Scoundrel Time

Winner, Editors’ Choice Award in Poetry: Hold

In celebration of Scoundrel Time’s second anniversary, our editorial team is excited to announce the winners of our second annual Editors’ Choice Awards. Sally Ball’s “Hold” is the award-winner in poetry.

Here is what Poetry Editor Daisy Fried says about “Hold”: 

Sally Ball’s “Hold” is a rigorous, gorgeous, personal and political examination of climate change. Part prayer, part song, part analysis, part fragments of narrative, the poem has been made into a limited-edition artist’s book by the Czech artist Jan Vičar. For more information,



Where, where are the tears of the world?
—Roethke, “The Lost Son”


I am reading this book about human
consumption, how our sense—
and headlong pursuit—of thriving
depend, in institutional,
ineradicable ways, on resource
depletion. To the point not yet zero,
the same as zero: everything dies.

My friend has long deftly compared
21st Century America to late Rome, empires
in decline, but this is different,
and larger. Self-destruction

not only of one mode of social living
but of all life, all the earthly conditions
that make us possible
as we are. The bees as they are,
the wheat.

To thrive now
means actually to wreck
the future for everyone else.

Both my employer, a university,
and my children’s school
(devoted as they both are to the common good,
or commonwealth—)
run “Thrive” campaigns:
do you feel the at-odds missional tension?
To help students,
to advance administrators’ careers…

Success always defined in terms of surpassing,
because the proof of my value
is It’s better than yours

To thrive is to harm, I am reading and learning,
our impulse
to optimize, flourish—is why we will die.

“Buy it”

Wait, the Midwest was right all these years?
Those leftbehind flownover towns?



Yes, I’ll go with the Roman numerals,



We could consider analogous forms
of thriving-as-deathgrasp:

like when we set a low goal
so surpassing comes easy

(elementary math standards,
carbon emissions caps);

or when we value
measurable things
not just more than
but in lieu of
the im- (or less)
measurable ones,

utility above all
but “utility” defined
down to a competitive pith—

(STEM vs. Humanities
for example; and
growth vs. breath).

Effective corruption
such as rules over us
depends on a bait
and a switch: here is your
traditional marriage,
so you don’t notice
your nontraditional

Pay no attention to—

—a form of corruption occurs
when the speaker plays
to confirmation bias.

Who’s listening, who’s supposed
to be listening?

Did you hear: “the critics,” like Chekhov’s letter to Leontyev?

Or “…the man behind the curtain”?

Empty barrels rattling in our ears.



How do we imagine
“resource depletion”:
the words go slack,
as dead as the grass.



Skinny polar bear wakes up

two months early;

attics full of dead bats;

robber-baronesque mansions

immersed (like Atlantis,

water swirling through paneless

second-story windows, third-);

more houses shattered by storms,

just a row of brick chimneys,

and that one canted closet sheared

off of the rest of the house

still full of recyclables, aprons on hooks;

empty acre after acre of sand.


Syrian infants

and med students

en route, unsurviving.

Others who drowned in the hold.


Those oxen in Ghana

who graze fields heaped

with motherboards

and seeping chip chemicals:

an occasional fire

licks up from the ground….


Have you seen

the seabird stomach


To look, you’ll need the URL.

To look, you’ll ignite the systems

of power and, you know,

commit resource


like one of the




In fact, if I show you this poem
(by email, a draft,
or later, in a magazine, a
thin little book—),
the poem that cannot save
a bird
will contribute to killing them,

I saw two
great blue herons

and all day today
I’ve wanted to tell you.



An old insult comes true:
not worth the paper it’s



The thing is,
so much of the world
stays beautiful.


That fabulous grey wingspan
mirrored in riversheen, flying low
over the water that grooves
between the apparently
endless birches….
Now and then he releases a predatory (or defensive—) cry.

Farmed birches with golden leaves,
geometrically exquisitely aligned.

So many places cancel
our sense of the dire. Poetry

is one of the ways to love the world,
says Dobyns.

Cloister me—

Cloister me forward.



Look at me:
calling out for protection
i.e., failing to protect—

Abdication the undoing sin
of our time
(all time, this time).
How do we stop
being quick to forget?



The joy that comes from the heron,
and awe and gratitude,

they also came when I found that glowing secret
lake of violets
filling an indent of New Hampshire hills,

they come when the ocean
furls and flickers in a pink stripe of dawn,

and they come too when the moon leans forward
over the mountain, huge, like an award
for being in love—



love too!—these ardors
we take mostly
as reassurance,

proof that all will be well.

My book says doom

is too large an idea, our helplessness too large.

We can’t embrace a solution that renounces
the only life we know.

And yes ardor

is a high

we still

get to feel.

You might decide

to find yours,

and breathe it,

and not

tell a soul.



I don’t mean ardor will save us, ka-ching!
only it’s better than no ardor,
and better than our other hunger

(to accuse).

Worm, be with me. This is my hard time.

Does the book

mean to say

only art

(art and thought)

can hold sway?

Sway as in solace?

Or solve?



Norway takes refugees only on wheels,
not on foot. And kindly Norwegians
may not bring people across in their cars.
You must not walk.
But you can come on a bike.

So the Russian border is heaped with bikes of all sizes:
neighbors who want the migrants gone
bring them to the one side,
then riders abandon them on the other. Safely in.

Cold road,
lined with Stels.



This is the world.
And we have to choose
what to do while it’s ours—whatever level of doom
you accept or deny.

Swim in the Seine? Okay, east or west
of Nogent and its nuclear plant,
which way the current, the wind?

Those stone steps leading down to the water,

meet me there.






Image by: Jan Vicar

Bio: Jan Vicar is a Czech artist whose work is in collections across Europe and internationally, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. In June 2018, the images from HOLD will be exhibited in Japan, and in October 2018, the book will be available in the US.