Thirst (Crimmins Poetry Prize Honorable Mention)

Kelly McQuain

From Mexico I brought you a silver and red heart:

                                    a tin corazon to decorate our Christmas tree.

            And after a night in a luckless bar—El Gato Negro

a cocktail recipe: tequila and grapefruit soda—Poloma,

            the Spanish word for ‘dove’, the same pale name

as the stubborn horse I rode

                                                   through Guanajuato

                        without you by my side.

 

                                                I don’t know what I drank

that other night, an even unluckier bar in old San Miguel.

            Tecate? Negra Modelo? Some other cheap local beer?

La Cucaracha—the Cockroach dive that would not die,

            where Beats like Kerouac and Cassidy loved and fought.

And where local drunkards sighed at my American jibes

            as doe-eyed jotos sized me up from the back wall.

 

I missed you then, like I did this summer in Shanghai

            on wild Nanjing Road drinking Heinekens with a Hawaiian

named Billy, who never met a bottle of baiju he didn’t like

            —it helped him chase hookers along the city’s neon strip.

Baiju: rotgut Chinese white lightning distilled from sorghum,

            barley or millet. One swig from Billy’s tiny green bottle

and I quickly had my fill of it.

 

Never brought any home from the trip         —only stories:

of strange fruits, fried scorpions, whiskered fish.

Of the giant Buddhas carved from the Yungang Grottoes,

of the ancient monastery clinging to the Hengshan cliffs.

            I climbed the Great Wall, sang karaoke in Pingyao,

made a friend or two over a bottle of scotch—but for three weeks

among strangers in dirty coal-burning country

                                    it wasn’t just blue sky I missed.

 

                                                            On my way home

I bought you a bottle of Crown Royal from Toronto,

            duty-free and flavored with maple,

 

because I liked to imagine the sight of you in your boxers

            bringing pancakes to our breakfast table.

                        Something new to slake your thirst, I said,

handing the brown bottle over.

            You told me to add ice cubes and keep the drink simple:

                                       “We’ll call it a Mrs. Butterworth.”

 

These days,

            it seems I’m always returning from somewhere far off,

                        even if it’s just back to our conversation at the table.

Our lives drink up the years, I want to say.

                        They burn like a dragon, they sing like a dove.

            Don’t hate me because I can’t keep still

                        and need to fill my cup up to the brim—

                                    I’d drink your heart right now if I could,

                        even if it were silver

                                                        and red

                                                                           and made of tin.


Kelly McQuain will be a 2015 Fellow at the Lambda Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices in Los Angeles this June. McQuain has published poetry and prose in Painted Bride Quarterly, Redivider, The Philadelphia Inquirer, A&U, Kestrel, The Pinch, Weave and Cleaver, as well as in numerous anthologies, the newest of which is Rabbit Ears: TV Poems (New York Quarterly Books).  His chapbook, Velvet Rodeo, won Bloom magazine’s poetry prize. He hosts Poetdelphia, a literary salon in the City of Brotherly Love. www.KellyMcQuain.wordpress.com

Tough Bitches (Crimmins Poetry Prize Runner-up)

Nadia Sheikh

I don’t like girls—our big, ugly nipples,
slumber parties, cucumbers damming

our eyes—no crying about lunar bleeding,
our chromosome overdose sans the ‘Y,’

and our murderous designs against womankind
in magazines for smiling all the goddamn time.

I’m a slouch—camoflauged in boyfriend jeans,
elastic-muzzled boobs, and a noodle physique.

She’s a lady—velvet boots, earring medallions
dangling, keeps her derrière curved, always

tucked away in sugared sundresses and skirt-
train fringe that might melt in the rain.

Curls pinned in pouf. Mane slung sideways,
not quite dusting ankle but,

 oh, if she’d unleash
the wild—roar like she did that Sunday night,

after three whiskeys and an oyster dozen,
she unbuttoned once, breathing in my ear,

Baby, it’s a warm October, from two tables over,
slipping off her jean jacket and not needing

to make eyes with me like we do on Tuesdays
across the classroom. She lingers, unblinking,

mascaraed bivalves, widening to figure out
if it’s my jitterbug fingers or feet ker-thumping.

I square her gaze and I don’t know why
I think she’s waiting for me to cry already.

I should tell her—I don’t love—I shiver
even in summer, my heart hummingbirds,

flies backwards, dreams of her
strutting across the room,

wielding her oyster fork
poised to pluck out my eyes,

slurping while she excavates
the raisined pearls inside.


Nadia Sheikh is a first-year MFA student at Florida State University, a rhyme enthusiast, a waffle connoisseur, a human.

Yield Signs Don’t Exist (Crimmins Poetry Prize Runner-up)

Kathryn Ionata

Rob ran a solid red, first car in pilgrimage
to Rocky Horror Picture show. He flicked a gaze back.
I didn’t lose the girls? Oh, man. I think I’m in love.

You remind me of that Zeppelin line, A. said.
When you look in the mirror, baby,
baby, baby, do you like it?

All the chicks here are after Mike, Rob said.
He was wearing my feather boa.
Patted my shoulder, focus on the high heel parade.
Don’t worry, don’t worry.

I seen you here before, J. said. Eyes slant under sun.
I like those jeans you got on.
I haven’t seen you on for awhile, the train conductor said.
Punched bullet holes in my ticket.
You look good, how you been?

M. said a lot but I remember nothing
because I was looking at his arms
on the wheel, bone and muscle shift and pop
on sharp turns. He drove me
to the high school at night.
This was my space, he said.
The guy across had a Mustang too,
but his didn’t stall.

Don’t tell them it’s your first show, he said.
Hand on my back now. (I took a too-deep breath.
My garter belt split.)
They’ll lipstick your forehead
and make you grind with a blow-up doll.

The poem you wrote made me cry, he said,
so I was no longer afraid of his trunk full
of rope, tarps, handsaws.
I’m still building, he said.
I’ll keep cutting until I get it right.

You call me if it don’t work out, J. said.
We rolled through a stop sign.
(You rolled through that stop sign, the cop said.
Didn’t you see it?)
Sorry I don’t drive so careful, he said.
Long hair spilled out a cracked window
and now he didn’t look at me.

You know how men drive? Rob said once
Red lights are stop signs,
stop signs are yield signs,
and yield signs don’t exist.


Kathryn Ionata is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose work has appeared in The Toast, Schuylkill Valley Journal, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Aries, Hawai’i Review, Wisconsin Review, and The Best of Philadelphia Stories: 10th Anniversary Edition. She is a two-time runner-up for the Bucks County Poet Laureate Competition. She teaches writing at Temple University and The College of New Jersey.

The Childhood of Wicked Stepmothers (Crimmins Poetry Prize Runner-up)

Lauren Boulton

Like many beginnings, this is soft and small. Pink,
smelling of flake soap and breastmilk. It has cheeks,
dirt-stained, but cherubic as any. Sleeping eyelids,
perhaps more seldom, but sweet.

The mother smiles. Wipes a slick of sweat from her forehead,
clips to the clothesline an endless procession
of diversely sized diapers, small dresses, medium pants,
large socks. Plays patty-cake with her middle daughter.

The father works too hard, too late. Sometimes,
when he comes home early enough, he will grab
the middle daughter by her hands and spin and spin
until she feels her arms are about to rip from their sockets,
until she is dizzy enough to believe in this sideways flying.

Things spin. The mother dies, the father loses
his job and the family moves to a smaller place in Buffalo.
They rent out the upstairs room to make ends meet. He remarries,
to a woman who longs for stability, for love, but not for children.

Still, she eats, though not enough. She is beaten, but only
upon occasion. A blue-eyed neighbour boy slips bread, tin
soldiers, secrets through the fence. She only lies on her back
to sleep, or to watch the clouds shapeshift.

She opens borrowed books and is surprised to find herself: stories
of ash-covered girls with awful stepmothers, fathers who rarely look,
and never see. And though there is nothing written about the upstairs
boarder’s naked eyes, his close hands, she feels him there all the same,
standing behind the proto-princess, his breath wet against her neck.


Lauren Annette Boulton’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Bayou, Great Lakes Review, Gingerbread House, Kenning Journal, and others. She is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Bowling Green State University, where she has the pleasure of working under Larissa Szporluk, Sharona Muir, Abigail Cloud, and Rebecca Dunham. She also serves as a staff editor for Mi d-American Review.

Citrus Aurantium Dulcis

Nicole Zuckerman

Before breakfast,

I will love you

with the bag of oranges

I have taken from the kitchen,

while you lay sleeping

 

I will wake you

softly at first

tracing the warm hum of your body

orange by orange

rounded crown, slender, faintly toothed

 

I will slice the fruit

under ripe, unwashed into pieces

without paring

sieving with my fingers

until slippery smooth

 

I will steep you in citrus

layer you in pulp and peel

spooning tepid juices

the length of your toes

parting your lips

tender, firm, salient

 

I will love you

before breakfast

in the dark

orange by orange

until our bed, rooted

in your hips, elbows, thighs

is as fecund as an orchard

high hammock, deep loam

summer sweet


Nicole Zuckerman: I am an ESL teacher in Pennsylvania always looking for new ways to challenge students  to view language as a unique form of self expression.  I am an avid collector of poetry, as well as aspiring to be a poet worthy of those whom I collect.  I love flea markets and auctions and I seek out ephemera because I see beauty in that which defines our daily lives.  

Ode to My Therapist’s Floral Rug

Nicole Zuckerman

Beneath the florescent thrum of conversation

beneath every sole, heel, and rounded boot

beneath pivotal hearts

you, golden summer

floral buffer

woolen garden, lie

patterned between chair and couch

the tread of your petals

almost sweet

 

I pass over you

our weekly dance

an awkward shuffle

my feet a jumble of

politeness

 

above you

the story of my life

dredged of all metaphor

begins again

 

rooted to the floor,

the room, the hour

you listen

radial, calm, captive

 

words

cinching round and round

catch, unravel, tangle

 

above you

faces open and close

like bridges

 

and you,

floral buffer

woolen garden

knotted in pastels

narrate the silences that fall in-between

shifting and tidal

the telling, sloping

the heart hanging lower

 


Nicole Zuckerman: I am an ESL teacher in Pennsylvania always looking for new ways to challenge students  to view language as a unique form of self expression.  I am an avid collector of poetry, as well as aspiring to be a poet worthy of those whom I collect.  I love flea markets and auctions and I seek out ephemera because I see beauty in that which defines our daily lives.  

Doves

Jeanne Obbard

Before snowdrops

 

before the crocuses

tipsided in a rainstorm

 

before the forsythia

spills forth

out of a winter closet

 

the first alive thing unpacked

after the overlong tour of winter

 

isn’t a flower,

but the low sigh of return,

 

dulcet, disconsolate.

Jeanne Obbard received her bachelor’s degree in feminist and gender studies from Bryn Mawr College, and works in clinical research. She was granted a Leeway Seedling Award for Emerging Artists in 2001, and attended the Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio and the 24PearlStreet Workshop. Her work has previously appeared in American Poetry Review, Anderbo, Atlanta Review, EDGE, Philadelphia Poets, Philadelphia Stories, Rathalla Review, and the anthology Prompted.

What’s Wrong With This Photo?

Marjorie Maddox

Little League, Williamsport, PA,

April 2007, May 2014

 

It’s not the slant of the pitched ball,

the average dust on the bases,

the haphazard smile of the shortstop.

It’s not the pitcher’s skinned elbow,

the crooked cap on the coach,

the cat calls and bellows.

It’s not my daughter at third,

my son at second, deliberating the difference

between safe and sorry.

 

Look.

 

As always, the sun’s angle’s idyllic,

the parents’ faces predictable.

The best batter grips the usual bat

with the same tense glee,

whacks what intersects his path,

whacks it all the way to the edge

of the volunteer-trimmed field,

past that neatly-ironed flag

stalled forever, it seems, at half mast.

 


Professor of English at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published 9 collections of poetry, 2 children’s books (including Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems) and over 450 poems, stories, and essays in journals and anthologies. Her most recent book, Local News from Someplace Else, focuses on living in an unsafe world. She is co-editor, with Jerry Wemple, of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and is the great grandniece of baseball legend Branch Rickey, who helped break the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson. In addition to giving readings around the country, she has twice read at both the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Little League World Series. For more info, see www.marjoriemaddox.com

Rose of Jericho

Lauren Fleck-Steff

It was a long way to here

Blind miles where

Only the highway moved

Unfurling like a black tongue

Or the lone headlight

Burrowing into the night

Deliberate as sorrow

Convinced of its own existence

It’s not until the

Outskirts of Santa Fe

That the radio finds him

Full of static as it is

And that same old line

Where hearts lie

Unfaithful in the pines

Leaves the road tear-blurred

Because darlin’ its funny

How the things you remember

Are the flatness of his fingernails

Or the smell of smoke in his hair

And for tonight, let’s not tell the stars

That they are already dead

Just leave the echo to burn

While our lips hold the lie

And the car grits to a stop

On the edge of the desert

Memory falling like rain

Upon the Rose of Jericho


A native of Pennsylvania, l.e. Archer graduated from Endicott College and currently resides in Salem, Massachusetts.  Specializing in fiction, short prose and poetry, some of her previous work has appeared in The American Dissident, Avocet and the Deronda Review.  She is currently writing her first novel Risen.

Down the Shore

Peter Galen Massey

I’d say we drowned the voice of

The deep Atlantic in Katy Perry.

 

Or banished mystery with

Mini golf and Skee ball.

 

Or caught chaos in a box and

Turned it into taffy for children.

 

But the truth is the ocean

Tamed herself: salt-sweet,

Warm as milk, and lolling up to

Lick our hand like a friendly dog.

 


Peter Galen Massey is a writer who lives with his family in the Queen Village neighborhood of Philadelphia. He blogs at www.petergalenmassey.com