Hal Prize for Poetry, 1st Place, Pareidolia

Judge’s Comments

“This lovely sestina inhabits the form with an unusual naturalness for such a demanding form. A quiet meditation on the nature of fear, ‘Pareidolia’ considers the role of the imagination in both feeding and calming human fear, in a skillful and compelling voice.”

– Leslie Miller

by Steve Tomasko

“We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and … ascribe malice or good will to everything, that hurts or pleases us.” David Hume

When I was young and awake in the night
sometimes I’d see in the corner of my room
a man-like form, an apprehension of rumpled clothes
and chair palely lit by star or moonshine, a menace
implied, a shadowy notion of the animate.
I’d hold my breath, freeze, so as not to betray

myself. I was old enough to feel betrayed
by my emotions, not believing in night-
monsters, but young enough that the animate
and imaginary might blur in the fantasy room
of my mind, freeze me like a rabbit under the menace
of an owl’s stare.     It’s not cloth

shadows that make me shiver these days, but people clothed
in hatred, who can’t help betraying
their own fear of change and see menace
in anyone differentface, color or faith. But at night,
I take stock of my own tenets, try to make room
for my own stains and blemishes. I might animatedly

declare myself better than they; my revulsion not for animate
beings, but their small-minded thoughts, all while wrapped in the cloth
of righteous indignation.       Is there room,
I wonder, for my contradictions to meet, to not betray
me as just one more person who believes they are the knight
in tarnished armor who can fight the world’s menaces?

I’ve been ill lately. One thing or another. The menaces
I battle are my own mid-life fears of mortality, animate
as any dragon; my middle-of-the-night
anxieties. My wife, if awake in the night, thinks about what clothes
she’ll wear the next day. I lie still, eyes closed to not betray
my wakefulness. Colors swirl on my closed lids, in a room

with no monsters sitting in chairs. I breathe slowly, make room
for a vision of our favorite lake. We’re in a gently rocking canoe, no menacing
wind. One of us will point to the deer on the other side of the lake, which betrays
itself, on closer inspection, to be a small stump shaped like a deer animatedly
drinking at water’s edge: an illusion of stick and water, but clothed
in imagination it becomes what we want. That night

in the tent, no menace but the food-rustling chipmunk outside our nylon room.
Loons animate the air with their yodels. We are clothed in each other’s warmth.
Nothing is betrayed by the soft thrush of sound running through the night.  


Steve Tomasko comes to poetry from a background in science, journalism and a life-long love of the written word. Steve has always been fascinated by science and nature and likes to incorporate those interests into his writing.  

Article Comments