REVIEW: Wolves at Night by Sara McDermott


Review of Sara McDermott Jain, Wolves at Night

by Charlotte Edwards


Re-Defining The “Mother” in Sara McDermott’s Wolves at Night

The bloody fight for female empowerment in Sara McDermott’s “WOLVES AT NIGHT” produces a compelling narrative of a single mother’s fight in restoring familial ties with Ben Wilton, the father of her child, as she navigates through the cold Alaskan wilderness. Readers come to learn that Ben had been accused of murder, forcing him to go into hiding. Eleni must fight against all odds to give her son, Jacob, a better life, but also to face the larger enemy being her self-doubt in her quest to be the ideal mother. She becomes a true heroine in this narrative by overcoming her fears of being an independent woman and the best role model for her son. As a woman myself, this novel left me excited and confident in females overcoming the constraints they face by a patriarchal society. Her bravery, resilience, and newfound perspective gives her the strength and ability to outsmart the literal and figurative “wolves” that lurk in the forests around them; moreover, her characterization made me hopeful for the inclusion of women heroes in future literary texts.

The job of “motherhood” is an already complex and tedious role to fulfill; that being said, Ben’s abrupt absence in the family leads Eleni to assume the responsibility of both parents and become the central heroine of the story. Eleni’s genuine love for her son, Jacob, literally bleeds throughout the storyline, mainly as a result of Jacob’s medical condition. The characterization of Eleni reminded me of author and feminist advocate Betty Friedan’s initiative to end the “feminine mystique” that restricts women to the role of the “suburban housewife.” Similar to Friedan, McDermott uses Eleni’s character to re-identify the purpose of mothers in households, particularly in those with broken families. As a child from a divorced family, the bond between Eleni and Jacob reminded me that a family does not require the presence of both a mother and a father to be “complete.” Contrarily, the love from one parent is enough to turn an entire wilderness from darkness to light. Although Eleni and Jacob were exposed to the extreme environmental elements, Eleni’s nurture prevented Jacob from freezing to death. In the same vein, a mother’s love and sacrifice for their child holds the power to protect them from a dangerous world.

Extending on this, McDermott’s integration of the cabin into the storyline shows that a home is not defined by its physical structure. Throughout the plot, Eleni and Jacob are surrounded by dangerously cold temperatures and deadly timber-wolves in a cabin that is falling apart; this environment differs significantly from the upscale apartment that they lived in back in Seattle. That being said, Eleni never dwells on the luxuries that she and her son once had access to. Instead, she feels fulfilled by the “home” that she has in Jacob and shows how his existence is the only “gold” that she will ever need. It is especially important for readers to be exposed to this concept in the social climate that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and re-affirms the notion that my mother has instilled in me- “home is where the heart is.” The uncertainty of the virus and its impact on the future of society has reminded me that my home will always be with my mother and grandmother. Moreover, it has led me to gain a deeper appreciation for the people and relationships that I value most and who have helped to keep me from crumbling. This parallels how Eleni developed a deeper and stronger connection to Jacob throughout the progression of the plot, and how his presence prevented her from falling apart like the house.

Eleni not only morphs into a “wolf-like” character who gains the ability to maintain and exert control over her predators, but she takes on the persona as the “mother wolf” in fighting to re-claim authority over her own identity and fate in society. Similar to Eleni, women and mothers in society today are in the fight for their lives as they face the aftermath of the recent overturn to Roe vs. Wade; therefore, McDermott’s narrative serves as a tool for females in revolting against the controlling patriarchy. Eleni’s “warriorship” provides an important call-to-action for all women to revolt against systematic oppression and discrimination, regardless of the odds. In this process, she re-establishes the role of the “mother” by proving how true and unconditional love is unbreakable and its capacity to move mountains in creating a better life for future generations.

Charlotte Edwards is an aspiring poet, novelist, and screenwriter from Holmdel, New Jersey. She is a student at Monmouth University, majoring in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. In addition, she also holds a position as an intern with Epicenter LLC, a boutique production and literary management company based in Los Angeles, California. Although Charlotte’s interests are constantly expanding, she has a particular love for fiction, such as romance/romantic comedies and science fiction. 

REVIEW: Little Black Book by Chad Frame

Review of Chad Frame, Little Black Book.

by Kathryn Ionata


Chad Frame’s debut poetry collection pierces in many ways, and the first is its title. The little black book is so ubiquitous an artifact that its meaning still resonates in this more digital era. It’s an address book full of names of past or potential lovers, and fittingly, a vast number of poem titles in this book are simply names: “Bruce,” “John,” “Alex.” But if a little black book, and this book in particular, is a book of names, it’s also a book of bodies: sexualized and memorialized; on-screen and in life; active bodies and dead bodies. Frame composes a loving tribute to the vintage while remaining firmly in the gritty, unvarnished present.

Many of the first poems in this collection are about feeling like an outsider: living in a “tiny” house that “smells like cigarettes,” and being a boy who is attracted to other boys.

To be an outsider, perhaps especially as a child, is a kind of “hell” that Frame explores: “What the hell,” asks Christopher, the subject of a poem by the same name, about the school bus jerking to a stop. But hell is also the moment when the young male speaker, Christopher’s friend, can’t stop himself from kissing Christopher, a kiss that is not welcomed. Moreover, hell is what the speaker intuits he will be “living in / for years before / I can even begin” to contemplate what hell means. But there are worse forms of hell, in which the outsider does not survive, and Frame explores these in the collection’s strongest, most devastating poems.

Little Black Book is a book of bodies, and in some cases these bodies suffer immeasurably. Frame dedicates “Nine-Year-Old Suicide in Reverse” to Jamel Myles, a young boy who identified as gay and who was ridiculed and bullied before taking his own life in 2018. This poem is one of several that were originally published in this magazine, and to my mind is one of the strongest that has appeared in recent memory. Frame’s composition is deeply affecting in its invention. “A candle unsnuffs” is the first impossibility, the first action undone, as Frame leads us backwards through the boy’s day, from end to beginning. The boy’s backpack “rises from the floor” as one wishes his body could have done. He returns to school, in an alternate version of the day in which classmates do not torment him with hurtful language:

High-fletched F, its bulbless semiquaver.

Lofty A, its slopes unassailable.

Selfsame, cliquish GG, backs turned to shun.

Surprised O, rolling, caught up in all this.

And T, the final, burning cross of it.

Here, in the life of this young boy as well as in this poem, language is everything. The personification of the letters highlights their gravity. Frame does not mince words or meaning in calling the last letter of this slur “the final, burning cross of it”: it’s a crucifixion. This is the kind of poem that will stay with the reader long past the initial reading.

Frame invokes the image of crucifixion of another young, gay male body in “Shepard,” dedicated to Matthew Shepard, a teenage boy who was murdered in 1998 in what was widely thought to have been a hate crime. The images broadcast at that time of a slight boy, body positioned as though on a crucifix, were devastating to view, and excruciatingly affecting especially for those who personally identified with Shepard in some way. As the speaker of Frame’s poem notes, when he finds out about Shepard’s murder,

I’m just fifteen,


a sophomore,

thinking maybe


I could just tell

someone, a friend,


what I’m feeling,

grow bold enough…

What does it mean to come of age as a gay man, seeing images of a boy who looked more “scarecrow” than human, “tear-tracks / through blood and grime… tied / to a buck rail”? Frame casts Matthew Shepard as a literal shepherd “left / to watch over his flock,” and it’s a clever metaphor as we wonder what will become of all the young people who are part of his flock.

Despite the attention I’ve given to the above two poems, in no way is this collection morose or depressing as a whole. It’s clever, ironic, and witty. In “Jesse,” the young speaker lives for the moments he wrestles with a straight male friend. When the friend pins him, the speaker deadpans, “Poor boy. You must have thought you were strong.” There’s a fun series of poems with “Handkerchief” in the title, referring to a code some subcultures of gay men have used (more commonly in the pre-dating app age, like the little black book). Having a certain color handkerchief in a certain pants pocket conveys a type of sex that the wearer is looking for.  Frame’s “Microfiber Handkerchief” satirizes the absurdity of dating apps, the faces and bodies scrolled through likened to “Brady Bunch squares competing / for attention.” One potential date asks the speaker the common but insulting question, “Are you clean?” which reminds the speaker of being asked if he’s mopped the floor. He wonders, “am I / the floor, the mop, or the guileless hand / gripping it?”

Frame toys with the little black book conceit to great effect. This particular book full of names also contains anonymity. In a poem titled “Anthony,” the speaker is frantic when a casual lover overdoses, and he doesn’t even know his name to tell the paramedics. The title, of course, is a wink to what happens between the events of the poem and the writing of the poem. Oftentimes in this book, the speaker desires connection and love; occasionally, not. “What does it say about me,” he laments about a sex partner, “—the last thing / I ever want in my mouth is your name?” But names, once learned, are unforgettable. In one of several terrific poems portraying or imagining golden age Hollywood, Frame considers a rumored sexual encounter between Marlon Brando and Richard Pryor. Years later, after countless movies made and others loved, Frame wonders “…if somewhere in the credits of their lives, / a name stands out, rising. Meaning something.” In a little black book, some names slip quickly into obsolescence, while others linger, written in permanent ink in our memories.

My personal favorite poems in the collection are two more of what I’m calling the old Hollywood poems: “Screen Test: East of Eden,” dedicated to Paul Newman and James Dean, and “Rock and a Hard Place,” for Rock Hudson. “Screen Test” celebrates two young, beautiful men, “their jaws like flipped chrome lighters,” and the footage (available on YouTube and absolutely worth watching) of them giggling and, yes, flirting. (James Dean: “Kiss me.” Paul Newman: “Can’t here.”) There is an unspoken erotic charge to this film clip, made all the more tantalizing by the way Hollywood kept queerness a secret. The poem is sexy, funny, sad, and hopeful all at once.

It was a delight to see Rock Hudson turn up in this book, as one of his most famed roles, in Pillow Talk, sees him take out an actual little black book. (His character goes through the painstaking process of calling all of his old girlfriends, each of whom he wants to be the first to know that he’s getting married). Rock Hudson: larger than life, brawny, hypermasculine screen icon of the 1950s who turned out to be gay. In this persona poem, written from Hudson’s perspective, Frame uses stunning plays on words here having to do with rock and stone, interspersed with titles of Hudson’s films: Send Me No Flowers, Lover Come Back, All That Heaven Allows. Screen icon Rock Hudson has “granite cheek” and “chiseled jaw,” but inside is “citrine…lapis, amethyst”: he contains rainbows.

The black book is both archive and artifact, a diary of one’s life as well as glimpse at a lost time. Frame’s collection is a tribute to the danger and the beauty of being gay or queer. The book makes me think of a monologue from the recent HBO series about gay men in London in the 1980s, It’s a Sin. Protagonist Ritchie says, “You know what? I had so much fun. I had all those boys…They were great. Some of them were bastards, but they were all great. That’s what people will forget—that it was so much fun.” Here’s to more fun, and more poems from Chad Frame.


An Interview with Jennifer Rieger


Jennifer Rieger is a public educator and college professor in the Philadelphia area. An advocate for her students and graduates, she dedicates her time to empowering others through reading, writing, and acts of love. Jen has been honored with the Franklin Institute 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award, the 2021 Philadelphia Phillies All-Star Teaching Award, and was a semi-finalist for the Pennsylvania Department of Education Teacher of the Year. Along with a nomination for the 2020 Pushcart Prize for Literature, she’s also been published in Chautauqua Literary Journal, Wisconsin Review, BUST Magazine, Philadelphia Stories 15th Anniversary Anthology, among others. Jen holds an MA in English Literature, an MFA in Creative Writing, and spends her free time bragging about her son, students, and thousands of graduates.


Social Media:

Instagram/Twitter: @MsJRiegs




To purchase:

Minerva Rising



Curtis Smith: Congratulations on Burning Sage. I really enjoyed these essays. Can you tell us about the book’s journey and how you ended up working with Minerva Rising?

Jennifer Rieger: Thank you so much for the opportunity! I would say that the Genesis point of the book was with an essay called “The Meantime.” I had not been in my MFA program for long, and to be quite honest, I started the MFA as more of a pastime. My son had just left for college, and there I was, this 38-year-old empty-nester wondering what was in store and if I could use some of my newfound freedom to revisit, as Cheryl Strayed calls it, the “ghostship” that drifted away eighteen years before. I desperately wanted to be a writer when I was younger, but as a young mom, teaching seemed to be the more stable path. Two decades and a Masters in Literature later, and I was sitting in this MFA Creative Nonfiction Workshop class with Anne Kaier writing about stigma, and those two decades of studies, and teaching, and motherhood just poured out of me. I had never written anything of substance in such a frenzy before. That first piece was called “The Meantime”—because that’s what all of those years felt like. Who knew that little essay would get published and start a brand new journey for me. Little by little, I started connecting and crafting those years in journals, during weekends, holidays, summer breaks. What started out as a manuscript called The Meantime transformed into Burning Sage and became my MFA thesis, and I submitted it to Minerva Rising when they publicized their memoir contest. The rest has been a whirlwind of decision making, editing, pandemic delays, imposter syndrome—you name it.


CS: Was it always creative nonfiction first for you? Or did you start your creative work in fiction and then find yourself drawn to CNF? Do you find writing both fiction and CNF helpful? How would you compare their toolboxes? Their processes?

JR: I actually started the MFA as a poet. It didn’t take me very long of workshopping peer pieces in my cohort to realize I was severely out of my league. (Laughs) Everything I wrote turned into these prose poems that grew longer and longer. The charade had to end. However, with that, this lovely sense of self-actualization resonated—I did indeed have a story to tell. I just had to finally give myself the space and freedom to admit that mine was worth telling. I was also grateful for those poetry workshops and continued to take them. My prose grew sharper, more lyrical. My favorite poet is Sylvia Plath, and I’m drawn to her poetry much more than her prose; however, I teach her novel The Bell Jar and each time I read it, I am in awe of how cadence and melody slips into each scene, each description. (What I would give!) So, I try. I dabble. With each poem I write, I ask myself, what is the story behind this? What is deep inside of me that I’m veiling in metaphor? How can I rip off the bandage and dig into the story? It’s scary. And it’s beautiful. Having said that, there are things in life that I find much too painful for prose—some things that I’m not yet ready to bring to the world of storytelling. And that’s when poetry is there for me.


CS: I’ve been talking to my students recently about access points and how we initially find our way into our holidays and summer vacations pieces. Did you have a go-to access point in these—memory, concepts, images? Or was each piece its own journey?

JR: Curt, I just wrote. (Laughs) At first, anyway. Every spare moment I had, in the creative writing class I teach at Upper Merion or when gridlock turned the Schuylkill into a parking lot, I bled into my journal. But after awhile I started seeing these patterns. When I wrote about the strong women in my life (typically my grandmothers) they would invariably match up with student stories that stuck with me. In the early part of my MFA, I just tried to get the stories down to see where the writing took me. After some workshops with CNF writers like Jillian Sullivan and Kristina Moriconi, I began honing in on images—a mink coat, a bundle of sage, a spot of blood—and I let the image propel me forward. There’s piece in my book called “The Fix” that started out as a story of a fairly introverted boy who used to sit in this tattered, old blue upholstered office chair in my classroom and share joys, fears, anxieties, past hardships—everything in need of purging from a high school senior’s mind. It was a sweet story of our unlikely little friendship; but his wasn’t the only story that chair held, and he wasn’t the only student to give me purpose. I expanded the piece to what I had buried deep down, to what the blue chair represented, to why those kids were such a “fix.” I cried the whole time I wrote the first edition, and the whole time I transformed it thinking about all the different definitions of the word fix and how I fit into each one.


 CS: We first met at Rosemont’s MFA program. Deciding whether or not to pursue a MFA is a decision many writers face. What did getting a MFA do for you as a writer? What advice would you offer anyone who is considering attending Rosemont or another MFA program?

JR: I know there’s a lot of controversy as to whether writers need an MFA. I get it. But every writer is different. Personally, I would not have sharpened my skills, learned the rules of getting published, participated in public readings, or had any kind of writing network had it not been for my cohort at Rosemont. There’s an accountability and comradery that comes with the right MFA program. Carla Spataro, the director of the program, has been able to create this kind of environment, and I’d still be scribbling in my journal without it. My advice? Do some soul searching and some research. Are you self-driven? Do you have time in your schedule to actually be self-driven? I find life to be mentally exhausting and needed an instructor assigning work to me and giving me feedback. Some might not need that.


CS: I have two questions about structure. The book is divided into five themed sections. Was this idea with you from the start? Or did you find yourself with separate pieces and then discover these currents in them? What do you think this organization brings to the book? And second, a number of the essays begin with an epigraph of one form or another. At what point in the process did these come into play? Were some part of an essay’s origins? Or did you find yourself discovering what the piece was about as you wrote and then finding an epigraph that fit? What role do you think these epigraphs play for the reader?

JR: By the time I wrote the title piece for the book I started to see and understand, like a sage plant, my own growth process that brought me to that place. The story of “Burning Sage” brought me to that reckoning—it’s letting go of three students who showed up in my class at just the right time, at the peak of my career. My son was in college at that point, I became Department Chair, felt confident teaching my Advanced Placement course, and I was writing again after two decades of fragmented thoughts. I knew then it was my peak, my own personal blooming, and I still know that now. The story examines that cusp in life—that jumping point—and how we handle it. I’m not sad about it anymore, because like the sage, I was taken from Bloom to Burn. It was and still is a new place for me to lay bare everything I learned and use it to the best of my abilities. Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t confuse this place with some kind of personal teaching Nirvana. I might have the experience of a veteran teacher and the wherewithal to be assertive in life, but I make mistakes on the daily and have a great deal more to learn. I love that. My kids teach me that every day.

Concerning the epigraphs, those didn’t come into play until the very end. I’ve been fascinated by Medieval mystics and visionaries for most of my adult life. I was researching some of the writings of Hildegard of Bingham, and interestingly enough for an 11th century nun, she loved to study infection, psychology, and human sexuality and explore natural remedies for both minor and severe ailments.  I came across something she said about sage:

Cur moriatur homo, cui salvia cresit in horto?

Why should a man die, whilst Sage grows

in his garden?

This not only became one of the two main epigraphs of the book, but also inspiration for further medicinal, spiritual, and historical study on this magical little plant. The more I learned, the more I understood how all these facts about sage could provide me with the access points I was seeking. And they made sense. There’s so much in nature that corresponds with the human condition. It’s amazing how often we either forget that or ignore it.


CS: As someone who taught high school for many years, I really enjoyed your essays about teaching. I think it can be a challenge for someone who edits or teaches writing to go home and then shift into creator/writer mode. Has this been a challenge for you? Or do you find inspiration in your work that carries over to your writing desk?

JR: It’s more of the latter, I think. To be quite honest, there was quite a bit of time when I thought I settled as a public educator. I had essentially given up on my dream because I chose to have my son at 19, and I thought teaching was the perfect career for mothers. (What a cruel myth!) But I look back at that girl wondering if circumstances were different, what would she even write about? Don’t be mistaken, I know there are many young writers out there with an expansive world view and lives rich in stories. I just wasn’t one of them. Having my son, and in turn, becoming a high school teacher, have been the greatest blessings of my life. They’re the ones who taught me what love, compassion, and sacrifice really are. And in each piece I write, I’m writing a love letter to them. So really, I’m not a writer who teaches. I never have been. I’m a teacher who, because of these kids, happened to find her voice.


CS: I felt like many of the pieces had you considering the world from your different roles—daughter, granddaughter, wife, mother, teacher—and all these perspectives gave the book a kind of cohesiveness, almost like it was more a memoir than a collection of essays. Did this ever come to mind as you were putting the manuscript together?

JR: I think part of what creates the “unconventional” in the subtitle of the book is that all of these identities blur. We don’t have to be constrained to little compartmentalized boxes. Society has blurred lines by putting greater expectations on everyone, so how can we possibly live inside such confinement? I was a daughter to my grandmother, a sister to my son, a student to strangers, a granddaughter to my professor, a mom, aunt, sister, counselor, social worker to my students—these roles blend because life has become exceedingly complicated… and these essays blend too. This was not at the forefront of my mind while writing it, but now, I see it. I think this whole beautiful and aggravating project of mine became a quest for an answer. Who the hell am I? And while I’m all of those identities, I know the real answer. I’m a teacher—a teacher who accidentally and begrudgingly fell in love with this frustrating job that I was supposed to have all along. A teacher who desperately wants to exist in a magical world of reliving the most beautiful and meaningful parts of life twice. But since she’s not magic, she has to settle for writing about them instead.


CS: What’s next?

JR: More of this journey, Curt. I’ll teach until they peel me off the floor.

Curtis Smith’s last novel, The Magpie’s Return, was named one of Kirkus Review’s best Indie Picks of 2020. His next novel, The Lost and the Blind, will be released in late spring 2023.

Writing for Social Justice: Dear Alice

Dear Alice,

If you are reading this, it is because yet again the Great Listener has deemed my seeking worth finding. I am placing in this letter a few questions which I hope to learn your thoughts. It is May 31, 2022. I am sitting with news of massacres. I have spent the last few months with your writing, rereading The Color Purple and rewatching the movie of the same name. Checking your website for new blog entries.

Earlier this month, I interviewed you after reading your newest book, Gathering Blossoms Under Fire, 50 years of your journal entries. I am a little over halfway done with The Same River Twice, playing Quincy Jones’ Color Purple movie soundtrack while I write you this letter with dreams of someday hosting a live listening party with you and Quincy as our special guests. We would chat music, the Color Purple soundtrack, and review copies of Quincy’s new book–12 Notes on Life and Creativity, alongside your extensive catalogue. Big dreamer. I know.

I wrote your staff requesting an opportunity to share space with you at the beginning of the year, and I get that I am one of a billion people who have that same prayer, so when I didn’t hear back I was not astonished, just patient until Sara Lomax Reese, head of the oldest local radio station in Philadelphia, calls me up and asks if I’d like to interview Alice Walker, I say: YES! And then cut a step. Yes to the Great Listener. Wave my hand in the air. Yes to fate. Close my eyes. Inhale. Yes to Alice.

You won’t believe this but on December 31, 2021, I wrote down all my wildest dreams for 2022 and right on top of my list, under complete my memoir, was your name–have tea and chat with Alice Walker. The tea didn’t happen just yet (but I have hope). Our chat began at 6 pm on May 12th at the Comcast Technology Center. But how does one squeeze a lifetime of questions into a 45-minute interview where I must share half the questions with a co-host and 15 minutes of the interview on audience questions. The day before the interview, my sister said, “Just make sure you have one good question because that might be all you get.” And she was almost right. I got to ask you about love, flowers, reparations, finances, and fame. But I still have so many other questions.

I will not write them all here today. Just one: I want to know your visions for the future of this world and how you see us getting there. After reading the journal entries in Gathering Blossoms, I am challenged on how to teach folks, especially young folks, how to practically apply the lessons the book so eloquently layers in. For instance, I just finished watching a documentary on Hulu about XXXtentacion, a young rapper with millions of fans who was shot dead at 20 years old during the height of his tumultuous career.

I wanted to understand XXXtentacion more because my 18-year- old son damn near worships him. “XXXtentacion to me is what Alice Walker is to you,” my son explains. In the documentary, XXXtentacion, like Mister______, like your grandfather, has a deep mix of undesirable qualities alongside great fragility. These qualities are attractive to millions of young people who listen to XXXtentacion and feel heard. And I am aware that in Philly, it’s the 16–24-year-olds who are both the most at risk (highest murder rate, highest suicide rate, highest rape rate) and share the highest opportunity for growth. I am aware that the young person who shot and killed elders in a Buffalo grocery store was 18 years old. That the young person who shot and killed babies in a Texas elementary school was 18 years old. That the cadre of conductors working in our shops come there to restore their belief in connection. And these are young people who just came out of years spent in the captivity of a global pandemic. I just want to know from your perspective how to love them better. How to reach the otherwise unreachable. How to get as many of your books into desiring hands as possible. How to get us writing letters like Nettie. And freely expressing ourselves like Shug and Sofia. And restoring ourselves like Celie.

I believe that your books are medicine, a soul rejuvenating elixir that will protect and guide us through the days to come if we read, hear, and apply the wisdom.

signed a revolutionary petunia,


For the last 10 years, Jeannine Cook has worked as a trusted writer for several startups, corporations, non-profits, and influencers. In addition to a holding a master’s degree from The University of the Arts, Jeannine is a Leeway Art & Transformation Grantee and a winner of the South Philly Review Difference Maker Award. Jeannine’s work has been recognized by several news outlets including Vogue Magazine, INC, MSNBC, The Strategist, and the Washington Post. She recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya facilitating social justice creative writing with youth from 15 countries around the world. She writes about the complex intersections of motherhood, activism, and community. Her pieces are featured in several publications including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Root Quarterly, Printworks, and midnight & indigo. She is the proud new owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.

The Jewel of Berks County

There are ten categories of competitive yodeling.

When I ask why, she purses her lips.

If it has to be said at all, she wants it yodeled.

Dot is dot.

She’s a daughter of the dotters of wisdom

and winner of the Under Twenty Hill to Hill.


Her voice carries all the way

to Lyons from Blue Mountain Motors,

where she’s bending over the hood,

leaning in, yodeling to the engine

in her polka-dot Capris,

the Jewel of Berks County,

trying to get the old Dodge tuned.


Even now, as far off as Macungie,

old men on benches reading children’s books

with very hard eyes and almost no lips,

on hearing her voice look up

and press their tongues to gums for spit,

bracing themselves for the eleventh yodel—

part rescue and part lift,

part egress and part crypt,

part substance and part mist and itch.


And when I dream I’m Paul Cezanne,

a poor man who’s overspent on wallpaper

with no way to make ends meet,

her voice is there to comfort me.

Listen, she says.

With two large fries from Sheetz,

one for now and one as needed,

you can forget about l’Orangerie

and picnic baskets along the Seine.

La Santé has actual food fights

with Apollinaire and the Algerians,

with Jean Genet and Paul Verlaine.

Ken Fifer‘s poetry collections include After Fire (March Street Press) and Falling Man (Ithaca House). His poems have appeared in Philadelphia Stories, Barrow Street, Epoch, New Letters, Ploughshares, and The Literary Review. He has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from The University of Michigan.


& now I’m google searching something like

good songs to recommend for someone trying to kick


heroin & clearing the oldest iPhone I have, deleting

my past life photo by photo, stopping at the one you sent me


when you had your first baby & I was at the Kimmel

listening to a live jazz band with Alex, & your son,


he was all tubes & wrinkled, so I kept the picture

to myself. he will be three in April & it feels like he should be


younger. the internet keeps recommending the same song,

some same stale drama, so I play it once, again,


but it’s all puppets

with their strings visible, like,


we’re on two street & you’re

pulling on my pocket & you’re asking


for the flask & I don’t even remember telling you

that I brought one.


my dad’s dad hated the mummers.

he called them feather merchants.


everything feels like giving up.

let’s steal a rifle & pick off the next


& then the next planet’s moons one by one

until we’re even, until it’s simple or simple again.


I really thought we had a chance this time.

I just had that feeling—you know?

Kimberly Ann Southwick is from Cherry Hill, New Jersey and currently an Assistant Professor at Jacksonville State University. She is the founder and Editor in Chief of the literary journal Gigantic Sequins. Her full-length poetry collection, Orchid Alpha, is forthcoming from Trembling Pillow Press. Find her on twitter tweeting about being a Philadelphia Eagles fan: @kimannjosouth.


I wanted to grieve

but the garden

was in such a good mood

and the bubbly

blue sky

kept calling C’mon! C’mon!

and I swear

the wind lifted me

like a toddler

onto the burning back

of the sun

galloping in such

a wild and

unbroken way

that not once

did I think of

my mother’s ashes.

Andy Macera has received awards from Plainsongs, Mad Poets Review and Philadelphia Poets. His work has also appeared in Pearl, California Quarterly, Connecticut River Review, Drunk Monkeys, Gyroscope Review, Straight Forward, Sierra Nevada Review, Old Red Kimono, Passager and other journals. He has lived in West Chester, Pennsylvania since 1998.


i wish the world would stop for me.

in its tracks, never felt such weight

gracefully crumble onto its palms.


i’ve added a couple of pounds

since i started walking the hypotenuse,

driving my life with triangular wheels.

what can i say—i came out of the womb horizontal.


how to lessen the weight?

starve yourself of these earthly pleasures.

shelter a cocoon and live and laugh all you want,

but wait until the world doesn’t glare anymore,


then the roads are open to rapture.

run as you will—lose more weight,

but swallow that impossible feeling.

it will be weightless gain.

full, impossible to hate again.

i swear i don’t miss the empty well,

where every sip of water is an echo in a spacious cave.


to be perfect is to cut skin and bone

and i no longer have to do so.

i am ever-molding surface no more.

my thinning love rhymes with pounds and mounds

and one day i’ll be loved and give love,

but still wonder if the jawline is sharp enough to cut.


when there is a way to measure how heavy,

learn to step down from the scale

and keep your worth (or weight) inside you.

after all, even a word sounding as nasty as rapture can mean bliss.

王潇 / Evan Wang is a 15-year-old poet from King of Prussia whose work has appeared in Juste Milieu, Bleeding Soul Poetry, The National Poetry Quarterly, etc. He is the recipient of the Youth Appreciation Award and a featured artist in the Our America Now festival. Evan is spellbound by the catharsis of the moving language and worships the pens of Savannah Brown and Ocean Vuong.

where something happens

how, at the trolley stop, we all have a common mountain.

morning like a tall pine the day starts with, strong and silent;


how heavy scarves and hats and gloves sleep

on our bones. that the silver tracks pull around the last stop,


by a wash-and-fold where something is always moving,

soap and water hiding the colors of soaked clothes.


how standing here is so easily understood: the patience

or impatience, the idleness of hands. how it’s acceptable


just to know you’re in the place where something happens,

where the route ends and then again, begins. it’s possible


to ride with spare coins, barely treasure, the range of it

like peaks and valleys: to creek or city, to streets and homes.


how the waiting here is a good thing, how everyone rushes

just to be in this, this very, this very happening place.

Rachel Betesh is a nurse and a gardener who writes poems – at a wooden desk in a 112-year-old house, with the window open. Her poetry has been featured in The New Yorker, long-listed for the 2022 emerging poet prize at Palette Poetry, and is forthcoming in Brink magazine. She rides the #13 trolley through Philadelphia.


You take Street Road back to the world,

pine needles fall nearby.

These places still exist, revisited

like a box of wilted baby pictures in a storage locker.

On a Sunday, you take Broad to Vine to I-95

and you take the exit to Pain and Mercy

and go to the places that kill you.

It all stands before you confident as ghosts.

320 Pine Court is still there and you drive slowly

and out of the passenger side window you see yourself

sprinting out the door

and you see yourself

walking behind Holly

over the pine needles

to the bus stop and the third grade

and your Oldsmobile is not where mom parked it

and a steakhouse replaces the woods you rode your bicycle through

and a wrought-iron gate keeps Street Road from Beech Court

and you want to call Kourtney Melendez and tell her she was the best friend you ever had

but you know that Cyprus and Spruce and Willow

are not to be revisited today.

Greg Probst is a teacher, writer, and filmmaker. He is the recipient of the Pam Perkins-Frederick Memorial Scholarship for the Marriage of Art and Poetry and the Dr. Allen Hoey Memorial Scholarship for Short Fiction. His writing has been featured in The Centurion, The Temple News, Hyphen, Rathalla Review, and through the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia. Probst is currently pursuing an MFA degree at Drexel University where he will be teaching first-year composition and creative writing.