Feeding My Father Pudding While Watching Bonanza

Runner Up: 2020 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

Chad Frame_poetry

All any relationship boils down to
is are you willing to do this for me
or aren’t you? Hoss and tapioca

and what remains of your life all balanced
precariously on a plastic spoon.
Every week, the grown Cartwright boys learn

another life lesson from their father
who has seen some things in his day, who knows
better. And maybe all death really is

is gradual unlearning, the pudding
crusting in your beard like infant spit-up.
I have driven two hundred miles each day

for two weeks to be here to watch old shows,
nurses prodding, your chest rising, falling,
but these are the distances that matter—

spoon to mouth, screen to face, son to father,
father to grave. Your thousand-yard stare’s fixed
vaguely on the wall-arm television

where Michael Landon is falling in love
with Bonnie Bedelia, and we know
(half-century old spoiler) that Hoss dies

offscreen because Dan Blocker dies offscreen
from botched surgery. But it is enough
to know the twangy theme is still playing,

galloping into and out of the room,
even when the spoon scrapes an empty cup,
even when we pull the sheets all the way up.

Chad Frame’s work appears in Rattle, Mom Egg Review, Barrelhouse, Rust+Moth, and other journals and anthologies, as well as on iTunes from the Library of Congress. He is the Director of the Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program and Poet Laureate Emeritus of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the Poetry Editor of Ovunque Siamo: New Italian-American Writing, a founding member of the No River Twice poetry improv performance troupe, and founder of the Caesura Poetry Festival and Retreat.

Milk Sickness: A Mother Worries as Her Children Sleep

Winner of the 2020 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


sometimes I see snakes in a milk pail
noisy tumbles of coils & scales
I lie awake steeled vigilant
absorb the discord of writhing
bodies in my opaque world

I wonder if they know they swim in sacrifice

maybe they think it’s water edged by meadow
maybe they dream the spinning of their skins
will loose them to catch the scent
of mouse or egg
in a dreamscape of venom & froth

or is it panic
black thick rich like cream
panic that weighs them down
roiling blind only to find they’re trapped
and soused in humors

maybe the milk’s a mirror
a mother-of-pearl shine that splashes
the black snake hole in my eye
if I stare at the waves the sloshes of nacre
maybe my tongue will smell a way out
lift me with a swell as the vipers sink
like weighted calcite beneath the tide
black pearls lost at sea
maybe then stillness will claim me
a silence only I can taste like stolen butter

Kari Ann Ebert is a poet & writer living in Dover, Delaware. She was recently awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship by the Delaware Division of the Arts (2020). Winner of the 2018 Gigantic Sequins Poetry Contest, her work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Philadelphia Stories, The Broadkill Review, and Gargoyle, as well as several anthologies. She was selected to attend the BOAAT Press Writer’s Retreat (2020) with Shane McCrae, awarded a fellowship by Brooklyn Poets (2019), and selected to attend the Delaware Division of the Arts Seashore Writers Retreat (2016). She also enjoys making up-cycled art and collaborating with local artists, musicians, and writers.

Letter from the Poetry Editor

Letter from the Poetry Editor: Courtney BambrickCourtney Bambrick

Each year, Philadelphia Stories celebrates the memory of poet Sandy Crimmins whose poem “Spring” appeared in our first issue. Sandy served on the Philadelphia Stories poetry board until 2007, and her influence on the magazine has been felt ever since. We use the prize named for her to celebrate risk and innovation in poetry. This year’s Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry was judged by poet Iain Haley Pollock, author of Ghost, like a Place and Spit Back a Boy. Many of the poems we sent him raise important questions and give voice to unsettled feelings. Pollock says that, “[W]e live in an exciting, efflorescent time in the history of American poetry.” We can see that flowering in the poems listed below. Pollock continues:

These poems explore diverse subjects—the lonely offices of grief, the deterioration of our public discourse, the cruel legacies of our national history, the triumphant possibilities of migration, the wistful complications of eros, and the sustaining inheritances of family.  But no matter the subject the unflinching clarity of each poet’s vision and the precision of each poet’s images tap into a deep well of emotion.  The pleasures of these poems are not easy but lie in knowing that out there other humans wrestle to make sense of the intractable world around them and perhaps even find within it cause for hard-won celebration. 

The winner of this year’s Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry winds itself in the conflicting but complementary threads of care and fear. Vigilance is exhausting but necessary, “Milk Sickness: A Mother Worries as Her Children Sleep” by Kari Ann Ebert seems to tell us. About the winning poem, Pollock writes:

We become “milk sick” when we drink milk from a cow that has grazed on poisonous plants.  In “Milk Sickness: A Mother Worries as Her Children Sleep,” Kari Ann Ebert makes this condition a metaphor for maternal apprehension.  The poison here is ophidian as snakes menace a pail of milk, “swim in sacrifice,” in that part of the body a mother gives up that her children might live.  As with many parents, having children has expanded the speaker’s capacity for love and also her capacity for fear.  As the speaker’s dread deepens, Ebert overlays a deft sonic network, heightening the poem’s emotions. In the end, the snakes’ movement and attendant noise become, as does fear, so encompassing that relief from them seems manufactured or illicit—“like stolen butter.”  All in all, with an expert command of sound and image, Ebert captures how fear, especially maternal fear, acts on us and threatens to overwhelm us in the “opaque” hours of our lives.

Philadelphia Stories thanks Joe Sullivan for his support of this contest and his enduring friendship with Philadelphia Stories. We also thank Nicole Mancuso, contest coordinator and assistant poetry editor for her solid and consistent energy. We thank  Yalonda Rice, managing editor, for her flexibility and patience. Mostly, we thank the poets who generously share their work with us and we encourage local writers to continue to do so throughout the year.



“Milk Sickness: A Mother Worries as Her Children Sleep,” Kari Ann Ebert (Dover, DE)


RUNNERS UP ($250 each)

“Feeding My Father Pudding While Watching Bonanza,”Chad Frame (Lansdale, PA)

“Lukens Steel, Coatesville, Pennsylvania,” Kyle Carrozza (Coatesville, PA)

“How to Ride a Train in the Andes,” Lupita Eyde-Tucker (Palm Bay, FL)



“On Wassily Kandinsky’s Painting, ‘Little Painting in Yellow,’” Kathleen Shaw (Schwenksville, PA)

“Mother Explains,” Jane Miller (Wilmington, DE)

“Matthew,” Chad Frame (Lansdale, PA)


EDITOR’S CHOICES (Please view at PhiladelphiaStories.org)

“Lightbearers,” Tyler Dunstan (New York, NY)

“On the Solitary Death of Uncle Mike,” Sean Webb (Philadelphia, PA)



“Inventory,” Cindy Ok (Iowa City, IA)

“The Others,” Ginny Pina (Wayne, PA)

“Darlings,” Dana Jaye Cadman (Mineola, NY)

“Heirloom,” Michelle Flores (Jacksonville, FL)

“What a Mother Lays on Her Son,” Jane Miller (Wilmington, DE)

“CDG,” Tyler Dunstan (New York, NY)

“Smoking Shelter,” Chad Frame (Lansdale, PA)

“That Long Haul,” Mary Finnegan (Philadelphia, PA)

“Ode to la Conquista” Lupita Eyde-Tucker (Palm Bay, FL)

“A Herringbone Pattern of Tiny Iowas,” Sean Webb (Philadelphia, PA)