Breaking Free Writing Contest Winner

David Lee Garrison
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
May 11, 2019

Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that David Lee Garrison has won the open category of our writing contest on the theme of BREAKING FREE with "Putting Killers Away".

Dr. David Lee Garrison (Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University) taught Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas in 1978-79, and then at Wright State University until his retirement in 2009. He and his wife, Suzanne Kelly-Garrison, have residences in Oakwood, Ohio, and in Prairie Village, dividing their time between the two cities. Almost all of Suzanne’s family lives in Kansas; David has a cousin in Grandview, MO, and his grandparents were from Burden, Kansas. For her novel, Stolen Child, Suzanne was a winner of the Thorpe Menn Prize for Literary Excellence given by the Kansas City Public Library and the Kansas City chapter of the American Association of University Women in 2014.

David’s work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies, and two poems from his book Sweeping the Cemetery were read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. The title poem from his Playing Bach in the DC Metro was featured by Poet Laureate Ted Kooser on his website American Life in Poetry and read on the BBC in London. David won the Paul Laurence Dunbar Poetry Prize in 2009 and was named Ohio Poet of the Year in 2014. His most recent book is Carpeing the Diem: Poems about High School (Dos Madres Press).

Putting Killers Away             

Strange cravings
for things I never liked before,
especially Coca-Cola.
I savor every swallow
of those sugary bubbles
that briefly take away
the leaden taste
of chemotherapy.

Of all its indignities—
nausea, mouth sores, hair loss—
perhaps the most annoying
is a bad joke: hiccups. 
Every few minutes all day
my throat, my chest,   
my whole upper body
gurgles and shudders. 

When I can’t sleep,
I watch crime shows
and revel in the action
of cops putting killers away.
Many mornings I wake up
in a sweat from neon dreams  
where I’ve been patrolling
city streets all night.

I go into a panic
when a Hollywood mogul dies
of the same cancer I have
and the newspaper describes it
as a deadly ivy that spreads
in lymphatic nodes
and vessels, can’t be cut out,
and keeps coming back.

I am not alone
but the battle is lonely.
When I start winning,
I whisper to the unwanted cells
in my body, promising
those tiny assassins—in an ecstasy
of revenge—that the poison
will kill them, not me.

The selection committee chose "Putting Killers Away" for how it honors the theme of Breaking Free and aptly describes what is an all-too-common experience for those with cancer. We find it to be wonderfully spare yet powerfully evocative with tangible and beautifully layered, multiple meanings of "killers".

Reviewed by Helen H.
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