2019 Contest Winner: "The Room Divider"
Diane, remember the room divider
we improvised so we could each have privacy?
A twine between the two halves of the room.
Our bunk bed taken apart—your top bunk
brought to your side of the room and my bunk
brought to mine. We threw a dark blanket
over that twine to serve as the divider.
I remember you standing under the blanket,
in the space between the two folds, smothered
by hot air, and how you knew I knew
that you were there because, thin as you were
by then, the blanket didn't cover your bare feet.
Or was it me inside the divider's folds,
watching your shadow laugh at me? When you died
I tried to burn the blanket, but the fire wouldn't take.
And so I, nightly, moved between the sides,
sleeping in your bed, then mine, until I decided
I needed to settle down. I tried to sleep
in your bed permanently. For a while
that seemed right. Then, I moved to mine.
Rainie Oet is a nonbinary writer and game designer, former Editor-in-Chief at Salt Hill, and the author of three books of poetry: With Porcupine (winner of the Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Competition, 2019), Inside Ball Lightening (SEMO Press, 2020), and Glorious Veils of Diane (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2021). They have an MFA in Poetry from Syracuse University, where they were awarded the Shirley Jackson Prize in Fiction. Read more at rainieoet.com.
Judge Emily Pérez on 2019 Poetry Contest Winner: "The Room Divider"
"There is nothing flashy about 'The Room Divider,' and yet, like the kids hiding between the folds of a blanket hung on twine to divide their bedroom, the unobtrusive heart of this poem haunts its reader. The poem addresses the speaker’s sibling 'Diane,' asking her to remember their old room. A divider is a child’s attempt to attain control and privacy, to manage space, and this poem beautifully enacts those things. Control appears in the lines and language: in five four-line stanzas, plainspoken diction glides across subtle internal rhymes. In an almost-iambic rhythm, the story unfolds. Stanzas are even and orderly. No linguistic or imagistic tricks call attention to themselves; our focus is on the siblings and their attempts to both irritate and connect as they hide from one another beneath the blanket fold, right on the dividing line. We are alerted that something may not be right with Diane, who is 'thin… / by then' but it is not until the penultimate stanza that we learn of Diane’s death. The speaker has kept this private because the true audience—Diane—already knows. Afterwards, the speaker attempts a fire, which 'wouldn’t take.' This is not a poem of flaming rage. Instead, this is a poem of grief and slow recovery. In life, the siblings did not cross into each other’s space, but after Diane is gone, the speaker confesses to a gesture that signals the weight of despair: 'I tried to sleep / in your bed permanently.' Relief does not come quickly, but after a time: 'For a while / that seemed right. Then, I moved to mine.' Quietly, deliberately, this poem shepherds its reader through years, a relationship, life and death, and back to life again."
Emily Pérez is a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and the author of House of Sugar, House of Stone and the chapbooks Made and Unmade and Backyard Migration Route. A CantoMundo fellow, her poems have appeared in journals including SWWIM, Copper Nickel, Poetry, Diode, and Fairy Tale Review. She teaches English and Gender Studies in Denver, where she lives with her husband and sons.