Dudley Randall poetry winners named

Four winners have been honored in the fiftieth annual Dudley Randall poetry contest, sponsored by Detroit Mercy’s English department.

Professor Mary-Catherine Harrison said the competition drew its most entries in recent memory.

Mary Elizabeth Johnson, an English major, won first place for her poem “a shoplifter in Amity, New York gets caught on purpose.”

Second-place honors went to Jency Shaji, a biology major and literature minor, for “Citizen.”

Third place brought a tie between Dante Lamb, a communications major and creative writing minor, and Savannah Sloan, a criminal justice major and literature and psychology minor.

All four poems are published here:


“a shoplifter in amity, new york gets caught on purpose”

By Mary Elizabeth Johnson

it’s 1975 and it’s so easy to pluck
a vial of nail polish from the shelves of the corner shop.
the owner had a tv by the cash register playing the local news: they think they finally got the shark that killed the naked girl, the little boy on the floatie, and the black dog.
the shoplifter sees chief brody’s nose,
sharp and sunburnt, sweat slipping
underneath the weight of his wire-rimmed glasses.
he says he thinks the fight is finally over.
summer has closed its jaws
and people don’t have to be scared of the water anymore. the shoplifter falls in love.
so she picks up a can of bud light, looks around (something only an amateur would do)
and puts it in her purse. she picks up another and drops it. she halfheartedly rushes to the doors and gets caught
as easy as that first shark, the red herring.
chief brody shows up and looks into her eyes,
all stern-like. she wonders if he’ll sing her a sea shanty.
she twirls her hair, wants to be like the dead naked girl,
like ophelia, wants to be caught, drunk,
in the heat of the night. but she’s not even the boy or the dog, she’s the one with the gills.
movies will tell lies about her
and hunt her down until her kind is endangered,
not knowing that she only took the nail polish
because she wanted to look pretty when the girl-killer came along.



(Inspired by Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen”)

By Jency Shaji

The words out of your mouth and the fake smile on your face have no regard for the fear in my mind.

With skin like that and a name that can’t be pronounced, you should make up for it. Clothes must be American. Hair must be American. Accent must be American.

But am I not American? Not according to the color of my skin. Is it not the place of my birth?

I know the difference now:

I ate chicken biriyani at school once—                                a girl told me I smelled like it and looked like it too.

I was helping my mom with groceries—                              an old man pushed his cart in front of mine, condemning me for not speaking English.

I attend a class with all white students—                            they don’t see their privilege.

When I’m on the phone with my dad—                               a boy asks me if I speak Indian or Hindu.

TSA checks me for the second time—                               my hair could be hiding something.

I tell the class I am Indian—                                               Are you Cherokee or Navajo?

I’m in my churidar, walking with my husband—                 Were you actually in love or was it arranged?

                                                      I get stopped every time I go on a plane—               

                                                      when I ask why,

                                                                                           they look at my eyes but stare at my brown face.



“I am in the graveyard across the street from the McDonald’s”

By Savannah Sloan

I am in the graveyard across the street from the McDonald’s

I went to every Thursday to grab a chocolate shake

I could dip my fries in. In a sea of navies, blacks, and grays,

my friends and family mourn, mingling laughter with tears.

No two handle it the same, but each one places a white daisy

on the ground in front of the headstone, new beginnings

for all of us. My best friend comes up to me,

or where she thinks I am, to lay a flower down.

Eyes red, not only from crying, she remains the same

and I am dust and dirt and worms. Whole body trembling,

her mother leads her away, holds her close. I could not say with certainty

what brought my mother here, for we never saw eye to eye,

were never cheek to cheek. We did not even speak

after she found out what I had been up to

with the boy who came over on summer afternoons

to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream and watch cartoons,

but she must have felt something, even though I had lost God

and she had lost me. She prays, asking Him to forgive me,

begging forgiveness for herself

for raising a wicked little girl—a sinner. I am next to her

reaching out with hands that touch nothing,

calling out with a voice I do not have

and for whom or what I do not know.


“Moments of Monachopsis”

By Dante Lamb

If you want a sound: It is your name uttered


By someone you don’t know

The name new in their mouth

They play with the pronunciation

Like prey

Or say it like a mantra

Hyperaware of the lip movements made

Soon growing bored of it

Because it sounds weird

And they will ask you anew

Next time anyways.

If you want a smell: Take the hardened air of autumn

Fill it with an apple orchard

Post season

When the fumes of candy sickness waft through the gnarled branches

All of this


As you pass by in a car filled

Too fast with body heat

Windows now down

Tumbling air

Whisking away the traces.

If you want a taste: The bitter of an unwashed English cucumber

Will coat your mouth

And make your chewing


It will not be driven away by the first wash

of barely cool sink water

Instead it will make your breath heavy         

And prompt you to scrape your teeth

Along your tongue.    

If you want a touch: Don’t put lotion on for a month

Wash your hands four times a day

And tell your lover to put on corduroy pants and a velvet shirt

Run only your palms

Over their entirety with your eyes closed

As your fully clothed body


In a confusion of arousal.

If you want a sight: Look into the mirror

After a day where everything

Has gone wrong

Leave one light on in the other room

So the shadows are now heavy and one side of your face looks

Like a charcoal portrait

Stand there for a time alone and watch

The shadows stagnate


In a moment of stillness.