Abecedarian for Pinyin

Runner Up: 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

 

Ah is the first and easiest sound for a child to make,

Over the doctor’s popsicle-stick probe or at the kitchen table,

Entreaty for food to enter. Ah is the first spell we learn to sound out,

Invitation miraculously saying Take this space and give me something I

Understand in return. We practiced the other vowels like songs, even

Ü which sounds like the word for fish. The consonants, too, shone

Bright on their poster, de a horse’s hoof, te an umbrella handle, letters

Placed to form a chant, swelling into each other and crackling in our

Mouths. When a new student from China named John joined my

Fifth grade class, I was quickly appointed translator,

Described assignments to him while the class watched.

The public-ness mortified me. My classmates’ curiosity at sounds

Not theirs turned my speech into performance. Once, the teacher said “It’s

Like music to my ears” in class, amidst bongos and maracas. After that, I

Gave translated instructions brusquely, furtively, the words

Kicking out of my mouth before others could hear. I wanted to

Hide the sounds. Instead, I was forced to sing my strangeness aloud.

John bore the brunt of my shame, and I am still sorriest to him,

Quizzed for a year on assignments relayed mostly through anger. Drinking

Xifan at home, my parents asked about my new role translating for “the

Zhang classmate,” delighted I could make use of our language. I admit,

Chinese does chime like music. I couldn’t have deadened my

Shifting tones in that classroom if I’d wanted. We

Rang words back and forth to each other like strings plucked on a

Zither. So what if our speaking sounds like singing. We

Curved our mouths around the four tones as children for a reason.

Syllables gallop from my open mouth and John understands them.

Yes, learning language is a kind of incantation. We chant pinyin down a poster.

We say Ah hoping someone will understand and answer.


Stephanie Niu is the author of She Has Dreamt Again of Water, winner of the 2021 Diode Chapbook Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Georgia Review, Southeast Review, Poets Readings the News, and Storm Cellar, as well as scientific collaborations including the 11th Annual St.Louis River Summit. She lives in New York City. Find her online at https://stephanieniu.com/poetry or on Twitter as @niusteph.

The Madonna of the Rabbit

Runner Up: 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

 

The baby bunny’s back again,

chewing grass with ears

turning and turning.

 

Rabbits were thought

to reproduce without touch,

their white fur pure as the Mother.

 

When my husband hoses the garden,

it darts and hides behind a shovel, femoral

artery pulsing as I count the seconds.

 

“Attentiveness is the natural prayer

of the soul,” said some French philosopher.

I watch its little heartbeat beat beat beat.

 

ii.

 

I follow you with my spiritual name,

braid your voice into my own.

Children chatter outside the frame.

 

In memory, the sun sits at a sixty-degree

angle to Earth. We’re prettily

reflecting and scattering the wavelengths.

 

When I called on the dream line

it wasn’t you really, hair too short

and a yellow blonde, but it felt good

 

to say I’m capable of growing too.

I see your black hollyhock, fruitful

while taking its time to become conscious.

 

I want to be the bunny held close

as you give the baby to another,

to lie in the blue of you.


Kelly Lorraine Andrews’ poems have appeared in Dream Pop Journal, Ghost Proposal, Ninth Letter, PANK, and Prick of the Spindle, among others. She is the author of five chapbooks, including Sonnets in Which the Speaker Is on Display (Stranded Oak Press, 2019), The Fear Archives (Two of Cups Press, 2017), and My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing (Porkbelly Press, 2017). She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. Along with her husband and two cats, she’s tending to her garden, trying to be tender to herself.

greens

Winner of the 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

To read “greens” by Edythe Rodriguez, click HERE.


Edythe Rodriguez is a Philly-based copywriter who studied Africology and poetry at Temple University. She loves neo-soul, battle rap, and long walks through old poetry journals. Edythe has received fellowships from The Watering Hole, Brooklyn Poets, and Palm Beach Poetry Festival.

For the Living on 12th/Catharine

At the park a birthday picnic glitters

safe as a mirage: soap bubbles float slow

past the Speedo-clad neighbor’s languid sprawl

beneath tinkling pop acoustic covers,

past the silver island of cone-capped guests

as rippling streamers breezily announce

another year gone, and what can they do

but mock the bottle’s label as they toast

one last livable, sour-tongued month of heat?

 

From a passing window, the driver sings

a PSA: “don’t be no fool baby

 

as boys spring launch tests off benches, turn sticks

to scepters hurled skyward as sister bolts

after them, a chain of vectors flashing

as a toddler in a flowered smock learns

to ride the rafts of her father’s feet raised

wave by wave, her open face exposed and

sunlit, helped and helpless, arms held up


Alexa Smith is a poet and essayist from Washington D.C. She lives in Philadelphia, where she works for a local textbook publisher, edits Apiary Magazine, and teaches creative writing at Temple University. Her work has appeared online in Entropy, Interim, Memoir Mixtapes, Peach Mag, Dark Wood, and STELLA Radio.

Philadelphia Geese

In Fairmount Park the Canada geese

migrate from the west side

of the river to the east, from sun

to grass to shade across azalea-

crazed spring days.

 

These geese roam only the Schuykill River.

These geese will take your offered treats

then bite the hand that feeds them.

These geese will get all up in your business.

These geese leave landmines

of bacterially-loaded fecal matter clusters

in clumps of hundreds everywhere they go.

These geese do what they want, don’t care

what you think, and will give

as good as they get any day of the week.

 

These are Philadelphia geese.

 

Our geese—most days

we ignore them, or complain about

their shit and their attitudes.

But in May we watch, needing

the yellow-green gosling announcement

that spring has fully ripened, needing

the traffic-stopped for goose-crossing excuse

for staring at the river rather than hurrying

to work, needing the honking sunset flight

as witness to day’s passing, needing the shock

to our hearts as our geese

fly so close overhead we feel the beat

of their wings through our shared air:

 

PhillyPhillyPhillyPhillyPhillyPhillyPhilly

PhillyPhillyPhillyPhillyPhillyPhillyPhilly


Elliott batTzedek is surprised to find she has lived in Philly for 30 years and probably always will. She holds an MFA in poetry from Drew University and is a bookseller by trade and a liturgist by passion. Or maybe the other way around. Her work appears in: Sakura Review, American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, Cahoodaloodaling, Naugatuck River Review, and Poemeleon. Her chapbook the enkindled coal of my tongue was published in January 2017 by Wicked Banshee Press.

Haibun After a Tornado in Pennsylvania

The late summer brings forth baseball, roses, and wreckage. A chainsaw roars. The high school gym roof gapes open and unmasked to the cloudless sky. Guests survey the damage. A prostrate street sign blasts the words Left Lane Must Turn Left pinned to the concrete. A tree limb excalibered deep into soil. Children grasp and tug, then give up on removing it. Smells of wet grass and sawdust. A family drags debris to the curb, first fence posts, then shingles, then a pink plastic doll house. Second-floor bedroom pried open, cross-sectioning bookshelves, wall, insulation. On one roof, blue tarp flaps while across the street, a patio table and three chairs stand in tea-party formation. It is somehow the most perfect day of the summer. Pennsylvania is not in Tornado Alley yet this year there have been 28. A pickup truck stops in front of a house. The driver plunks a case of bottled water on the curb, then drives to the next house.  A neighbor is leaning on her car, head down. When the passerby nods to her, says, I’m so sorry, she starts talking and she can’t stop. I’ve lived here all my life, she says, Never saw anything like it. I’ll never forget the sound, like a train, she says. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.

 

Look at that steel strung

around the high oak branches –

like it was woven.


The author of three chapbooks including We Marry We Bury We Sing or We Weep, which was named a runner-up in Moonstone Arts’ Chapbook Contest in 2021 (Moonstone Press), Faith Paulsen’s poetry and prose have appeared in many venues including Ghost City Press, Book of Matches, Thimble, Evansville Review and Mantis. Faith lives and writes in the Philadelphia area where she and Barton Sacks raised three sons. Please check out her website at https://www.faithpaulsenpoet.com/.

Listen

Becoming intimate with spirits,

I put my ear to the ground and listen

to the ocean rumble

 

I see wolves

they wear their hides like masks

prey on the flesh that peeks out from under skirts,

between breasts

what wanders in the dark

 

eschúchame, mi amor

 

Make yourself hard to chew

 

The ants are hardworking–

carry petals like treasures,

heavy and bright

 each a wish already made

 

Take one

 

rendición

 

Attune to the water, cold like a first breath

 

Most of the fruit is half lost,

decays slowly

like magic

feeds the strays

soaks the sand

 

The darkness is a friend

 

Perhaps this is why the air is sweet,

why I find kisses in the cracks of the pavement

awaken dreaming

a face I remember

but don’t recognize

 

This is how they paint the sky–

the gods I mean

Drinking moments like mead,

danger is dust behind them

they follow a golden road

and it never ends


Liora Hassan (she/they) is an ambitious nonbinary writer and recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s English department. Hassan likes to draw from various facets of her identity as well her everyday experiences to guide her work. They’re fascinated by the potential that literary art has to upset the norm and unearth new considerations. Hassan recently made Philadelphia to be her new home and looks forward to the changes it will bring.

In Paradisum

The basement furnace died at 3AM.

The chilly weather of early spring

Arrives by degrees inside the house,

Like seawater leaking into a hull.

 

We bundle up, treasuring our warmth.

By afternoon, the halls have chilled, as wind

Whines tunelessly and rattles at the glass.

“In Paradisum” from Fauré’s Requiem

 

Chimes down the crooked stairs like lazy stars

Revolving overhead, pining away

For me, yearning to have me home again,

Out there shining in solar Sargassos

 

Or ocean swirls of discarded plastic

Gathering in Pacific emptiness.

Fresh dust snows on furniture and floor. I breathe

The busy air, teeming with life, split by shafts

 

Of sunlight. My voice is dry from all the dust.

It’s taken over everything. It coats

The meniscus of my glass of water.

It’s made of us, our cats and candles—

 

Rumors of how our lives will be consumed—

Particles of meteor and pollen,

The powder that puddles on the floorboards

As nails are hammered into old walls—

 

Iridescent archipelagos of pearl

Trailing lagoons of chalk dust in their wakes.

Our self-incineration, which hardly hurts,

Starts lightning racing into nothingness.

 

I know we’re dust, and stardust too, but more—

Phosphorescent dust in oceans of sunlight,

Like breaths exhaled, diffusions, traces of song,

Engines firing in the voiceless dark.


Ernest Hilbert is the author of Sixty Sonnets, All of You on the Good Earth, Caligulan—selected as winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize—and Last One Out. His fifth book, Storm Swimmer, was selected by Rowan Ricardo Phillips as the winner of the 2022 Vassar Miller Prize and will appear in 2023. Visit him at www.ernesthilbert.com.

Brutem Fulmen

Man is the only creature that is not always killed when struck — all others are killed on the spot; nature doubtless bestows this honour on man because so many animals surpass him in strength. — Pliny the Elder

 

The talk-radio host is provoking listeners to weigh in on what language we believe acts as the official discourse in hell. The host thinks it must be Latin, too many sins, he says, tented under Papal vestments, meaning too many thighs grazed behind the doors of countless sacristies for perdition to be voiced in any tongue other than that of its most zealous arbiters. The callers, on the other hand, are sure it’s English, or Hebrew, or that demons speak all languages, or none, because suffering existed before language, which to me seems the strongest argument, as I shift my car into park up the block from the warehouse you let slip was your last work delivery, last obligation, when you called to say goodbye (a contraction of “God be with ye”). I keep the engine running like Kojak or Columbo, watch you over my trash-strewn dashboard as you load boxes onto a hand truck. I will follow you, stop whatever crime you’re planning against yourself, because I know you’re asking for a savior. On the radio, another long-time listener shares that the word “suffering” comes from Vulgar Latin, a variant of “sufferer,” meaning to “endure,” or to “carry,” and for a moment I resent you. But then I see your truck bumping down the rutted warehouse drive, and I swing into traffic behind you. I keep at least two car-lengths between us. As we twist through rush-hour, the topic has turned from Hell to Heaven. The host believes we have no need for language in the afterlife because God is complete understanding. And while I agree that there’s comfort to be found hiding under the blanket of omniscience, it still makes me want to call in and remind everyone that awareness, God’s or our own, is essential to our suffering. Without it we wouldn’t know we’ve been abandoned. God couldn’t get angry. There’d be no Hell, no reason for it, or for any of our actions, and as the great TV detectives teach us: motive is everything. You jam a quick right, screech your van into a supermarket plaza, and I’m thinking, good, if you want groceries, it means you don’t want to die. Still, I shadow you into the store and calculate our surprise meeting among the vegetables, perform my shock at running into you like this, while you act as if you don’t know I’ve been tailing you since before we both ran that red light.


Keith Kopka is the recipient of the 2019 Tampa Review Prize for his collection of poems, Count Four (University of Tampa Press, 2020). He is also the author of the critical text, Asking a Shadow to Dance: An Introduction to the Practice of Poetry. He is the recipient of the International Award for Excellence from the Books, Publishing & Libraries Research Network, a Senior Editor at Narrative Magazine, and an Assistant Professor at Holy Family University.

The Masterpiece in Our Bedroom

San Girolamo, Caravaggio, 1605

 

In a dark room, San Girolamo writes with a quill pen.

He’s partially draped in a rich, red cloth, maybe a cloak,

maybe the covers from his bed as if he rushed naked

to the table straight from a dream, fevered with ideas.

A thick book on his lap. A thin halo’s edge,

barely visible in the dark, hints above his balding pate

at hallowedness. For all the years I’ve dusted this framed

postcard on our bedroom dresser, that little light remained hidden.

The blessedness I’ve always seen, what gets me

every time —the firm arm of a man reaching for — what?

a word? some truth? Muscled, alive, tendoned. Only the holy

of a bare-shouldered body.

 

Here’s the tableau: the ancient saint stretches without looking

toward an inkwell in shadows — books, cloth, oaken table,

and a blank-faced memento mori.

The man reads. The skull stares.

That hollow head a warning that the world’s fleeting,

the dark and light of afterlife eternal. But, oh, Master,

this is a game. The skull is half hidden, a dull

paperweight, unheeded.  Your model — bright, vital,

glowing with thought.

 

I conjure you whispering

as you paint, a voice escaping time from that museum

postcard on the bureau as my love and I loll in bed —

Listen, before it’s too late. Allow yourselves scarlet

bedclothes, and strong bodies in a glowing room,

and work you want to dive into, and books,

books are good, piles of them to retreat to,

partly naked, after rolling around

half the night with your love, alive, hungry,

eating up this life and one another while you can.


Mary Jo LoBello Jerome, a Bucks County PA Poet Laureate, edited the creative writing prompt book Fire Up the Poems. Recently named poetry co-editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal, Mary Jo has published poems and stories in many journals. Her chapbook, Torch the Empty Fields, is coming out in 2022.