“Confessional” by Lizabeth Yandel is the 2nd place winner of the 2023 Sappho Prize for Women Poets, selected by Guest Judge Evie Shockley. We’re honored to share this poem with you.

“When a poem walks unflinchingly into some of poetry’s most clichéd territory — the world of dreams, say, or the trope of confessionalism — and wields image and syntax in ways that nonetheless grip and surprise me, I am instantly a fan.  This one uses vivid metaphors and repetition to weave its nightmares and their potential (if unreliable) antidotes into a web of emotions I couldn’t escape.” —Evie Shockley, Guest Judge


In childhood nightmares I searched
for a corner to curl into & pray
to god that I would wake. Always

some manner of death was after
me– men with faces I knew, men
with no faces. Once a grinning cowboy

leaned with me against a fence, then
turned red-eyed, pinned me down,
stapled my thighs to the ground

& watched me bleed out in the dirt.
Once, my pastor laid me in his pulpit,
pushed a spoon into my belly, the skin

splaying open like a holy book. Sometimes
I’d play dead; always I ran, eventually. In life,
running was a drug I hid under my tongue

for emergency: the leering eye, the doting eye,
the eye wet with love. A drug can be a medicine
or a death. So can a man. Afternoons, you

rocking on top of me, your thick hair
cradles my fingers like a nest. The chant
of our breath, the church our bodies

make. I hate to say the tight grinding
mouth of panic is there in my chest
even then. Like a good addict, I’ve kept it

secret. But a secret too can be a medicine,
or a death. So, I am building us a corner. Here,
you pray to god in me & I’ll pray to god in you.



Lizabeth Yandel