

Participating poets have included published authors, an elementary school science class, scientists, doctors, mathematicians, and writers suddenly finding themselves in the role of patient or humbled learner.

The main purpose of the contest is to provide a forum for the sharing and appreciation of poetry related to science and medicine. Due to a severe lack of free time, I will be making this year's contest very low maintenance. In order to submit a poem for consideration, please simply enter it into the comment field below, where it will be published after a brief review. Please include your preferred email address so that you can be contacted if your poem is judged a winner!

Prizes for 2012:

The Charles Prize is a metaphysical crown, abstract and immaterial in nature, and comes with a $100 honorarium.

Second Prize is no less respectable, and will be rewarded with a profound sense of accomplishment, and a $50 honorarium.

Honorable Mentions shall number three, and will be celebrated and remembered fondly for all eternity.

In keeping with the minimalistic approach to this year's contest, rules shall be simple as well. Disclose your identity only as much as you wish through the comment form. Submit up to 2 poems. Email me should you wish your poem be taken down at any time. Submit your poetry which has a theme related to science or medicine.

The contest ends at midnight 12/31/12. Winners will be announced in January, 2013.

Find inspiration, conjure magic with your written words, and shine light and life into the scientific shadows of your brain!


  1. Poem number 1

    Newtonian reflection

    Astronomers raise up their mirrored face,
    Exquisite in its geometric plan,
    To capture ghosts that fall from vaulted space
    And turn them to the wonderment of man.
    In splintered shafts, hypotheses emerge,
    Like spectres exiled from some distant sun,
    Sustained by hope that meaning might converge,
    When reaching out to many by the one.
    With artifice, the searching mind deflects
    The orbit of the phantasms received
    To sublimate, where guiding thought collects,
    The vision that the scientist conceived.
    Reflected on the finely crafted locus,
    Philosophies, like stars, come into focus.

    Poem number 2

    The Waiter

    A long, long, long, long time ago, and then an age before,
    A wild and furious ocean beat its waves upon a shore.
    Not yet the time for living things, the main and rock were lords and kings
    Of all the Earth’s rich store of things from firmament to core.

    And flash! and crack! and bang! and boom! great storms raged overhead
    And from small atoms, tossed and torn, strange molecules were bred.
    In endless cycles, water flowed from sea to cloud to rain then rode
    In foaming streams, with solute load, back to its ocean bed.

    And round and round the cycle turned while countless years passed by.
    And rock, ground into clinging clay, in littoral pools would lie.
    And strange new matter, rudely formed, by lightning strike, as heavens stormed
    On clay adsorbed, by sunlight warmed, still stranger bonds would tie.

    And on through pregnant æons turned the watery cycle round
    Till strangely fashioned molecules in helices were wound.
    And in the sea, which, year by year, had leached the mineralosphere
    Of salt and clay-bound scum veneer, primordial soup was found.

    At length within the fœtid broth, a metaform awoke—
    Fair Gaia was the fecund maid the life force did betoke.
    And, casting wide, she full surveyed what violent storms had crudely made
    For light to strike where clay had laid in virgin brine to soak.

    And all the while with patient grace a presence watched the scene—
    A formless spectral sentient mind who’d marked what there had been.
    And, bending low, he strained to see what further changes there might be
    As Gaia, in her primal sea, became the planet’s queen.

    “Sweet Gaia!” spake the watcher then, “Pray, what will come to pass?
    For ages long I’ve waited here and watched your soup amass.
    Come, tell me, wondrous parvenue, what can the future promise you—
    What marvels lace the vast purview of such a fertile lass?”

    “Dear patient friend,” she answered soft, “if low you care to stoop,
    With keening eye you may discern one of a larger group:
    See, Waiter, of the insects[1], there, you may so mark, if close you stare,
    With legs, full six, and wings, a pair[2], a fly[3] is in my soup.”

    [1] Subclass Pterygota
    [2] See [3]
    [3] That is, a Dipteran, such as Musca domestica, whose posterior
    wings have evolved into halteres

  2. Andrew Watson12/09/2012 8:16 PM

    I. Diagnosis

    Words that bear a heavy burden;
    In shambles, they did leave me.
    Hands of hope, torch burning bright;
    From anguish they did lead.

    II. Treatment

    As darkness knocks, the body fights;
    All wars cannot be won.
    To restore the body mind and soul;
    Healing hands to make me one.

    III. Death

    The time has come, life wears thin;
    from tired lips, a final gasp.
    My hand in yours, our journey done;
    Carried here, to comfort last.

  3. History; or His Story

    Fragility: you look
    every one of your ninety-three years
    lying here in this hospital bed,
    this temporary holder of your body,
    with your legs contracted in pain.
    Ischaemic toes.

    Your accent sounds Russian. You
    describe it as ex-USSR.
    You say White Russian
    and, despite my knowledge of history,
    I am distracted by thoughts of vodka
    with kahlua and milk.

    And yet, you fought for Stalin.
    But who would I be to judge?
    I was not there. I cannot begin to imagine
    the compromises you may have been
    forced to make in cold winters,
    moons before I was born.

    Captured by Germans, and held
    against your will of course,
    and forced to work.
    I was a medic, like you, you tell me.
    You volunteer no more about that time,
    and part of me is grateful not to know.

    Reinvention: after the war
    you had to be something new.
    A name change, different scenery.
    Welcome to the Lucky Country.
    I wonder if you were given the option
    to remain a doctor, would you have?

    You are proud of your promotions,
    your achievements in your new role.
    You have made something
    of this life.
    I wonder what haunts you,
    and if you have actually been happy here.

    Could you ever have imagined
    lying here towards the end of your days,
    in pain, helping future doctors learn
    about medicine and life?
    I wonder what you would change,
    if you could start it all over.

  4. Conrad Geller



    How can I be late? I have been waiting
    Right here, always on time, for my appointment,
    Not even reading a magazine, watching
    The door where a pretty receptionist might appear.

    Now I see, the doctor is out, the heat,
    The lights, have been turned off. Whatever treatment
    Is appropriate will be administered,
    Orally I hope, in another office,
    By technicians unfamiliar with the case.



    In desperation he would eat sweet rolls
    Of Guatemala, make shapes that made his life
    Unbearable, because each flowering figure
    Held a secret he could not explain:
    The flowerlet within each flower, moving on
    To some impossible infinity.

    Violets on the lawn beyond control
    Meant July. He knew that, knew as well
    That nothing real recurs, that violets
    Are fearsome, perfect, indivisible,

    Nor could he stem these flowers of mathematics
    From going on forever, always the same,
    But smaller and smaller, until the meddlesome pattern
    Foundered in the well of Limitation.

  5. chemistry lessons

    there is salt, and there is salt.
    what's the difference,
    my father asked me at dinner
    t'other day, between sea
    salt and table? and i said
    sea salt is less strict, dad,

    more complicated;
    but i don't know if that's right;
    don't know its bio-
    chemical makeup, how late
    it lets its daughters
    out at night. chemicals aren't

    all latch-key and angle, you know.
    for instance, there are some in the brain
    more sensitive to love
    than to cocaine. i've heard this;
    that, chemically, love is the most terrible
    addiction. crazy women need brave lovers,

    the poet said; this i know also
    to be true; i've seen crazy.
    but i don't know their chemistry, either:
    not love OR crazy. my professor
    used to wear unmatched socks;
    his eyes were the color of sea glass.

    he taught the break-up of salts.
    he told my father once i
    was the most impressive he'd ever had.
    i could have loved him, then,
    but i was addicted to my own heart-
    beat. that rhythm is less biochemical

    than electric: a crazy drummer
    in my head banging morse
    code to my chest. i hope he is brave,
    or at least wears unmatched socks.
    too much salt can fuck
    it all up, cause heart-

    ache. like breathing in sea glass.
    how long can you hold your
    breath underwater? my cousin
    and i used to swim in the lake
    by my grandparents' house,
    catch turtles on cane poles

    with bits of old bread.
    the biggest one we dragged up
    onto the shore, and my father
    sliced her neck while
    her jaws were clamped
    onto the back handle of an old broom.

    that was before i knew chemistry.
    or love. or that guilt could be as addictive
    as cocaine. i'm not sure if this
    is true, but i have seen crazy.
    turtles, the poet said, turtles
    all the way down.

    scheduled for publication in Caduceus, Issue 10. Feb. 2013.

    field notes from the buried box of an almost-surgeon

    i think i am in love
    with little plastic needles, sterile
    blues, the arrogance
    of early a.m. overhead
    lighting; size 6 latex
    gloves that know
    the thrill of a one-
    handed knot
    in 2-0 silk, over
    and under
    and over again;
    back pockets
    stuffed with blunt scissors &
    stethoscope & note-
    cards that read
    like a map through

    "...the femoral nerve
    courses laterally
    to its artery as it passes
    the triangle of Scarpa.
    blood enters the liver
    at 1500cc a minute,
    primarily through the portal
    vein, whose pressure
    should not rise more than
    5 millimeters of mercury
    above the pressure
    of other veins. neurogenic
    claudication causes
    pain on spinal flexion,
    and comes from central
    locomotor stenosis..."

    other things too i
    knew, that i would have
    learned harder
    had i thought they
    could save you,


    but some nights
    i miss those mornings,
    sunless & taped
    into narrow tubing
    with adhesive
    that still pulls,
    even now.


    I count twenty chocolate
    muscle milk containers in the refrigerator
    and six peach yogurts
    he eats only peach not for flavor but to be consistent
    by his television chair are thirty-six cups
    of chocolate and vanilla snack-pack puddings in a box
    the remote has a five foot streamer of yellow caution tape
    so the grandchildren will not lose it when they visit

    Dad thinks he is dying and wants to hand out his guns
    to his three kids the next get-together
    he had an idea this morning
    each kid will write down his pick one at a time
    and mom will keep the list
    so if he dies first she can sell them
    but if she dies first the kids can have the guns

    This is the way my father thinks
    he is a problem solver
    I tell him it’s a good idea
    because that is what he wants to hear
    and at seventy-five positive reinforcement is kind
    even though I have no use of a gun
    the blood on my hands needs
    just a scalpel blade and rongeurs

    I drove down on my triumph
    knowing if I waited til morn
    the thought of a back and forth trip
    would be daunting
    best to separate the two
    we watch the Olympics
    I only wanted to see the bolting Bolt
    my mom and I argue as we always do
    heated but inconsequential
    we know our biases

    And then the retired retire before midnight
    so I can read and write
    they sleep in separate bedrooms and that is fine
    I sleep in different addresses
    I notice the change as I wander their place
    Dad’s medicines are on his sink counter
    mineral oil, preparation H, butt butter or was it powder
    he also has a lovely post-it note on his mirror “shave”
    he tried to explain it
    but too cute to comprehend
    I look for toothpaste
    in my dentured Mom’s bathroom
    and find orange aquafresh in the back of the left drawer
    next to an opened jar of vasoline
    didn’t aquafresh used to be blue green and white?

    Outside there is a breeze and what sounds like
    the rumbling of trash at regular intervals
    maybe it is the water Dad turned on at ten thirty
    to water his lawn
    the only other sound is mouse scratching as I write
    the crickets in my ear
    and my Grandfather’s clock tic-tocing way
    he got it from a torn down school he janitored
    Dad wants me to have it as I am school worn

    I am surrounded by his notes
    and his gizmos
    his prized mountain sheep head
    stares down at me
    the horns curled above the sixty inch television
    I unroll a sleeping bag and fall into slumber

    I awake in the morning at six
    Dad has risen at four thirty
    to shut off the sprinkler
    his breakfast is the peach yogurt
    Mom and I dine on ham eggs and toast
    the drive to radiation is only fifteen minutes
    we talk to a couple and talk of a past cruise
    to hike the great wall and to revisit Vietnam
    this time not as a soldier
    the man just started and also has chemo and diarrhea
    my dad is lucky
    his chances are over ninety-five percent cure

    He comes out the last day of radiation
    wearing his radiation mask
    it looks medieval and white
    made to keep him firmly not moving
    there is an ugly nurse
    the hospital uses to get us out the door
    who answers dad’s questions
    about whether to gargle the spray
    that numbs his throat of pain
    or whether to spray only the back of his throat
    he wants to know when his voice will come back
    he only whispers now as talking makes him cough
    he asks when he can drink a beer
    and forgets to ask about drinking soda

    The moments of life are precious
    sweet small and packaged
    like a box of chocolate and vanilla
    snack-pack pudding

  7. Christa M. Helms

    Can pushing buttons lead to murder?

    In the 1950s
    a scientist implanted an electrode
    into the brain of a depressed patient
    then he gave her a button
    she pushed the button
    stimulating axons
    traversing the midbrain to the striatum
    the medial forebrain bundle

    she is bald
    small, quiet, a wry smile
    clinically improved
    pushing the button she is still
    what do you feel?
    nice, she pats her womb
    I feel it down here too - sexual

    I was not sick
    I did not have surgery
    but I found my button
    I called my doctor and said
    what the hell
    this is bad contraception
    I can’t sleep
    my brain stem is one fire
    and my uterus
    my pituitary gland just burst
    I stopped the pills
    my button did not stop working

    a gruff milky warm face
    shuffling bird song
    pushed it intermittently
    for six months

    surprise after almost six years
    of stir-less acclimation
    to habit and temperament
    in brief daily interactions
    sometimes under duress

    at first, I tried to dismantle the button
    the button jammed
    the ape
    kneeling before me, theatric
    a pseudo-confession, “Will you marry me?”
    I thought
    about his own button being pushed

    two crows bobbed
    tapped synchronous beaks
    a tiny bird drank by the pond
    its partner vigilant
    they alternated
    then flew off together

    everybody has a button
    we bump into each other’s
    we evolve by
    cooperative pushing

    the social contract of marriage
    does not punish the pushing of multiple
    buttons simultaneously
    but it does punish copulation
    with non-contractual button pushers

    this explains
    prolonged intermittent cooperative
    button pushing
    a long-derived strategy to
    maintain contact with the source

    the reward never came
    we disconnected
    after months of
    anticipatory euphoria, thwarted
    sickening depression

    if we had not escaped
    if we had not disconnected the buttons

    how else does it happen

  8. Your Spleen

    "I’ll be late," to my office, "Nick needs help
    with his spleen." Your spleen fills half
    the patient’s belly. Massive splenomegaly,
    ready to burst through the seam of your incision
    like an old inner tube, or the bladder of a football.
    Yes, a football, giant and glistening, like the one you caught
    that foggy, Friday morning after Thanksgiving.
    Everyone cheered, because no one else could see it
    until it was in your hands. Now lifting your hands, you reach for a towel,
    belly pools with blue-purple blood. Assistant calls for a retractor,
    a hefty, metal question mark, then for suction, now clogged.
    "I can’t see, can’t see a thing. Back bleeding, I’m sure. I think."

    "Did you get the hilum, Nick?"

    "Yes, I’ll show you in a minute. Maria! I need you,
    here. Right…here." You grab my wrist, guide my hands
    over yours. Our fingers slide like eels in the depths.
    I’m holding back his guts.
    You’re tying off the vessels. You reach around your spleen and deliver
    all 24 pounds, won’t even fit in the bucket.
    Everyone cheers, because no one else could see it
    until it was in your hands.

  9. Two haiku:

    Child's wonder--gazing
    At rainbows in a dirty
    Puddle. Youth returns.

    10 Dec., 2012

    Walking through the marsh
    After work, year after year.
    The boardwalk sinking

    10 Dec., 2012