Towels at Sunset: Winner, Sandy Crimmins Poetry Prize

Robin Kozak

They must bear no stain,
they must come perfect


from the dryer–cotton
fresh from Turkey, bright


olive stripes, or amber
ones, or blue.  They must bear


no crease, must take the folds
from my hands obediently,


tags tucked underneath them
like the legs of calves,


as meek as sheep.  They
must limn the linen chest like poppies,


coral and gold, or else the pale green I like
in bowls of roses on the table, or


the blue of hydrangeas, a bit
mysterious, shadowing the wood


when I open the doors.  They must
conform, conform now to my vision


of perfection, because my father
would wipe himself with one


when he was done with me,
and I remember.  Love,


when I see you again,
will you forgive my trespasses?


I am hell to live with for a reason.


Robin Kozak was born in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in Wyomissing, a bedroom community outside Reading, Pennsylvania.  She received degrees from Ohio University and the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, and her poems have appeared in Antioch Review, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Field, The Gettysburg Review, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, North American Review, Poetry Northwest, Witness, and other publications.  An authority on antique and estate jewelry, she has also recently completed a novel, The Kingdom It Would Be. 

Tenth of No Wonder

Nancy Scott

Tenth of No Wonder, month

of plucked birds, caverns

stuffed with stale bread,

the hearts fed

to cats who lick

their lips. More

hot chocolate, more bourbon,

more to lose in fewer

words of shivered

shorter lines. Earlier

dark and earlier still

till after Dissemble

when we will celebrate

future perfect Spring.

Nancy Scott’s over 650 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. She has published three chapbooks, and won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Recent work appears in Breath and Shadow, Braille Forum, Disabilities Studies Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, and Wordgathering.


Stone (at a lover’s grave)

George Bishop

Her husband turned to the afterlife when

something incurable found a way to him,

prepared for things that soon might go on

somewhere beyond his body, even bought

two plots hoping his wife would one day

join him. And after he passed she arrived


at the cemetery each day, ready to seed

the loose, dark earth in prayer, engaging

in her own funerals over the vacancy at

his side—until the soil where they’d sleep

forever was washed in every empty answer.

There’s a churchyard in us all we keep alive,


wicks we light, angels we purchase to polish

the grounds of our past, other days digging

to a smooth surface—Until we meet again,

their stone says. It’s a date, the unsigned end

signing some new romance she can’t refuse.

There are things that won’t wash away even


if they wash away, and it’s hard to turn down

a heaven the love of your life has left you,

to give away the gift of a grave. Sometimes

it’s pure hell waiting for a name, wondering

who you’ll meet again when you meet again,

what was cured, if it matters. Sometimes.

George Bishop’s work has appeared in Carolina Quarterly & Lindenwood Review. Forthcoming work will be featured in Pirene’s Fountain. He is the author of seven chapbooks. Bishop won the 2013 Peter Meinke Prize at YellowJacket Press for his chapbook Following Myself Home and was a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee. He attended Rutgers University and now lives in Saint Cloud, Florida.


CJ Cioc

I smell stars, loudly –

singing rings of chorus, orbits. Towards us, comets—

named them after us. Named them Halley,

Hale-bopp— tear drops

on fire.


I can lay

on my back on the hillside

by the road,

sniffing out Cadillacs and autoshow

Edsels, winesap taillights, tasting

speed, and cinnamon


blood, hot blood shining

in pale moonlight—

tar black engine oil blood.


A Jake brake pulses, echoes, and rolls

over hills. It fills the still air, the stale night

and bare trees with shuddering leaves.


In rings of purple my retinas lattice

tear detach. Afterimage burns which streak

in green neon


through my galaxy

of void I see all.

CJ Cioc is a Rosemont College graduate with his MFA in Creative Writing. His poetry collection “Capitulum” recently earned him Thesis of the Year and thesis with distinction. As an undergrad he served as a contributing editor for the campus magazine, Calliope, before graduating with his BA in English. He was awarded the Martha E. Martin Writing award for both Fiction and Poetry. CJ lives in the Pocono Mountains where he enjoys backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, sleeping in, and mending stone walls.

Girolamo Zini

Michelle Castleberry

Age: 20

Nationality/Place of Origin: Istria, Trieste

Description: rope-walker

Cause of Death: Died of atlanto-axial disclocation (broken neck)


The secret to balance

is to always fall up—

Even in training, I rarely

felt the net on my back.

I pointed my nose

away from the hills,

seeing what I needed to see

through the soles

of my bare feet.

The secret to my trade

is to only desire

the path the rope stretches

in front of you.

So I followed it every day,

the crowd’s roar

making tidal noise.

I never cared until I heard

Elena’s voice

in the throng below.

For one second,

my feet forgot their work.

My eyes found her face,

and took the rest of me falling

Although a resident of northeast Georgia, Michelle Castleberry enjoys visiting Philadelphia whenever possible. She is working on a series of poems based on the Hyrtl Skull Collection from the M?tter Museum. Her first book is Dissecting the Angel and Other Poems.

Adalbert Czaptieonesz

Michelle Castleberry

ge: 51

Nationality/Place of Origin: Poland

Description: Catholic

Cause of Death: Cut his throat because of extreme poverty


Sew me into the dirt in pieces

beside the potatoes and beets.

Pay the debtors with the next harvest.


Do not trouble my wife.


Do not trouble my sons.


They are blameless.


Strew me in the furrows at night

after the crows go to sleep.


This labor cannot be witnessed

by sun or any friend.


Tamp the dirt over my flesh

using my last pair of boots.


My people once owned the mountains.

Then we ran down with the thaw,

my forefathers drinking

more potatoes than they grew.

Now the few of us left

are folded under the valley’s skin.

The shadow of the mountain

always over us.


Feed me back to this valley.


I left my wife and sons,

pale as tubers in the cottage,

warmed by fire from branches

stolen from the orchard.

Their bones wash up under their skin

like saplings in a flood plain.


Their names are the last

words I speak

before I open my throat

a different way, offer

a poor man’s wine

to the rich man’s soil.


Although a resident of northeast Georgia, Michelle Castleberry enjoys visiting Philadelphia whenever possible. She is working on a series of poems based on the Hyrtl Skull Collection from the M?tter Museum. Her first book is Dissecting the Angel and Other Poems    

In the Trenches of the Cimarron Canyon

Kristian Macaron

When La Llorona met Billy the Kid in the trenches of the Cimarron canyon, the world was black with smokestacks, burning as buildings became tumbleweeds. The scars of the trees were brighter than the mountains, now rounded hills of charcoal and we were all mountain men, bleary-eyed and mad with thirst.

From the gorge, under great gray palisade cliffs we see the flames light the sky and it makes us wild like the men who first laid their hands on fire, who burned off their fingerprints so that we cannot find them beyond bones and needles and old spearheads stuck into the ground like pennies in a gutter.

Billy raises his six-shooter, left handed, crooked smile, unburied. His famous laugh breaks the wailing woman’s cry and she stops, and listens to his voice rattle like a baby snake.

            ‘We’re all made of wild things.

            We’re made of touch, of caress,

            And of the way your eyes flutter over me.’

She doesn’t know whether to rip him open with her desperation, or to meld hers with his somehow in the midst of the burning world.

How I want to be there, in that ocean when Noah’s ark rocked away in the darkness. The world underneath new–in that ancient tumbler of boulders—and I’d be as smooth and slick as a sugared strawberry.

Finally she says:

            ‘There’s no space here, in this air, in the remaking, for old, sharpness.

            The love here moves us. Makes us. Wild to understand.’

And I think here, in the gorge, under walls of these stone giants, I’ve found the kind of twister that slung Slue-foot Sue into oblivion. I wonder–I’ve forgotten–if she wore her wedding dress? Her veil twisted and gauzy with creek water. As she rode, wielded, conquered, crashed that mammoth catfish into the howling moon.

            I wonder if the twister made her–

            made her hot– like the desert sea of sand and rattlers.

            made her cool down in the night– like a bride uncovered.

            made her mad– like the catfish who could live out of water:

            alive like an inside out stallion. It’s inside a flurry of flesh and fur and a

    dazzling mane that set free would have colored the wind on the plains.

On the day when the giants froze into mountains, staring at each other across the Cimarron river, the moon wolves yelped and withered into coy-otes: howl-less and brown like dirt. And our legends met our ghosts with pistolas and lagrimas.

On the days of our births we breath the dust of memories

And it scours our flesh, smooths our skin, fills up our lungs.

And God says at each beginning and beginning again that it is good.

He said we are perfect.

And so we breathe now. As we breathe again. And we continue our remaking.

But the earth is cracked like a battleground.

Like footsteps. Like a mine of years and stones:

Rough and brilliant.

Sharp and smooth.

Grim Story

Andrea Selch

For one whole decade I was a giant:
my tunic smelled of rotten milk and frying meat;
my knuckles cracked all on their own;
and I had enormous, tired, watery eyes.

Yet the children’s faces lit up at mine;
I was good—when I ate them,
I spit them up again, nom, nom, nom.
Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

Once upon a time I was a lover too,
cavorting among the fairies, queens,
all of us in rolled-up denims,
balling, in so many ways,  and illegal.

Now, I am shrinking—my son’s hair overtakes me,
standing up like a chariot horse’s mane—
and I am dragged behind him into battle,
my hands bleed and the wind singes my jowls.

In the Wellspring, a cop half my age
shoots the breeze with me, then leaves,
saying Have a nice day, ma’am.
What business have I, being a ma’am?

I very-almost parked in handicapped
but my hybrid wagon, blue fish that carries me

hither and yon, swam in the large spot,
and I thought better of it.

The scabrous odors of war are thick upon me,
I want a ticket out. But I’m so tiny now,

I slip through all the rails,
like jacks through my once-gigantic hands.

Nothing but Villas in Tuscany

Anne-Adele Wight

when he comes home
steer heavenward
like a movie about flying into the sun


airlift cattle to a terrace with orange trees
I’m the last thing he wants
nothing to see from here but villas in Tuscany


computer his raw pet
bone bad
spinning silk in his lap


sky stops giving out lilac trump cards
I retreat to the windowsill
enough small cows there to flatten a city



For R

Amy Small-McKinney

When I am dead, I will still be your lamb, still listening for your bleating.

In your bed, when you are jolted awake by the usual neighbors, police cars,

I will finally move toward you, undefended, I will be headlights in the dark.

By your bed, I will be the green light, always on, faxing from your faulty heart.

In the morning, I will be the car that drives you to the creek, the bench,

where you watch walkers, not lambs, move across a steel bridge, sturdy.

If you are holding a book, and you will be, it will be The Sparrow.

I will be the alien I refused to read about in life.  I couldn’t give you that.

Instead, I wanted to move back, into black and white, the pewter pitcher,

a pigeon  on the  bowler hat.

I promise you, I will be the other, the one you long to talk to.