Why I Never Talk About My Mother

Editors’ Choice: 2021 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

When my father remembers my mother has died,
when he realizes he had forgotten, and he cries
— if that’s the word for those great, wracking peals of thunder
I feel against me, holding the hollow tree
he has become as it waits to fall — he shudders
in the sudden storm of memory, and I know
I brought this down upon him,
the lightning bolt loosed from my callous hand.
I decided, then and there, I would never
speak of my mother again. I would lie
if he asked where she was. The dead die
again and again in their remembrance.
It is I who would kill her, the coward with my words.

But there is this: they are also reborn in the forgetting.
I become young again, the little boy he expects
when the nurse tells him I’m here, your son,
here to see you. Maybe he thinks to bounce me
up and down on his knee, a bronco I tried to,
but could never, tame. Up and down
goes time, rushing, fierce in its will to throw me.
But in that moment of his expectation, my mother is alive
and she is young and, oh my, so beautiful.
I never knew how beautiful she had been,
as she is again in his mind
when he hears the words Your son is here.
We are all young, and strong, and not even a little
bit broken. It’s why I lie.
It’s exactly what I wish I could see.

In addition to Philadelphia Stories, Joe’s poems have appeared in journals such as the Schuylkill Valley Journal, Philadelphia Poets, and Apiary. He was the Featured Poet for the Fall 2014 Edition of the SVJ, which has nominated two of Joe’s poems, “Light” and “Forsythia,” for the Pushcart Prize. Philadelphia Stories recently selected his poem, “Hospice,” for their 15th Anniversary Edition. Joe’s first book of poetry, Always in the Wrong Season, is available on Amazon.com.


Runner Up: 2021 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

To read “Plural,” click HERE.

Jessica Chretien is a person and poet from New Hampshire who only recently discovered, after twenty-five years of living, that she likes the sun, the ocean, plants, poems, making meals, reading Critical Theory, crying with gratitude, and being alive. She doesn’t seem able to stop overflowing with wonder and suspects everything might just be okay. This past spring she won the Victor Howes Prize in Poetry through the New England Poetry Club.

On a Day’s Pause from the Rigors of Metastases We Walk Through Laurel Hill Cemetery, You and I

Runner Up: 2021 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

We have returned to see the lion, his human-like fingers
of stone gripping stone where he sits above the river
in the rain, high above us on a massive pedestal. Fall
colors are muted now but still beautiful against the gray.
The river is rising. Bright wet leaves stick to everything.
Our current distance between the dead can be measured
in the peculiar family names no longer heard of—
the Herknesses, the Spancs and Frinks, all folded
into other nomenclatures, other families persisting.
Colossal mausoleums anchor the familiar names—
Elkins, Widener, Lippincott. The die is cast so early
for some, there seems little variance, even over time.
Out over the river I see no evidence of living things.
What I think of living, movement over time. The river
is moving faster and becoming muddier as it rises.
Between headstones, we notice a flash of color—
a red fox with sprays of white on his chest and tail
loping over wet grass between stones and monuments.
He notices us but has little concern. Our distance is
insurmountable and we do not matter. Like everything
he is dead and not dead, living and not living as time only
seems to move. The still air in the empty spaces inside
the mausoleums do not support anything living. The illusion
of death persists. If it is an illusion to the dead, it is quite real
to the living, and not real, of course. I try to will my mind
to images of those underground in various states of decay
but I cannot. That reality is unknowable. Biocentrism postulates
that existence cannot suddenly become nonexistence.
(The pallor of death has left you and yet it is with us.)
Last night, we watched a fire on a large screen television.
A beautiful fire at the base of snowy mountains. Wind
whipped flames higher and we enjoyed it at a cellular level,
something deep in us connecting to ancient advents of survival.
We started noticing the points where the fire was revived
as it was digitally morphed to a return of the robust fire.
The fire was neither real nor without bounds, endlessly
looping for the hours it was created and we consumed it
with our eyes. And what do you make of the notion that
all this may just be a vast simulation? The possibility that all
of existence as we know it is something like a video game
created by greater beings. Maybe we are simply dream factories
firing up pre-programmed sequences of events. Just as the lion
was created to honor a General whose life spanned two centuries
and several wars in a time far removed from us and unfathomable.
The lion, though stately and august, has unmistakable fear in his eyes.
The sculptor could not help himself. Try as he might to create
a representative lion, he kept creating himself. The knuckles
that resemble exposed birch roots—his knuckles. The mouth
articulating awe and terror—his mouth. The tense haunches—
what he sees in his own legs. On our way back to the car,
hidden under a holly tree, surrounded by a manicured hedge,
we stumble across a remembrance in mosaic. Tiny bright tiles
that have been assembled to create a map of this exact location.
You would hardly notice it unless you just happen upon it,
or already know from some divine guidance that it is here.
We are walking past Millionaires row now, I imagine
straight lines leading up to mountains. Well planned grids
of cities laid out in valleys all around the world. Uniform
roads, regulated development, routines and codicils. There is
sense in the thoughts. Order in the musings. Civilization,
even at arm’s length, returning us to the rest of our lives.

Sean Webb says, “ I have received many honors for my work, including fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Utah Arts Council. Recent awards include the Passages North Neutrino Prize and I was the winner of the Gemini Magazine Poetry Open. My recent chapbooks include “The Constant Parades” and “What Cannot Stay Small Forever.” My work has appeared in many publications including Prairie Schooner, North American Review, The Quarterly, Seattle Review, West Branch, and Schuylkill Valley Journal.”


Winner of the 2021 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

While they are sitting
with the empty seats between them
I am cleaning the flies
stuck, dead, to the toilet seat
in the apartment no one has touched
for four months.

Waiting for me
was the musty damp
of unwashed clothes in the laundry
and two rolls of disinfectant wipes
on the made bed.
Today, this is care:

methods to kill what can’t be seen,
maybe isn’t even there,
packaged neatly
for my arrival in their absence,
and the exaggerated repulsion of strangers
long in advance

avoiding meeting.
They breathe through cloth and plastic
even sealed among the clouds,
as I waste sodden paper towels,
lift a window
for a gust of sound to feed the candle flame.

When they land
their message is the same as if
they’d just pulled up downstairs
or at the grocery store on Harrison.
I can’t tell
if they made it there alone.

I am trying to read out of the air
what I can’t hear: the ticking
of the next second,
the shape of air currents
around missing bodies, the things
those molecules run into,

the pressure drop of a kiss.
The sigh before the mold blooms
already like an aftertaste
as I fold the sheets.

Caitlin Kossmann is a PhD candidate at Yale University in the Program in the History of Science and Medicine, currently completing a dissertation entitled ‘The Myth of Gaia: Gender, Ecology, and Community in the Making of Earth System Science.’ A dancer and rock-climber originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, this is her first poetry publication.

Letter from the Poetry Editor

Philadelphia Stories is excited to share the winning poem in this year’s Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry: Caitlin Kossmann’s “Airborne.” This year’s Crimmins Prize was judged by poet Airea D. Matthews, director of the creative writing program at Bryn Mawr College and author of the critically acclaimed Simulacra. Kossmann along with the other winners will be celebrated with an online reading and awards ceremony to wrap up the LitLife Poetry Festival on April 17.

The 2021 Crimmins judge, Airea D. Matthews says that “Airborne” offers “an opportunity for stillness” as it “[reflects] on longing and the quotidian aspects of our cloistered lives.” The absence depicted in Kossmann’s poem is palpable and familiar, but so is the urge to tidy, to care for, and to protect.

This focus on small, meaningful detail is evident in the runners up for 2021 selected by Airea D. Matthews. Sean Webb’s “On a Day’s Pause from the Rigors of Metastases We Walk through Laurel Hill Cemetery, You and I” and Jessica Chretien’s “Plural” draw the reader’s attention to the granular, but build mosaics and colonies out of tiles, ants, years, and days. These runners up will each receive $250 for their poems and are invited to join us on April 17.

Many of the poems we reviewed for this issue speak to the obviously precedented dangers of systemic injustice, white supremacy, unemployment, and disease. The current moment exposes how interconnected and incapacitating such threats are. Widespread grief and frustration have been more than some of us can process in our own writing. Thankfully, poets like those included in Philadelphia Stories’ Spring 2021 issue have been able to offer us their work, helping focus our own sorrow and anger. Reading these poems feels to me like holding the hand of someone a step or two ahead on an unfamiliar path. They cannot answer our biggest questions, they cannot solve our hardest problems, but they can remind us—crucially, unexpectedly—of the points where we connect.

Philadelphia Stories thanks Joe Sullivan for his continued support of this contest and his enduring friendship with Philadelphia Stories. We also welcome Jackie Domenus in the role of contest coordinator and thank Jackie for consistent, helpful, and organized communication with our poetry editor and poetry screeners.  We perpetually thank  Yalonda Rice, managing editor, for her flexibility and patience in assembling the magazine. Above all, we thank the poets who trust their work with us; reading your poems each year humbles us and reminds us how connected we are.

We will celebrate the winning poets of the Crimmins contest and the new poet laureate of Montgomery County in an afternoon reception which will be online, free, and open to the public as part of the LitLife Poetry Festival on April 17. Visit https://philadelphiastories.org/litlife-poetry-festival/ for more information and to register for LitLife.


“Airborne,” Caitlin Kossmann (New Haven, CT)


“On a Day’s Pause from the Rigors of Metastases We Walk Through Laurel Hill Cemetery, You and I,” Sean Webb (Philadelphia, PA)

“Plural,” Jessica Chretien (Concord, NH)


“Why I Never Talk About My Mother,” Joe Cilluffo (West Chester, PA)

“A Black Body Stuffed in a Villanelle,” Jaya Montague (Philadelphia, PA)

“Warning, Do Not Eat Your Fortune: 40 Dating Reminders Every Woman Over 40+ Needs to Hear Now!,” S. Erin Batiste (Brooklyn, NY)

“Dad, Because You Made Me Destroyer of Worlds, Yours, Too,” Judd Hess (Huntington Beach, CA )


Catie Barrett (Ithaca, NY)

Imani Cezanne (Oakland, CA)

Curtis Christler (Fort Wayne, IN)

Dillon Clark (Egg Harbor Township, NJ)

Christian Collier (Hixson, TN)

AE Hines (Portland, OR)

A Kaiser (New York, NY)

Darius Simpson (Oakland, CA)

Lupita Eyde Tucker (Palm Bay, FL)


Writing Prompt: Writers Write

Once, while in an Uber, the driver asked me what I did, and I blurted out that I was a writer. It was the first time that I had ever admitted to being a writer to anyone. Usually, I said that I was a mom or worked for my husband or worked for a medical practice. I used to write in secret, hiding my work in computer files or journals that I buried in the recesses of my cabinet drawers. But on that day, I was traveling to the convention hall for an AWP conference, and I felt part of the writers’ community. I recognized that there are different paths to being a writer, and my unconventional and delayed course didn’t discount me from being a writer. Writers write. That’s it. That’s the criteria.

For this month’s writing prompt, imagine that your character is sitting on their porch. Think about what they’re doing and what they fixate on? A stranger pulls up in front of the house. What happens next?

Academy of Palumbo

A school community can be anything you want it to be. To me, it is a place that I can show my inner colors and be myself. It is a place that I cannot be harassed. At Palumbo, I would not be embarrassed to ask for help. In some schools, you would be made fun of for asking for help. That would bring a person down- they would not be able to learn because of the fear that they would get bullied. 

We should encourage people who ask for help. In my ideal school community, there would be culture, social people, and sports I can play. 

At Palumbo, there are a bunch of sports available that I never had the opportunity to play in middle school. Time spent on athletics at Palumbo could lead me to have a career in sports; most of all, I would love to play basketball professionally.  

My ideal school community is one where I can be in a competitive environment because I enjoy having to work hard to get better.  This is because of my work ethic.  I tend to show the most growth when in a group that has to fight to get a spot. When there is a problem I need to overcome, I put more effort to overcome the problem. 

A school community should have people that support each other, but most importantly they should do so when times are hard. If other people thought about how their actions might affect others, it would greatly improve the community. We should also realize when someone needs assistance, We should provide it to them. 

Most importantly I feel like everyone should have a voice. Many people assume that students don’t have good ideas; however, I firmly believe that students are just as capable.

The biggest conflict I face is myself. I tend to overthink things that occur. This holds me back, because I can get stuck thinking about something so much that it can delay my completion of a task. 

In order to deal with this challenge, I look for ways to balance work and play. This way, I am reminded that if I work when I should, like on an essay or project, then I will be able to relax fully later knowing I did my best. 

Sometimes conflict leads to more conflict. I might be mad at someone and put some else in it, making them mad at the person. Like triangulation. 

For example, you are person X, you argue with person Y, and you tell person Z about it which drags person Z into that conflict. I get over this by admitting I was wrong and trying to do better. 

The conflict I am dealing with now is the pandemic. It is keeping me from talking to my friends and having the social part of a school I was missing.

I missed out on that part of a school for a long time. Being social is really important to me because that is how I show who I am. 

How I overcome the pandemic Is by wearing a face mask, washing my hands frequently, and social distance when I go out in public. 

The conflict that keeps coming back to me is the pressure of a lot of school work. It gets really hard to get a lot of assignments done in good timing. How I get over this conflict is by trying my best to lay out my schedule for the week so I can properly turn in all the assignments. 

When I use my schedule, I get my work in on time and I don’t have to stress about the due date and which work is more important than another.

Sometimes that doesn’t work and then I go and ask for help so I could get my work done properly and on time. Asking for help makes it easier to get what I need in an efficient manner. 

Throughout my education, I was always put to high standards. Due to that, I feel like in a community of learners like Palumbo I can shine. Palumbo has all the things I want in a school. I really love playing sports Like basketball and baseball. In my school now I really did not get a chance to be on a sports team to show my skills. 

In Palumbo, I would be able to play on a team. Lastly I want to go to a place where my ideas can be shared with my peers and become a better learner. Not only that, Palumbo Palumbois a really competitive school with a lot of smart people around it. That is why Palumbo is the perfect school for me. 

Musa Kane is a 8th grader at Science Leadership Academy Middle School.

Short Story Prompt: Where Did That Come From?

Writers find story inspiration from news articles, true life events, family histories, or just our imagination. The often anthologized story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates was inspired by a news article about a killer. “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield was inspired by Mansfield’s childhood home.

But sometimes, it’s easy to get stumped with our writing. Besides the deathly question ‘where can I find your writing?’ another common question is, ‘where do you get your ideas.’ Ideas are all around us. Part of being a writer is seeing stories around us. This prompt was inspired by an anecdote that I heard on the radio.

Short Story Prompt: Where Did That Come From?

You’ve bought a new coat and discover something in the pocket. Write a story about what you’ve found.

Philadelphia Stories Online Master Classes – Spring 2021

Philadelphia Stories is offering a new online master class series for Spring 2021. Each master class is led by a Philadelphia Stories editor, who will offer a deep dive into topics to help you grow as a creative writer. All proceeds will support Philadelphia Stories.

If you have any questions, contact philadelphiastoriesevents@gmail.com.

Below is the schedule for Spring 2021:


Class Title: Writing Characters in Short Fiction

Class Description: Whether you’re writing about a human, a unicorn, a boat, or a Martian, character is at the heart of storytelling. During this course, we’ll read published fiction, write some exercises, and discuss this vital story element: character development.


About the Instructor: Trish Rodriguez

Trish Rodriguez is the Fiction Editor and Fiction Contest Coordinator at Philadelphia Stories. She is also a senior prose editor at Typehouse Literary Magazine and the former managing editor of Rathalla Review. A graduate of Rosemont College’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, she is a writer herself, focusing mostly on short fiction.

Cost: $285 (maximum 8 students)


Class Title: How to Write Short Stories that Stun

Class Description: Loosely defined as writing that falls between 500 and 1,000 words, flash fiction is the short story in lightning miniature. In this course, we will discuss the craft of flash, write three complete flash fiction pieces, and discuss venues for polishing and then publishing your work. Writers will also closely study the miniature form by reading and analyzing short works by Lydia Davis, Stuart Dybek, Joyce Carol Oates, Italo Calvino, and other successful authors. All levels are welcome.

Dates: Thurs., March 25, 7-9pm; Thurs., April 1, 7-9pm; Thurs., April 8, 7-9pm EST

About the Instructor: Aimee LaBrie

Aimee LaBrieAimee LaBrie’s short story collection, Wonderful Girl, was chosen as the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction and published by the University of North Texas Press. Her short stories have been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes and her work has appeared in StoryQuarterly, Pleiades, Beloit Fiction Journal, Cleaver Magazine, Iron Horse Literary Review, The Minnesota Review, Permafrost, and other literary journals. In 2012, she won first place in Zoetrope’s All-Story Fiction contest. Aimee lives in Princeton, NJ and teaches creative writing for Writers House at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

Cost: $285 (maximum 8 students) – Register now.

Class Title: Marketing 101: How to Create a Personal Brand and Promote Your Writing

Class Description: In this workshop, Susette will help you analyze your writing from a marketing perspective. In addition to the hundreds of hours you’ve spent writing your masterpiece, have you considered the purpose of your art, what motivates you to keep writing, and who inspires you? If not, this workshop is for you. Susette will share her expertise and offer you personalized feedback as you write an artist’s statement, create a personal brand, and develop a marketing plan that will expand your audience. Her easy-to-follow advice will help eliminate your fears about sharing your work and becoming the writer of your dreams.

Dates: Wed., May 5, 7-9pm; Wed., May 12, 7-9pm; Wed., May 19, 7-9pm EST

About the Instructor: Susette Brooks

Susette Brooks is a writer and a descendant of Paterson, New Jersey’s rich literary history, which includes being home to the young Allen Ginsberg and the inspiration for William Carlos Williams’ epic poem, Paterson. She carried this lineage to Goucher College where she earned an MFA in Nonfiction and started a memoir-in-essays that examines how defense mechanisms passed down through generations in the Black community continue to impact my family. When Susette isn’t writing and rewriting, she supports the work of other storytellers as the Director of Multicultural Marketing for Penguin Publishing Group. Additionally, she leads a team of soldier-journalists who use multimedia narratives to tell the New Jersey Army National Guard story, and she serves on the Board of Directors for Philadelphia Stories. Susette lives, loves, and writes in Philadelphia.

Cost: $285 (maximum 8 students) – Register now.

Class Title: Writing in Small Forms: Tiny Poems, Haiku, and more

Class Description: Tiny poems– an antidote for the mundane, the commercial, the disconnected. Join Debbie Fox for a course in a kind of poetry that can be written anywhere, anytime, by anyone. Short forms afford the beginner an easy entrance and the experienced poet a powerful tool for artistic expression. We will learn from haiku masters who lived centuries ago, and those writing today. Get tips on where to send your poetry for publication.


About the Instructor: Debbie Fox

Debra Fox is an adoption attorney and founder of Story Tributes, an enterprise that preserves the stories of people’s lives.  She is a reader for Philadelphia Stories, as well as the mother of two sons: one profoundly autistic and the other a journalist. In her spare time she loves to dance. She lives on the outskirts of Philadelphia with her family. Much of her published work can be found at www.debramfox.com.

Cost: $285 (maximum 8 students)


Click Here To Register

*You can purchase the 2021 Philadelphia Stories Events Pass Deluxe for $360 to get a deal on our events and workshops (includes 1 online master class series).

Hopes and Dreams for Back to School

Virtual learning was set up as an emergency effort by teachers because of the pandemic, this COVID-19 that is keeping everyone in quarantine.  So as we continue forward, everyone has to keep moving and keep growing.

There are some improvements that can be done with online learning to make the experience better, because everyone learns differently and not everyone is in a perfect learning environment.  So if that is taken under consideration when planning the lessons, the learning  will be fun and  the more  students will be engaged.

During this pandemic, I believe that teachers should be able to allow students to be free to some extent during online classes.

There  is a lot of pressure on the students of the classroom. For example, children also have responsibilities at home especially now and teachers need to respect the fact that parents are going to have to sometimes pull them out of class.

Parents  need all the help they can during this quarantine.  This is a fact teachers can’t ignore, so they should try to be aware of these things without it disrupting the learning process.

All people need breaks. In normal times, at most schools every class goes on a class trip for relaxation and learning. Unfortunately, we are under lockdown.

Since everyone is on a computer or some type of electronic device; classes could go on virtual “class trips.”  A trip to the Franklin Institute and trips around the world are all possible online, giving everyone, including the teachers a break from the classroom and even have some fun in the  process! It will keep everyone engaged and improve drastically!

The big hope is that this Spring will be an improvement on virtual learning.   All virtual classes are going to need improvement, and while it may be difficult, it can be done. Schools just need to remember to be mindful of home situations and keep things fun and exciting.

I think things will get better though.  Once you do something for the first time you are going to get better as you keep doing it.  The more we continue online learning, the better the students and the teachers will get helping each other learn.