Philosophy of Baking (Crimmins Poetry Prize Honorable Mention)

Autumn Konopka

In the oven there are secrets:
crusts burned and flaked,
black bubbles that still smoke every time she fires up.

She says:

Give me bitter lemons; I will sweeten them.
Give me brown bananas, sour milk.
Give me the chocolate so dark it chokes you.

You train yourself to listen.
Give the oven what she wants,
and she gives you
coconut custard, marble pound,
red velvet cupcakes, cranberry scones.
You tune out the cacophony:
“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”
the doorbell bringing women who want
to know if you’re saved,
men who want
to know if you’re saving enough on your gas bill.

Sometimes the oven says
eggs, bacon, gruyere, chives.
And you obey
without hesitation.

Other voices hurl pages
of unwritten poems, echos of your husband’s lover
singing “Oh yes! Oh yes! Oh god, yes!”
And him: “There has never been another woman
so beautiful.”

You don’t listen to them.
You lean in closer to the oven.
Closer still.
Deep inside where it’s quietest.
Maybe today will be your day
to change, to puff and flake,
turn golden and rise
without sinking in the center.

Autumn Konopka’s poems have appeared in Philadelphia Stories, Literary Mama, Crab Orchard Review, Apiary, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and others. In 2014, her chapbook, a chain of paper dolls, was published by the Head & the Hand Press. When not frantically tapping poems into her iPhone, Autumn runs, reads with her kiddos, rewards well-placed semicolons, and watches embarrassingly bad tv.
Find her

DOG, COME HERE INTO THE DARK HOUSE. COME HERE, BLACK DOG. (Crimmins Poetry Prize Honorable Mention)

Ken Pobo

       Etching by Leonora Carrington

At night when barred owls
ask who cooks for you, she sits
by the window.  No one

cooks for her.  She has a black dog
and coral night.  The moon
offers stepladders of gleam.  Preferring the dark,

she closes shutters at dawn.  Of course
people say she must be lonely.  They’re right.
She thinks loneliness is like a maple tree

she counts on to change colors.  Besides,
with a black dog who could feel too alone?
His tail made of butterflies and

zinnias.  He barks and a glass of red wine
appears.  Quite the dog about town
yet faithful as a hard crossword puzzle

in a Sunday paper.  Her windows open
and close but rarely break.  She knows
that cracking glass will announce

her own death.  She sees it faintly
through dusty panes, smiles
before turning away.

Kenneth Pobo has a new book forthcoming from Blue Light Press called Bend Of Quiet. His work has appeared in: Hawaii Review, Nimrod, Mudfish, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and English at Widener University in Chester.

Brotherly Love (Crimmins Poetry Prize Honorable Mention)

Warren Longmire

Philly all the emo with none of the moshpit.
Philly free jazz in a trashbag.

Philly’s a synthetic weave tumbleweed down 69th street.
Philly’s Schuylkill punch brown and meek mill’s cadence for an anti-depressant.

Philly’s a rust covered trolley rail used as a balance beam for cat sized rats.
Philly’s a mouse that stands in the middle your living-room wondering what you staring at.

Philly’s when the scent of urine feels comfortable.
Philly’s a crackhouse where someone pulls out an ipod touch.

Philly’s the seasoning left in potato chip bag, littered because fuck you.
Philly’s bulletproof glass protecting blunt wrappers and raisinets.

Philly’s a bed sheet ad for pet colonics.
Philly’s four empty barber shops in a two block radius.

Philly is abandoned midnight unsafe even if desert.
Philly looks at anything but you as intensely as it can.

Philly is dubstep basement row-home hot pagan light-show for nobody Philly.
Philly’s a cafe a bored new jersey dreamed into existence.

Philly bucktoothed street with caution tape floss.
Philly flosses through beirut in a hooptee.
Philly ain’t no white car.
Philly For Sale sign.

Philly loose dutch tobacco on the 23. Philly loose money. Philly is cheap.
Philly chirps. Philly speaks it’s first words. Philly lounges.

Philly is waiting.
Philly is waiting.
Philly is waiting and the teams choke.
The kids choke.

The fey smokers identical outside the whiskey bar chain smoke like it’s new orleans downtown.
The buses weeze.

The roads are cracked and the sidewalk’s grow flowerbeds beneath them.
Philly grows and shrinks. Screams “back door” but doesn’t tell you to step down.

Doesn’t speak. Gets cut. Names.
A paradox laughing at itself. The old friend with no money

            and a ugly mouth.

Warren Longmire is a web programmer, game developer, poet and part-time philosopher. He’s been published in Painted Bride Quarterly, Metropolary, Eleven Eleven and two chapbooks: Ripped Winters and Do.Until.True, but what he really wants to do is direct. He currently resides in Philly across from a former Mausoleum with one roommate, one bluetooth karaoke machine and a pet python named Fugee.
You can find his writings, essays, videos and sounds at and

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.

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



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



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.  


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.