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.


Dan Elman


greasepaint buffalo

twirling dishes

 gravity creep

children pull

turtleneck wonder

through the
mad herd


the neighbor’s dog is barking


it’s about to rain

the trees are dropping
their knots

you remember yourself


kitchen sink

full of cotton candy

a lampshade sky

the measured mind

all the clown feet

Dan Elman’s work has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Apiary, Referential Magazine, and others. A resident of Philadelphia for fifteen years, he recently returned to his home town along the upper Delaware, where he now works as a furniture designer, antiques conservator, and liquidator.

When the City Fell From the Sky

Lisa Alexander Baron

I was standing in the town square

staring up at trees spiraling

down on their bulky heads

and landing with their roots

thrust up like errant toes

or fingers from a grave.

I heard the houses bellow as they

gave up, as their shoulders sagged

and snagged star by star

like the back of a black coat

catching white lint bit by bit.

When the city fell from the sky,

I covered my ears as atonal notes

from that final fugue stuttered

like old blood from the ripped

linen bandages of the clouds.

And here, now — even in the safety

of the here-to-stay dark:

the slow play and re-play

of that black-and-white still,

of that father’s fist clenching

and unclenching his son’s hand

before he let him go.

Lisa Alexander Baron: Her most recent book is While She Poses, a collection of poems prompted by visual art (Aldrich P, 2015). She is a writing and speech coach and teaches at LaSalle University in the business school.

Tell Me I Can’t Say That

David P. Kozinski

My advanced placement was bourbon

poured in a cough syrup bottle

I kept in my locker – amber in amber.


He said it first – spooktacular.

How spooky life became

as big men were shot down.

Conjugate a six ounce verb.


Conjugate this: our troubles come in tribes.


I expected it but she never threw up her arms

and cried, “Go, sell his bones.”


I crossed the dark floor stumbling

among the dead men.

The siege plowed through

seasons’ storehouses; engines

burned and rebuilt; a land seasoned with salt

sang dry-throated, a little cough, a chime.


I crisscrossed that darkened

room – always a night sea journey.

She gave me her hope which I gambled away,

gave me succor,

her delicate collarbone and thoroughbred ankles

to be bartered.



David P. Kozinski won the Delaware Literary Connection’s 2015 spring poetry contest. He received the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, which included publication of his chapbook, Loopholes. Publications include Apiary, Cheat River Review, Fox Chase Review,, and Schuylkill Valley Journal. He has read at numerous venues in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.


Wes Ward

When we didn’t move to Philadelphia,

we didn’t buy the hanging flower basket

for the front stoop in Old City.

We didn’t ride bicycles to the market

and fill your basket with Roma tomatoes

and eggplant. You don’t like eggplant.

And you thought Philadelphia would lose

its lure if we had a mailbox, a sconce

in the foyer, stairs that creaked.

We kept our distance and bought a dog

in a small town beside railroad tracks

that haven’t railed trains in forty years.

It’s quiet beneath these stars.

And tonight on our walk, when you asked

if I had any regrets, I had already begun

writing a poem about hanging baskets

and a love that follows us

wherever we have and haven’t lived.


Wes Ward earned his MA in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. His poetry has appeared in North American Review, Sewanee Theological Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the Bridport Prize in the UK. Wes teaches English and lives with his wife and children in Pennsylvania.

Light Rings

Bernadette McBride

I point 6-year-old Joey’s attention to the lime-green

baby caterpillar curling itself along the sidewalk

in front of our homes, and before I take a second breath,

he lifts his miniature Nike and stamps the poor thing to goo,


spreads it from the bottom of his shoe to the curb, scraping

and scraping it away like Lady MacBeth unable to stop

washing her hands. But without her guilt. My horror is visceral

—it’s all I can do not to glare at him like a school marm


shaking a long finger. Then I recall summer nights

long ago—gaggles of kids on the block—allowed

to run free till parents called us in for baths. How many

fireflies we caught those nights, dropping them into glass jars,


holes poked by the boys with an ice pick into the tin lids.

They were the lucky ones. Others we stripped of their

tiny lamps, lined them around our fingers—brilliant rings

turning us into lords and ladies, queens and kings.


Bernadette McBride, author of two poetry collections, is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, was a second-place winner of the international Ray Bradbury Writing Award, and a finalist for the Robert Fraser Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in the UK, numerous U.S. journals, and on PRIs The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. She is poetry co-editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal and was the 2009 Bucks County Poet Laureate.

I See You

Claire Scott

Time folds back and back on itself

like my uncle’s accordion

          in our airless attic

pleated patterns create

shortcuts to the future

          I tumble through trap

doors & silent tunnels

at the speed of light, arriving

          breathless in a world

where our boots still crackle

pine needles & scales of sun still

          float through dark branches

where we stop by a secluded stream

share sandwiches, apples, cookies &

          each other

I see you walking down West Ridge

A wooden box under your arm

          I call out

I see you kneel & raise the lid

your back toward me

          I see your shoulders shake

I hear the sound of a polka

played in a distant past

          I can’t breathe in this airless place

I see you


Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has been accepted by the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Healing Muse, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal among others. Her first book of poetry, Waiting to be Called, was published in 2015.