Letter to an Old Friend

To read “Letter to an Old Friend” by Sonia Arora, click HERE.

Sonia is trying to find the right balm to cure her diasporic funk. She channels her angst by writing poems and insists on walking every day. Sonia has been published in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Lunch Ticket, Elysium Review, RockPaperPoem, Sonic Boom and more. In her free time, she fights fascism and makes pumpkin roti. Sonia raised her son Kabeera in Philadelphia and the city echoes in her heart till today.


In the City

We saw a goose in the courthouse yard.

Then more flew in and settled

on the grass. The day was sinking hard


to dusk, but the geese paid it no mind,

just croaked and rustled by the pond.

The path encircling them was lined


with pithy weeds that spit fronds high.

End-of-workday walkers passed us by,

mothers with strollers, shy


tourists, acting awkwardly at home. The water

glistened, increasingly, as the sun slaked

itself on winter-fingered tree limbs. The ache


of colors intensified the sky for one moment,

then slid to indigo. And off we went,

wandering towards home, and fell in bed,

as if this were some grand event.

Magda Andrews-Hoke lives in Philadelphia, PA. She has studied literature, religion, and linguistics and was a 2019 recipient of the Frederick Mortimer Clapp Fellowship for Poetry. Her poems can be found in Commonweal Magazine, The Friends Journal, and elsewhere.



She told me her brain was a barn on fire,

horses hammering at the stalls, beams ablaze

and buckling, sparks taking their hot bodies

outward and upward on air drafts, or worse,

her brain a cathedral burning, it was Notre Dame

while Paris gasped, medieval joinery unjoined

in a furnace that melted iron, out of control,

smoke in her lungs, an auto da fe of mind.

What I could tell her was: nothing. That

everything dies? That the fire is beautiful?

Or, here is a river, immerse yourself? No—I held

her feverish body next to mine and let her burn.

Ann E. Michael lives in Emmaus, where for many years she ran the writing center at DeSales University. Her most recent book is The Red Queen Hypothesis; she’s the author of Water-Rites (2012) and six chapbooks. Her next collection, Abundance/Diminishment, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books in the spring of 2024. She maintains a long-running blog at www.annemichael.blog.


the body remembers everything it has ever been

Editor’s Choice: 2024 Philadelphia Stories Poetry Contest


and by this I don’t mean the eggs in me that grew

inside the fetus that was my mother inside her mother’s womb


I mean how when cats flick their talkative tails we sense

precisely the heft of our own, feel the spark and the stretch

of dormant muscles ready to twitch


I mean how we are blessed by remnants of

first-worm’s segmentation so yes our guts

have brains and yes our tongues are

smart and lissome as octopus tentacles and yes

our hands can reach from each side of

our bilateral bodies and in the middle

meet and clap and clap again


I mean how when I whisper you have wings you open

your chest, you pull your shoulders back, you feel your arms

retract and sprout anew through the exact

places in your back that ache whenever you

have given up hope.


Shhh now—a secret: your thyroid gland is in

your neck, for once you needed it to pull that precious

iodine from the water fluttering through your

gills. Now your fingers are flicking, aren’t they,

readying to reach, aching to touch those most familiar

flaps –


go on, no one’s looking, and your hand

knows just where on your neck to land.

Elliott batTzedek is a bookseller, poet, and liturgist who lives in Philadelphia. Her poems and translations have been published in: American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, Lilith, I-70 Review, Hunger Mountain Review, Humana Obscura,Sakura Review, Apiary, Cahoodaloodaling, Naugatuck River Review, Poemeleon, Poetica, Philadelphia Stories, and a Split This Rock poem of the week. Her chapbook the enkindled coal of my tongue was published in January, 2017 by Wicked Banshee Press. A chapbook of translations from Shez, A Necklace of White Pearls, is forthcoming from Moonstone Press in 2024.


Yellow Throat

Editor’s Choice: 2024 Philadelphia Stories Poetry Contest

To read “Yellow Throat” by Alison Lubar, click HERE.

Alison Lubar is a queer, nonbinary, mixed-race femme; they teach high school English and Mindfulness. Their work has been nominated for the Pushcart & Best of the Net, and they’re the author of four chapbooks and one full collection, METAMOURPHOSIS, forthcoming with fifth wheel press in October 2024. Find out more at alisonlubar.com or on Twitter @theoriginalison.


Underground Parking in Tehran, 1984

Editor’s Choice: 2024 Philadelphia Stories Poetry Contest


“We must take shelter darling,” my mom

whispered in my ear at 2’oclock in the morning.

Her soft words were preludes to staccatos of sirens.

We had 5 minutes before the bombardment would begin.

An exodus of terrified neighbors ran through

the maze of staircases and dark corridors towards

the underground parking.


I saw my friend Shadi running barefoot.

She had to choose between finding her slippers

or grabbing her cat, Pishi,

and she had picked the latter.

Her 3-year-old brother was oblivious

to what was happening.

He walked straight to the back wall

of the parking lot with a box of crayons,

drawing hieroglyphs of zigzags

and squiggly lines.

To him, this was merely a late-night potluck.


People gathered around with their survival kits:

food, water, blankets and transistor radios

to follow the news. The parking lot was dark and cold

like a tomb of a forgotten king.

I wondered how long we may be stranded this time,

and what would happen if the bombs hit our building.


I sat cross-legged on the cement ground

in a cocoon of blankets and closed my eyes.

I could hear Shadi’s cat meowing in the background,

Mrs. Mirza praying, “Ya Ali, help us,”

and the weak radio frequency dying and resurrecting.

Shakiba Hashemi is an Iranian-American poet, artist and teacher. She holds a BFA in Drawing and Painting from Laguna College of Art and Design. She is a winner of 2023 Best of the Net Award and has been nominated for Pushcart Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Murmur (Word Poetry, 2023) and her work has appeared in The New York Quarterly, Atlanta Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, The Indianapolis Review and elsewhere.


Painting the Heart

Editor’s Choice: 2024 Philadelphia Stories Poetry Contest

I wanted it pink, then blue, yellow.

I wanted it beating on the table.


What kind of paint sticks to flesh,

covers the inside?


Widening in the abdominal artery.

Every year, I have to get a picture taken.


Not painted, traced with dye.

The dye does not stick, runs out.


Warm when it goes in.

They tell you this, to expect it.


Someone said it’s not about understanding.

It’s about pulse, the rhythm the heart takes to heart.


I tried to paint my feelings. I wanted the colors distinct,

the way a child separates foods on a plate—nothing touching.


The colors ran together.

It was a big brown mess.


I tried to paint what I saw.

The more I looked, the more complicated the forms became.

Alison Hicks was awarded the 2021 Birdy Prize from Meadowlark Press for Knowing Is a Branching Trail. Previous collections are You Who Took the Boat Out and Kiss, a chapbook Falling Dreams, and a novella Love: A Story of Images. Her work has appeared in Eclipse, Gargoyle, Permafrost, and Poet Lore. She was named a finalist for the 2021 Beullah Rose prize from Smartish Pace, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Green Hills Literary Lantern, Quartet Journal, and Nude Bruce Review. She is founder of Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio, which offers community-based writing workshops.




Editor’s Choice: 2024 Philadelphia Stories Poetry Contest

To read “Oshouo” by Shin Watanabe, click HERE.

Shin Watanabe was born in Gainesville, Florida and has lived in New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Nevada. He studied philosophy at the University of Minnesota and received an MFA in poetry at the University of Las Vegas. Shin is currently a PhD candidate in English with a creative dissertation in poetry at Binghamton University.


If the Elevator Tries to Bring You Down, Go Crazy

Honorable Mention: 2024 Philadelphia Stories Poetry Contest

When Prince sings I Would Die 4 U

I know he’s singing the number 4,

the capital letter U, and I believe

there are things worth dying for.

I can hear their chopped off heads trailing

behind Prince’s motorcycle

waiting for the moment they bounce

together and kiss inside a cloud of exhaust.


His motorcycle is a storm,

a purple nebula flashing

magnetized lighting in the distant reaches

of space, where his light is travelling

still, untouched by death. I would die

for just about anything large enough

to love so easily: Your hair.

The taste of dehydration. The idea of you

towering above the actual me.

Your head mouths a letter

and then an alphabet.

Your head spells a word, rain.

Or was it pain?


Prince is touching down,

one wheel, then the other

kisses the ground. I want to warn him

that it’s too late, ask you

to help me lift him back into the sky

before history catches up,


but I don’t see you anymore.

And it’s not too late. You say


there’s more beyond each beheaded

word, outside the constellations

of hurt. As the elevator doors close

Prince says something about going crazy.

He’s still alive, his motorcycle still dragging

the future behind it like a parade.

Von Wise received his MFA for Creative Writing from Florida International University. He teaches English composition and creative writing in Philadelphia, where he lives.



Honorable Mention: 2024 Philadelphia Stories Contest


(Dedicated to Carlos from Guatemala who died at the border)


An invisible hand, vice-like,

grips his shoulder…


Head, turning from the light,

he knows the cage has fallen.


He flees from persecution to persecution.


The arduous and angry road north,

long through jungle and desert and mesa

and up to the border of reason before

the breakaway turn


back into the night of sand and moon.


Huddled in the sagebrush of memory and fear,

the boy bites his wrist to stave the ghost of hunger,

too hungry to remember how to eat


or how his mother sang when cooking breakfast.


“Oh little vampire with blood in your teeth,

what energy can you derive from draining your life?”


Looking at the grains beneath his shoes,

he remembers a man named Tyson on the television,

saying as many stars exist…


To visit such a one!


He licks a finger with more blood than spit,

delicately sticking a single grain of sand

near the nail.


Here it is, a glorious star, big enough

to shine a way for him,

a child searching for magi.


There, in the desert night,

a one like the hijo Jesus,

hiding from Herod’s men.


With no strong-armed carpenter to build him a home,

no Madre’ Maria to suckle him in his shivering death.

The cage is everywhere,

infinite in its capacity to stretch and follow,

grabbing the bird-bones of his shoulder,


bidding him to step into the darkness.


Six, seven, eight steps south, now,

are like the breadth of a continent.


How does a cage like this get built?

Who orders its erection?

What is its material?


Everywhere unseen,

it falls like a weighted

drop of rain,


making a sound, but not in any instance to be found

in the desert night.


Moments… and


as great a star as the little bit of silica had become,

it has fallen from the finger,

itself in flight from the cage, to return

to its constellation on the desert floor.


As the keepers of the cage know no shame,

an echo cries, “Uncage the primitive!” but the voice is

a hollow in the scorpion’s den, where the predator remains

sophisticated in his charms.


The boy rubs the empty space at the tip of his finger

and hears the distant notes of his mother’s voice on the night breeze.


He can see her ebony braid swishing rhythmically as she cooks eggs

while he makes a bed in the lightless constellation of ages.

Khalil Elayan is a Senior Lecturer of English at Kennesaw State University, teaching mostly World and African American Literature, and he loves gardening and spending time in nature on his farm in north Georgia. Khalil’s poems have been published in The Black Fork Review, About Place Journal, and The Esthetic Apostle. Khalil has also published creative nonfiction, with his most recent essay appearing in Talking Writing, and his latest short story has shortlisted in The Vincent Brothers Review Annual Short Story Contest.