Features, PoNW Prize & Award Winners

Theodore Roethke Prize 2010

Eric McHenry is the recipient of the Theodore Roethke Prize for poems appearing in the Fall & Winter 2010-2011 (v5.n2) issue of Poetry Northwest.  Read one of the prize-winning poems,“Deathbed Confession,” below, introduced by the author.

The Theodore Roethke Prize is awarded to recognize the best work published in Poetry Northwest each year. There is no application process; only poems published in the magazine are eligible for consideration.  To read the work of last year’s recipient, visit here.  For a list of past winners, visit here.


The man who called himself Dan Cooper — and who came to be known, through a journalist’s error, as D.B. Cooper — probably didn’t survive his jump from the plane. (There was a time when investigators believed that only an expert parachutist would have attempted such a dangerous jump. Now most believe that only an idiot would have.) But if he did survive, I promise you this: nothing infuriates him more than reading about someone’s recently deceased husband or father who with his last breath confessed to being the legendary hijacker. Yet I consider that act — falsely claiming to be an infamous criminal as a final bid for immortality — to be every bit as strange and audacious as jumping out of a 727 at night in dress shoes. (Eric McHenry)

Deathbed Confession

“In 1971 a man calling himself Dan Cooper hijacked
a plane from Portland to Seattle, demanded parachutes
and $200,000 in cash, then jumped into the night with
the money, never to be seen again.”
fbi.gov

So little seemed to be at stake.
The bomb was real; the threat was fake.
Neither was difficult to make.

And I was in my element,
or almost there. Yes, the descent
was cold, but warmer as I went,

and yes it was coal black and raining,
but I had uppers and my training.
I’ve spent my whole life not complaining.

When I could see the woods I wandered
out with the twenties, which I laundered,
safety-deposited, and squandered,

and with the oddest thing — a name
I’d paid for but could never claim,
a private riddle, private fame.

That’s been the hardest part: denial —
remaining of no interest while
the Bureau opened up a file

on every former paratrooper
who in his final morphine stupor
discovered he was D.B. Cooper.

I’m D.B. Cooper. There, I said it.
It’s decent work if you can get it,
but it pays cash. There is no credit,

or blame, or pity in thin air,
and I’ve spent forty winters there.
I’ll take whatever you can spare,

although I don’t suppose the guy
whose last confession is a lie
deserves it any less than I.

Eric McHenry‘s books are Potscrubber Lullabies (Waywiser Press, 2006), which received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Mommy Daddy Evan Sage, a collection of children’s poems with woodcuts by Nicholas Garland, which Waywiser will publish this fall.