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• 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical •

Winners & Finalists 2016

Winners & Finalists for 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical

First Place: “Michigan Sugar Beet Harvest, 1944” by Mary Buchinger
Second Place: “Your Bonnet” by Raymond Luczak
Third Place: “Salt” by Holly M. Wendt
Fourth Place: “The Search for John Doe No. 2” by Rodney Wilhite
Fifth Place: “The Death & Birth of Jesse James on April 3, 1882” by GennaRose Nethercott
Sixth Place: “I Meet Geronimo” by Charles Bane, Jr.
Seventh Place: “Lodger in the Ripper’s Room” by John Paul Davies
Eighth Place: “Ernest Hemingway and Hugh Casey, the Artist and the Ballplayer” by Alan Catlin
Ninth Place: “That the true owner may have it again” by Holly M. Wendt
Tenth Place: “Out of the dust, light and power” by Yasmin Khan Murgai
Eleventh Place: “Queen of the Mist” by Cynthia Anderson
Twelfth Place: “Emerald Beauties” by Jon Sindell

2016 Charter Oak Award Judges

Georgia Bellas is a writer, artist, and filmmaker living in Somerville, Massachusetts. She received her A.B. cum laude from Harvard University, was on the 2015 Somerville Arts Council Film/Video Grants Panel, and is the creator and host of Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon, a weekly Internet radio show, and the former Fiction and Fiction Features Editor of Atticus Review. Her work has appeared in matchbook, Cheap Pop, People Holding, WhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere. In 2014, she was included in Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net Anthology, and she received a 2015 Best Talk Radio Show Award from Boston Free Radio. Other honors include a Pushcart Prize nomination, and a Best Small Fictions Prize nomination. Find her on Twitter at @MrBearStumpy, and find her podcast at secretlives.podbean.com.

Schuler Benson has had fiction and poetry appear in The Idle Class, Kudzu Review, The Pinch, Little Fiction, Hobart, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Best of the Net Award, a Million Writers Award, and three Pushcart Prizes. He completed his undergraduate studies at University of Arkansas and received his MA from Coastal Carolina University. His debut collection of stories, The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide, was published by Alternating Current Press in 2014. You can find him on Twitter at @schulerbenson.

Steve Edwards is a 2014 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow and author of the memoir Breaking into the Backcountry. His fiction and nonfiction can be found in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, Orion Magazine, and elsewhere. He holds a PhD in English Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MFA in Fiction from Purdue University. He lives with his wife and son in Massachusetts, where he teaches writing at Fitchburg State University. He can be found on Twitter at @The_Big_Quiet.

2016 First Place Winner: “Michigan Sugar Beet Harvest, 1944” by Mary Buchinger

Michigan Sugar Beet Harvest, 1944

November ninth,
four inches fresh snow—I’ll never forget
the white against the black.
It was a bad fall, awful late for harvesting.
Things were tense,
the beets, black, rotting,
then the snow.

They kept the men at the fairgrounds,
next to the sugar factory, barbed wire all around.
Army truck drove up our long lane at home,
twenty-five P.O.W.s piled out and one puny U.S. soldier
holding a little pistol. He didn’t speak a word of German,
shivered in his thin wool duffel.

The old soldiers, family men in their 40s and 50s,
talked with Dad. Different dialects, but they understood
each other, told where they were from, what they did
before the war. The young ones, just a couple years older
than me, were mean, high and mighty—Nazis,
wouldn’t look at us, wouldn’t say a word.

My mother fixed potatoes and sauerkraut,
huge chunks of homemade sausage.
They could’ve made trouble for us—
it was late to get those beets in.
There were two brothers down the road, the Weisses—
one fed the men well and got good work;
the other, just a bucket of warm water,
always regretted it.

Those beets had to get to the factory.
Already lifted, winnowed into rows,
they had to be knocked together hard, by hand, to get the dirt off,
then each one topped with a topper—sharp, like a machete.

I was seventeen, worked beside them; snow falling on us all.

Mary Buchinger is the author of two collections of poetry, Aerialist and Roomful of Sparrows. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, Gargoyle, Nimrod, Salamander, Slice Magazine, The Cortland Review, The Massachusetts Review, as well as in journals in Canada, England, Ireland, France, The Netherlands, and elsewhere. She was invited to read at the Library of Congress and in The Netherlands, and received the Daniel Varoujan and Firman Houghton Awards, multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations, a Norton Island Residency, and the Charter Oak Award for Best Historical. Originally from Michigan, where she grew up on a small family farm, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and earned a doctorate in applied linguistics from Boston University. Currently, Mary is Co-President of the New England Poetry Club and Professor of English and Communication Studies at MCPHS University in Boston, Massachusetts; she lives in Cambridge with her husband, two sons, dog and two cats. You can find her at her website.

2016 Second Place Winner: “Your Bonnet” by Raymond Luczak

Your Bonnet

after Fanny Hooe, 1827-1882


Up north the wind was your best friend,
and he never stayed around for long,
certainly never on Keweenaw Peninsula.
He whispered all sorts of things
you knew you shouldn’t be thinking,
but there you listened, hesitating,
knowing how your sister, Richardette,
had warned you about lonely soldiers
daring to look into your eyes.
Those days and nights of ache
had been sticky like spring mud
that grazed the hem of your dress
when you bent down to ladle up
a cup of water from the lake.
Water wasn’t enough to slake your thirst.

No one knew how much fate you’d drink,
but at seventeen, you’d been long used
to fantasies of social balls and gossip
twittering behind fluttering fans.
Oh, how no one knew. You were tired
of the loneliness swirling icy drafts
around the fingertip of Keweenaw,
stiffer than your shoulders from butter churning.
You knew you weren’t cut out for this life.

So when that stranger touched your hand,
his eyes full of what didn’t need translation,
you knew never to say another word.
Your body was completely on fire.
You couldn’t believe how a kiss could
shudder, exploding spasm after another.
You were soaking wet! Birds snickered
as you took off your bonnet and shook your hair
loose. The wind giggled at you.

Most of this is fiction. No one may ever know,
but I’ll always believe in the truth of my lies.


No one knows how those stories about you
started, probably not long after you’d gone.
Someone must’ve forgotten that you’d left
after a year. You’d gone back to Virginia
and waited another four years to marry.

Whoever thought you’d left behind
your bonnet had a masterstroke moment.
He must’ve known his neighbors would suspect
a redface man preying upon you,
or maybe wonder if you’d crossed the road
over to the choppy waves of Lake Superior
into the undersea world of suicides
whose dark blood turned into algae
that never came clean off the rocks
no matter how many times the waves scrubbed
them on the hottest summer day. He had to know
how dreary and long their lives were:
they would whisper and fabricate
questions best unasked in front of children
who were too young to understand
the mysterious workings between thighs,
what went on between men and women.

In the wrong hands of history,
fabrication becomes truth.


Facts say that you visited Fort Wilkins
at the northernmost tip of Keweenaw
during its first occupation. Your older sister
was married to First Lt. Daniel Ruggles,
who, twenty years later, would be the last Confederate
that John Wilkes Booth saw right before he died.

Facts say that you lived at Fort Wilkins
for only one year before you married Chester B. White
four years later and birthed three children.
He died at the Benicia Barracks near San Francisco.
You applied for a widow’s pension but were denied.

Facts say that you lobbied for the next nine years
until Congress awarded you a monthly pension of $20.
By then you’d moved back to Fredericksburg, Virginia.
You died of cancer fifteen years later.
Fort Wilkins has a copy of your death certificate,
the final inoculation against those stories.

Facts say that in 1844, officers of Fort Wilkins
named all of the nearby inland lakes after their wives:
Lake Manganese used to be Lake Martha,
and Lake North used to be Lake Lily.
But no one’s changed the name of Lake Fanny Hooe,
the largest lake next to the fort. What an honor.

Yet facts do not record whether you ached for marriage,
or how you must’ve withstood their loneliness.


When I was ten, I camped off the shore
of the lake where you allegedly vanished.
Inside Fort Wilkins’ main building,
my teacher and her husband smiled
at each other as I wandered
among the counter of plaques
detailing the various outcomes
you might’ve suffered. No one knew then.

Afterward, I trailed behind my teacher,
a tentative fawn with his doe,
through the mottle of birch
flickering shards of white bouncing
off the lake’s trampoline.

I wondered if she, too, would disappear.
I don’t remember falling asleep in the tent,
but the shock of finding her still there,
scenting a waft of coffee off a small campfire,
was a relief. As it turned out,
I was the one who would disappear.


Who started all these stories about you,
and why? You hadn’t sneaked out at night.
Some thought you had a secret lover and eloped.
Others thought you drowned in your lake.
A few thought a bear mauled you to pieces.
I still remember all these imaginary outcomes
as I imagine my own, years later.


Fort Wilkins is now a state park
where tourists idle among the buildings.
Snapping pictures with digital cameras
has become a thoughtless art,
a far journey’s call from the days
when you had to sit still for years
trying not to blink at the cataracted lens,
searing a steely-eyed impatience
onto the daguerreotype plate.
But you weren’t important enough to have
your picture saved for eternity.

Please let me call your name
so you can disappear again, this time for real,
leaving your bonnet in my hands
with that blinding shimmer of sun
hiding your shadow blending
into the woods, never to be called back
except on the peripheral vision
of my memory. I am
still waiting, standing guard right here
on these shores where I’ve never left.

Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of 19 books. His most recent titles include The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My Lips and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology. His next book, The Kinda Fella I Am: Stories, will come out in the fall of 2017. His work has been nominated seven times for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and online at raymondluczak.com.

2016 Third Place Winner: “Salt” by Holly M. Wendt


Archibald Macphederia from Cadiz, who has brought with him a Lyoness of four Months old, it generally eats nothing but fresh meat, and has such a powerful charm over some Creatures, viz Fowles, Catts &c. of which daily experiments are made, that no sooner does she lay her paws upon them, altho’ without any pressure at first, that they instantly fall into such a surprizing terror, that they are not observed to make the least noise, struggle, or resis-tance, but patiently submit unto her merciless Cruelty.
—From Boston News-Letter, July 11, 1715

She knows the man before her has never stood on any savannah. There is no grass
              scent on his legs, and the sun’s heat refracts wrongly from his back. Cloth dissipates
what fur radiates. She turns circles in her cage and remembers how she has always hated
              the way it splits her sight. She remembers that once it fit her better, for her tail
lately flickers through no matter where she curls herself. It knew that much freedom. She hates
              her tail, too. If it will not stretch behind her as she runs—and when will she run again?—
it only takes up room. Though she anticipates the pain, she bites it anyway. She will not stop.
              The feeling is the same when a hand tries to touch her ears: bites, then buffets. The pain
washes down like monsoon’s breath. She does not remember rain soaking in against her spine.

Macphederia is no more from Cadiz than the she-cub he encounters there, as small
              as a puppy and the color of sand. She strikes the cage bars and brantles in loathing,
but when he stands beside her and talks to the man who brought her here, one sharp-clawed paw
              bats again and again his belt’s dangling tail. Macphederia remembers the friend dragging
the leather through his hands time and again, a boyish tic, his hands musician-fine.
              The friend is at rest in a sailcloth tomb, dead of a fever before they reached any port.
In Cadiz, Macphederia drinks coffee and his tongue is too numbed with sorrow to taste
              that the milk is bad. For two days, he is sick, but on the third, he understands he is not
sick enough. He must go on, or he must stay, or he must go home. He cinches the belt tighter.

The man smells of soured milk and fear and she knows both smells because they have tried
              to feed her one and she learned the other from bloody rakes in their skin. His hand hangs
beside the belt. Flesh is only newest leather and both can be hooked and drawn. She licks
              and finds salt in the sweating palm. She would bite, but the teeth cannot savor. Hand-
shadow covers her ears and she must back away before the strike but salt is something
              she remembers before being, something in her bones, something not in the ready-
slaughtered meat she is given. She watches birds and longs for leaping, for the lap of red
              pooling. The touch on her ears is like the pressure of a tongue, clean and firm
though the scent is wrong. She will rub it away in a moment, but for now, she licks.

Macphederia never reaches Matadi or the winding Congo and never the Kasai. Macphederia
              buys a lion cub with his friend’s money, spends down his own on pork and chicken and
sherry. She eats, he drinks, and the room itself is all the cage she has. She presses her claws
              against his thigh, affection and danger at once. Macphederia misses his friend and thinks
that at least this would be an interesting way to die: a lioness is not grief, a pool of blood and
              dripping teeth is not the same as failure. But her paws are only remembering a mother’s
milk, and the meat she eats needs no chasing. He brings home a young duck, still waddling.
              It only takes an instant: the duck sees death and does not move. The lioness remembers
all of herself. He must not look away from the future when the mirror is held up.

The meat is better but more puzzling. Soon, there are more men who crowd near while a
              pigeon or piglet is set before her. Hunger and want and boredom replace fear. The
animals of men don’t know how to run. Even songbird wings do nothing save catch in her teeth,
              splinter into bones she cares not for. Once, they place a cat before her, orange and ragged
and smelling of air and sun-warm stone. The cat she kills and will not eat, and when someone
              opens the door, she runs toward the soft draught that whispers in. She’s beaten by several
hands, returned to the cage she does not fit. The man no longer touches her ears, but he sits,
              watches, then eases free the latch, some low, tuneless song in his throat, a vibration like
long-past herds, a thrumming hollow into which she presses one paw and feels the world go still.

Holly M. Wendt is an assistant professor of English at Lebanon Valley College, where she directs the college’s visiting writers’ series, “Writing: A Life,” and teaches creative writing, medieval studies, and sports literature courses. Her writing has appeared in Barrelhouse, Gulf Stream, Memorious, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and she has received fellowships from the Jentel Foundation and the American Antiquarian Society. She is an editor for The Classical and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus’ “Short Relief” column. Holly can be found on Twitter and at her website.

Charter Oak Award Medallion Designers

Special thanks and acknowledgment to Devin Byrnes and SuA Kang of Hardly Square, for their creativity in designing our annual medallion imprint. Hardly Square is a strategy-, branding-, and design-based boutique located in Baltimore, Maryland, that specializes in graphic design, web design, and eLearning courses. Their invaluable design expertise has made our annual awards come to life. Learn more about our medallion designers.

Transparency for 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical

Judging spreadsheets and final reports will be updated here once the winner is announced.