Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Fate – HONORABLE MENTION

Hayden Saunier

My ticket doesn’t really say that.  My ticket says “fare,” not “fate”

and the ticket doesn’t actually say anything; I’ve misread


the ticket, which isn’t even a ticket any more,

it’s a barcode, or in this case, four pages of wasted ink


on wasted wood pulp flattened and chemically bleached

into blinding white rolls and paper sheets at the peril of our drinking water


outlining precisely how few legal rights I retain

specific to my journey by rail between Washington D.C. and New York, NY


today, November 12, 2016, a changeable day,

that started fogged in, began to burn off over the Susquehanna River


where the train seems to take sudden flight high above the water’s shine

(once represented by aluminum foil between banks of green-dyed dough


in my 4th grade geography project, “Colonial Waterways”: B+, Try to be Neater)

as we cross a high trestle over a river that didn’t go to India


and two of these ticket pages are filled with fat chunks of language

footnoted by stars, double stars and crosses, outlining rules


for baggage, our considerable baggage, for what we each carry with us,

jam into overhead compartments or leave clogging the aisles,


which of course doesn’t include what we drag behind us

heavy and as freighted with the past as white cotton collecting bags


dragged through long rows; rule after rule specific to possessions

but nothing about fate, those three goddesses


who spin, measure, cut the length of a life to an end

and I consider how switching trains could throw off the game,


I could head west on the Pennsylvanian to Pittsburgh

where the brass plaque at the confluence of the Ohio River


says Fort Pitt’s capture from the French and Indians

established Anglo-Saxon supremacy in the United States,


and even though that sign doesn’t really say anything,

it’s hard to misread Anglo-Saxon Supremacy


no matter which direction you go, none of which is touched upon

in the fine print contained by this sheaf of papers


masquerading as a ticket which again has nothing to do with fate—

(ask Oedipus, Iphigenia, or the two men who survived the collapse


of the World Trade Center towers to die in the Staten Island Ferry crash,

ask them about fate) — I just read it that way, because I’m stupidly


hopeful for answers, and I could have misread

“fare” as “fade” or “fame” or “face” or “hate”


because Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Face

is also true, as is Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Fame,


and Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Hate

which is screaming from the newspapers today and now


the lawyers in my head look back from their plushy business seats

and point out the statement makes no guarantees,


read or misread, implied or specific, and by the way,

they say, all the business is packed tight


(with maybe and possibly and the power of might)

in the smart snappy briefcase of may.


Hayden Saunier is the author of Tips for Domestic Travel (Black Lawrence Press: 2009) Say Luck (Writers & Books: 2013), and a chapbook, “Field Trip to the Underworld” (Seven Kitchens Press: 2014) She has been published in a wide variety of journals including 5 a.m., Bellevue Literary Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Smartish Pace, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Tar River Poetry. Her work has been awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize, the Rattle Poetry Prize, Gell Poetry Award and the Robert Fraser Award. (


Tips for Domestic Travel and Say Luck are both available from your local bookstore or through Field Trip to the Underworld is available through Seven Kitchens Press.

The Diameter of a Ringling Bros. Circus Ring – HONORABLE MENTION

Gail Comorat


            after Yehuda Amichai


The diameter of a circus ring is forty-two feet,

an arena large enough to contain three elephants,

three performance stands, two trainers, and

a ringmaster. And inside this ring, each elephant,

upon her designated turn, turns circles around

the ringmaster as he cracks commands with his

ceremonial whip. And no more than ninety feet away,

eight other traveling elephants wait in a steel-

barred cage of insufficient measure. And in this cage,

they hear the cries of their sisters as they perform

a shuffle around the ring, their soft-soled feet scuffing

dirt into the circus air. The caged elephants shift and

shoulder each other, bellow back, setting off a call

and answer of all elephants, a shared chain that

becomes wild notes rising and falling outside and

inside the big top, where the master’s sharp whistle

sends children scuttling closer to their mothers, and

the mothers circle their little ones with rounded arms

as all the elephants repeat their circle of song. And

the song rings and rings and lingers even after

the canvas walls come down.


Gail Braune Comorat is a founding member of Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild. She is the author of a poetry chapbook, Phases of the Moon (Finishing Line Press), and has been published in Grist, Adanna, Gargoyle, Mudfish, and The Widows’ Handbook. She received a 2011 Delaware Division of the Arts Fellowship Grant for Emerging Poet, and in 2015, a DDOA Grant for Established Poet.


Will Jones

I had a brother at Khe Sahn

Fighting off the Viet Cong

They’re still there, he’s all gone

                – Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA


I’m not afraid to die. Hell, I already died once,

Duffey says, from the malaria after the war.

I was on the other side, it was beautiful,

no pain, all your questions answered,

like why there’s gophers, dumb shit like that,

he says, a little grin curling around

his dry, cracked lips, a quick flash of light

in his gray, opaque eyes.


I had a choice and I chose to come back.

I don’t know why. No, I’m not afraid to die,

hell no, Duffey says, across the kitchen table

of his cluttered ranch house off El Camino

where’s he’s lived thirty years a bachelor

after his wife left, mother of his two children.

Now she’s trying to come around, take care of me,

he says, knows there’s money, might get some,

but I say, it’s thirty years, goddamn it,

leave it alone, just leave it the hell alone.


Duffey, lean and long limbed, loose t-shirt

and sweats, his face sere and gaunt,

the backs of his hands purple from IV’s,

head shaved, just a hint of  mustache

where the handlebar used to be,

working on the sandwich we brought him,

wiping away the sauce with the big knuckle

of his index finger.


On the wall beside the table, an old framed

picture of him, smiling, straddling his hog,

the ghost of who he used to be

haunting him from the past.


Started in the lungs, then got into the brain,

Duffey says. They tried to zap it

but didn’t get it all, and then the chemo,

but, hell, the cure is worse than the disease,

so I says, that’s enough, I’m not

afraid to die, let’s get on with it.


After a tour in Okinawa,

Duffey re-upped and went to Nam,

sixty-eight, sixty-nine.

Had to save my brother, Duffey says,

never had any luck, none at all,

poor son-of-a-bitch. I was a sniper

and he was a radioman, a walking target.

I shot officers and his opposite on the other side,

and they shot him at Khe Sahn. Never had

any damn luck, no damn luck at all, he says.


A sheet of yellow paper

taped to the kitchen wall reads,


Duffey is a hospice patient.

If you notice a change in him

(including death)

do not call 911. Call…


Hell, I’m still showering myself,

happy here on my own,

food in the refrigerator,

but they want to help,

so I guess I’ll let them,

but I’m not afraid to die.


Hell no, Duffey says, not me.

Already died once, goddamn it.


Will Jones writes, “I am a native Philadelphian, a graduate of William Penn Charter School, class of 1966, and Susquehanna University. I have lived in San Luis Obsipo, California, since 1979. In 2011, I retired from a career in public education as an English teacher and high school principal. My poems have appeared in local publications and in an anthology of poems celebrating the 30th anniversary of the San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival.”



Extinction (I) – RUNNER UP

Elizabeth Bagby

Cyanobacteria in primeval waves

found the young planet so immensely to their liking

that they multiplied and multiplied—

those carbon-gluttons at an endless feast—

spread, turned oceans blue,

and forced the world

to breathe


From which it all followed: legs grew,

and nerves and spines, fins, wings, antennae, tails;

monocots pushed up, leaves uncurled;

meadows flamed with color, brought forth

the humming seethe


of bees; and, not incidentally,

some enterprising double-jointed ape

stretched out a fingertip and touched a thumb,

and found the world was less



—from which the rest of it proceeded:

wars and Romans, contrapposto, dancing,

letters, A-tests, pyramids and satellites,

gunpowder, rock and roll, vaccines, banner ads,

whisky, card games, fantasy leagues, traffic stops, Congress: well,

here we are.


Did, as cyan crept across the swells,

as the holocaust of oxygen filled the air,

some skeptical bacterium



Did it assert, The oceans aren’t changing; or,

if they are changing, you can’t prove

that we’re the ones changing them;

and anyway, why stop progress, when

cyanobacteriakind has come

so far?


A. Bagby, a Chicago-based writer, musician, performer, and illustrator, recently participated in the Arctic Circle Arts & Sciences Expedition, an arts residency aboard a tall-mast ship exploring the glaciers and fjords of Svalbard. Her writing has appeared onstage with Strange Tree Group and Sansculottes; in anthologies from Wipf & Stock, Press 53, and Chicago Review Press; and in numerous magazines. She also draws oddball creatures for The Forgiveness Monster, fronts Liz + the Baguettes, and plays bass for The Unswept.

adoctrinado – RUNNER UP

Liliana Lule

indoctrinate: (1) to teach (someone) to fully accept

the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a

particular group and to not consider

other ideas, opinions, and beliefs


god is hiding at the corner of my mouth.

god is (hiding) on the corner of hudson and evergreen and watching

two children bleed out. his eyes are wide open.

did he anticipate this on the eighth day?

does he hate all he’s created?

my mouth tastes like iron. bleeds

from the inside-scraping screams i’m not allowed to breathe.

god is watching from the bruised insides

of my thighs; does he want something back?

let me cough up a lung. let me carve my heart out.

let me sanctify myself, post-mortem.

let me make myself anew in awe of him.

god is listening. god is (watching)

this pyre fueled by genocide.

these relics of colonization. these survivors of enslavement.

god is loving us living (starving) (dead).

god is watching my father take a knee to the back

by an officer who calls him spic.

god is watching a man hemorrhage before his daughter.

god is promising to steal back any lightning-born brown boys

he finds hustling on clark in the night time.

here. pray to him again tonight. watch him press his ear

to the hospital room door of a woman whose son is dead.

promise him a visit to la virgen. maybe she can hear us.

god is hiding in the space between a kiss.

he’s creating something holy.

something promised. something doomed.


Liliana is currently working on a degree in English and Spanish, an endeavor made even more exciting by her constant forays into Latin America. In her spare time, she does research on Latinx liberation, aiding her constant efforts to save the world one protest chant at a time. She enjoys Ben & Jerry’s, Spanish rock bands, and dogs almost as much as she does poetry.


Content Warning: Pantoum – RUNNER UP

Alejandro Escudé

We warn you this video may contain graphic images,

the man is a blood-chalice, the woman is saying sir

and the uniform stands firm as the camera captures

the road, elbows and hands, the zip-zip of cuffs.


The man is a blood-chalice, an alphabet of red, sir

you shot my boyfriend, she says, don’t tell me he’s gone.

The crying baby is somewhere suspended in dread

over a road of hardened elbows, hands, zip-zip of cuffs.


You shot my boyfriend, she says, don’t tell me he’s gone,

the uniform stands firm, the woman is saying sir

on a road of interlocking elbows, the zip-zip of cuffs.

We warn you this video may contain graphic images.


We warn you this video may contain graphic images.

The policemen approach from angles, spider-like,

the camera to the woman’s face, her voice unravelling

as she summons the facts, “You shot four bullets…”


From angles, the policemen approach, spider-like,

saying “sort” and “out,” as if death were not final.

The man is a man no more, a head-tossed savior,

his body like a white bloody blanket over the seat.


Saying “sort” and “out,” as if death were not final,

the uniform stands firm as the camera captures

his body like a white bloody blanket over the seat.

We warn you this video may contain graphic images.


Alejandro Escudé’s first book of poems, My Earthbound Eye, was published in September 2013. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from UC Davis and teaches English. Originally from Argentina, Alejandro lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

Firestorm: Checagou – WINNER

Nancy L. Davis

In the tall stalks of plenty where prairie meets plains

a city is born. Wild onions, wild fantasies.

Rivers run through it. Strident streams of Great-Lake currents

steady the flow of New-England merchant men:

princes and paupers, land pirates build the inestimable

sprawling of sweeping horizons.


Pelts fall to planks

warriors to mayors

dreams to currencies

forests to sweatshops.

Steam horses spar

with human life.

A river reversed

a pestilence delivered



Necessity being the mother of invention,

steel structures rise, trains loop and dip

and the disassembly of beasts foretells

the Second Coming:  lean iron horses feeding

scrap yards. Meanwhile,

the torpid transmigration of souls transpires:

dumped into Bubbly Creek later washed

down the mighty Mississippi, generations later

the river choking on silt.


The Negro Speaks of Rivers.  “I’ve seen fire and

I’ve seen rain.”** I’ve seen a lakefront open to parks

and people, wetlands overfed with fill. The vanishing

and the vanquished. Trains, planes, automobiles:

the confluence a gritty grid of asphalt angles and granite

canyons. Boats carrying the hopeful across the

Great Dixie Divide. Mechanical men stacking flaxen

into elevators of wealth. Driven creators the brilliant

architects of modernity.


Flash forward to grim brick smokestack-like Habitats

for Humanity. Distinctive Projects. Progress. Native Sons

also rising. A Metamorphosis:  onion fields to fertilizer beds

to killing parks slashed to the quick

with modern-day scythes and sickles;

drug-sick shepherds keeping watch on their flocks to part rival

weave from neighborhood chaff:  flushing out futures like grouse

in the grasses, flesh falling from bone; sacrificial lambs, our heads

bowed to the heavens. Our Country ‘Tis of Thee.

The ages echoing one into another,

aging with heartbreak, of thee I sing.


Rapid-fire consumption our

Gross National Product.


Metal scrambles, screams through tissue;

just another Stormy Monday, the papers say. Strange Fruit falling

from the popular to arms. Farewell. Hand to hand combat. Friendly

fire. The gun runner wailing with the gospel choir.

“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore, /But, baby, where are you?”***


A most uncivil war. Urban unrest. City of Big Shoulders, gangly adolescence.

Oh holy

night. Violence begets violence. O say,

can you see, by the dawn’s dimming light.

The rocket’s red glare the bombs bursting in air

gives proof through the night that our hearts are not there.

For the land of the free and the home of deep strife:

unsettled, unhealthy, unbidden. Rife

with sorrow.


I speak of rivers

fire and rain.


*Native American term meaning skunk weed, smelly onion

**James Taylor, “Fire and Rain” by    ***Dudley Randall, “The Ballad of Birmingham”


A retired English Professor, Nancy L. Davis divides her writing time between Chicago and Long Beach, Indiana, on Lake Michigan. Her poetry, short fiction, reviews and articles have placed in numerous competitions and appeared in such journals as Primavera, The Ledge Magazine of Poetry & Fiction, Route Nine and Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table. Prior to teaching, Ms. Davis wrote and produced award-winning educational films; she holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Literature from The University of Massachusetts in Amherst.


Wilson Roberts

Sounds within a house change
when the last of the dead are taken;
echoes of dust settling
air drying, cracking:
emptiness has a resonance.
That is why we point mutely
at paintings, lamps, furniture, small
things favored by memory;
whisper when we must speak:
the brass mortar and pestle, the
painting, cows grazing, the
cut glass sherry decanter.

Words profane that holy moment,
instant, in truth, when the dead are again
present, the dust suspended, the air moist;
we see them move the pestle, straighten
the painting, for they have been taken
quickly, leave slowly, and are gone
only after we mete out those favored
things, load our cars with boxes, knowing
upon what mantles and shelves, tabletops and walls
we will place them. We go
to our homes and behind us the dust
settles, the air dries, and outside the house
the tap tap tapping of a sign being placed
at the edge of the lawn by the street.


Wilson Roberts lives in Greenfield Massachusetts and St. John in the Virgin Islands. Raised in Newtown, Bucks County, his short fiction and poetry have appeared in The Red Clay Reader, Balsams and Hemlocks, Crucible, The Appalachian South, Radical America, Philadelphia Stories, The Massachusetts Review, and The Journal of Caribbean Literatures. His novels, including All That Endures, are published by Wilder Publications.

Why I Be Writin’ Stuff

Joseph Earl Thomas

Because I never learned
a damn thing in school,

since D.A.R.E. came
long after truth.

Because maps don’t work
here, and

there is oil, but
“The Rainbow isn’t Enuf.”

Because ain’t no nigga playing Spider-Man
Or James Bond.

Because it’s raining right now
in Antigua,

but North Philly is lovely this time of year.

Because gaps need bridges,
but snitches get stitches

Anything I say can and will be used against me in a court
of law.

Because there are no mirrors
big enough.

Because singing out
loud demands confidence.

Because Mr. Emas died
half-way through graphic design class—
took my visual art with him.

Because anxiety wasn’t uniquely
holding a gun to my head,

And Frankford by-laws state
I should have long since been dead.

Because so few cats
can swim

and even salmon
die trying.


Joseph Earl Thomas is a Writing Studies graduate student at Saint Joseph’s University. A sometimes poet and memoirist, he specializes in speculative fiction centered on disenfranchisement, coming of age as a person of color and prolonged encounters related to war. Click here to read his blogs.

When The Harpsichord of Watercolors

Paul Siegell

I hung them out of the location,
but was worried about rain.
Awareness on canvas, Monday
in the South Philly kill zone.
I’ll be on your arm, but these
are not the only words we have
in common. As easy as it is to
get a slice of pizza, the sooner
you know that the pharmacy
will wear you out, the better—

“Morrissey” says my sweatshirt,
says ceremonial moans, says that
that written record of watercolors
(what kept you in hiding all week

-end)came kind closer to what
you saw that helped morning

her wet-towel warmth unsealed
your sight from the glue of pinkeye:
“paperclip rainclouds exploding
toad-green sparks”—Still,

as a concept apropos of the in-
side-out, saying things like “Can
I make a delivery order?” seems
to know no limitations. The slip
from yesterday’s cookie asks,
“How dark is dark? How wise is
wise?” and no matter how many
lucky numbers I get, I still can’t
tip to an answer fair—Best check
back for details as they develop.


Paul Siegell is the author of wild life rifle fire, jambandbootleg and Poemergency Room, and a senior editor at Painted Bride Quarterly. Kindly find more of his work – and concrete, poetry, and t-shirts – at “ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL” and @paulsiegell.