Conversation between Saints

Evan Anders


gladiolus gather in an attempt to deflower spring.


doves console a dying falcon.


a fig utters a final prayer as ants read last rites.


please do not pluck my feathers in public.


a dozen oysters reject their pearls

a dozen minnows are swallowed by los angeles

the cardinals swear i am saved.


ordinary cities rest laughing upon history.

there are no more great kings

it’s better this way.


the crabapple tree waits to die

as a conversation between saints

dissolves into hymns.

Evan Anders brews coffee for mass consumption in Philadelphia. His poems have appeared in Five 2 One Magazine, California Quarterly, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and forthcoming in North Dakota Quarterly.

My Father Sells a Vacuum Cleaner to James Michener

Barbara Buckman Strasko


On the writer’s doorstep of a large house overlooking the river, my father speaks to the housekeeper. Inside he dumps dirt on the rug, sucks it up in one whoosh, shows her that the Electrolux will even suck up a steel sphere. Mr. Michener hears the noise, comes to the front hall. Agrees to buy the vacuum cleaner. Invites my father into his office where an Underwood sits on a large mahogany desk, in front of a photo of the author and John Kennedy shaking hands. Mr. Michener asks about my father’s family history in Bucks County and is surprised to find out the salesman is a descendant of Edward Hicks, the folk artist. That my father dropped out of pre-med during the Depression and built airplanes for WWII. How would the Quaker Hicks paint a Peaceable Kingdom in 1964? A war raging in Southeast Asia, the civil rights movement on the move, the next generation not accepting anything less than peace. They speak of these things as if they might solve them standing in this doorway. A canoe floats downstream on the Delaware River in front of them. On the way home my father will buy corn from a farm stand where they let him cut it from the field himself.

Barbara Buckman Strasko was the first Poet Laureate of Lancaster County. She is the 2009 River of Words Teacher of the Year and is the Poet in the Schools for the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her poems have appeared in: Best New Poets, Rhino, Nimrod, Brilliant Corners, Ninth Letter and Poet Lore. Her book of poems, Graffiti in Braille was published in 2012. Her poem “Bricks and Mortar” is engraved in granite in Lancaster’s main square.

Each Morning I Pray to the Microwave

Claire Scott


I see God through greasy glass

or is that last week’s potato

I forgot—I am sick of potatoes

with their many staring eyes—

I prefer God to a potato most of the time

unless I haven’t eaten for days &

no feast hath been prepared at the table before me

which is most of the time since Sara left

in a bitter cloud of flying shoes, DVDs & fuck you’s

complaining my refrigerator looks like

a failed science experiment

stacks of newspapers cover the couch,

the chairs, the kitchen counters

complaining the cat rarely uses its litter box

preferring the bathmat or the carpet

or the sweaters in her closet

complaining I crunch potato chips in bed

leaving crumbs on her side

why is either side hers when I paid

for the humongous thing, lugged it up five

sweaty flights because she found my futon

too cramped, too creaky

but I am losing track here

the point is God is preferable to a potato

most of the time—each morning

I say a prayer to the blurry God

behind the glass door

hoping his many eyes are

growing nearsighted and he can’t see

the mold, the newspapers, the cat

Claire Scott is an award-winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has been accepted by the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t.

Betsy Ross’ Girl

Deborah Turner


Tried to put in some

orchid purple yellow, and some

coffee colored brown

like my fingers I pricked

helping with all her stichin.


“Nah,” she say,

“keep it like the Brits,

our forefathers.”


None of that tobacco green

she threaten to put me in

should I open my mouth

bout how Master

have his way with me.


None of that

sunrise orange

come over the water

like my Mammy’s boat



Just the blood red

with the deep blue

and the white stars

like the night

that swallowed up my daddy

took him north to freedom,

I hope.

In addition to writing poetry, Deborah Turner is working on a memoir about her life in West Philadelphia. Her early works appear in the Lavender Reader as well as in anthologies including the Body Eclectic and Testimony. She regularly blog publishes at

The Idea of Ruby Seeds

Lorraine Henrie Lins



We left the pomegranates

to leather in the back of the fridge,

unrounded withering

thumping hollow

against the carton of milk each morning

when breakfast was through—

a whim during Christmas week

when I thought the idea of ruby seeds

knocked into champagne flutes

or over dense, white yogurt

would indulge

but each morning

the coffee was enough

hot and strong.

Lorraine Henrie Lins is a Pennsylvania county Poet Laureate and author of four books of poetry, most recently 100 Tipton. She serves as the Director of New and Emerging Poets with Tekpoet and am a founding member of the “No River Twice” improvisational poetry troupe. My work appears in publications and collections, and a small graffiti poster in Australia. Born and raised in the suburbs of Central New Jersey, this self-professed Jersey Girl now resides just outside of Philadelphia where I have learned to pump my own gas and order a cheesesteak…..wit.

Letter from the Poetry Editor

Courtney Bambrick

Letter From the [Poetry] Editor

Courtney Bambrick

This year’s Sandy Crimmins National Prize poems explore deep grief and remind us of the system we operate within—a system that will kill difference or defiance. Danger and comfort are braided throughout the poems in this issue; they twist around the poems creating space to both grieve and grow. Some poems tear back the bandage painfully, but do so in order to apply balm. Often in one poem, we find a voice crying out in rage, then finding clarity and direction. These poems feel necessary: we frequently look to poetry for comfort, but that comfort can be untenable in an atmosphere so saturated with violence as ours is.

This year’s contest was judged by M. Nzadi Keita, author of the poetry collection Brief Evidence of Heaven which elegantly considers the life of Anna Murray Douglass, first wife of Frederick Douglass. The winning poem “Elegy for Breath” by Carlos Andrés Gómez is, according to Keita, “unrelenting” in its presentation of the trauma. She continues:

This poem haunts our very own breathing with a question, both mournful and matter-of-fact: how much, in the U.S.A., does breathing inside a human black body redefine, from birth to death?  Focused on the long tradition of American citizens murdered by police, each stanza in this poetic montage answers in a different way.

Many of the poems selected as finalists reckon with the realities of racial, sexual, and religious violence. Of her selection of poems, judge M. Nzadi Keita says, “The stunning compassion, honesty, and force of witness in the [selected poems] reinforces and affirms.….how poets solidify our human bonds.” We need one another. These poets deftly, through a variety of styles and tactics, present humanity as broken, but—staggeringly, stubbornly—capable of healing.

Philadelphia Stories thanks Joe Sullivan for his robust and continued support of this contest. We also thank Nicole Mancuso, contest coordinator and assistant poetry editor, and Yalonda Rice, managing editor, who both exert gentle-but-considerable authority and keep us moving forward. Mostly, we thank the poets who generously share their work with us and we encourage local writers to continue to do so.

We will celebrate our winners at the LitLife Poetry Festival presented by Philadelphia Stories along with the Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program at Rosemont College, April 6. Attendees will enjoy master classes with Crimmins judge M. Nzadi Keita and poet Dilruba Ahmed, judge of this year’s Montgomery County Poet Laureate competition. A series of panels will discuss and reflect on a variety of ideas related to the place of poetry in our lives and the world. We will celebrate the winning poets of the Crimmins contest and the new poet laureate of Montgomery County in an afternoon reception which will be free and open to the public. For more information please visit



“Elegy for Breath,” Carlos Andrés Gómez (Forest Hills, NY)



“All Objects,” Brittanie Sterner (Philadelphia, PA)

“Nine-Year-Old Suicide in Reverse,”Chad Frame (Lansdale, PA)

“How to Read Whitewater in the Mid-Atlantic Region,” Kimberly Andrews (Chestertown, MD)



“Post Rehab,” Claire Rubin (Oakland, CA)

“Phantom Limb,” Fran Baird (Flourtown, PA)

“Bruce,” Chad Frame (Lansdale, PA)



“Imagine Sisyphus Happy,” R.G. Evans (Elmer, NJ)

“Tapestry Room,” Rebecca Levi (New York, NY)

“Neighborhood Report,” Julia Lattimer (Boston, MA)



“Chugach,” David Hopes

“The Silence of Emma Gonzáles Teaches Us about Language,” Matt Hohner

“I wonder why they never taught us about Sylvia Mendez,” Mercedes Lucero

“Sestina as Kabbalah/Kabbalah as Sestina,” Leonard Kress

“Oceanic Moments Outside a Discount Superstore,” Hayden Saunier

“If none are strangers,” Brittanie Sterner

“H.O. Andrews & Sons,” Kimberly Andrews

“Poem about Death Ending with Reincarnation,” Carlos Andrés Gómez

“Edge of the Dance Floor,” Carlos Andrés Gómez



Neighborhood Report

Julia Lattimer


Neighborhood Report

by Julia Lattimer


The day after we read the Leda

poems in class, I am smacked alert by



            BY TWO MEN, ALLSTON.


At Commonwealth and Linden WOMAN

is pulled out of the dirty yellow street-


lamp light and finds her fingers pink

with fury against the cross-hatched metal


fence.              Leda is a gold day-lily, outspread

and resting in the purple summer heat. The poets


soften Zeus’s feathers, and hold her nape in their beak.

Inside her, they engender a civilization changed


into something irreversible.                But

in ALLSTON, The B Line will cross loudly over rust-


ed tracks in an hour, and the blade—indifferent—

lets WOMAN drop.

Julia Lattimer is a poet living in Boston, Massachusetts. She is an MFA candidate at UMass Boston and the Poetry Editor for Breakwater Review. She hosts a monthly queer poetry reading series out of a living room in Allston.

Tapestry Room

Rebecca Levi


Tapestry Room

by Rebecca Levi


I decided to write my feelings big and hang them on the walls.

They didn’t fit inside me anymore, like that fever dream when

I was all I had for myself and it was already too much.

So I started picking apart Flemish tapestries, seventeenth

century, the thread faded in diagonal stripes, the greens pale-

skinned. Borrowed a loom. Practiced words like warp and shuttle. Nights I’d hear

clacking but by morning I’d wake to silence; the room’s acoustics

were always mysterious. It was quite a grand hall, the grandest

I could find, but it felt close around me. Like a den, or a Nap

Place. Lamps turned to dull. I learned to count time in rows of weft, not to

look at what I wove; feelings can’t be seen head-on till they’re ready.

I scoured my psyche for the strangest unnameable, wrapping each

round the bobbin. Got them all. When I pumped the treadle the fibers

throbbed together like piano strings, and I’d think of the insects

that died to make the reds. Afternoons I’d lie on my stomach, tap

my calluses on the tile; they clicked like tiny booted footsteps

in the steady shadows. It was like this a long time, till the thread

ran out. The walls trembled with new cloth. That day I looked up at last

at my thirteen-foot feelings, their snow-globe eyes, their whale bellies, hands

the size of my skull, and watched them dim behind the electric light.


Rebecca Levi is a musician, poet, and translator often on the road, often in Colombia. Her work has appeared in places like Columbia Journal, No Tokens Journal, and Your Impossible Voice, and she is a contributor to “If You’re Not Happy Now,” forthcoming with Broadstone Books this March. Her poem “December 31st” won third place in the 2018 Mick Imlah Poetry Prize at The Times Literary Supplement.

Imagine Sisyphus Happy

R.G. Evans


Imagine Sisyphus Happy

by R.G. Evans


Does he whistle as he sweats and groans

the boulder up the mountain?

Does he ever think At least i’m not at home

where my daughter wants to die

trembling  there at the summit

just before the rock rolls down?

As he follows it, his mind might wander

to the time his daughter screamed

Sixteen years in this goddamn house

with your failed marriage as my roommate!

What did she know about what god has damned?

Maybe he smokes, letting gravity do its job

one step at a time. Eternity is eternity after all,

no room here for a goldbricking soul.

If one can imagine Sisyphus happy,

it isn’t hard to picture him grinding his butt

beneath his toe, cracking his knuckles,

and glancing at Tantalus in his lake

beneath the trees, bending as the water recedes.

And yet, Sisyphus wonders,

was that a wink he saw from his damned neighbor

when the fruit pulled away out of reach?

At least the bastard’s in the shade, he thinks

and shrugs his flesh into the stone.

R.G. Evans’s books include Overtipping the Ferryman (Aldrich Poetry Press Prize 2013), The Holy Both (Main Street Rag), and The Noise of Wings (Red Dashboard Press). His debut album of original songs, Sweet Old Life, was released earlier this year and is available on most streaming services.


Chad Frame



by Chad Frame


Outside, it’s scarcely my sixteenth

winter, pacing the drive, unsure

what’s led here—hours of typing,

the heyday of dialup chatrooms,


a torso photo, a phone call

to calm my jangling nerves—me out

the door, you on your way to pick

me up. Only the sparse, dead trees,


thinning hair on the hilltop’s scalp,

are watching when your car rattles

to a stop, your cracked face an old

catcher’s mitt slowly catching fire


within, spewing cigarette smoke.

Terrified, more of backing out

than anything, I creak the door

open and climb inside. We go.


Later that night, I am retching

in the bathroom when my mother

comes home from work. I do not tell

anyone there are parts of me


that will never shake free, never

be grown out of or eased into,

will never be the same again,

because they do not come from me.


This day I have learned to swallow

more than you, more than pride or Coke

straight from the two-liter bottle

to cleanse the taste—the hardest thing


to swallow is the idea

that there will be no second chance

at a first time. Persephone,

trapped in winter, aching for spring,


must realize because she swallows

her captor’s seed she can never

feel the sun, her mother’s plain face

bearing the promise of flowers.

Chad Frame was the 2017 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County and is a founding member of the No River Twice poetry improv troupe. He is also the poetry editor of Ovunque Siamo: New Italian-American Writing and co-founder of the Caesura Poetry Festival. Chad has been published in various journals, including decomP, Barrelhouse, Rust+Moth,and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, as well as featured on the radio program The Poet and the Poem hosted by Grace Cavalieri in association with the Library of Congress.