Aphorism 31: The Immortality Box

Winner of the 2023 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

. . .all night I am laying/ poems away in a long box./

It is my immortality box. . .

Anne Sexton, “The Ambition Bird”


It’s said that many of our diseases

are phenotypic consequences of adaptation

compromises made so that we don’t die

too quickly to pass our afflictions along because

of course diseases are about needs whether ours

or theirs a body just flesh inside of flesh just a box

ready-to-be-filled ready-to-be-emptied caskets

made of more caskets germs inside of seeds

inside of husks inside of days inside of all

the climbing hours all the up and out and walking

away the ripples of heat the spontaneous loam

where what we are and were arises like faces

breaking through a surface coppered with the sound

of distant bells with the sound of poems laid

like votives like shabti inside of boxes inside

of skin to wait like the afflictions they are

current to ground static to signal the words

we say even when we don’t: this is my blood

and this is my body broken for you.

John Blair has published six books, most recently Playful Song Called Beautiful (University of Iowa Press, 2016) as well as poems with magazines including Poetry, The Sewanee Review, The Georgia Review, The Colorado Review, and others. His new collection of poems about the beginning of the atomic age, The Shape of Things to Come, will be published this fall by Gival Press.

The Size and Shape of Comfort


You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

             –Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”


Cooper, the doomed beagle,

leaves his owner’s side and

nuzzles my hand for attention.

When he opens his mouth to yawn,

the air fills with sickly breath,

fetid from the liver failure

he doesn’t know he has.

We have to make a decision soon,

Cooper’s owner tells me

as I stroke the dog’s grateful head,

my hand the size and shape of comfort.


I’ve been reading Marcus Aurelius–

the ones who reached old age

have no advantage over the untimely dead–

when my doctor says I have a choice:

stop drinking or die. Aurelius: Ask yourself:

Am I afraid of death because

I won’t be able to do this anymore?


My hand shakes from all of the above

and a soft sound escapes from me

which is not my own voice.

I steady my hand and wonder

how or where Cooper is today.

Good dog, I say, and stroke a handful of air.

R.G. Evans’s books include Overtipping the Ferryman, The Holy Both, and Imagine Sisyphus Happy. His albums of original songs, Sweet Old Life and Kid Yesterday Calling Tomorrow Man, are available for download on most streaming platforms. Evans teaches creative writing at Rowan University in New Jersey. Website: www.rgevanswriter.com


Solitude is crowded this morning


A carpet of rust colored pine needles

Blanketed a path to the water, a still canvas


Fish painted circles from below while birds

Waited their turn at karaoke


The dragonfly said, you were wrong

You’re not alone

Dominica Ciccariello lives in Bucks County after moving around the country many times. She is new to poetry and is finding her voice.

Perhaps it Won’t be All Bad

I cannot stop the world from burning


But I can add extra bittersweet chocolate

to the flourless chocolate cake, dressed with strawberries,

topped with coconut whipped cream.


I cannot replace the mounting loss of plumage,

of song, of calls.


But each morning we can enjoy the songs of the sparrows

as they squabble over breadcrumbs in the backyard.


I have no red button to stop the accelerating melting

of Greenland’s ice sheet into the ocean


I can pull my pants over my belly button,

slide my glasses down to the tip of my nose,

walk with a slow shuffle into your studio

mumbling my nonsense Danish, just to make you laugh.


We can decide what can happen for us in the moment.


I can take your blouses from the dryer, iron them—

better than the Dry Cleaner—place them on hangers

put them in your closet.

Charles Carr, a native Philadelphian, was educated at LaSalle and Bryn Mawr College and holds a Masters in American History. In 2007, Charles was The Mad Poets Review’s First Prize Winner for his poem “Waiting To Come North.” Charles has two published books of poems, paradise, pennsylvania and Haitian Mudpies And Other Poems. Charles’ poems have been published in various print and on-line local and national poetry journals. He is host of Philly Loves Poetry a live monthly broadcast on PhillyCAM. Charles has also hosted a Moonstone Poetry series at Fergie’s, and Charles has been the host of Philly Loves Poetry for six years.

I will not make a poem of this. Wissahickon will remain

imperially ours, not rendered impossible by a poet’s word.

And yet, there is something to be said for the impossible break


in the river. For the rock-strewn crossing that fades halfway, as if to say

there is no need for an end.  For the way stones shoulder

the age of sentinel cliffs, and sap slows the progression of ants.


We spoke about it each morning, sliding down hillsides in too smooth

soles. Poems make of memory, history and I am keeping Wissahickon

for us. Besides, the woods are not metaphorically

beautiful—they burn in crimsons and ochres and reject

asylum to fantasy. And still you are


insisting on the poem, as if we haven’t thought

to make love by the Devil’s Pool, as if our roots


don’t share soil with the ferns.

Joyce Hida loves the city of Philadelphia, war literature, the Albanian language, and late-night comedy. She was a previous Best of the Net nominee for her work in Empty House Press, and has been published or is forthcoming in Kissing Dynamite, South Florida Poetry Journal, TYPO Magazine, and others. Joyce is currently based in NYC.


She built a nest from shreds,

sliver of straw from far away,

feather from a crow she never met,

crumpled cigarette pack cellophane,

a partial note someone wrote,

green grass, brown leaves, red yarn,

gray fur from an anonymous cat

to create a nest on my window ledge.


I’m like that scavenger robin

who flew away in a wink of movement.

I’ve gathered one wrinkled watercolor

from I can’t remember where,

a piano stool from the side of the road,

a rickety rocker where I secretly sit

to admire my counterpart’s artwork.

Kathleen Shaw was born in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, grew up in Philadelphia, and now lives in Schwenksville. Her poetry has been published in Philadelphia Stories, Schuylkill Valley Journal and various online poetry journals.

Just Off Valley Forge Trail

Just off Valley Forge Trail, a casino rises. Weather resistant and waterproof. Abundance and opulence atop acres of historical plots. Promiscuous promises of prizes and dry spaces. I enter—seeking refuge from a cold rain. My pockets are heavy of coin and hopes for change. The allure of games of chance and, perhaps, artificial sweeteners enhance the experience. All patrons are dutifully checked. ID please, the guard says. While his senses appear dulled, mine fully engage. I consume the ambience. Soldiers in all corners. Clocks remain on a perpetual pause. Landlines disconnect. Cunningness on LED-lit displays. Cells turn off. Slots ping on. Souls in rubber soles shuffle. Like Washington, a Sheraton once called this lot home. As I wander the carpeted floors (Berber with patterns of rectangular firs), I think of bar and bat mitzvahs of decades past. Post sanctuary parties housed in suburban hotels turned arcades. Pre-teens in Lycra and lace dresses at the buffet. Pomp and circumstance. Pay to play charades. Bright lights. Grand gestures. Trades on replay. High-heeled black patent shoes swapped for low-rise cotton socks. No coins needed.

Now grown, unfamiliar faces in familiar clothes feed machines and fuel memories. Rows of fruit-bearing slots smile. Heavily glossed lips and scantily clad hips pull levers, across multiple levels, in the grand hall. Games of war replicate a mere stone’s throw (aka diesel engine and Wawa-fueled hop, skip, and jump—no pun intended) from Revolutionary War quarters (both shiny metal and Washington gray). Dealers dazzle in smart black-tie attire. Cashiers exchange chips for currency. Like gravy on Thanksgiving, stakeholders seek to smooth lumps and avoid unexpected truth dumps. False stories on full LED-lit display. Bravado and brakes on delay. Some slots promise apples—in both bushels and barrels. Others taunt lemons with powers by the dozen. Truth be told, it’s a losing game. Washington chopped the tree. Cherries dropped at his feet. Casino floor plots share similarities. Mt. Vernon a shade (and shadow) of Valley Forge. Both battlegrounds. I wonder what Washington might say if I told him of what would come—the freeway, towers, and artificial flowers. The casino living on luck and a prayer. Poinsettias and pomodoro timers planted and plucked. A place where dusk blends with dawn. Silence in most corners. Charlie Chaplin as much a Founding Father as the Washington brigade.

I hear the casino is expanding. The surrounding area making gains in ways Washington might relate. King of Prussia on steroids. A modern-day encampment. Rooks and guards stand ready, eager to stake a claim in this allegedly impressive feat. Players in a game of smiles and nods (give and take). We’re a democracy, Washington whispers. As big-boxes and bandstands bounce corner shops and convictions, I retreat. Retrace my steps. Shoulders at rest. Past the tables – all cards on deck. Past the slots – all marks made. Through the oversized concrete lot. Up hills. To Washington’s Valley Forge encampment. A man sleeps on a bench. The log cabins cold this time of year. The sod still damp. I find a tree and sit—just beyond the cabins where souls in rubber soles wept. Stacked and stocked on wooden cots in vertical fashion. A man hikes. A biker sings. I trade seats with a white-tailed deer. Toss tokens—heads or tails. Wait for cherries to drop.

Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. Recent works include A Collection of Recollections, Invisible Ink, On Habits & Habitats, and Blindfolds, Bruises, and Breakups. She is the 2022-2023 Montgomery County (PA) Poet Laureate.

Summer in Key of Civic

The city is alive with boom bap.

Utterly defibrillated with a bass

even alley cats can’t ignore.


Car alarms set off several blocks away.

A welcoming of a foot pedal growing louder.

The clout is in the approach.


When this sound tornadoes down

every block, cutting around buildings

entering through a perchance open door


and slipping out the back window

like a secret lover hearing the

beep of a spouse’s car in the lot


it vibrates to the beat

in our chests, a palindrome’d

thump-tha-thump, thump-tha-thump.


Where questions like, “Why did

the poet cross the road?” and side door

sound systems respond, girls dem sugar.


A childhood crush soon after singing

if I can be your girl is the wish

but game is weakly spit


when the Escalade approaches

beating down what’s left

of ambient noise.


*italicized lines are borrowed from the 1999 dance hall hit, “Girls Dem Sugar” by Beenie Man featuring Mya

Dimitri Reyes is a Boricua multidisciplinary artist, YouTuber, and educator from Newark, New Jersey. Dimitri’s book, Every First and Fifteenth (2021) is the winner of the Digging Press 2020 Chapbook Award and his poetry journal, Shadow Work for Poets, is now available on Amazon. His forthcoming book, Papi Pichón, will be published in 2023 by Get Fresh Books. Some of his work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and you can find more of his writing in Poem-a-Day, Vinyl, Kweli, & Acentos. He is the Marketing & Communications Director at CavanKerry Press. Learn more about Dimitri by visiting his website at https://www.dimitrireyespoet.com/.


My cousin sold 2 paintings for the down payment
We were all there my mother my grandmother my aunts
Maybe we were dead
Maybe my mother was dead
I was in bed with a tall good-looking stranger who offered me a joint
We could not close the curtains
His body tasted like Christ’s
My mother and I arranged the furniture
My grandmother moved the furniture though she could hardly walk
The teacups she stacked one on the other fell 2 stories to the floor
My stranger disappeared
My uncle tried to kiss me
I could no longer use my writing desk
I tried to move out
I tried to move on
There was no sex
Maybe there will never be any sex
The man selling the apartment sent me to a Manhattan address

Paula Brancato is a NY-based, Sicilian-American writer, filmmaker and Harvard MBA. Her literary awards include The Booth Poetry Prize, Danahy Fiction Prize and Brushfire Poet Award. Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Mudfish, Bomb Magazine, The Virginia Quarterly, Ambit Magazine, Georgetown Review, Litchfield Review and Southern California Anthology. Paula taught poetry and screenwriting at USC and Stony Brook Southampton and is a graduate of Hunter College and LA Film School.


The low, washed buildings swamped in white dunes,

the afternoon courtyards laden in silence;

I walk the solid beach, wind plucking

at hair, clothes, my very soul.


I am here to contemplate,

meditate, whatever –

yet it is difficult to tear

memory from teases and taunts.


Sole seagull so high up in the stratosphere must

symbolize something—at least it would

in literature or art, but in reality,

I cannot grasp it.

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal and teaches a “Joy of Poetry” course at Temple University-OLLI.He has written reviews for the Dylan Thomas Society, the John Updike Society and Joseph Conrad Today. His latest book of poems is Until the First Light (Parnilis Media, 2020).