2024 – 3rd place winner

Nancy Huggett “Watershed”

“Watershed” reminds us of our collective human fragility through the lens of a mother coping with her daughter’s life-changing health condition. “Places I am not allowed to cry; Places I go to cry”—the subtitles of the piece lead us into the interior contemplations of the narrator as she unravels the new, the unknown, and the ways lives can change in an instant: “A moment from which things will never be the same.” This short but powerful and poetic piece is a touchstone for contemplating big ideas about coping, existence, and means and ways we look for and find comfort.

(Comments by 2024 judge Lisa Bird-Wilson)



Places I am not allowed to cry.

In the living room in front of my daughter, in the playroom in front of my daughter, in the hallway in front of my daughter, on the porch in front of my daughter, in the car in front of my daughter even if I turn my head away—because she can sense from the quality of my silence that I am crying. Or maybe she notices the brimming sheen in my eyes when I turn back to look at the road, hands steady on the steering wheel so we don’t crash.

Places I have never cried.

On the bus, at the Bridgehead coffeeshop up the street or the Sunnyside branch of the public library, into my pillow, to sleep. At least not since my daughter’s stroke. Sleep is my holy ground. Sleep is where I let go, where we let go, where I have taught her that tomorrow is a new day, a new beginning. Every day we begin anew, and she rises chirping Happy Monday! Happy Tuesday! Happy Wednesday! Every night I let my brain wash away: the day, the toxic molecules collecting and multiplying. Let the glymphatic glow flow in the hidden caves that pock my mind. Let it all go out the half-opened window where the crows gather the darkness and pull it across the gloaming back to their roosts where they weave warmth for my tired brain.

Places I go to cry.

The shadowy back of dark churches, the unused choir loft where sunlight streaks through to catch each silent tear prompted by old ladies singing “Nearer My God to Thee” with their quivery voices, the fronts of churches, churches in strange parts of town where I know no one and wait for that one note at the beginning of the descant to trigger the tears that trickle drop by drop onto the thin pages of the hymnal and no one asking any questions. I plonk my coins into the felted tray and wait for the Benediction. Slip out through the narthex mumbling thank you and into the car, taking the long way home.


At the bottom of the steep rickety stairs down to the place where the river bends and the rocks tumble the water. At the empty bus stop, at the apex of the new footbridge over the canal where I can see the stretch of ambered fall trees curving toward downtown. All the tears for what is lost but not transmuted. She is not gone. She lives. She did not die. A mantra with scant comfort buried under the daily tasks of care. The prompts for washing, sitting, moving. The need for wiping, brushing, word finding. The bruises on my arms. The ragged scars suturing the storm inside her brain. The rain of fists. The now of her. And then the past, the what she used to be. The dancer riveting an audience with form and flash, compelling advocate with just the right words to sway a crowd, friend, chocolate lover, pop-tune hummer. The what used to be her future—the moving out and moving on—that is no more, that we can’t know. Her body still intact, except those white spots on her brain the doctors pointed at to show where small strokes had struck and then the bigger one they called watershed—across both hemispheres in the frontal lobes—their antiseptic fingers unleashing a cascade of tears on which I float downstream.


An area of land that drains all the streams, all the dreams, all the rain that falls to a common outlet such as the outflow of a reservoir, the mouth of a bay, and eventually the ocean. A turning point, a dividing point, the exact moment that changes the direction of an activity or situation. A moment from which things will never be the same.