The Weight of Loss

Honorable Mention: 2023 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


I don’t hear the doctor at first

when she asks if I’ve been sleeping

better these nights, if I’ve cut back

on the raw fish, if the migraines

have subsided, because my mind

is gridlocked, caught between some weight

and height on the BMI chart

tacked on the wall of her office,

as if my body were hanging

there too.

That’s when I remember

some random bit of trivia,

how the first body mass index

was based on the weights of corpses,

and I laugh at the irony,

how all these years I’ve been striving

to be as fit as a dead man,

controlling portions, passing on

seconds or dessert, forgetting

how much I loved my wife’s brownies,

when she would dump an extra cup

of walnuts into the batter

because she knew I loved the crunch,

when we’d clear dishes together,

clean up our kitchen messes, those

memories so near, I try to

close my eyes around them, savor

my daily allowance of loss

as I try to get back those years

before that disappearing trick,

before I became a walking


I’m snapped back into

reality when the doctor

presses the stethoscope against

my skin, tells me to breathe, as though

I haven’t been. She asks again

if I’ve been sleeping more soundly

as she slides the cold drum across

the smooth map of my heart, tells me

to breathe deep, and again, and now

to just breathe normally, as if

that request were simple, as if

I have been overthinking it

these last few years, as if my lungs

hadn’t been at work all the while,

toiling against their master’s will.

Robert Fillman is the author of House Bird (Terrapin, 2022) and November Weather Spell (Main Street Rag, 2019). Individual poems have appeared in such venues as The Hollins Critic, Ninth Letter, Philadelphia Stories, Salamander, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, and Verse Daily. He holds a Ph.D. in English from Lehigh University and teaches at Kutztown University in eastern Pennsylvania.


Honorable Mention: 2023 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest



all the way back to when i was shrieking and my sister was too

pointing at juicy rhododendron

in the immigrant yard    ie the Big Opportunity bouquet


now move    i am consciously yearning

to get back to the hilarious of a near unknown    a toddler mind

of anticipation



motherboards    school districts  everything tightens

around revisionist history

its not mumbai or bombay  but new world

though what to un name

an implied no-name fate like urban boundary line


can we upend the field and the sea. no question

this this is not that different    yet another project of long violence

worshipped thru lead paint siding     plastic milk cups of petrichor

that seep out of the earth in the early morning

froglets that leap from feet falling on a sodden lawn

its not silicon valley but silicon forest

so sudden and devoid

inside this holding of white reserve and tact     please say only one thing

it is pastoral through its gnosis, no         it is a 90s network imaginary  no


it is a test site for arranged marriage casteist progeny

ibid assimilationist light skinned success story    ibid neoliberal

 imperial  generational  deep well



now we have no birth order

or gender adjustment for falsified belonging          we ruined it, gladly

no debt arrangement for time lost           for years never mine to begin with

now i move consciously into a chaos magic of yearning

its a hot to the touch jaggery scented transmission           here are my friends

that ive made   and some space to sit in the garden

Leena Joshi is an artist, educator, and child of immigrants living in Oakland, California. Leena’s written works can be found in SFMoMA’s Open Space, the Berkeley Poetry Review, the Felt, Monday: the Jacob Lawrence Gallery Journal, TAGVVERK, La Norda Specialo, Poor Claudia, and bluestockings magazine, among others. They hold an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley’s department of Art Practice and a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, Seattle.

as a river

Honorable Mention: 2023 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


some people see gender as a line

but I see it as a river


yes the river may travel from one point to another

but little streams and creeks

tributaries and estuaries branch off here and there and wherever

trickling down hills and mountains until the summer melts snow into a showering waterfall

feeding into lakes and oceans

or creating new rivers of their own when it rains and floods


maybe the terrain at the mouth differs from that of the tail

and maybe from the sky there is little difference at all


a deer may hold no preference along the entire length of the river banks

but a dragonfly may live solely in one pocket of reeds

and neither is more precious or damned for it


some may find themselves lodged firmly in place

others mistaken for a rock when they are indeed a tree root


perhaps a stone once thought immovable

erodes to reveal sparkling sediment present the entire time


you may consider me like the deer

leisurely traipsing along the water

stopping the longest in the middle where the grass is most ambiguous


or maybe you think me a duck

paddling along with the current

dabbling in the mud and pebbles and preening my feathers wherever I please

until I grow tired of wetness and fly


but me, I think I am the silt itself

mineral deposits from stars outside

fallen from the clouds and swirling with the water

shimmering my way into every last fingernail and dendrite of the river

blown across the dry prairies and carried by the wind

settling into the seas and swept up by hurricanes until I rejoin the cirrus

and gently dance back down as snowflakes on a mountaintop

waiting for the sun

Corinne is a comic artist and watercolorist currently pursuing a Comics MFA at the California College of the Arts. You can view their work on instagram @corinneiskorean. This is their first published poem.

Learn to Tell Time!

Runner Up: 2023 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


To navigate the tenacity of the dark

do I wave an ochre pistil?


Smuggle some fertile beauty

recklessly into my terror?


When through a marrow-streaked window

a wren digs her grave in the breast of another wren


what wound do I alleviate?

Who do I elevate?


What crown do I forego?

An astonishment


of ordinary animal.

Every animal


a letter

to every other animal.



time watches from the doorframe time removes her rings one by one before sliding between satin sheets time a mosaic of discarded catbones and splinters the body has absorbed time with her breast out forehead on the cold counter shudders haloes into our chest cavities: an astronomy



Consider the simultaneous:

inheritance a cluster


of stunned ghosts



from vow to vow.

Confused detectives.


Wet edamame pinched out

from skin pockets


clutching survivors

how rubble clenches


the neckskin

of collateral damage



and bewildered at the breach.



Consider the simultaneous:

giddy infant


farting in her father’s arms,

laughter’s unruly persuasion.


And behind a gas station the knuckle

bone of an adolescent girl


rots till it sprouts milk



No slight surge of moths no cartoon lunchbox

no breeze.


There is no leaving

the body.



Animal what crown?

Animal what red?


What hand

where even conquest


in its wreath

spills onto its pink back?



The ebony mountain is a heart.

The bird, propelled, a heart.

We measure the heart with a fist.

Astonished I studied my fist

eight years old

awed by the legibility

of my secrets.

Shabnam Piryaei is a poet, filmmaker and artist. She is the founder and curator of the online art and interview journal MUSEUM. You can read more about her work at

That Vonnegut Thing

Runner Up: 2023 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest

To read “That Vonnegut Thing,” by Partridge Boswell, click HERE.

Partridge Boswell’s poems appear in the forthcoming Saguaro Poetry Prize-winning collection Not Yet a Jedi and in Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Southword, The Moth, & Co-founder of Bookstock Literary Festival, he teaches at Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters in Montreal and troubadours widely with the poetry/music group Los Lorcas, whose debut release Last Night in America is available on Thunder Ridge Records. He lives with his family in Vermont.

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.

Letter From the Poetry Editor

Philadelphia Stories is proud to share the winning poem in this year’s Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry! The poem, “Aphorism 31: The Immortality Box” by John Blair of San Marcos, TX was selected by the 2023 Crimmins judge, J.C, Todd. Blair will receive a prize of $1000 and an invitation to attend a hybrid reading and reception celebrating winners. Of this poem, Todd writes:


[T]he measure of the lines and the impeccable diction and syntax of the poem’s single, long sentence lead me through science into image, song, ritual, and finally prayer that “we say even when we don’t.” In a remarkable juncture of language and imagination, this continuous, sinuous motion of sound, sense and image creates a vessel shaped to its contents.


Philadelphia Stories awards two runners up selected by J.C. Todd with a $250 prize. Partridge Boswell of Woodstock, VT, is recognized for “That Vonnegut Thing,” described by Todd as a “deeply humorous poem of mourning” that is “unerringly structured for the speaking voice as it slips from bits of story and conversation that bound his parents into bits of quotes from novels that bind him and his friends.” Shabnam Piryaei of Berkeley, CA is recognized for “Learn to Tell Time!” which Todd describes as a “poem…on a vision-journey to deconstruct time, to stop or slow its perpetual forward motion in order to study ‘the simultaneous’ in which the irreconcilable beauty and violence of life coexist.” Todd also recognizes as honorable mentions the work of Corinne Newbegin of Tarzana, CA; Leena Joshi of Oakland, CA; Robb Fillman of Macungie, PA; and Liya Chang of Swarthmore, PA. Overall, judge J.C. Todd noted that the poems “engaged and surprised me with their range of human concerns and situations, their formal and free verse prosody, and their leaps into new sensibilities.”

Many of the poems here refer to writers and poets: Anne Sexton, Kurt Vonnegut, Audre Lorde, Carolyn Forché, Yusef Komunyakaa, and others. Reading these poems, I was moved by the ways we build communities through time and location. As writers, we balance isolation with connection, and digging into favorite books, websites, and magazines allows us to find friends and teachers and nemeses to write to and from and after.

Philadelphia Stories thanks J. C. Todd for her work and care in the selections of these poems. We also thank Joe Sullivan for his support of this contest and his enduring friendship with Philadelphia Stories. We must recognize Elijah Aharon for his consistent, helpful, and organized communication with our poetry editor, poetry screeners, and poets in his role as contest coordinator. We are forever grateful to Carla Spataro and Christine Weiser for their development of this community of writers and readers, and we celebrate the new leadership of editorial director, Trish Rodriguez and executive editor, Yalonda Rice. Above all, Philadelphia Stories thanks the poets who trust us with their work; your poems remind us that community is built through screens or over pages as well as through physical proximity. Each year, I feel our community of writers and readers deepen and expand, so thank you!



“Aphorism 31: The Immortality Box,” John Blair (San Marcos, TX)



“That Vonnegut Thing,” Partridge Boswell (Woodstock, VT)

“Learn to Tell Time!,” Shabnam Piryaei (Berkeley, CA)



“as a river,” Corinne Newbegin (Tarzana, CA)

“Test Site for a Memory Surface (I am Expelling This),” Leena Joshi (Oakland, CA)

“The Weight of Loss,” Robert Fillman (Macungie, PA)

“apparent death,” Liya Chang (Swarthmore, PA)



“Foxes & Hounds,” Jonathan Greenhause (Jersey City, NJ)

“It’s Not True What They Say about Thunder,” Erica Abbott (Clifton Heights, PA)

“The Reading,” Karen Rile (Philadelphia, PA)



“The Fawn,” Julie DeBoer (Seattle, WA)

“Prayer Beads,” Shakiba Hashemi (Aliso Viejo, CA)

“The Earth Remembers Seven Sorrows,” Marjorie Maddox (Williamsport, PA)

“Held Before Me as Blessing and Weapon,” Jen Karetnick (El Portal, FL)

“A Woman Was Running Along the Hudson,” Ayla Schultz (Brooklyn, NY)

“The Snake and the Eagle,” Ana Martinez (Shelter Island, NY)

“Song of a Suicide Addict and His Idols,” Ethan Altshul (West Chester, PA)