There are Horses in North Philadelphia! There are Figs in My Stomach!

Honorable Mention: 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

To read “There are Horses in North Philadelphia! There are Figs in My Stomach!” by Ike Pickett, click HERE.

Ike Pickett is a queer writer and musician. They currently live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where they work in early literacy and urban greening at Historic Fair Hill. In 2021, they made the longlist for Frontier Poetry’s Award for New Poets. Their work is forthcoming in Five South.

How to Act

Honorable Mention: 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


Pretend you are waiting for a bus.

It is best to practice this

while waiting for the bus.

It’s called Method.

While waiting for the bus,

check your wrist as if

you had a watch on.

Gaze fixedly at a spot

several blocks away as if

expecting a bus to round

the corner. Gaze as if

conjuring the bus like a rabbit

from a hat. Now look away.

Tap your foot to indicate

impatience. Pretend

not to be listening to the couple

arguing on the bench.

yes it is no it isn’t you always do this

no I don’t yes you do GODDAMN IT

It’s OK to wince when he punches

the bus stop. No one’s looking

at you in that moment.

OK, beat. And—take out a cigarette.

This is your motivation

to move off—out of the wind

so you can light it. Otherwise,

it looks as if you’re reacting

to the argument you weren’t

listening to. No—you are a poet,

preoccupied with subtler things.

Smoke implacably—world-weary as if

waiting on the 53 Godot line.

Consider the pigeons pecking

at the rice from a discarded burrito

on the ground. Pretend to think

about their lives. How long

has that burrito been there?

How do they not get salmonella

or botulism—whatever it is

you get from eating a burrito

off the sidewalk? OK.

Shake it out. Focus. Now, say

your mobile rings and it’s your mother.

Pretend you are receiving

a phone call from your mother.

“Sad news.” You know what it is

before she says, but must act

surprised, dismayed. Your godmother

has died, whom you didn’t really know

but who showed up in your mother’s stead

at your first big reading, exactly as if she

were your godmother. What is appropriate

for this level of connection?

Decide how you will feel about it

and commit to that. Don’t oversell it.

While this is happening, imagine

it is really happening to you.

What would the person playing you

in the movie of your life say?

Console your mother. Wait

for the mood to even out. Hang up.

You are so far beyond

the squabbling couple and the pigeons

now; they have no idea the depth

of your emotion as you stare

at a shred of plastic snagged

in a filthy municipal tree. Pretend

not to hear the diesel motor

lumbering up the street, your reverie

broken only by the pneumatic sigh

of the bus doors opening beside you.

Brave face, chin up; stride ponderously

onto the bus as if departing your home

forever; find a window seat.

Pretend to be looking through

your reflection, instead of at it.

Cleveland Wall is a poet, teaching artist, and librarian in Bethlehem, PA. She performs with poetry improv troupe No River Twice and with musical combo The Starry Eyes. She is the author of Let X=X (Kelsay Books, 2019) and many small, handmade chapbooks.

Her Too

Honorable Mention: 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

Ledor Vador


This, which is and is not for my mother.

This, which is and is not for the island of

Puerto Rico, which is America, which is, yes,


America which is not understood by too many Americans

To be America, paper towels flung at the heads of the bereft

Near drowned, after the hurricane passed through.


This, which is and is not about my mother

About an island crimson with bougainvillea,

Pale blue and breathless after storm, where


Once, long before paper towels were lobbed

Across a room of citizens by not-their- president-

Not-my-president, my mother nearly bled to


Death for no reason she would blame on

Puerto Rico.  Blame America, she once told me,

And I do.



At the aquarium in Camden, my small granddaughters are mesmerized by the dance and drift of tentacled jellyfish, kites floating through a watery sky blue, through fluid air as if on one perfect day of enough.  Enough wind to raise the kites above the beach.  Enough stillness to keep them there.  Enough for me to watch my granddaughters’ rapt believing faces, reflections in the round window of the jellyfish tank, to guide their small hands into cold waters toward smooth-backed sting rays, surprisingly lumpy cold limbs of rust-tinged sea stars in the touching tank.  In this, I am become my mother.



This is about and not about Puerto Rico,

Not about and about my young, pregnant

Mother. This is about my friend Gerard,

Desperate to reach his mother, cell signals

Dead in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria

Alive and furious.  This is about

Gerard, how he apologized to our collage


Class for his distraction, while we, a group of

Mothers, tried to reassure him, listened to

Dead air on his phone, tore and cut and glued.

Coral of stewed tomatoes, ripped bits of mountain,

A few fish swimming through calm green waters.

I made my landscape under sea, serene: teal, yellow.

No screaming reds of bougainvillea.



She never learned to swim, my mother,

but she loved to walk along sand.


Transplant to salt-spray and waves,

she spent summer days picking up


beached creatures, running fingers

over smooth shells, bumpy dried skins,


teaching us to name the life by the husk:

razor clam, devil’s purse, whelk.   Once,


horseshoe crabs washed up, stranded;

on earth long before us, she instructed.


Once a storm blew starfish hoards to shore.

We carried plastic pails to the beach, could not


bail fast enough, next dawn, mourned

the hundreds left to dry.



Then one summer, she disappeared for at least a week from our island.  When she returned, she remained far away, pale, stayed out of the sun all day.   I picture her now, alone in the shuttered, cool house, how she must have replayed the way the air felt when she deplaned the small prop in Puerto Rico. I picture her hesitation before she entered, on a back street, a clinic where no one spoke English, the only language she had in which to ask for what she needed. Gray, dark, colorless in the memory she finally confessed to us so many years later. Outside, the moist hot air.  The unforgettable slashes of red bougainvillea,


I almost died.  So many years of silence before we finally heard the confusion—shame/fury—heard of the doctor, stateside, who refused to treat the ceaseless bleeding because of what I’d done.



Blame America, she said.

And I do.

Liz Abrams-Morley’s most recent collection, Beholder, was published by Word Poetry in April, 2018. Inventory, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014 and Necessary Turns was published by Word Poetry in 2010 and won an Eric Hoffer Award for Excellence in Small Press Publishing that year. In 2020 she was named the Passager Poet in Passager Journal’s annual contest. Liz’s poems and short stories have been published in a variety of nationally distributed anthologies, journals and ezines, and have been read on NPR. A sometimes faculty member in the Rosemont College MFA program, Liz is co-founder of Around the Block Writers’ Collaborative ( Any given Tuesday at noontime (when not sheltering in) you can find her at the corner of 2nd and Chestnut directing her resistance toward the walls behind which her phantom Senator Pat Toomey may or may not be hiding from his constituents. A poet, professor, gramma and activist, Liz wades knee deep in the flow of everyday life from which she draws inspiration and, occasionally, exasperation. Please visit her on the web at

You can’t say ‘Oriental’

Runner Up: 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


because it’s offensive.” My blue-eyed friend

sneers, smiles at superiority in knowledge,

fairness, and freckles. My mother says

her hair is mousy.


My mother is not a rug. She has used

this word for forty years, feels its reclaimed

East-Asian kinship. This word is hers; it is

mine. She taught me to


I.     “find/establish/feel one’s bearings/location/way, get the lie of the land”

as other, as not-them, unbelong

at the lunchbox cracked open.

Fourth-grade culture-day potluck

leaves yakitori untouched. I throw

it out of blue tupperware into the bushes;

local wildlife doesn’t discriminate, and relay

its evaporation with delight “they loved it.”


II.     “adapt, accommodate, acclimatize, attune”

I learn to accommodate questions until

I’m thirty. I acclimatize to exotic. Attune

to scrutiny. I do mind you asking; I do

not exist to satiate curiosity. This unease

others you; I sniff it in like sweet gasoline.

I will respond with fire. Like her, I am crowned

with midnight river hair so long it tucks into our jeans.

We belong everywhere.


III.     “aim, steer, design, intend”

towards mysterious as a hand I hold

to chest. Or a ship adrift, I outmaneuver

and drop into the conversation my Auntie,

the camps, Godzilla, what’s of my people.

Use chopsticks for popcorn, cheese crackers,

anything oily. Scoff at weight-control advice:

“they’ll help you eat slower!” unless you’ve

always used them. She still keeps

my pink plastic baby ones with birds,

little finger loops for a toddler.


IV.     “align, place, position, set”

My mother as direction, I fix my sight

where the sun rises, eastward. She

warms me face-first.

Alison Lubar (they/she) teaches high school English by day and yoga by night. They are a queer, nonbinary femme of color whose life work (aside from wordsmithing) has evolved into bringing mindfulness practices, and sometimes even poetry, to young people. Most recently, their work has been published by or is forthcoming with Moonstone Press, New York Quarterly, and Sinister Wisdom; you can find most published work at and heavily-edited selfies at @theoriginalison on IG.

Rich Friend

Runner Up: 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


Hello sounded like a new language

from her mouth. Intergalactic sparkle

of passionfruit lip gloss. Stuck her finger

through the threads where my thighs

rubbing together, wore away my jeans.

      New clothes much? she smirked. Her mother looked me up

and down in the doorway, worried. I was mesmerized

by the kitchen pantry. Gleam of hardwood.

In framed photographs: Gwen in black velvet riding helmet.

Gwen at art camp. Gwen on stage with other porcelain doll

children, tip-toe in pale tulle. Moon lowered

behind her on its rope. There was a time I would’ve been jealous

but, seventeen now, all I wanted was to obliterate

the parentless house of my body, glow white

under blacklights, blast my hair straight

on the highway, pierce any flesh I could pinch. To meet crushes

late night at the gate of her cul-de-sac. Gwen, in neon makeup

and Bjorkian rags, denim that was purposefully and expensively

ripped or frayed or bleached. I learned

glamorous damage, felt royal

in her clothes.             And she gave generously—

purple bomber jacket with fox fur hood,

white corduroy bellbottoms, rainbow holographic

wallet with the silver unicorn zipper.

Even once, an antique locket, her grandparents’

portraits inside, frowning at me, a stranger.

Odd that she gave it away. Odd that I wore it.

We read how Yoko won Lennon’s heart & we began

writing yes all over the walls. Across the dashboard, in the bathroom stalls

at school. Yes, yes. Our chant. I’d see one of her yes’s carved

into a desk when we were classes apart

and burn with our girlish devotion.

Yes to the tongue-ringed music video skater

rolling a blunt in slow-motion, yes all over Johnny’s face

in her Cry-Baby poster, yes on repeat to the song that still transports me.

To the indulgently foamed push-up bras, ordering $80 of food

on Mother’s stolen credit card and throwing it all up—

what we once called fun. To the roof where we sat

`                                  to watch night collapse over everything.

We were a spectacle

in her father’s convertible, trading

seats so she could ride shotgun and pack the bowl.

Her chair tilted all the way back as I drove,

sound system vibrating the leather.


Gwen, I see you clearer now: her fascination with boys

she called troubled, who were banned from the mall,

who her father called shitheads, whose fathers punched

or burned them with cigarettes. The romancing of terrible wounds.

Gwen thought the work boots I duct taped together

when I was kicked out in the rain

were charming.

I still remember the mesh canopy of her princess bed,

like the room a willow makes inside.

Our den of hoarded cigarettes, bottles her parents

didn’t notice disappear, hard candy, gel pens,

Adderall, packs of gum. On vacation with her family

in Bermuda, we tore pages out of the hotel bible

& burned them on the beach, dared God to curse us.

Set off fireworks and ran hand-in-hand

when the cops came. Our LSD eyes engorged

on the Grand Canyon: so willfully red

beneath the rawhide sun. Or Colorado, us half asleep in hot springs

in the snow. I just wanted to go everywhere with her

and she wanted to bring me, like a treasured stuffed animal

or a groupie, so easily-amazed  How did her parents see me—

a parasite teen coaching their daughter toward risk?

Or a mangy stray their big-hearted only-child

brought home—De-flea me, make me presentable!

One night I asked, lying on the floor beside her bed,

both of us spun out on her mother’s benzos,

Which of us do you think will die first?

                                                                     Definity you, she said.

Definitely. I agreed

and we fell asleep laughing.

Aimee Seu is the author of Velvet Hounds (forthcoming from Akron University Press, 2022), winner of the Akron University Poetry Prize. She graduated from the University of Virginia Creative Writing MFA Poetry Program in 2020 as a Poe/Faulkner Fellow where she was recipient of the 2019 Academy of American Poets Prize. Other awards she’s received include the 2020 Los Angeles Review Poetry Award, the 2020 Henfield Prize for Fiction, the 2016 Academy of American Poets Prize at Temple University, the Temple University 2016 William Van Wert Award, and the Mills College Undergraduate Poetry Award. She was a finalist for the 2020 Black Warrior Poetry Prize judged by Paul Tran and a semifinalist in the 2019 New Guard Vol. IX Knightville Poetry Contest judged by Richard Blanco. Her poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared or have forthcoming publications in Ninth Letter, Pleiades, Los Angeles Review, BOAAT, Redivider, Raleigh Review, Diode, Minnesota Review, Blacklist, Adroit, Harpur Palate and Runestone Magazine. She currently lives in Tallahassee, FL where she attends the FSU Poetry PhD program.

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 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.




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.


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.

Letter From the Poetry Editor

Philadelphia Stories happily announces that the poem, “greens” by Edythe Rodriguez was selected as the winning poem in this year’s Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry. Crimmins judge Cynthia Arrieu-King writes that “greens” is “virtuosic” and “handles its use of the page like a kind of spontaneous music.”

We are also awarding each of four runners up a $250 prize: Kelly Lorraine Andrews for “The Madonna of the Rabbit,” Stephanie Niu for “Abecedarian for Pinyin,” Aimee Seu for “Rich Friend,” and Alison Lubar for “You Can’t Say ‘Oriental.’” Poems from Liz Abrams-Morley, Cleveland Wall, Ike Pickett, and Mackenzie Kean were selected as honorable mentions by the judge. Poems from Lupita Eyde-Tucker, Courtney DuChene, Mikhayla Robinson, and Laura Tanenbaum were selected as “editor’s choices” by the contest readers, contest coordinators, and poetry editor and appear in the online Spring 2022 issue.

Along with Edythe Rodriguez, the winning poets will be celebrated with an online reading at the LitLife Poetry Festival’s closing reception on Saturday, April 23. Visit for more information and to register for LitLife.

Joe Sullivan continues to support this contest and we are grateful for his enduring friendship with Philadelphia Stories. We are also grateful to contest coordinators Eli Aharon and Phoebe LaMont for their  consistent, helpful, and organized work. We thank Yalonda Rice, managing editor, for her flexibility and patience. Above all, we thank the poets who trust their work with us; reading your poems each year is a pleasure and a challenge that is humbling and humanizing.



“greens,” Edythe Rodriguez (Upper Darby, PA)



“The Madonna of the Rabbit,” Kelly Lorraine Andrews (Pittsburgh, PA)

“Abecedarian for Pinyin,” Stephanie Niu (New York, NY)

“Rich Friend,” Aimee Seu (Tallahassee, FL)

“You Can’t Say ‘Oriental,'” Alison Lubar (Cherry Hill, NJ)



“Her, Too,” Liz Abrams-Morley (Philadelphia, PA)

“How to Act,” Cleveland Wall (Bethlehem, PA)

“There are Horses in North Philadelphia! There are Figs in My Stomach!” Ike Pickett (Philadelphia, PA)

“Fiona Rice Does Not Talk to the Rabbits,” Mackenzie Kean (Freehold, NJ)



“Eucalyptus,” Lupita Eyde-Tucker (Melbourne Beach, FL)

“Ars Poetica Caught in Eternal Recurrence,” Courtney DuChene (Philadelphia, PA)

“In the Wake of Heat,” Mikhayla Robinson (Athens, GA)

“The Night Diana Died,” Laura Tanenbaum (Brooklyn, NY)



A Lion Who Lives in a Fear Filled World,” Shagufta Mulla (Independence, OR)

A Psalm of Assaf,” Jared Ijams (Brooklyn, NY)

“Advice for a New School Year,” Megan Merchant (Prescott, AZ)

“Advice to My Six-Year-Old Self,” Jane Miller (Wilmington, DE)

“Diptych: Brood X,” Matt Hohner (Baltimore, MD)

“Gathering and Letting Go,” Brendan Praniewicz (San Diego, CA)

“Ghost,” Nala Washington (Camp Springs, MD)

“Lovecraft,” Sean Hanrahan (Philadelphia, PA)

“Ode to the Laundromat,” Kathleen Shaw (Schwenksville, PA)

“Ornithology of Hunger,” Katherine Gaffney (Petal, MS)

“Raking the Leaves,” Steve Burke (Philadelphia, PA)

“same old same old,” Nicole Adabunu (Iowa City, IA)

“There’ll be no more writing around the thing,” L.J. Sysko (Wilmington, DE)

“Two Tones against Brick,” Alison Hicks (Havertown, PA)