‘Keep Your Distance’ contest winners announced

Eight contributors was selected winners in the Olympic Peninsula Authors’ “Keep Your Distance” writing contest this spring. Prizes for the “for the fun of it” event ran from toilet paper to Kleenex to DVDs, organizers said.

The winners included (by category):

Best Poem Without Rhyme — Jonathon Langdon, “Mask”

I want a mask.

Tell me, which line

shall I stand in?

First Responders,

Healthcare Workers

Cops on the beat,

Truck Drivers

who patiently stack bodies

In refrigerated trucks,


for what,


Has his time finally come?

Please tell me which line?

Which line will cost me

the least of my profits

and none of my principal?

Who should I supplant?

the very old,

the very young,

the very fat,

the very thin,

those I don’t agree with?

Which slippery slope

can I descend

and keep my moral



please tell me,

Which line

shall I stand in?

Best Poem With Rhyme — Dianne Knox, “I Bought You Vine Tomatoes Instead”

She’s the COVID Queen

Number nineteen

Don’t wear no mask

Don’t you ever ask.

Thinks she’s above what’s needed

Can’t mind what everyone else has heeded

Marches to her own drummer

Individualism that couldn’t be dumber

Seeing her at my market, Sunny Farms,

No clue how many she harms

Squeezes every Roma Tomatoe

Without gloves, not even for a Russet Potatoe

Am I being an over-reactor?

Seeing her among veggies with no protector

Breathing onto tonight’s dinner

In my eyes, she’s a true sinner.

When we see a lull

In this time so awful,

If I see her face again,

I will chastise her nonchalance

Condemn her vive la difference.

Most Charming Poem — Terry Moore, “Keep Your Distance”

We sat on the couch in your folks’ parlor

Saturday evening last,

my arm draped around your shoulders,

your head warmly cuddled against my cheek,

your hands holding my free hand.

Your folks had gone to the Elk’s Club spring social

and wouldn’t be home for hours.

Your sister was at a sleepover,

your brother on a camping trip.

“Chances Are” was turned low on the radio.

Ten minutes and two dozen more kisses,

and we were breathing hard.

Thirty minutes and hands were exploring,

faces flushed, and there was moaning.

Zippers were down, and we weren’t sitting anymore.

… then we stopped, in spite of ourselves.

We don’t want a baby , … yet, he said.

We could walk down to the drugstore, she said,

then realized that the blabby clerk that worked there

would tell anyone who would listen

about the Johnson boy and his steady, buying condoms.

We didn’t have sex, but touched each other to climax,

and when we could, again, breathe normally,

we swore love and planned our life after high school.

We enjoyed our hours on the couch, tickled, and joked.

Too soon her parents returned, and I went home,

after a steamy front porch kiss;

not knowing how long it would have to last.

The next day the corona virus broke out,

and for months we’ve each had to stay at home,

keeping our distance, while hormones and viruses rage.

Best Erotic Poem — Judy Duncan, “The Ducks”

do not mask the virus

nor observe social distance

like the rest of us

the hen & drake

continue daily

to copulate

having duck fun

next to the pond

on my lawn

I drink morning coffee

keep my distance

admire their energy

Best Really Sad Memoir — Eric Dieterie, “Solitude, Interrupted”

Alone, and that is the way I like it. A five-minute drive and a ten-minute walk to deliver myself here. No one on the trail, left or right. Tree shrouded, undergrowth blanketed bluff behind me; gray dimpled strait in front. A small sailboat anchored two hundred yards away, sails stowed, deck silent, reflects my attitude.

But I am not alone. Not in that way. Not in the “I can carry on a loud conversation with myself, sing (unlikely), cry (even more unlikely), take off my clothes (tempting)” way. Too much risk of being seen or heard. This is alone, not isolated. Tenuous and transient as a fallen leaf. One step away east or west by a walker or runner from being not alone. One heartbeat from the gaze of a speeding bicyclist. Perhaps already under the eye of someone unseen, looking back at me.

I turn to look east. He does not see me but he knows I am here. Not in this very spot; here, connected by hazy sky and gray water, the geography of his life and my lifetime of longing. After decades of avoidance this is as close as I dare come. He knows that, too, and I count on his stubborn pride to keep him over there; he will never take the first step and knowing this I can sleep at night.

Not alone. I kept my distance and that has been enough to prevent these two manifestations—the shell containing his angry delusions and the shell containing my lost dreams—from colliding, from initiating the physics of annihilation. Not alone, and not just because I know he is out there. He is in here, shambling through my memories, appearing unwanted in my dreams, leering with the knowledge of me he has by simply being him.

Fifty years ago, he might have died. Plenty of others did. Their bodies burned or heat seared their lungs; starved of oxygen, some traveled from sleep to death. Or awake, others jumped to meet finality in the agnostic arms of gravity. But he did not. He clamored and he clung. He resisted the easiest path to peace he had ever been offered. He lived. And obliterated the easiest path to peace I may ever know.

For two hours the morning after the fire, I knew the place he lived in had burned hot as Hell but I didn’t know his fate. I imagined it, lifted by morbid hope. Then the smoke cleared.

His time will come, as it must to all of us. My ego clings to the promise of chronology, assuming his time will come before mine. So that I can finally know the meaning of me without him.


The sailboat has drifted, anchor line slack. A homeless man approaches. I look at him with my stay away face.

Maybe I’ve been here five minutes; maybe fifty years. Hard to say.

Best Scary Monster Story — Samantha Hines, “Keep Your Distance”

I grew up in a family where only two emotional responses are allowed: toxic positivity (for women) and anger (for men). I’ve never been great at performing my gender, so for me I defaulted straight to anger. However, I have just enough of my mother in me that the anger tends to show up as righteous indignation for the underdog in whatever situation I find myself. It’s not a great mix — I end up fighting the power way too much to get anywhere in life. When the Stay Home order was issued, I was between homes and between jobs, living off the last of my savings in a small town on the Pacific Northwest coast. I had plans to go up to friends in Canada but didn’t move fast enough before the border closed. I had a feeling they were more relieved than upset that I couldn’t make it after all. So I decided to socially distance out in the woods and hope that I wouldn’t get asked to move along anytime soon. Maybe this was my chance to write the Great American Novel, I joked to myself, thinking of all the writers that were probably both delighted and terrified to have this gift of time and the societal encouragement to not waste a moment that could be devoted to capitalistic pursuits. I drove around until dusk, stopping at a small camp store in the middle of nowhere to inquire if there might be a place where I could stay for a bit. The proprietor, perhaps thinking of the long-term absence of tourists for the season, cut me a deal and suddenly I was no longer homeless, at least for the next month. I stocked up on supplies and headed to the most remote campsite available. It looked like keeping distant from humankind would be absolutely no problem here. I set up camp and fixed a simple dinner in the dwindling daylight, then read by lantern for a couple hours until a reasonable hour for sleeping arrived.

I snapped awake in the middle of the night, uncertain what had woke me. Then I realized I could hear a soft, small whimpering out in the trees, then a growl considerably closer than I’d like to my tent. The whimpering stopped.

I’d like to say I weighed my options and considered what an appropriate response would be. “I knew it had to be a wounded animal, chased by a bear or a wolf,” future-me might explain at a party. “If I made a loud noise, the attacker might run away,” I’d say to the person on my right. “So I figured I’d try to scare it off and see if I could help whatever was hurt,” I’d declare to the room at large. But I’m not that thoughtful generally, and something happened that made my brain shut off.

“Please … ” whispered a quiet voice in the woods. “Please.”

I heard another growl. It was further away from me than it was a minute ago, but not by much. It was now closer to the quiet voice.

I was out of the tent, shouting, before my brain could engage, I had no idea what, just making as much scary noise as I could, the only thing close to a thought in my head being that I had to fix this, I had to solve it, I had to make the bad thing stop.

Luckily there seemed to be a lack of thinking going on that night in general, and whatever was growling took off like a shot when I appeared on the scene. I took a deep breath to try to keep my heart from exploding and to try to kick start my thinking process. “Hello?” I called out softly. “It’s okay, I want to help…”

“No! Stay away!” the voice whispered.

I reached out instinctively, like the idiot I am. When my fingertips made contact everything went cold and black. Over the sudden roaring in my ears I could hear myself pleading, “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me.” I was 20 years old, holding my dead cat in the veterinarian’s office, weeping. “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me.” I was 27 years old, begging over the phone from a nondescript hotel room somewhere in rural America. “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me.” I was 13 years old, watching my mother back out of the driveway. The pain and the loneliness swallowed me up and I dropped to the ground, clutching my head.

I don’t know how long I laid there, cold and stiff, the only sound my rough breathing, but then I slowly came to awareness of another sound. The growling had returned, and it was getting closer. I heard footsteps crunch on the forest floor, not a person, but a large animal of some sort. I held my breath, my mind frozen with fear.

Something snuffled warm breath over my numb feet. I was too terrified to open my eyes, too terrified to think. Whatever was sniffing me paused, holding still in the now-silent night. We both listened, but only one of us knew what we were listening for. A soft sound edged into my hearing off to the right, almost like a dream. Almost before I had heard it, whatever was looming over me was off like a shot, running into the woods toward whatever had broken the silence. I internally counted to a hundred, then a hundred more, like I did back when I was a kid.

It was magic back then, knowing that if I held still and quiet long enough the monsters would leave me alone. Tonight, I was no longer so sure. But, eventually, I had to move, just like back then. Stiffly, I made my way to my feet. I felt sore all over and cold down to my bones.

At a loss, I got in my truck and started the engine to run the heater a bit. The sound of the engine made me flinch as did the sudden flare of the headlights. I peered out into the darkness, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Everything seemed bland and dull and usual. I started to wonder if I was going crazy. I wondered how I would know if I was crazy, out in the woods all alone. How would this story sound at a party, I wondered idly. Would there ever be parties again to tell stories at.

I decided to stay in the truck with the engine running until the sun came up. I would talk to the guy at the camp store, see if I could get a refund. Either way, I’d cut my losses and go back into civilization and find a place to hole up there. No matter how terrifying the pandemic was, how isolating, we’re all going to die sometime and there’s degrees of dying alone. I’d rather die alone where things used to make some sort of sense, instead of out in the wilderness.

Best Snarky Satire — Lauralee DeLuca, “Current State of Affairs”

The toilet paper rationing was on. The greedy ones who had bought so much at the beginning of the crisis were forbidden to overcharge if they resold or face severe fines. Though who would know? The stores limited people to two rolls per person in the house per week. People lied so much that the stores required proof for all the people they claimed lived under one roof. The people that hadn’t stocked up were rationing the amount they used at home and thinking of alternatives.

Public restrooms had to install vending machines that would give 10 sheets of toilet paper per quarter. The desperate would sometimes empty out the machines. The few brave store clerks still working, wearing gloves and masks, had learned early not to exchange dollars for quarters for anyone. Banks had to stop selling rolls of quarters, using the excuse that they couldn’t send them through the drive through lanes.

Since the virus had taken hold and many businesses were closed for the quarantine, the mills were not making toilet paper anymore. The truckers had been laid off, although who knows why since it is a solitary business anyway, so what was left at the mills was stuck there.

Soon the rationing was down to one roll per household per week. People were freaking out. The creative were coming up with homemade solutions left and right. One could find these on Facebook, Pinterest and other social media sites. Children and those who didn’t know better would try to flush these down the toilet. Soon there were sanitation problems. Plumbers, in low numbers to begin, were in high demand and raised their prices tenfold. Many of them didn’t want to take their chances getting infected so they stayed home as was prudent in these times. The poor tried to fix the problems themselves. It was a mess, literally.

The store selling the bidets was enormously popular suddenly. They ran out of stock within a week. Others were put on a list but who knows when things would get normal again. Besides, there was no one working to install them right now. Those who had them already were lucky.

The people who had GI issues suffered the most. The worst cases got written prescriptions from their doctors to allow them to get more toilet paper than the others. That caused commotions in the stores. Explaining why they could buy more was embarrassing so they would go very early to avoid the crowds.

A few times there were riots over the toilet paper shortage. Mostly online protests, but once, over 50 people gathered, more than then state mandated gathering number, in full hazmat suits with signs blaming the government for the shortages and demanding all elected officials hand over their supply. Everyone assumed they had access to surplus that wasn’t available to the public. The media frenzy ate it up. The online sites and television stations did story after story on toilet paper: its origins, history, usage, statistics, types, brands, movie star usage, theories about the government creating shortages, fear mongering on both sides of the political spectrum. It was one thing the people could agree on, we all need toilet paper!

The virus that started the shortage soon took a back seat to the toilet paper blitz in the news. People started posting online the positive aspects about toilet paper and life in general. Conversely, people posted horrible things denigrating anything and anyone they could while lashing out over this toilet paper crisis. Several religious and political leaders were interviewed, online of course, on their feelings about this issue. Their responses were as wild and varied as the general public. It soothed no one. B-grade movie stars saw this as a chance to get their face out to the public and made outrageous claims about toilet paper usage, history or hoarding. No respectable star would be interviewed for this scandal.

One day the news wasn’t centered about toilet paper; it was back on the virus that had caused all the fuss in the first place. Apparently, while the public was so focused on a simple roll of toilet paper, as well as staying home and away from others, the virus had run its course. No new cases were being found. The death toll was not near as severe as had been expected and those who were recovering claimed the whole episode was not as bad as they thought it would be.

The governor permitted people to return to work in five days. The mills would be up and running, the truckers could bring what stock of toilet paper was still left at the mills to the stores (though it must be noted that the mill workers had plenty of toilet paper throughout this ordeal, one of the few benefits of the job). The shortage would be over soon. People didn’t have to worry any more about the rationing.

Until the next crisis hit.

Best Letter to the Editors — J. Field, “Dear Covid-19”

I have struggled with sadness, grief, fear, anger and disappointment since your appearance. But, I want to congratulate you. As a pandemic you are making quite a name for yourself. Speaking of your name ~ at first you had a flashy name: Corona Virus.

That name confused some people. I saw an interview with a young woman who said: “I’m not afraid of the Corona Virus because I don’t drink Corona Beer, only Bud.”

Some scientists say it is actually SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes you, Covid-19. These scientists also say that you have mutated. Does that mean that we now need to call you Covid-20?

You are a very devious virus. For one, you can spread directly and easily between people in close contact. Yet the symptoms of Covid-19 can be confusing, varying person to person, making it tricky to identify suspected cases. Meanwhile, asymptomatic carriers — up to half of the total number infected (so some scientists say) — can spread the virus unwittingly for weeks, triggering outbreaks wherever they wander.

Since you’re a new virus there is no cure, vaccine, or widespread immunity to you. So, you have run wild thru the world’s human population causing fear, anger, panic, pain, illness, stupidity, and death. The response in the US to you has been first, a statement that you were just the flu masked in an evil costume and would go away soon. Then, with difficulty, social distancing and a modified shelter-in-place has become the response with limited popularity. Now, there is the call to “Save the Economy” and return to normal.

Instead of Social Distancing “Cocooning” is the term some in Ireland have adopted. It is an evocative term that reminds us of an image of the caterpillar’s confinement. Withinb the image is the mystery of metamorphosis. It is also a reminder that solitude and close quarters with the self are a mandatory part of transformation. Cocooning is “what it means to tune our faculty of listening to the heart’s guidance that whispers to us in the cradle of uncertain times, and beckons us toward our own evolution.” (Noirin Ni Riain)

Within all the illness and suffering and grief is there a gift? Is there a gift in disguise? ~ a gift to remind humans of the importance of Belonging and Kindness and Connection ~ a gift to recognize that “Business as Usual” is the source of “Climate Change” and possible extinction ~ a gift to slow down our busy lives and listen to our heart ~ and a gift to recognize the interdependence and fragility of Life.

Having written you this letter, I still don’t like you and doubt that we will ever be friends. So, please keep your distance. But you have helped me to recognize what Br. David was trying to teach me ~ that life is a sacred and fragile gift to be embraced wholeheartedly in the Now.



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