Milk Soup – Editor’s Choice

There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.

                Winston Churchill


At 5 months my sister rejected

my mother’s breast.

She threw up in small ponds on

the pale yellow tile


until one day sister refused

her body altogether.

My mother tried everything.

The milk of the fox, of the bean,


sheep, ghost, wildebeest.

They all rotted my sister’s

teeth. I smelled them.

Like a sour chicken coop,


They were the grey snippets of

fowl claws. In order to make

a Polish milk soup you need

a good sauce pan, one from


the old country. Bring the milk to

boil with sugar and salt lumps.

Unless you make it the Dutch way,

then you need cinnamon.


You must watch and wait for

the film to form on your sister’s

forehead, on her angry milk

and peel it away with a spoon.


She sticks to the cool metal so well.

Mother asks Sister: “Did he touch you?”

Sister: “I wouldn’t let him do that!”

In some little minutes she will be fully


boiled. Mother asks:

“Did he touch you?” Sister:

“I wouldn’t let him!”

You can stop a pot from foaming over


if you stick a wooden spoon

on top. The kind for paddling and

savory sauces. But I like to watch

the froth stain the stove top


with creamy rings. I shouldn’t even

drink the stuff. My body can’t

want the milk of an animal. If he

tried to touch her, she wouldn’t let him.


But I let him.


Maggie Lily is a poet, artist, and curator from Philadelphia who hopes to be remembered in the bones of others.

Northbound Train – HONORABLE MENTION

First, there’s the gentle rumble of the train cars
over the rails beneath you, like the motion of a sailboat
on anchor, or a babe in the arms of a slightly nervous
new mom, after nursing. Then there is memory:
my grandmother’s railroad widow pass got me started
early, when she and I could ride to New York for free.
The stories of her husband Jack, a clerk sent out
to document accidents on the Pennsy line, and the note
I later found in her rosary case: Please release my paycheck
to my wife. I’ll be in the hospital for few days’ rest.
He died
at fifty-one while my mom was carrying me, his first
grandchild. These rail ties go even further back.
Jack’s father, a boiler maker from County Cork
may have died in an explosion as some remember,
or died of pneumonia later —  my dad’s account.
We think we’re heartier now, my folks living
into their eighties, working a decade longer
than their parents lived.  My work on the rails
is writing. The motion of the train conjures rivers
and industrial backsides of Bridgeport and Philly,
Baltimore and Newark in me, with Elizabeth’s
shingled houses guarding their secrets, and stevedores
dozing in port while tankers line the Delaware
like rosary beads. My six decades of memory string
the gritty mysteries of heartache to the joyful ones
of riverside celebrations, and the mixed landscapes
of junked cars awaiting the crusher, with the new
condos rising in an autumn palate among severed
smokestacks — my own losses mingle with other
histories of birth and death, piled like road salt
or gravel along the sidings. Or collected,
like those pebbles we left to be blessed
where Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train would pass
near Claymont, us waiting for even a glimpse
of his widow and grieving family, our own lives
rubbed raw like those pebbles, under the weight —
the motion of the northbound train.


Kathleen O’Toole has combined a more than forty year professional life in community organizing with teaching and writing. Her creativity was nurtured in a family of actors in Wilmington Delaware, and her interest in poetry deepened while living in Philadelphia in the 1980’s.  Since receiving her MA from Johns Hopkins University her poems have appeared widely in magazines and journals including America, Atlanta Review, Christian Century, Margie, Northern Virginia Review, Notre Dame Review, Poetry, Poetry East, Potomac Review, Prairie Schooner and Smartish Pace. Her books of poetry include a chapbook, Practice, and Meanwhile.

Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Fate – HONORABLE MENTION

My ticket doesn’t really say that.  My ticket says “fare,” not “fate”

and the ticket doesn’t actually say anything; I’ve misread


the ticket, which isn’t even a ticket any more,

it’s a barcode, or in this case, four pages of wasted ink


on wasted wood pulp flattened and chemically bleached

into blinding white rolls and paper sheets at the peril of our drinking water


outlining precisely how few legal rights I retain

specific to my journey by rail between Washington D.C. and New York, NY


today, November 12, 2016, a changeable day,

that started fogged in, began to burn off over the Susquehanna River


where the train seems to take sudden flight high above the water’s shine

(once represented by aluminum foil between banks of green-dyed dough


in my 4th grade geography project, “Colonial Waterways”: B+, Try to be Neater)

as we cross a high trestle over a river that didn’t go to India


and two of these ticket pages are filled with fat chunks of language

footnoted by stars, double stars and crosses, outlining rules


for baggage, our considerable baggage, for what we each carry with us,

jam into overhead compartments or leave clogging the aisles,


which of course doesn’t include what we drag behind us

heavy and as freighted with the past as white cotton collecting bags


dragged through long rows; rule after rule specific to possessions

but nothing about fate, those three goddesses


who spin, measure, cut the length of a life to an end

and I consider how switching trains could throw off the game,


I could head west on the Pennsylvanian to Pittsburgh

where the brass plaque at the confluence of the Ohio River


says Fort Pitt’s capture from the French and Indians

established Anglo-Saxon supremacy in the United States,


and even though that sign doesn’t really say anything,

it’s hard to misread Anglo-Saxon Supremacy


no matter which direction you go, none of which is touched upon

in the fine print contained by this sheaf of papers


masquerading as a ticket which again has nothing to do with fate—

(ask Oedipus, Iphigenia, or the two men who survived the collapse


of the World Trade Center towers to die in the Staten Island Ferry crash,

ask them about fate) — I just read it that way, because I’m stupidly


hopeful for answers, and I could have misread

“fare” as “fade” or “fame” or “face” or “hate”


because Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Face

is also true, as is Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Fame,


and Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Hate

which is screaming from the newspapers today and now


the lawyers in my head look back from their plushy business seats

and point out the statement makes no guarantees,


read or misread, implied or specific, and by the way,

they say, all the business is packed tight


(with maybe and possibly and the power of might)

in the smart snappy briefcase of may.


Hayden Saunier is the author of Tips for Domestic Travel (Black Lawrence Press: 2009) Say Luck (Writers & Books: 2013), and a chapbook, “Field Trip to the Underworld” (Seven Kitchens Press: 2014) She has been published in a wide variety of journals including 5 a.m., Bellevue Literary Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Smartish Pace, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Tar River Poetry. Her work has been awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize, the Rattle Poetry Prize, Gell Poetry Award and the Robert Fraser Award. (


Tips for Domestic Travel and Say Luck are both available from your local bookstore or through Field Trip to the Underworld is available through Seven Kitchens Press.

The Diameter of a Ringling Bros. Circus Ring – HONORABLE MENTION


            after Yehuda Amichai


The diameter of a circus ring is forty-two feet,

an arena large enough to contain three elephants,

three performance stands, two trainers, and

a ringmaster. And inside this ring, each elephant,

upon her designated turn, turns circles around

the ringmaster as he cracks commands with his

ceremonial whip. And no more than ninety feet away,

eight other traveling elephants wait in a steel-

barred cage of insufficient measure. And in this cage,

they hear the cries of their sisters as they perform

a shuffle around the ring, their soft-soled feet scuffing

dirt into the circus air. The caged elephants shift and

shoulder each other, bellow back, setting off a call

and answer of all elephants, a shared chain that

becomes wild notes rising and falling outside and

inside the big top, where the master’s sharp whistle

sends children scuttling closer to their mothers, and

the mothers circle their little ones with rounded arms

as all the elephants repeat their circle of song. And

the song rings and rings and lingers even after

the canvas walls come down.


Gail Braune Comorat is a founding member of Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild. She is the author of a poetry chapbook, Phases of the Moon (Finishing Line Press), and has been published in Grist, Adanna, Gargoyle, Mudfish, and The Widows’ Handbook. She received a 2011 Delaware Division of the Arts Fellowship Grant for Emerging Poet, and in 2015, a DDOA Grant for Established Poet.


I had a brother at Khe Sahn

Fighting off the Viet Cong

They’re still there, he’s all gone

                – Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA


I’m not afraid to die. Hell, I already died once,

Duffey says, from the malaria after the war.

I was on the other side, it was beautiful,

no pain, all your questions answered,

like why there’s gophers, dumb shit like that,

he says, a little grin curling around

his dry, cracked lips, a quick flash of light

in his gray, opaque eyes.


I had a choice and I chose to come back.

I don’t know why. No, I’m not afraid to die,

hell no, Duffey says, across the kitchen table

of his cluttered ranch house off El Camino

where’s he’s lived thirty years a bachelor

after his wife left, mother of his two children.

Now she’s trying to come around, take care of me,

he says, knows there’s money, might get some,

but I say, it’s thirty years, goddamn it,

leave it alone, just leave it the hell alone.


Duffey, lean and long limbed, loose t-shirt

and sweats, his face sere and gaunt,

the backs of his hands purple from IV’s,

head shaved, just a hint of  mustache

where the handlebar used to be,

working on the sandwich we brought him,

wiping away the sauce with the big knuckle

of his index finger.


On the wall beside the table, an old framed

picture of him, smiling, straddling his hog,

the ghost of who he used to be

haunting him from the past.


Started in the lungs, then got into the brain,

Duffey says. They tried to zap it

but didn’t get it all, and then the chemo,

but, hell, the cure is worse than the disease,

so I says, that’s enough, I’m not

afraid to die, let’s get on with it.


After a tour in Okinawa,

Duffey re-upped and went to Nam,

sixty-eight, sixty-nine.

Had to save my brother, Duffey says,

never had any luck, none at all,

poor son-of-a-bitch. I was a sniper

and he was a radioman, a walking target.

I shot officers and his opposite on the other side,

and they shot him at Khe Sahn. Never had

any damn luck, no damn luck at all, he says.


A sheet of yellow paper

taped to the kitchen wall reads,


Duffey is a hospice patient.

If you notice a change in him

(including death)

do not call 911. Call…


Hell, I’m still showering myself,

happy here on my own,

food in the refrigerator,

but they want to help,

so I guess I’ll let them,

but I’m not afraid to die.


Hell no, Duffey says, not me.

Already died once, goddamn it.


Will Jones writes, “I am a native Philadelphian, a graduate of William Penn Charter School, class of 1966, and Susquehanna University. I have lived in San Luis Obsipo, California, since 1979. In 2011, I retired from a career in public education as an English teacher and high school principal. My poems have appeared in local publications and in an anthology of poems celebrating the 30th anniversary of the San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival.”



Extinction (I) – RUNNER UP

Cyanobacteria in primeval waves

found the young planet so immensely to their liking

that they multiplied and multiplied—

those carbon-gluttons at an endless feast—

spread, turned oceans blue,

and forced the world

to breathe


From which it all followed: legs grew,

and nerves and spines, fins, wings, antennae, tails;

monocots pushed up, leaves uncurled;

meadows flamed with color, brought forth

the humming seethe


of bees; and, not incidentally,

some enterprising double-jointed ape

stretched out a fingertip and touched a thumb,

and found the world was less



—from which the rest of it proceeded:

wars and Romans, contrapposto, dancing,

letters, A-tests, pyramids and satellites,

gunpowder, rock and roll, vaccines, banner ads,

whisky, card games, fantasy leagues, traffic stops, Congress: well,

here we are.


Did, as cyan crept across the swells,

as the holocaust of oxygen filled the air,

some skeptical bacterium



Did it assert, The oceans aren’t changing; or,

if they are changing, you can’t prove

that we’re the ones changing them;

and anyway, why stop progress, when

cyanobacteriakind has come

so far?


A. Bagby, a Chicago-based writer, musician, performer, and illustrator, recently participated in the Arctic Circle Arts & Sciences Expedition, an arts residency aboard a tall-mast ship exploring the glaciers and fjords of Svalbard. Her writing has appeared onstage with Strange Tree Group and Sansculottes; in anthologies from Wipf & Stock, Press 53, and Chicago Review Press; and in numerous magazines. She also draws oddball creatures for The Forgiveness Monster, fronts Liz + the Baguettes, and plays bass for The Unswept.

adoctrinado – RUNNER UP

indoctrinate: (1) to teach (someone) to fully accept

the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a

particular group and to not consider

other ideas, opinions, and beliefs


god is hiding at the corner of my mouth.

god is (hiding) on the corner of hudson and evergreen and watching

two children bleed out. his eyes are wide open.

did he anticipate this on the eighth day?

does he hate all he’s created?

my mouth tastes like iron. bleeds

from the inside-scraping screams i’m not allowed to breathe.

god is watching from the bruised insides

of my thighs; does he want something back?

let me cough up a lung. let me carve my heart out.

let me sanctify myself, post-mortem.

let me make myself anew in awe of him.

god is listening. god is (watching)

this pyre fueled by genocide.

these relics of colonization. these survivors of enslavement.

god is loving us living (starving) (dead).

god is watching my father take a knee to the back

by an officer who calls him spic.

god is watching a man hemorrhage before his daughter.

god is promising to steal back any lightning-born brown boys

he finds hustling on clark in the night time.

here. pray to him again tonight. watch him press his ear

to the hospital room door of a woman whose son is dead.

promise him a visit to la virgen. maybe she can hear us.

god is hiding in the space between a kiss.

he’s creating something holy.

something promised. something doomed.


Liliana is currently working on a degree in English and Spanish, an endeavor made even more exciting by her constant forays into Latin America. In her spare time, she does research on Latinx liberation, aiding her constant efforts to save the world one protest chant at a time. She enjoys Ben & Jerry’s, Spanish rock bands, and dogs almost as much as she does poetry.


Content Warning: Pantoum – RUNNER UP

We warn you this video may contain graphic images,

the man is a blood-chalice, the woman is saying sir

and the uniform stands firm as the camera captures

the road, elbows and hands, the zip-zip of cuffs.


The man is a blood-chalice, an alphabet of red, sir

you shot my boyfriend, she says, don’t tell me he’s gone.

The crying baby is somewhere suspended in dread

over a road of hardened elbows, hands, zip-zip of cuffs.


You shot my boyfriend, she says, don’t tell me he’s gone,

the uniform stands firm, the woman is saying sir

on a road of interlocking elbows, the zip-zip of cuffs.

We warn you this video may contain graphic images.


We warn you this video may contain graphic images.

The policemen approach from angles, spider-like,

the camera to the woman’s face, her voice unravelling

as she summons the facts, “You shot four bullets…”


From angles, the policemen approach, spider-like,

saying “sort” and “out,” as if death were not final.

The man is a man no more, a head-tossed savior,

his body like a white bloody blanket over the seat.


Saying “sort” and “out,” as if death were not final,

the uniform stands firm as the camera captures

his body like a white bloody blanket over the seat.

We warn you this video may contain graphic images.


Alejandro Escudé’s first book of poems, My Earthbound Eye, was published in September 2013. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from UC Davis and teaches English. Originally from Argentina, Alejandro lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

Firestorm: Checagou – WINNER

In the tall stalks of plenty where prairie meets plains

a city is born. Wild onions, wild fantasies.

Rivers run through it. Strident streams of Great-Lake currents

steady the flow of New-England merchant men:

princes and paupers, land pirates build the inestimable

sprawling of sweeping horizons.


Pelts fall to planks

warriors to mayors

dreams to currencies

forests to sweatshops.

Steam horses spar

with human life.

A river reversed

a pestilence delivered



Necessity being the mother of invention,

steel structures rise, trains loop and dip

and the disassembly of beasts foretells

the Second Coming:  lean iron horses feeding

scrap yards. Meanwhile,

the torpid transmigration of souls transpires:

dumped into Bubbly Creek later washed

down the mighty Mississippi, generations later

the river choking on silt.


The Negro Speaks of Rivers.  “I’ve seen fire and

I’ve seen rain.”** I’ve seen a lakefront open to parks

and people, wetlands overfed with fill. The vanishing

and the vanquished. Trains, planes, automobiles:

the confluence a gritty grid of asphalt angles and granite

canyons. Boats carrying the hopeful across the

Great Dixie Divide. Mechanical men stacking flaxen

into elevators of wealth. Driven creators the brilliant

architects of modernity.


Flash forward to grim brick smokestack-like Habitats

for Humanity. Distinctive Projects. Progress. Native Sons

also rising. A Metamorphosis:  onion fields to fertilizer beds

to killing parks slashed to the quick

with modern-day scythes and sickles;

drug-sick shepherds keeping watch on their flocks to part rival

weave from neighborhood chaff:  flushing out futures like grouse

in the grasses, flesh falling from bone; sacrificial lambs, our heads

bowed to the heavens. Our Country ‘Tis of Thee.

The ages echoing one into another,

aging with heartbreak, of thee I sing.


Rapid-fire consumption our

Gross National Product.


Metal scrambles, screams through tissue;

just another Stormy Monday, the papers say. Strange Fruit falling

from the popular to arms. Farewell. Hand to hand combat. Friendly

fire. The gun runner wailing with the gospel choir.

“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore, /But, baby, where are you?”***


A most uncivil war. Urban unrest. City of Big Shoulders, gangly adolescence.

Oh holy

night. Violence begets violence. O say,

can you see, by the dawn’s dimming light.

The rocket’s red glare the bombs bursting in air

gives proof through the night that our hearts are not there.

For the land of the free and the home of deep strife:

unsettled, unhealthy, unbidden. Rife

with sorrow.


I speak of rivers

fire and rain.


*Native American term meaning skunk weed, smelly onion

**James Taylor, “Fire and Rain” by    ***Dudley Randall, “The Ballad of Birmingham”


A retired English Professor, Nancy L. Davis divides her writing time between Chicago and Long Beach, Indiana, on Lake Michigan. Her poetry, short fiction, reviews and articles have placed in numerous competitions and appeared in such journals as Primavera, The Ledge Magazine of Poetry & Fiction, Route Nine and Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table. Prior to teaching, Ms. Davis wrote and produced award-winning educational films; she holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Literature from The University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

The 2017 Contest

The work submitted to Philadelphia Stories for this year’s Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry was ambitious and exciting. Poems were beautifully crafted, deeply felt, and provocative. In discussing many of the poems that he selected, judge Lamont Steptoe referred to the way that they interacted with history and with our current moment. At times sharp and pointed, at others lush and expansive, this batch of poems shows readers how vital and powerful poetry can be to navigate the heartbreaks and frustrations of life as well as to celebrate its great and small glories.

The winner of the 2017 Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry selected by judge Lamont Steptoe is Chicago-based poet Nancy L. Davis for her sprawling poem “Firestorm: Checagou.” Collaging song and poetry excerpts, Davis pits progress against exploitation in a broad, sweeping poem. Steptoe writes that the poem “resonates with origin/history/past present and future.” Nancy L. Davis receives $1000 and an invitation to join us at the LitLife Poetry Conference at Rosemont on April 1, 2017.

Runners up receive $100 each as well as an invitation to join us at the LitLife Conference. They include Los Angeles poet Alejandro Escudé for his poem “Content Warning: Pantoum,” Liliana Lule of Skokie, IL for the poem “adoctrinado,” and E.A. Bagby, also of Chicago, for the poem “Extinction (I).”

Judge Lamont Steptoe also selected as honorable mentions the poems “Duffey” by Will Jones, “The Diameter of a Ringling Bros. Circus Ring” by Gail Comorat, “Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Fate” by Hayden Saunier, and “Northbound Train” by Kathleen O’Toole. These poets are also invited to join us April 1 at Rosemont College. Their poems can be found on our website at

In addition to the winning and placing poems selected by Lamont Steptoe, we are also publishing “editor’s choice” poems from finalists Carlos Gomez, Harvey Soss, Maggie Lily, and Scarlet Gomez. These, too, can be found at We hope that some of these poets will also join us in April.

More than two hundred poets sent us poetry submissions for this year’s Sandy Crimmins Prize. Our poetry board sifted through the submissions narrowing down the bounty to about eighty individual poems from which I selected a few dozen for judge Lamont Steptoe to select winners. It is a long, but rewarding process. We at Philadelphia Stories appreciate the poets who generously share their work with us and encourage local writers to continue to do so. We thank Joe Sullivan for his continued support of this contest. We also thank Nicole Mancuso, contest coordinator and assistant poetry editor, for everything she does to keep the contest moving smoothly.


From Lamont Steptoe:

WINNER: “Firestorm: Checagou” — “resonates with origin/history/past present and future.”

RUNNER UP: “Content Warning:  Pantoum” — “documents our current history of ethnic profiling and it’s tragic outcome. 

RUNNER UP: “God is hiding at the corner of my mouth” — “opens up discussion about spiritual and ethnic identity  and a as well as where we find ourselves in history.” 

RUNNER UP: “Extinction (I)” — “ is fascinating for it’s ability to explain existence from our subatomic origins to our modern day world global in its vision.”

HONORABLE MENTION: “Northbound Train” — “speaks to how the act of traveling can elicit memory and history and resolutions for the future.”

HONORABLE MENTION: “Changes to Your Itinerary May Affect Your Fate” — ”brings up issues of fate destiny and history.”

HONORABLE MENTION: “Duffey” — “speaks to the issues of veterans returning from war and how they face post war issues of health and aging.”

HONORABLE MENTION: “The Diameter of a Ringling Brother’s Circus Ring” — “Given the fact that this circus will perform here in Philadelphia for the last time this year and the concern which has resulted in the sensation of elephants in circus acts [this poem] speaks to humanity’s growing empathy with other species and how humans do not have all the answers and must now and forevermore be more attuned  to what nature has to teach us.”