November 29, 2022

Take Heart by 
René Bohnen, abstract watercolor painting of two figures above pine trees

Image: “Ballet Above the Bay” by René Bohnen. “Wingspan” was written by Christopher Shipman for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2022, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Christopher Shipman


We decided it was time.
After three years in North Carolina
we booked an Airbnb
dubbed “The Bird’s Nest”
in a little mountain town outside Ashville.
We’d gone to the Biltmore.
A brewery with a put-put course.
Strolled downtown shops.
Had dinner at a local pizza haunt.
Then on the last night, our daughter, sprawled
in the Bird’s Nest’s
only bed, plate of leftover pizza
balanced on her lap, asked the number of days
she’s been alive. Like a good
21st century father, I used Google
to calculate the days
from birth to Bird’s Nest.
And there nested in the newsfeed, where, let’s
face it, tragedy lives
beyond itself, I read a headline
that celebrated a father’s use of Google
to save his child’s life
when a heart attack nearly killed him.
When his heart broke
the article says, before it spills into confessing
the subsequent promise of love
whispered nightly
that provided the child the chance to tell
his parents who he really is—
a gay West African teen
marching unseen to the pulpit decades of days.
Driving home to Greensboro
mist is a religion spanning
the mountains—an obfuscation of angels
holding hands wing to wing.
There’s a heart inside it.
A kind of breaking. A kind of aching
to be seen. Like the moment
a child asks how long
they’ve been alive. Our daughter
has been alive 2818 days—one more
than this time yesterday.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2022, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Megan O’Reilly: “There are some wonderful turns of phrase in Christopher Shipman’s ‘Wingspan’ that caught my attention—‘from birth to Bird’s Nest / and there nested in the newsfeed …’—but what struck me most was the way the emotion of the poem captured the feelings René Bohnen’s painting ‘Ballet Above the Bay’ evokes. I sense a tension between past and future in both pieces, and a complex but unbreakable human connection, like the one between parent and child. ‘Theres a heart inside it,’ Shipman writes, and I can say the same about this poem.”

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November 28, 2022

Lance Larsen


The girl has been missing five days. 
Also her boyfriend. She’s fifteen, 
red blonde hair, friend of my daughter. 
We’re taping a flyer to every door—
who wouldn’t? The girl’s pink backpack 
with skulls has entered my house, 
her two hands and a pencil ready to cram 
for Chemistry. We are covering a part 
of town too good for us—Yale Way, 
Harvard Circle, Stanford Lane …  
My daughter tapes the south side 
of the street while I tape the north, 
for speed she says, then she wanders 
to my side, speed not a god she wants 
to worship all alone. Our four 
taping hands much happier. The girl 
has been missing five days. Her tennis 
shoes scribbled with anime faces 
have entered my house. There are ants 
that know where she is and lint between 
her toes, maybe tampons and old 
taco wrappers and a green water bottle. 
And with each flyer, we are helping 
to drag the reservoir and comb 
the woods and wander a mystery street 
in Mexico, stuffing $20 in her right 
pocket, $40 in her left. We cross a river 
and my daughter throws in a stick. 
Gone in a swirl. The girl has been 
missing five days. We are helping 
her escape a man made of barbed 
wire and the beds he wet as a child 
and the cats he burned with cigarettes. 
We are with her cold body, patting 
her hand, helping her toes study 
the temperature of dirt. Meanwhile, 
I’m studying shades of fear, light yellow 
masquerading as daffodils, the shaggy 
browns of a dog barking us off 
a porch. The girl, missing five days, 
is not thinking of pi or personification 
or E=mc2 or resilient Rosa Park. 
The girl’s freckles have entered 
my house, the part in her hair. 
And just last week her arms balancing 
two pizzas—her chewing mouth, 
my daughter’s chewing mouth. It feels wrong 
for the girl to go missing so close 
to Easter. My daughter asks if I am ready 
for a break. We cross the street 
to sit in little-kid swings in the park. 
We want this to last, the saving 
of the missing girl, her collarbone 
and ankles, her henna tattoo, birthmark 
over her left eye, on a morning, blue 
with waiting, we may never see again. 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022


Lance Larsen: “When my daughter’s high school friend went missing, I found myself in deep denial: how could she be gone, she was just in my house? I wrote this poem to explore the magical thinking that filled those days of waiting. If I rehearsed certain details (street names, colors, freckles, etc.), maybe she would come back. Of course, I was also trying to cast a spell on my own daughter and keep her safe forever. I consider this a poem of prayer, a poem of preparatory mourning, even if Deity is never invoked directly.”

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November 27, 2022

Gina Tranisi


I’ll have a burrito bowl. White rice. Black
beans. Fajita veggies. Double protein. Double
back. Half-scoop of pico. No, I want a bowl of
broccoli cheddar. Not an apple, a baguette on
the side. I said a bowl of hot sad. I said a
Mediterranean bowl. Quinoa. Chickpeas.
Cucumber salad. A bowl of overturned
stars. Not stars, salmon. I want a poke bowl
with upstream fish. White rice. Wasabi mayo.
A bowl of fixed-blade knives. A bowl of billboards
for missing women who are becoming dead
as we send words back-and-forth inside
this speaker box. This metal order machine.
This Tupperware container of my voice.
Might be the last thing anyone hears
from me. So, an order of asada. I said a bowl
of bullets. Not a cup of guns. A bowl. A howl.
A howl of nightclub neon. A tourniquet. A bowl
of grandfathers who salute shots fired against
tyranny. A tyranny of Jell-O shots. A blue raspberry
rifle. A stiletto glitter shoe, stomping teeth
on beat. No beets. A beating. A bruise. I want to eat
a bowl of unbearable. I’ll need utensils, too.
Did you hear me? I said I want the corner
of an American flag to wipe my hungry
bloody queer star spangled mouth.

from Poets Respond
November 27, 2022


Gina Tranisi: “Another heavy news week in America, and I find myself wishing I lived in a country that loved me back. I want a soft life. I want to dance. I want to sing. I want to buy my groceries. I do not want to fear being swallowed by the mouth of a gun. Because of my girlhood. Because of my sexuality. America loves putting our lunches in bowls. I wish we could order bowls of gun reform and LGTBQ+ rights, have them delivered to the doorsteps of Congress. Since that’s not possible, I collected all of these wishes of mine and put them in a bowl, I mean, a poem.”

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November 26, 2022

Mike White


half a room

no one around
to lift the thing

all those parts

after a while
you give up

even dusting

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006


Mike White: “For me, the writing of poems requires an equal measure of trust and luck. I write to see what will happen. Some days are better than others. It’s like fishing. The first line is the reluctant worm. I have a cooler full of worms. A head full of fish.”

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November 25, 2022

Amira Antoun Salameh


In that dark, the light
strike startled my mirror.
I saw nudity—by accident—
& did not understand myself
without fabric.
Thunder boomed & rain released 
bright streaks—again, again. &,
I froze. Stared
by dark devouring 
lightning, my mirror,
Translated from the Arabic by Jennifer Jean and Yafa al-Shayeb

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Tribute to Translation


Amira Antoun Salameh, from Damascus in Syria, has published and won awards for her poetry, children’s stories, and puppet theater; as well, she writes theatrical scripts and directs plays for the Cultural Center in Latakia. | Jennifer Jean & Yafa al-Shayeb: “Jordanian writer Yafa al-Shayab and I have co-translated Amira Salameh’s poem for a bilingual anthology that I am co-editing along with poet Kirun Kapur—which is tentatively titled: Other Paths for Shahrazad: Contemporary Poems by Arab Women. This is a project of the Her Story Is collective. HSI is led by independent women writers and artists from primarily Iraq and the United States; it promotes projects aimed at expanding linguistic, artistic, and cultural boundaries in response to global conflict, with a focus on centralizing the experience of women. We believe our process transforms established power structures, creates new grounds for learning, and builds a community of equals across borders.”

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November 24, 2022

Take Heart by 
Bonnie Riedinger, abstract watercolor painting of two figures above pine trees

Image: “Ballet Above the Bay” by René Bohnen. “Fault Lines” was written by Margaret Malochleb for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2022, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Margaret Malochleb


To negotiate the terrain
of devotion’s darker
questions, we set out
in search of knowledge
buried inside the mountain.
Together we climbed
the treacherous path
littered with thistle,
bindweed, cheatgrass.
Held out our hands
to pull each other up
to the next outcropping.
And as we tended
our hunger, our thirst,
our need for rest,
the mountain watched,
held its breath
and waited for us
to look down and see
that the unwritten history
inside every living thing
is a borderless boundary
that can never be breached.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2022, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, René Bohnen: “I had quite a job selecting a shortlist from the shortlist and eventually my favourite. In many of the poems I found beautiful imagery, as well as poignant moments and situations. I let the spirit and definitions of ekphrastic verse guide me in my final decision. I chose ‘Fault Lines’ as the poem which in my opinion amplifies and expands a core idea. The poet has cleverly used the different meanings of a geological concept to develop parallel perceptions in the reader’s mind. The poem becomes much more than mere description of the picture provided. Oxford Dictionaries offers this definition of fault lines: 1) a place where there is a long break in the rock that forms the surface of the earth and where earthquakes are more likely to happen, and 2) an issue that people disagree about and may, as a result, lead to conflict. Already in the first stanza we find the darker questions of devotion linked to the quest of going inside a mountain. Geology and emotional danger in association or perhaps juxtaposition, the reader has to read to find out. Judging technically, I enjoyed the sound effects in the poem. Without becoming clumsy or heavy, the little echoes, assonance and alliteration drive the action along. A line such as ‘littered with thistle’ tickles the mind’s eye and the poetic ear. In the last stanza, the b-alliteration (‘borderless boundary that can never be breached’) emphasises the profound wisdom that is presented as the poem’s closing viewpoint. Details and specifics anchor the narrative (‘bindweed, cheatgrass’) while also alluding to unpleasant situations or events between two people. The couple is hungry and thirsty, they pull each other up. They negotiate out croppings. This is no vague journey. The last stanza returns to the ‘mountain’ that appeared in stanza 1. The arching that is thus created echoes the shape of the arms in the artwork. The emotion of dismay, surprise, horror or despair that may be implied by the artwork, is subtly prompted by the openendedness of the last stanza, when the mountain waits for realization to dawn on the two tired people. I can write much more on this poem, but will leave the other readers the opportunity to analyse and enjoy an intricate poem that reads so effortlessly, one is initially mislead to think that it is simple.”

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November 23, 2022

Ron Koertge


In grade school a girl who could draw
guided my hand while I tried for a horse
that resembled a horse.
I didn’t mind that she was better at drawing.
I could play shortstop and she couldn’t.
I told my parents about her. They said, “Well, 
maybe she could draw blueprints.” 
They were practical. Art was just short
for Arthur. From school right to work. 
Like the thigh bone connected to some
other bone.
Everybody worked. All the time. My math 
teacher, Mr. Taylor, put on a white apron, 
a paper hat and handed ice cream cones 
across a counter all summer.
My hometown wasn’t much, but one part
of it was a real Christmas card: Miller’s pond 
froze over every winter and we could skate there. 
With a fire and everything. 
Mr. Taylor showed up with his littlest daughter.
He was a really good skater. Graceful.
Not a word I’d say out loud then, but he was.
My mother was there, just waiting for me 
and watching. When I sat down for a minute 
she said, “He’s been to Rome. Isn’t that 
How did he end up in a small town east
of the Mississippi, a town that worshipped
high school basketball and especially 
our skyscraper center who could score outside 
the paint, too?
I didn’t actually ask but my mom whispered, 
“Things don’t always work out, honey.”
I started to ride my bike by Mr. Taylor’s house. 
What things didn’t work out for him, the skater 
from Rome?
Sometimes he waved, sometimes not, probably 
lost in thought. I liked taking phrases like that
Thought as a place someone could get lost
in, like a national park, but with no bears. 
Not real ones, anyway.
Once I saw his wife standing in a blow-up kiddy 
pool smoking a cigarette and crying, holding 
her house dress up around her knees. 
And then I’d think house dress house dress
house dress until it turned into somebody
whispering in another language.
Basketball was a language everybody understood.
Jack, Marcus, and I listened to away games on
 the radio and went to home games. 
We liked being at the high school where we’d
end up. The halls were wide and didn’t smell 
like disinfectant so much.
There were trophy cases. Famous graduates.
Some not so famous who we could see every
day behind a counter or fixing a car.
Friday nights, the gym was a madhouse. 
Jack’s mom went to Mass every day and twice 
on Sunday, so he called the gym
Shrine of the Deadly Hook Shot because Terry
Armstrong besides being six-ten was unstoppable 
with his left hand.
The town was like a graveyard during home games.
Even the cops and the firemen were there, hoping
nobody called in, then taking it easy on the parties
“Going to state,” everybody said. “Terry’ll win
it for us. It’s his last year!” 
Then the team went to Oak Park for the regionals.
They looked big even on the radio. They outscored
us, and outran us. Their center blocked shot after
shot. We lost 102–68. And that was that.
Things don’t always work out.
The old guys who drank coffee every morning
at Gus’s dug a grave and pushed Terry into it.
They called him a traitor and a coward and a
He finished the year, graduated and got a job
selling Oldsmobiles.
My friends and I rode by the car lot, saw him 
standing around in a suit that belonged to a giant. 
Then Simic Motors put up a rim behind
the service bays and a customer could go
one-on-one with the star salesman.
We watched Terry in hard-soled shoes
handle fat guys at lunchtime, hitting from
anywhere until one day he got into it 
under the basket and broke some guy’s nose 
with an elbow. A guy who did not drive off 
the lot in a new Rocket 88. 
After that, the backstop came down.
Terry kind of melted into the town
like everybody else who lived there
and probably planned to die there.
He married Marsha Noyse from Troy. 
They went to St. Louis for their honeymoon.
Jack, Marcus, and I got together every night
We roamed the town on our bikes, knew back 
streets and alleys. 
Terry’s house was our last stop because he shot 
100 free throws after dinner. One miss before 
he got to 100 and he’d start over. 
Almost dark, the sound the ball made 
dropping through the net so fast was like
people whispering in church. 
If he saw us over there he didn’t let on,
or maybe he liked spectators—three where
there used to be hundreds. 
Once the ball bounced off the rim and,
glowing like a planet, rolled out of the driveway 
and toward us, 
“Little help,” he said finally. One of us tossed 
it to him. Marsha came out of the back door, 
holding a baby. She watched him start over.
“What the fuck, Terry.” We looked at each other,
me and Marcus and Jack I mean, and grinned.
We said “What the fuck, Terry,” all the time
for awhile. We’d stare at a giant cone from
Dairy Delight and say it. 
A girl we knew would look at us and smile
so we’d say it. Jack would make a circus
catch in left field and we’d say it. 
Terry stopped shooting free throws.
When we cruised by, we heard the baby crying
and them arguing. So we didn’t want to say 
it anymore. 
Then one night there he was again. Marsha
on the back steps with the kid on her lap,  
counting for Terry, waving the baby’s arms 
at one, two, twenty-two, forty-five.
We counted, too. Not loud but we did it. 
“Don’t miss,” Jack whispered. Seventy-five, 
A wind pushed the trees around.
Their shadows came for us, then stepped
back. We held our breath at ninety-nine. 
Marsha stood up. Held out the baby, and Terry
took it.
“See you guys,” he said without looking at us.
The door closed behind them. The porch
light went out. 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022


Ron Koertge: “In the Midwest, people live for basketball. NCAA stuff, of course, but also high school ball. Stats filled the pages of local newspapers. Fans drove hundreds of miles for away games. Identification with a local team and a local hero was standard fare. ‘Things and How They Work’ chronicles a period of madness, both March Madness and generic basketball madness. The boys in the poem see how things work as they watch Terry’s star rise and quickly fall.” (web)

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