Moving Words Adult Competition Poems Archive

Moving Words

Moving Words makes poetry a part of daily life for commuters riding Arlington Transit (ART) by replacing advertising placards inside public buses with poems by local poets. Moving Words was launched in 1999 during National Poetry Month and is sponsored by Arlington Transit and the Arlington Cultural Affairs Division of Arlington Economic Development.

All poems from the previous years are archived on the Arlington County Commuter Services’ website.

2024 Winners

This year’s Moving Words Competition 2024 winning poems were selected from around 300 poems by this year’s judge, Arlington Poet Laureate Courtney LeBlanc, who also has a poem on display. View the poems below and on Arlington’s ART buses from April through September 2024.

Ife Al-Din, Sidnitra Bates, Angie Blake-Moore, Jessica Browne-White, Marc Drexler, Michaela Godding, Jennifer Koiter, Rebecca Leet, Susan Russo

Honorable Mentions
Serena Agusto-Cox, michele baron, Jennifer Blanck, Gina Gil, BV Lawson, Sunayna Pal, Melanie Weldon-Soiset, Jane Shapiro 

Poet Laureate Poem

A Month After My Dad Died, I Dream of Him
By Courtney LeBlanc
Poet Laureate of Arlington, Virginia

He looks just like he did in the pictures we thumbed
during his last week—trim and impossibly young,
his face unlined and his coal black hair still thick.
We are at a party, standing close and talking. We are
somehow the same age, in that magical way of dreams,
though he is still my father and I am still his daughter.
When he reaches out to touch me, I wake, the promise
of his embrace sliding off my skin in the cool morning air.

Winning Poems

Appreciation Uninterrupted
By Ife Al-Din
Washington, DC

Flowers bloom, seeking sun
Standing tall
Summer comes, dogs pant
Rain stalls
Cool down, leaves change
Autumn calls
Precipitation forms, molecules transform
Snow falls
I celebrate each season and its reason
I love it all

AM Chorus
By Sidnitra Bates
District Heights, Maryland

awaken, morning
a harmonious sonnet
the robins agree

Do Me a Favor
By Angie Blake-Moore
Alexandria, Virginia

Can you try and remember
for you, for me, for all of us—

how the stars stream overhead each
and every night, a river of white
pebbles, or smaller, like sand
or silt whether we can see them

or not? They laugh at light
pollution. The twinkling goes on,

regardless, much like that tree
that falls in the lonely forest.

Ordinary Miracles
By Jessica Browne-White
Arlington, Virginia

Go outside, if you can,
And feel the wind on your face

Praise the sun
And the earth beneath your feet

Praise your heartbeat
And the wind of your breath's
Coming and going

The ordinary miracles
Of living

By Marc Drexler
Gaithersburg, Maryland

My daughter is in love for the first time, follows
the same path, I am assured, her mother did,

that so many girls trot down at ten.
I watch her pull her cute new boots on,

shine an apple with her shirt, toss her pony tail
and me a smile as she saunters out the door.

His name is Rex. He has brown eyes—"deep," she sighs,
and is "the tallest, most beautiful one."

We've yet to meet. Today she is just taking him
the apple. Her second riding lesson is tomorrow.

I pray often
By Michaela Godding
Arlington, Virginia

not because
I believe
in god,
but to reiterate
that hope
is a choice.

A Beginner’s Guide to Tasting Antidepressants
By Jennifer Koiter
Washington, DC

Lithium is salty on the tongue.
Benzos are bitter. Tricyclics taste like soap.
You’ll notice, though, when you first start each one,
the same sweet aftertaste. That taste is hope.

Songs Unsung
By Rebecca Leet
Arlington, Virginia

Muted by ninety years,
my great-grandmother
sat on the rusty glider
and braided rags into rugs,
spinning stories
she could not share.

By Susan Russo
Arlington, Virginia

Sink full of dishes
mind full of people I miss
soap 'n thought bubbles

The older I get
the more near-sighted I am
holding each thing close

Honorable Mentions

Subway Shuffle
By Serena Agusto-Cox
Gaithersburg, Maryland

It's a dance you master
because the consequences of stumbling
are dark blue.

Your feet slide and shift,
screeching brakes and rail strain.

Slow, solo dance in a cold cafeteria.

By michele baron
Falls Church, Virginia

cloudy with a chance of crowding
bus bound for the everyday
work or shopping
sometimes tourists
sometimes students 
texting   …   texting   …
and you
my favorite unknown traveler
gets on one stop after
gets off one stop before…

[Ekphrastic haiku inspired by The Starry Night]
By Jennifer Blanck
Arlington, Virginia

light melts into night
dreams howl and growl on the wind
stars shatter the sky

By Gina Gil
Arlington, Virginia

a stillness emerges
crisp air skims the blank slate
most still in cozy slumber
no footprints or dirt beneath
revealed by shovels or sleds
the cover of snow
guards a momentary peace

“And We Bloom”
By BV Lawson
Arlington, Virginia

Forgotten seedling
pokes its head through sidewalk crack
invited by the sun.

Please don't walk on the grass
By Sunayna Pal
Rockville, Maryland

but lie down and stretch out.
Let it caress your soles.

Lay your obligations
gently on the plaid blanket.

Toss your burdens in the stream
for they bear no fruit.

Immerse yourself
in the warm embrace of sunshine.

Stay there
till the butterfly catches you.

By Melanie Weldon-Soiset
Washington, DC

Wispy clouds blanket the sky—
no stargazing tonight.
Spin yarn instead.

Two poems
Jane Shapiro
Annandale, VA

Enough with Victor Frankl

and his search for meaning.
Can’t we acknowledge survival
and also concede that sometimes
horror is as mystifying as beauty.
When we are standing on a ledge,
leaning over a canyon rim,
enveloped in immensity,
so overwhelmed we almost succumb--
we don’t ask why
we keep our footing.

"Enough with Viktor Frankl" was first published in Innisfree Poetry Journal.

Sometimes in the morning

before opening my eyes,
I dream of my tent,
that tiny green dome.
From behind its walls
thin as skin, I hear birds,
leaves, a brush of wind.
I yearn for that waking,
that once tethered dawn when
unzipping the door
I leaned into the world.

"Sometimes in the morning" appears in Let The Wind Push Us Across.

2023 Winners

This year’s Moving Words Competition 2023 winning poems were selected from over 500 poems by this year’s judge, Arlington Poet Laureate Holly Karapetkova, who also has a poem on display. View the poems below and on Arlington’s ART buses from April through September 2023.

David Ebenbach, Rose Avent, Patel Neelam, Marcia N. Lynch, Sarah Robinson, Joyce Winslow, Richard Mott, Diana Tokaji, Rasha Abdulhadi

Winning Poems

Saturday Morning
David Ebenbach
Washington, DC

Despite everything, sun finds the synagogue window.
Despite everything, stretches into the sanctuary—
whitening the white walls, polishing the wood floors,
touching shoulders and hair with warm hands—
finds us gathered from our many daily exiles,
already singing.


Rose Avent
Arlington, VA

Your face is a sewing lesson
patterned with age.

My hand-stitched memory.

You Are Enough
Patel Neelam
Arlington, VA

There is a star out in space,
completely unaware how we are dazzled
by her light,
held together by her own gravity,
a presence to behold.
She is enough—
for simply existing.

The Momistery
Marcia N. Lynch
Arlington, VA

The chalice is a sippie cup,
Goldfish, the broken bread.
“Why are ducks?” the homily,
While being tucked in bed.
Squeaky toys intone the hours,
Yet, this novice will confess,
The years amidst the least of these
When past, will seem most blessed.


Sarah Robinson
Arlington, VA

Everything they told you
made you unlovable,
too much and not enough,
hard to handle or conform—
learn to love those pieces first
and the people who savor you.

The most beautiful parts of you are
the things they told you to change.

A Match Made in Heaven
Joyce Winslow
Bethesda, MD

Do you hear your mother and mine
Playing mahjongg in heaven?
They lay our souls like tiles
Into sacred mosaic.
Every day another piece clicks into place.
They both came as ballast on immigrant ships
So we could fit into golden opportunity.
How they would smile to know
I understand your dreams
In our mother tongue.

The Angel of Lost Luggage
Richard Mott
Arlington, VA

Out on Trieste’s grand piazza, above the lesser
Gods comprising an island of grey statuary
Rises the Angel of Lost Luggage

Guardian of the hero’s journey
Under whose broad wings
The misplaced burdens of our lives

Are reclaimed—somehow lighter as we rejoin
The passing crowd of travelers who, miraculously
Have also found strength to carry on.


Humpty Dumpty
Diana Tokaji
Silver Spring, MD

I am basically broken but
each morning I manufacture
some mix of glue—

be it flour & water
or the trail of a snail
left behind as a treasure—

to repair
or you.


from “Lanternseed”
Rasha Abdulhadi
Washington, DC

You, my friend, grow cactus from seed,
the fine grains of whose thousand
thousand lives drift in piles
smooth as dust across the laminate
in the apartment you can finally afford.

And me, I'm overblown,
a dandelion explodes
past blossoming into a head
full of seeds—before a wind
broadcasts the downy
rown and I'm gone.


What a Poem Is
Holly Karapetkova
Poet Laureate of Arlington, VA

An opening in pursuit
of meaning:
Follow me,
said the needle to the thread,
this space I hold open for you
like a doorway.
Let’s pass through,
let’s bind together
these pieces
into something whole.

2022 Winners

This year’s Moving Words Competition 2022 winning poems were selected from 211 poems by this year’s judge, Arlington poet Courtney LeBlanc, who also has a poem on display. View the poems below and on Arlington’s ART buses from February through September 2022.

Hannah Grieco, Tara Campbell, Michael Berecz, Thu Nguyen, Donald Illich, Rebecca Leet, Mars Santi, Zeina Azzam, Suzanna Zweizig

Winning Poems

By Hannah Grieco
Arlington, VA

Little magpie, collector of stones
and small, half-sucked hard candies
you find in the street.

Hide them from me, the meanest
who swipes them back to the ground,
who washes your hands too roughly.

Who can’t see how they look like jewels,
how they shine, how they reflect the sunlight.

How if you hold them up just right
you can see through them to the sky above.


By Tara Campbell
Washington, DC

There’s always something greening,
rooting, dying, burrowing, reaching,
something silent, holding more
than you think you can bear.

But you plant, you water, you watch
until effort dissolves to inevitable:
the sprout breaks through to the sun,

and even then, sometimes it withers,
and still you have to try again

because sometimes it blooms.


New Dinosaurs
By Michael Berecz
Arlington, VA

When my kids complain about the early morning
Birds, warbling from their nests in the ivy on our house,
Waking us, what they think, too early,

I remind them that we are the morning
These new dinosaurs are waiting for.  They are trying to warn us
Of the future they saw in their dreams; they are trying 

To remind us - this is a world of beautiful, broken little things
And often we can’t tell which, or why,
Aside from the cries we choose to mistake for music.


We Were Made This Way
By Thu Nguyen
Gaithersburg, MD

None of us can sleep in:
once we are up, we are all wild and working,
and you can’t catch us. We were made this way.
It seems unfair now that this is when
we are finally ourselves, sun-ripened
like the fruit we spend all summer picking.
And still, some fruit falls before we can catch them,
they bruise and rot. We are sorry.
We aren’t sure how to go on;
we just keep running towards the warmth.


By Donald Illich
Rockville, MD

The deer have lost their wildness.
They approach our front door
as if they were friendly visitors
that want in, to eat our vegetables,
gnaw house plants in the living room.
We shoo them, clapping.  They flee
to the back where they rest by bamboo.
If only we were that persistent:
to find somewhere we needed to be,
regardless of whether we were wanted.


What We Hold Onto
By Rebecca Leet
Arlington, VA

Solitary glove
weathered by winter
tattered by time
on the closet shelf
like a sad memory –
tempting hope
that what was rent
may be restored.


By Mars Santi
Washington, DC

They ask "do you know Spanish?" as a courtesy
what they really want to say is
“how did you wipe your tongue clean of the colonizer?”
and the truth is
I’ve only swapped one for the other


Seen and Unseen
By Zeina Azzam
Alexandria, VA

I step on an ant,
a bird crashes into a window,
a moth tangles in the spider’s web.
Lives end as we walk or sleep
or survey the stars for love.
Sometimes a rainbow appears
among water crystals
and everything makes sense.
Other times, eyes strain to see the colors
on a wounded butterfly.


(       )
By Suzanne Zweizig
Washington, DC

      As we talk we hold the dark
      (me curled on this side
      of midnight, you with the dawn
      on your back) between us.


Judge Poem

I Have Always Known
By Courtney LeBlanc
Arlington, VA

Most of us discover we are the antagonist
long after the epilogue. But I have always
known the truth: I am disaster. I am wild
fire. I am squall that swallows sailors
and mermaids alike. I am untamed
bronco refusing to be broken.
I am devastation. I am desire.
I am the very thing you crave.

2021 Winners

This year’s Moving Words Competition 2021 six winning poems were selected from 211 poems by this year’s judge, Arlington's 2nd Poet Laureate Holly Karapetkova, who also has a poem on display. View the poems below and on Arlington’s ART buses from February through September 2021.

Jona Colson, W. Luther Jett, May-Mei Lee, Lori Rottenberg, Michele L. Simms-Burton, Rana Jaafar Yaseen

Winning Poems

Ode to Post-Virus
By Jona Colson
Washington, DC

It will be here again.
The summer with its vow

of greens and ripening.
It will be here again—

the world we know.
Our short life in a long day

of light and touch.
It will be here again,

and we will find what we lost.


By W. Luther Jett
Washington Grove, MD

When a stone
is raised above another, who
shall be lifted and who
shall do the lifting?
Who is kept down
and who will be the keeper?

And when
did the tower become
a wall?


The American Dream
By May-Mei Lee
Alexandria, VA

In the distance, I see my mother
as she gathers kindle from the side of a road in Toisan while
my father kneads pizza dough in the Woodies’ basement Sbarro
where my two feet now stand in Gucci sneakers
worth wages formed by tired hands.


My Father’s Voice
By Michele Simms-Burton
Alexandria, VA

Sounds like thunder on a summer day
When the Great Lakes spit out their discontent.

His voice levies the scent of peace when
Ailing times slashed my dreams into fragments

That cautionary voice words trapped in stutters
Syllables creeping from tongue to air

Yet I tasted each one held them like
Pearls hoping to find a way a way.


Pearls from Paradise
By Rana Jaafar Yaseen
Arlington, VA

I invite certitude.
Stars come down to help.
Oceans unify.
As we leave our past stories to break away, we dress up.
Such a joy!!
I walk this path, onward, perpetuating this unstoppable resurrection.
I just walk…
A book is in my purse.
Light is within me.
I embrace one word: rise.
Suns, like beads, surround my ivory neck.


Second Born
By Lori Rottenberg
Arlington, VA
You are the day of short sleeves in March,
the bouquet held behind the back,
the giggling group waiting in the darkened room.
Named only for yourself, you carry
no weight, gliding in the glorious
center of your own moment.
With your sunburst face, you teach
that love is not a cup but a window:
hearts cannot overfill, instead they open
to the infinite we are willing to admit.

Poet Laureate Poem

By Holly Karapetkova
Poet Laureate of Arlington, Virginia

A wall is not needed;
a fence will keep nothing out.
Let the weeds run wild.
Let the chipmunks burrow under
and find their way around this open yard.
There will be wildflowers here
and small winged insects
who know how to keep themselves.
They do not need our help.

2018 Winners

This year’s Moving Words Adult Competition 2018 theme “Ripped from the Headlines” asked poets to respond to what they see, or don’t see, in today’s headlines.  Six winning poems and four honorable mentions were selected from more than 230 poems by this year’s judge Teri Cross Davis. View the six winning poems below and on Arlington’s ART buses from April through September 2018. Also join us for the Winner’s Reading at New District Brewing on April 8, 2018.


Lara Payne, Maggie Rosen, Eric Forsbergh, DL Mattila, Dorothy Bendel, JoAnne Growney 

Honorable Mentions

Luther Jett, Henry Crawford, Susan Scheid, Michael Glasser

Winning Poems

Corn Stand, 10 ears for 2 dollars
This is hidden work,
the constancy of counting, measuring
who needs to be fed and how.
We women, we strangers, gather early:
the shopping, the planning, the preparing.
Tomorrow, heavy platters
weigh arms young and old, brown
and pale, approach tables
where faces
open to the newly sweet
warm breeze, as summer ripens.

– Lara Payne


Designers Reveal Concerning Fact About Iconic Dress

“By the end, Diana understood she didn’t even have to say anything: her clothes spoke for her.” – from article on, Nov 9, 2017

Measurements persisted, not unlike scrutiny.
Each time Diana’s waist was smaller:
from 29 inches to 23.5 by wedding day.
We had to account for human flaws;
our bravado grew as hers receded.
Our silk posed, postured, our flowers vomited,
our train ran like a river out of a compressed spring.
We knew time and measuring tape limit all.
Ultimately, they sewed her in:
lace as a chain, veil as iron bars.

– Maggie Rosen


#MeToo – A Father Responds
Some hands grab for dirty work, up close.
So my daughter’s pit bull runs with her at dawn.
My wind-worn wings can’t span the sky.
For her sake, I want to be what’s strange and terrible.
Osiris’ black jackal would intercede. His job?
To drag the corpse of lust’s assumptions underground.
To weigh its shriveled heart.
But could I recognize deceit seeping from the pores?
Maybe not. Pit bulls possess a better sense of smell.

– Eric Forsbergh


we don’t speak
of the deeper issues
skimming stones

– dl mattila


Whale in the Hudson
I read about a whale in the Hudson today, as
rare as a ghost or shadow come to life in
the city shallows, and I wanted it to mean something,
this forty tons of blubber and bone and maroon blood pulsing, traveling
alone amongst man-made towers of industry teeming
with lives in their own rivers of clocks and news and
push buttons whooshing in waves of
empire states. I needed this vessel
to come up for air and make itself real, to push through clouded waters, to
make this again a place of safe harbor.

– Dorothy Bendel


The Other Place

Scientists find another star system
with eight planets just like ours.
– Washington Post headline, 12/17/17

Does that new-found system have an Earth
from which came life that now destructs:
oceans rising, people warring – each refusing
to see another’s view? On that distant planet,
do they have mountains? Do they have courage?
Do they have honey bees? Do they have words?

– JoAnne Growney

Poet Laureate Poem


Be he Defender of the Faith,
Father of Liberty,
Cinematic Auteur cum Comedic Genius,
Teacher, Coach, Olympic Physician—
be he Cousin, Uncle, Brother, Father —
makes no difference
to the fourteen-year-old
whose eyes widen
when fingers linger
as he’s tickling her thigh.

– Katherine E. Young
Arlington County Poet Laureate

Honorable Mention Poems

There is darkness and there
is light. Somewhere
dawn opens the sky even
while here night closes her fist.
No eye is shut so tight
a star’s kiss won’t pierce it.

– Luther Jett


First to go were the [vulnerable] with little voice
and no [entitlement] to fairness. Next up
[diversity] was whited out in one clean stroke
along with [evidenced-based] as in “provable”,
or “true”. Words that made people feel uncomfortable
like [fetus] or threatened the powerful
like [science-based] had to be deleted. Without words
you can even make a people disappear
so on a plain gray desk, a blunt red pen crossed out[transgender] and they were gone.

– Henry Crawford


Praise song for ants (excerpt)
Praise the tiny black ants.
Praise their resilience
to be knocked down, drowned out,
killed, trampled, worn to nothing
and then to bloom again.
Praise their multitudes, their pathways,
their ant mounds, their single-mindedness.
Praise their force of nature for showing
me time and again how little
of this world belongs to me.

– Susan Scheid