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The 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical

We are pleased to announce the first place winner for The 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical, honoring the independent press’ best writing on themes of historical people, places, events, objects, or ideas. The winner is selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blindly and selects the full list of finalists. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final. The first place winner receives a printed certificate, an honorarium, publication on Alternating Current’s award page, publication on The Spark, printed publication in the forthcoming Footnote: A Literary Journal of History #2 with the selection indicated, and our virtual medallion created by the lovely folks at Hardly Square, for personal and professional use on the author’s websites, blogs, social profiles, and book covers. We proudly present the first place winner:

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 Aerialist (Gold Wake Press, 2015; shortlisted for the May Swenson Poetry Award, the OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Prize, and the Perugia Press Prize) and Roomful of Sparrows, (Finishing Line Press, 2008). Her poems have appeared in AGNI, Booth, Border Crossing, Caesura, Cortland Review, DIAGRAM, Existere (Canada), Fifth Wednesday, New Madrid, Nimrod, PANK, SAND (Germany), Salamander, Silk Road Review, Slice Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, Versal (The Netherlands), and elsewhere. She was invited to read at the Library of Congress, received the Daniel Varoujan and the Firman Houghton Awards from the New England Poetry Club, and has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize. Originally from rural Michigan, Buchinger served in the Peace Corps in Ecuador and holds a doctorate in Applied Linguistics from Boston University. She is Associate Professor of English and Communication Studies at MCPHS University in Boston, Massachusetts.

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