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

Moved In

David L. Carpenter

Her place is about 5,500 popsical sticks square,
a little bigger than my shotgun apartment.
She loves popsicles soaked in vodka
and saves all the spent sticks next to the forks.

She found one pirouetting in the garbage disposal.
I remembered one disappearing when I tried to toss it into the trash.
She held it up in front of my face and reminded me to save them all.

I’ve learned they make great little spatulas to spread
condiments, peanut butter and cheese on crackers.
She shreds some to make good toothpicks,
and always has some in her purse
to stir ginger tea on the bus.

They can light the stove, candles, lanterns and pipes.
Put out reefer and reach into cracks and pick up dead mice.
Put butter on bread and spread yummy jam.
Keep doors from locking by blocking the bolt to the jamb.

Popsicle sticks are perfect for ballet dancers
to train floppy fingers and keep arms under control.
I asked her how they’re attached and she didn’t give me an answer.
I’m trying not to worry so much and live with more mystery.

Popsicle sticks are perfect for scooping out karite body butter.
It’s my job to apply the green smelly shea nut salve onto her back in the bathroom.
I rub it together in my hands to heat it up and it soaks into her skin so softly.
The label says that the infused grape seed oil herbs are dramatically effective
at healing skin conditions and the essential oils are anti-inflammatory.

I fell asleep with a grape popsicle in my hand once
while lying in her bed, which is really ours now.
The stick lay in a big purple popsicle puddle,
thank God she wasn’t home.
I threw the sheets in the bath tub and tried to wash them clean.
It didn’t work, and I ran to the basement laundry with bleach
and put them back on the bed before she came back home.

seeds

Fran Isaacs Gilmore

first descent

long journey down to the river

through the wilderness

crossing to the other shore Hades offers her

a pomegranate cut open

six rays of shining seeds

she touches a few ruby drops to her lips

swallows them without hesitation

Hades takes her arm and leads her

toward a mountain ablaze with fire

she tries to pull away

gaze at it directly with clear intent

as she does the fire recedes into the mountainside

trees and shrubs in full leaf cover its face

then Hades takes her to a lake with islands of ice

step into the water

with less fear this time she moves forward

the ice melts into islands of green

a creature rises from the water

with large bat-like wings and scowling face

she lurches back and the creature says in Hades’ voice

do not hate or fear me Persephone

gaze fully at my face   she follows his command

the creature subsides into Hades

with gentle countenance and kindly eyes

now you know the secret 

you can bring into sunlight

the first tender cotyledons

from seeds long buried

in the heart’s winter


Fran Isaacs Gilmore is a retired industrial hygienist and teacher. She writes health and safety articles for a teachers union, teaches a class in emotional healing in a state prison, and teaches yoga and meditation to people in recovery. She volunteers as a docent in a local park, and is an avid birder. She lives near Philadelphia with her husband and two cats. Her poetry has been published in numero.

Entering New York

Cathleen Cohen

It’s possible as art:

sculpture,

or an architect’s model.

 

The train passes factories, abandoned hulls—

just backdrop,

undertones in the dark slap

of tunnel under river. Then stop.

 

Hands grab coats, shoulders shove,

pants sprint up to the street.

 

This is sketching,

a tempo of lines.

 

Morning tints Grand Central Station with green

like patina on bronze.

 

Vagrants huddle on grates

like vessels lined up for the kiln.

 

Hailing cabs, arms

scumble the air with texture.

 

Women in red coats swerve down Fifth,

a sweep of bright signals.

 

I would watch, but must cross town

past little emerald parks.

Children in swings

etch the sky with their hair.

 

I would linger

but must choose my point of entry now—

 

flat blue doors to the hospital,

the chill, definite room

 

where my brother lies,

 

light as bone under sheets,

under the vast weight of air.

Cathleen Cohen, Ph.D., is Education Director of ArtWell, (www.theartwell.org), which brings poetry and arts workshops to thousands of children of diverse cultures and faiths in the Philadelphia area and abroad. Cathy’s poems have appeared in such publications as Apiary, East Coast Ink, The Four Quarters Magazine, Moment, Layers of Possibility, 6ix, The Breath of Parted Lips, and Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal. She has received the Interfaith Relations Award from the Montgomery County Advisory Board to the PA Human Rights Commission and the Public Service Award from the National Association of Poetry Therapy.