Judge's Prize winner Aidan Ryan, contest judge Janet McNally, and Audience Prize winner Khalil Ihsan Nieves.
Judge's Prize winner Aidan Ryan, contest judge Janet McNally, and Audience Prize winner Khalil Ihsan Nieves.

Just Buffalo Members' Contest Winners

by / Mar. 1, 2017 12am EST

The ninth annual Just Buffalo Literary Center Members’ Contest took place last Tuesday, February 21. The winner of the Audience Prize was Khalil Ihsan Nieves; the winner of the Judge’s Prize (chosen this year by Canisius College professor Janet McNally) was Aidan Ryan. Their winning entries are below. The audience also gave honorable mention to Scott Bottoni, Brenna Prather, Rachelle Toarmino, and Lisa Wiley.

“you should be here now (this is Susan’s poem)”
june 11, 2016
kandahar, afghanistan


instead of waiting the six months for our wedding

you should be my prince

who rides through dark forests

across empty plains

goes without sleep

brings me wildflowers

carries my picture under your shirt next to your heart

lifts my veil and kisses me gently

and takes me in his arms so i can cry


cry for the two million orphans

and forget that today

i talked to five widows

and a veteran without legs.


you should be here


not in the six months at our wedding.


if you love me

you would come

right now

you would know

without me even telling you

that i need you


need you

like a heart needs a home

like an orphan needs a mother

or a widow

a husband.


i should not have to be writing to you

you should just know

just know


that i want you



not next week

not even tomorrow

but now


so when i cry

after holding hands with the fifth widow today

i know that you would meet me at our door when i come home

turning my face to meet yours

holding my hands saying

come, rest

you are home

and i am here


and forever


as i begin crying again.



july 5, 2016
bonn, germany


i read your letter each day this week after morning prayers

your words echoing in my heart as i walked home from the mosque.


listen, i have given my clothes to the syrian refugee at the homeless shelter

sold my old car

and bought tickets for my mother, sister and me.


that was when my heart sang

soon i will hear the music in your voice

once again.


i will fly through the night over dark forests 

cross empty plains

go without sleep

bring you wildflowers because 

your picture is under my shirt next to my heart

and on our wedding day i will lift your veil

kiss you gently

take you into my arms

promise to take away all your pain

and we will taste each other’s sweetness as i say 

i love you

and returned as soon as i could.


when i am finally there

i will know

without you even telling me

that, yes

you need me

just as i need you


not next week

not even tomorrow

but now.


you will now longer have to write me 

because i will know

just know


that we have each other


so when you cry

know that each day i will meet you at our door 

turning your face to mine

holding your hands whispering


come, rest

you are home

and i am here


and forever.

Khalil Ihsan Nieves


“At the funeral of an atheist I didn’t know”

I didn’t know June, but her grandchildren

Say we would have felt the same way

About the service, taken issue with the tone

Of the homily, laughed when her nephew said

“Uh-class-tuh-sees” Being that we were —

Or, are? — both, you know, atheist, or

I guess, like, intellectuals? Anyway

Thanks, so much, for coming.


She asks for a burial in Forest Lawn,

Near Millard Fillmore, with an angel

On her obelisk, and I attend

Because I have to (I think): I’m also

Attending the dinner, and considering

A down payment on a plot (my own), but not

But not so near the sewage, cost

Permitting. Most of us miss the doxologies,

Even her children can’t manage

An appropriate “Amen,” (because

She never taught them). But belief

Persists in shapes and senses: the feeling

That an ugly grinning gargoyle gives, or

The Wheel, Cross, and Saltire tilted

The structures that believers built

Like poems of slanted end-rhymes might

Have sunk, and feet, falling, faltered

But generations of agnostics

Have preserved the shapes in outrage, love

Collected in anthologies like breviaries

Or National Registries, lists of placarded

Places where people and events occurred

Believers pay the token fees to keep

Them standing for the rest of us

To pass and think of visiting.


Or in the Potsdam Picture Gallery

Where Carvaggio’s Thomas only doubts

What very few of us believe, we see

The light and shape and feel our fingers

In the wound, and if the fingers were 

In any wound, and not the open side of Christ,

Still it would be an extraordinary painting.


But maybe more importantly belief persists

In flying buttresses, like arms around the shoulders

Of tiny towns in European postcards —

And in all the empty, pleasant-sounding words

From invisible belfries calling out

To invisible dominions and to thrones

Dusty words for dusty volumes

Only priests and unbelievers read — we don’t

Believe but see belief in shiny spots

On copper statues rubbed for luck

And in the faces of the strangers who’ve

Mistaken us for ones they thought they knew.


Not only children fear the dark

Not only poets sin and sing about it

We all feel holier in the presence

Of the halos misty streetlamps make at night

Not only Catholics ask for incense

Not only Masons carry compasses and squares

We pile rocks for cairns and altars

And in the dark we make the motions

Sparking steel to flint and muttering

Words into the kindling, not a prayer

But closer to Hineni, just a breath

That might become a little light.


Belief persists in the little laminated card

For St. Oran of Iona

I’ll leave it in my jacket pocket

After this, forgetting it until the next

Obituary calls the faithful

To reach far back, to the last

Hanger in the closet, for a funeral

Suit with inner pockets, collecting

Other prayer cards just like this

From believers, and from atheists

Until I’m buried in it, maybe here

Near Millard Fillmore, but not

Quite so near the sewage — not for me

But on the chance that it might matter

To someone who believes.

Aidan Ryan