A Secret of Long Life: Familial Heartache & Happiness in Elegant, Timeless Fashion

liz dolan philadlephia storiesPoet Liz Dolan paints the ordinary in passionate hues in A Secret of Long Life, a collection of poems that move across the page with the sweet, haunting ache of memory. From now distant days as a Catholic school girl to the death of a young brother that still lingers, Dolan drags us through every human emotion via very simple, very real human experiences.

With a chapbook sliced into four equally heavy parts, Dolan begins our journey with stories of her mother, glimpses into her childhood, and the first gut-wrenching look at a small brother lost too soon. In “The Boy Who Swings on Our Line”, a young girl watches as the ghost of her sibling dances through the family laundry hung out on the line. Dolan writes, “From the open window / I see as he swells my father’s overalls, / crooks the knees and bellows as though/with Dad he flags the six a.m. from Darien.” The poem ends in childlike melancholy, with the girl telling her brother to leave the family alone. “I am not sure/if I want him to stay and play. I lie. / Go, release us all from your awful presence, / airborne shape-shifter, powerful child, so we can smell fresh cotton against our pasty cheeks”.

Dolan depicts the nuns of her youth as elegant, damaged powerhouses, a refreshing step back from a usually stone-like stereotype. Her admiration for her teachers shines through in pieces like “I Longed to Be as Lovely”, in which she describes Sister Purissima “in her opal linen gown / her tanned cheeks backlit by her veil / like an angel surprised”. Each piece continues to sway and swoon from memories of death, family and school days, pausing occasionally to smile and turn to face something purely innocent, as is shown in the lighthearted “Sunday at the German Bakery” where a girl dreams of a boy “who clerked at a bakery, slipping his fingers in and out / tying the knot on the white box.” She is taken with him and delivers imagery we can almost taste, with “hot-crossed lovers nibbling / apple cobbler, yolked together / hobbling along until the glaze wears off.” Part Four carries us into Dolan’s later years, her life still intertwined with life and death, now as a mother and grandmother. With grace she describes her grandson with Down’s syndrome, taking care to maintain her love and admiration for him and the patience of her own daughter.

Dolan’s poetry is real, it is grainy, and in the best way it is plain. Every word crawls from the page with a simplicity that makes it all so very relatable; and that is just what keeps us contemplating the beauty in every piece. A Secret to Long Life is a collection of family history that will remain timeless even after the pages have yellowed.


By Emily Bludworth de Barrios

(H_NGM_N BKS, 2015)*

Emily Bludworth de Barrios’ poem “All Souls’” was selected as an editor’s choice in the 2013 Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry

splendor - philadelphia storiesIn her 2015 full-length poetry collection Splendor, Emily Bludworth de Barrios grapples with morality and virtue as qualities at odds with a contemporary, consumerist lifestyle. She uses lines from Horace Walpole’s 1764 Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto as the titles of the individual poems, a move that highlights the distinctions between righteousness and vice. An online summary of Otranto suggests that its central antagonist, Manfred, is consumed by greed, lust, and fear of a prophesied fall from power. The object of his lust, the princess Isabella, rejects Manfred in favor of the noble young peasant Theodore. Similarly, the reader is asked to consider her values in relation to her privilege.

Titles such as “are the devils themselves in league against me?” and “were tempestuously agitated, and nodded thrice, as if bowed by some invisible wearer” create a verbal history — the conflicts here are not new. The juxtaposition of archaic lines from Walpole and Bludworth de Barrios’ contemporary tone creates friction: as Walpole presents clear good and bad characters, Bludworth de Barrios ranks impulses along a spectrum. We cannot navigate today’s world without some moral struggle. In “May the saints guard thee,” she writes, “There are effortless persons,/and you are not one of them.”

One of the obstacles to virtue in these poems is the speaker’s desire for comfort. In “I would pray to heaven to clear up your uncharitable surmises,” Bludworth de Barrios writes, “I always knew I would/marry a rich man.” Through a swirl of short lines, she points to the literary sources of her expectations. She amends her earlier statement:

It was not wealth I was
after but more like acclaim or arrival.
How beguiling is the sense
of unearned accomplishment (10).

The accumulation of things: “You almost love the things you own./With a fitful, envious love” (“were tempestuously agitated…,” 15), expands to include the accumulation of people: “Friends like accessories…” (“and she was not sorry,” 19). The self expects to be always central:

All of the advertisements are like you you you.
Like this coffee travelled 1000 miles
to be the two perfect inches
of your espresso (“any increase of tenderness to me,” 17).

The speaker of these poems knows what is right and just – and knows the effort required to maintain that rectitude.

The voice in these poems strives to navigate an evolving moral landscape while seeking to insulate herself from — or to anticipate — critique. We are “infants…. flying/across the sky” without anchor: “With/a crooked list of priorities” (“If thou art of mortal mould,” 75). In the poem “I! My Lord!” Bludworth de Barrios considers the upright conscience that knows better:

Your ideal self has always been
the ideal self is sudden and kind (58).

Graceful and bracing, Bludworth de Barrios’ Splendor urges close examination of the values and virtues we celebrate (or ignore) in ourselves and our surroundings. If we can read the literature of the past as a template, we must learn to read our own stories and recognize our own heroism and villainy. — Courtney Bambrick

The Pep Talk

My mother bought tickets to a book luncheon the other day. I’d never heard of that, but it’s a place where a lot of women wearing Chico’s mix-and-match outfits spend $60 to eat chicken while listening to an author speak about his or her books. The author in this case was a very nice man who had published twenty books. He told charming stories about writing, including one where he said that when he had a full-time job, he would write from 5 to 7 a.m. and then hop on a train to Manhattan. Hearing him, I felt ashamed. Why wasn’t I getting up two hours early to write? (Confession: on a very good day, I get in 30 minutes. Most of that is journal writing, so I only occasionally attempt fiction.) Then he told a story about writing a short story for a magazine by first reading six months of back issues of the magazine to determine that editorial board’s particular formula. And I thought, “Why haven’t I done that?” And he also talked about getting 250 rejection letters. And I thought, “Why don’t I get more rejection letters?” Finally, I had to stop comparing myself to him because my jimmy leg was making the water glasses tremble and the ladies were eyeing me over their reading glasses.

Failure is one of the main constants in a writing life. You fail when you get a rejection letter. You fail when you only finish two days of National Novel Writing Month. You fail when you aren’t able to get published in The New Yorker, or when you forget to sign up for Breadloaf or AWP, or when you neglect to renew your subscription to Poets & Writers. You can add them up in the self-torturing list you run through late at night. But really, the only way you fail is when you don’t write at all.

Unlike many well-known and well-published writers, most of us do not have the ability to take six months off from work to go write in the mountains. We did not ever land a job teaching to have our summer free. We have year-round professions, kids to raise, dogs to walk and, sometimes, we have TV shows to watch. We have to make a living, because writing fiction or poetry does not typically bring in the big dough. Most of us have jobs that consume two-thirds of our waking hours or more.

You can even fail at writing and still be a writer. There is no such thing as a real writer. You write and get published, you are a writer. You write and don’t get published, you are a writer. If you need to, hold on to the fantasy that your manuscripts will be published posthumously to great critical acclaim. Be sure to keep the best work in a waterproof envelope marked “for Scribner’s after my death.”

Now, that doesn’t mean you do not have to write at all. You should try to write. If an opportunity comes up to have a weekend to yourself or an hour, you could use that to write. Or not. It’s the pressure of the “shoulds” that can destroy your desire and enjoyment. “Should be” writing for five hours on a Sunday. Should be getting up at 5 a.m. Should be published by now. Should have done more than two days of NANO.

Stop. Writing is supposed to be something you like to do, not something you torture yourself with. You don’t have to enjoy it every second, but if it feels like an intrusion or a trial, don’t do it. But if it’s important to see your words moving across a page, write. Do your best at creating some discipline if you can. Your best effort might be five minutes a day. Or only when you’re on the subway in the morning staring at grumpy faces. But five minutes might turn into more. Or not. Five minutes a day for a lifetime is like…a lot of minutes.

Here are some other things you can do: Send out your work. Start a writing group. Sign up for an online class. Take yourself seriously for once in your goddamn life. It’s fine to fail. Most writers fail many, many, many times before they get published. The other secret few writers admit to is that you can get published and still feel like you failed. Failure is a state of mind that can continue on even after very obvious successes.

“Fail and ye shall find.” I think Shakespeare said that. Not many people know this, but along with plays, he also wrote a ton of sci-fi fiction about talking squirrels.* Did any of those stories get published? No, but I believe he loved writing them.

(*I made all that up. I am allowed. I am a writer.)

Robin Black Interview

Robin Black, this year’s final judge for the Marguerite McGlinn Prize for Fiction, and keynote speaker for Philadelphia Stories’ 2016 Push to Publish conference, seemed to burst, fully formed, upon the national literary scene with the publication of her story collection, If I loved You, I Would Tell You This. The book earned Black rave reviews, comparisons to Alice Munro, and the consensus that an important new literary voice had just emerged – basically from nowhere.

Literary cognoscenti in Philadelphia knew otherwise, for Black, who’s lived here all her adult life, and raised her family here, had been charting her own quiet but determined path in local writing groups for many years, creating for herself, before and after earning her MFA in the Warren Wilson low residency creative writing program, a loyal and supportive writing community. Nobody who knew Black then was surprised when, in 2008, in an event as rare as the sighting of a white peacock, Black’s collection of eleven stories triggered a bidding war among major New York publishers with prestigious Random House the victor.

A bidding war for a story collection by an unknown writer! Incredible!

Four years later, Black, followed up If I Loved You with her radiant novel Life Drawing, an unflinching and fraught examination of a long marriage, damaged by infidelity; threatened from both within and without. Like If I Loved You, Life Drawing garnered stellar reviews, international publication, and enviable sales, thus confirming critics’ predictions that Black’s was a significant new literary voice.

“I am anything but a haphazard writer,” Black said in a recent interview with Philadelphia Stories. The process Black described is very much like what Louise DeSalvo has articulated in her eponymous book, The Art of Slow Writing. “Often stories take me many years,” says Black, noting that she has dozens of unfinished stories languishing on various hard drives. “And I revise endlessly…every word is considered many times.” Like Munro, Black completes only one or two stories a year. She spent four years on a novel that she eventually trashed. But the final story she wrote for her collection, A Country Where You Once Lived, as complex and multi-layered as a novel, took her only eight months. “That was short!” she said.

For Black, stories “usually begin with some random thought about an interesting situation. Or about a dilemma someone might find themselves in. The truth is, at the time I start typing, I am working with next to nothing, and very often the original spark is gone long before the story is complete.”

Black’s recent successes have come to her as a ‘late bloomer.’ She did not begin publishing until after she’d mostly raised her three children. In an essay in Crash Course, her just published collection of craft and personal essays, she describes a 15-yearlong period, from 1987 to 2001, during which she not only didn’t write but did not read fiction. Reading fiction, she theorized in the essay, “became too painful to me, too much of a reminder of what I’d been unable to do.” In retrospect she realizes that she didn’t abandon “the joy of reading fiction” because she had a “houseful of children” and the many responsibilities bound to running a household, but more likely because she had, at that time, abandoned her deepest ambition, writing books. By the time Black finally turned to writing seriously, she was obsessed “with worries about being an unfashionable writer. I knew that my work …was neither edgy nor, in the most obvious senses, unconventional. These worries slowed me down.”

A ‘turning point’ story for her, and still one of her favorites, is Immortalizing John Parker, a 34-page tour de force meditation on identity, love and betrayal, loss and forgiveness, as experienced by a septuagenarian painter, Clara. She’s commissioned to paint the portrait of an elderly man who might be sliding into dementia. “He’s lost and growing more lost by the moment,” Clara thinks while pondering the ‘dullness’ of his face. “That’s what the eyes of her painting will show, she hopes, a man in the process of becoming lost.”

Black says she wrote Immortalizing John Parker “in a spirit of self-acceptance…very early on in the process of writing that story I explicitly gave myself permission to channel my inner sixty-five year old British woman.” That story taught her, she says, that she must tell the stories she has to tell and must tell them in her own way. “We are who we are, which means we write what we write.

Such turning points, the writer wrestling with subject matter and style, Black notes, “may have to be engaged over and over and over again.” Salvation or, at least satisfaction, comes from “realizing that you are writing for those people who like and relate to and respond positively to your work, and emphatically not to try to get every reader out there to love your work…Knowing that, believing it, helps a lot, though the fantasy of universal love is a sneaky one, and a resilient one too.”

Like Munro, Black rarely strays far from home and family life. “I never set out to center my stories around the home, but that’s where I was then, and I wasn’t the sort of writer to reach way outside my own experiences in that way.”

Black’s abiding fascination with marriage, she says, is “ a subset of a fascination with all relationships. But maybe what interests me most about marriage, and not only between a man and a woman, is the free will …you can’t choose your family. But you do choose your spouse – sometimes more than one spouse, if the first choice, or the second, is wrong.”

Many writers are smart about romantic relationships, but few manage the rare wisdom Black offers in her consideration of marriage: “Anyone with any years at this will tell you, it’s not always easy. All relationships change over time. One party may change dramatically, but in the traditional marriage model, that isn’t supposed to result in changes in closeness or in the basic structure of the relationship. That means that marriage asks a lot of us as we grow through life. It asks that we accommodate changes in our partner and also that we balance our own changes with the needs of our partner.”

She also points out that marriage is a relationship “in which there is a single, generally agreed-upon form of disloyalty: sexual straying. It’s hard to think of another relationship we have that has so obvious and singular a line that can’t be crossed. For literary purposes, that’s one of the reasons that betrayal stories (and my novel is one) are so tempting to write. There’s a crisis that we recognize as universal in traditional monogamous marriages. So what happens if that line is crossed?”

‘What happens’ after infidelity is the concern of Life Drawing and several stories in If I Loved You. The challenge for Black has been to write ‘a new story’ about this ancient and universal story. “How do you do so without either romanticizing the notion of marriage or denigrating it?” she asks rhetorically. The answer can be read in her stories and her novel.

It wasn’t until Black was about halfway through graduate school, and had had a few published pieces, that she began to think of herself as a writer. “But in retrospect I was wrong. I had been a writer for years by then, because I had been writing. Like many people I felt insecure and looked beyond my own commitment for some kind of official right to the word. But I believe strongly that everyone who writes, who devotes themselves to it in whatever time they have, who cares about it, is a writer.”

Her recent publishing successes notwithstanding, Black says her most rewarding professional experience so far has been teaching. “It is a wonder to have books published and have them read, and it’s amazing when a review is a rave – which doesn’t happen every time, for sure! But there is nothing like getting to teach. The pleasure of helping people who so, so want to get better at this, understand a new concept, or take a leap forward in their work, is just incomparable.”


Julia MacDonnell’s second novel, Mimi Malloy, At Last! was published by Picador in 2014 to widespread praise in national media. The paperback and a German-language edition were published in 2015. Her first novel, A Year of Favor, was published by William Morrow & Co. Julia is the nonfiction editor of Philadelphia Stories.

On the Divine Lorraine and Falling in Love

We lived in the ethereal shadow of the Divine Lorraine only for a year, but it stands out in my head, still as bright as the neon lights dancing underneath its towering signage. An abandoned, graffitied, majestic husk of a hotel, it dominated the skyline where we lived at 15th and Fairmount. In particular, I remember the way the setting sun illuminated it from behind, oranges and pinks seeming to emanate from the building like a halo. My future husband and I began to build our relationship under the spell of this iconic Philadelphian landmark. Then and now, the image of the Divine Lorraine is a sense memory calling to mind the magic that is a fledgling relationship.

We’d met at the end of June at the former Grape Street Pub in Manayunk. He was in the band. I was watching the band. During a break, he offered me an Altoid. I quoted Chuck Palahniuk. We were immediately infatuated with one another. But then, in early August, I had to leave for graduate school, a Ph.D. in my far future and my new boyfriend (hopefully not) in the past.

He was in Philadelphia, playing bass for a rock band, writing solo pieces on the piano, and otherwise immersing himself in music. I was at the University of Illinois, an accelerated Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy. Distance does not make the heart grow fonder. Homesick, miserable, and increasingly unmotivated as time went on, I missed viscerally what was waiting for me in Philadelphia: My boyfriend, his rescue Doberman named Max, an elderly cat, and a cocoon of unconditional love without the pressures of academia.

Despite wanting to succeed, unceasing loneliness wore away at my resolve to finish the degree. My physical and emotional health suffered. I burned out. I dropped out of the program, packed my car, and headed to Philly. I didn’t exactly show up unannounced on his doorstep with all my belongings and my cat; I gave him at least twenty-four hours notice that I’d be showing up on his doorstep with all my belongings and my cat.

Some hidden corner of my subconscious remembers his concerns that we hadn’t been together long enough (about six weeks before I left for school, to be precise), that we’d break up if we moved in together too soon (we’ve been together for eleven years now, by the way), that the cats wouldn’t get along (they didn’t).

I, however, was too caught up in the flurry of discarding my current life and driving fourteen hours straight to share those concerns. So with my cat and everything I owned, I moved in with my first real boyfriend. I decided upon entering his tiny apartment, a clichéd bachelor pad covered in animal fur, that I would just hope for ‘happily ever after.’ I dumped all of my metaphorical eggs (and the literal ones, too, I suppose, given that we now have a son) into the fragile basket of a relationship that had existed for less than two months. Blind optimism, it seems to me in retrospect.

The truth is, we started living together before we knew each other. I was young enough that our seven-year age difference seemed insurmountable. He was cynical enough that he didn’t see the point of legal matrimony. We disagreed about a number of fundamental issues and ideas. We were taking an immeasurable risk.

I’d arrived in the dead of winter. The Divine Lorraine greeted me, a beacon of beauty in what was then a less-than-charming neighborhood. My car was broken into within a week of my arrival. After dark, I couldn’t walk around outside without Max, his Doberman. It was an alien environment, and my naiveté was immediately apparent. The sight of the Divine Lorraine, steps away, offered me a sense of comfort and wonder in a sea of anonymous strangers and unfamiliar sights. It towered above the cacophony of street noise and angry voices, above the homeless

men on the corners and the litter in the gutters. It was haunting, and lovely, and made me glad to be outside in its presence.

My boyfriend and I joked about it, christening it the “Divine Shannon Lorraine.” I suspect the name we share is a large part of my fascination with the structure. But the rest is due to my fondness for a dark, eerie, Tim Burton-esque beauty. It’s easy to imagine a time when the hotel must have stood proudly, windows like glass eyes watching over old-time Philadelphia. Back in late 2005 when I moved to the city, however, it was a glimmer of its former self.

We started walking around at night together, passing by the Divine Lorraine on our way in and out, two insomniacs with a dog in tow. Part of it was the pull of the building, part of it was the thrill of the dark, and part of it was the sheer joy that comes from falling in love with someone for the very first time.

We learned about one another slowly, taking longer and longer walks around the neighborhood. I came to realize, as I’m still coming to realize every day, the depth of his character and his capacity for kindness. I learned that he is empathetic to a fault, practically a musical savant, someone protective of those he loves and those in need. I heard about his effusive Jewish family, his band, his former cats. I learned who he truly is with the Divine Lorraine as our sentinel, standing guard.

After all the months apart, a relationship birthed of phone calls and letter writing, it was surreal to be in one another’s presence, to have as much of the other as we could possibly want. The Doberman wasn’t even necessary as we started walking longer distances, to neighborhoods with trees and window boxes and silent statuesque houses. Our conversations were all over the spectrum, ranging from our hopes to our phobias, never following the same path twice. We talked about anything and everything, posing endless questions and thought experiments.

He would ask, “What’s your favorite movie?”

I would say, “Probably A Clockwork Orange. What’s your favorite movie?”


“If you were on a deserted island and could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

“When would I ever possibly be in that situation?”

“Just answer the question.”

“I don’t know, probably ice cream.”


“Wow, did you see that bat?!”

“I know! I saw it!”

Those nights around the melancholy old hotel marked the learning curve of our relationship. Through our walks and talks, we stumbled through painful baggage, but also discovered our shared sense of humor. Looking back, my sheer innocence shocks me. When I’d moved in, we were, essentially, strangers.

In the shadow of the Divine Lorraine, we began our life together. We’ve been through euphoric highs and rock-bottom

lows. As the Doberman sadly passed on less than a year after those urban midnight hikes, we’ve since acquired more cats, in addition to the baby. We’ve stressed about making ends meet. We’ve had health scares and stretches of unemployment, but we’ve somehow, miraculously, managed to stay as enamored with one another at the end of the day as we were in those early months.

Even with all the memories of our nights together crowding my skull, I still remember, quite distinctly, my favorite one from very early on. It was a cold spell in February 2006. Me being perpetually freezing, I was cloaked in layers and a down coat, my hands shoved into his pocket, exhaling clouds of smoke as my breath met the frigid air. We were walking by the Divine Lorraine in a peculiar silence most unlike Philadelphia. We had the dog walking contentedly next to us and Wawa coffee and no iPhones to distract us while in the other’s presence.

It was very, very late, the kind of stillness that can only be experienced while the rest of the world is asleep. The moon was very nearly full, either waxing or waning; I tried to be mindful and present, to take a visual photograph of the moment, to remember how it felt to be loved on a beautiful night in (what I was slowly starting to view as) a beautiful city.

Against the silhouette of the derelict edifice, he looked at me, and I knew suddenly what was about to happen seconds before he spoke. He took a deep breath, and then validated my decision to uproot my life, forego my Ph.D., and take this huge gamble with three short words.

“I love you.”


Shannon Frost Greenstein resides in Philadelphia with her soul mate, their son, and several spoiled cats. She works for a non-profit organization in Center City while attempting to author the Next Great American Novel. Her interests include writing, theater, ballet, and philosophy, and she harbors an unhealthy obsession with Mt. Everest, the Hill Cumorah Pageant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and the summer Olympics. Shannon’s goals are to eventually pay her way out of debt with her writing, to raise a child who uses gender-neutral pronouns, and to acquire even more cats. Her work has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the Philadelphia City Paper, WHYY’s Speak Easy, the Metropolis literary magazine, and the elephant journal.


Sounds within a house change
when the last of the dead are taken;
echoes of dust settling
air drying, cracking:
emptiness has a resonance.
That is why we point mutely
at paintings, lamps, furniture, small
things favored by memory;
whisper when we must speak:
the brass mortar and pestle, the
painting, cows grazing, the
cut glass sherry decanter.

Words profane that holy moment,
instant, in truth, when the dead are again
present, the dust suspended, the air moist;
we see them move the pestle, straighten
the painting, for they have been taken
quickly, leave slowly, and are gone
only after we mete out those favored
things, load our cars with boxes, knowing
upon what mantles and shelves, tabletops and walls
we will place them. We go
to our homes and behind us the dust
settles, the air dries, and outside the house
the tap tap tapping of a sign being placed
at the edge of the lawn by the street.


Wilson Roberts lives in Greenfield Massachusetts and St. John in the Virgin Islands. Raised in Newtown, Bucks County, his short fiction and poetry have appeared in The Red Clay Reader, Balsams and Hemlocks, Crucible, The Appalachian South, Radical America, Philadelphia Stories, The Massachusetts Review, and The Journal of Caribbean Literatures. His novels, including All That Endures, are published by Wilder Publications.

Why I Be Writin’ Stuff

Because I never learned
a damn thing in school,

since D.A.R.E. came
long after truth.

Because maps don’t work
here, and

there is oil, but
“The Rainbow isn’t Enuf.”

Because ain’t no nigga playing Spider-Man
Or James Bond.

Because it’s raining right now
in Antigua,

but North Philly is lovely this time of year.

Because gaps need bridges,
but snitches get stitches

Anything I say can and will be used against me in a court
of law.

Because there are no mirrors
big enough.

Because singing out
loud demands confidence.

Because Mr. Emas died
half-way through graphic design class—
took my visual art with him.

Because anxiety wasn’t uniquely
holding a gun to my head,

And Frankford by-laws state
I should have long since been dead.

Because so few cats
can swim

and even salmon
die trying.


Joseph Earl Thomas is a Writing Studies graduate student at Saint Joseph’s University. A sometimes poet and memoirist, he specializes in speculative fiction centered on disenfranchisement, coming of age as a person of color and prolonged encounters related to war. Click here to read his blogs.

When The Harpsichord of Watercolors

I hung them out of the location,
but was worried about rain.
Awareness on canvas, Monday
in the South Philly kill zone.
I’ll be on your arm, but these
are not the only words we have
in common. As easy as it is to
get a slice of pizza, the sooner
you know that the pharmacy
will wear you out, the better—

“Morrissey” says my sweatshirt,
says ceremonial moans, says that
that written record of watercolors
(what kept you in hiding all week

-end)came kind closer to what
you saw that helped morning

her wet-towel warmth unsealed
your sight from the glue of pinkeye:
“paperclip rainclouds exploding
toad-green sparks”—Still,

as a concept apropos of the in-
side-out, saying things like “Can
I make a delivery order?” seems
to know no limitations. The slip
from yesterday’s cookie asks,
“How dark is dark? How wise is
wise?” and no matter how many
lucky numbers I get, I still can’t
tip to an answer fair—Best check
back for details as they develop.


Paul Siegell is the author of wild life rifle fire, jambandbootleg and Poemergency Room, and a senior editor at Painted Bride Quarterly. Kindly find more of his work – and concrete, poetry, and t-shirts – at “ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL” and @paulsiegell.



greasepaint buffalo

twirling dishes

 gravity creep

children pull

turtleneck wonder

through the
mad herd


the neighbor’s dog is barking


it’s about to rain

the trees are dropping
their knots

you remember yourself


kitchen sink

full of cotton candy

a lampshade sky

the measured mind

all the clown feet

Dan Elman’s work has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Apiary, Referential Magazine, and others. A resident of Philadelphia for fifteen years, he recently returned to his home town along the upper Delaware, where he now works as a furniture designer, antiques conservator, and liquidator.

When the City Fell From the Sky

I was standing in the town square

staring up at trees spiraling

down on their bulky heads

and landing with their roots

thrust up like errant toes

or fingers from a grave.

I heard the houses bellow as they

gave up, as their shoulders sagged

and snagged star by star

like the back of a black coat

catching white lint bit by bit.

When the city fell from the sky,

I covered my ears as atonal notes

from that final fugue stuttered

like old blood from the ripped

linen bandages of the clouds.

And here, now — even in the safety

of the here-to-stay dark:

the slow play and re-play

of that black-and-white still,

of that father’s fist clenching

and unclenching his son’s hand

before he let him go.

Lisa Alexander Baron: Her most recent book is While She Poses, a collection of poems prompted by visual art (Aldrich P, 2015). She is a writing and speech coach and teaches at LaSalle University in the business school.