December 10, 2014

Sharon Kessler


Seems like every time you turn around,
something else just hit the ground.
—Bob Dylan, “Everything Is Broken”

I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.
—William Stafford

The dvd/cd/cvd/mp player: eject mechanism stuck.
The wily master practicing his martial art
is caught in the eternal
teeth of the machine.

My son’s computer: modem driver
erased itself. Soldiers immobilized in the heat
of battle. The escape velocity
of glass:

When I slammed the window,
the old pane,
in its rot-bitten wood frame,
splintered. (Not

the screen, though. That
disintegrated months ago.) The couch, too, unfolded,
its sprocket sprung, its hinge
unhung, unrefoldable. Everything

is broken, I complained, and my husband smirked,
eyeing that couch-gone-to-bed, and giving me
the lewdest look. The broken things
of the world

have never moved him. I’m the one who collected
the kitten with the punctured lung
from where it lay in the matted leaves: the mother
licked it once and walked away. Nothing

I can do, the vet said. What’s broken
is broken. Only last week
my daughter was watching
Men in Black

on the video when
suddenly the two
towering icons,
lofty and self-evident,

rose up on the screen. Sitting on a bench
in Battery Park, the actors
took no special notice
of what was no more

than conversation’s backdrop. Did you see that? I yelled,
and my daughter rewound the tape. We watched it
over and over, not as they had us do
on CNN. Everything that was broken

we made whole again. I told my daughter, This is a form
of resistance. While the newsreel
is stuck in its groove, our fata morganas

My daughter gathers broken children
like dolls: their apathy
frightens me, but she jumps right in
to their broken hearts and tinkers

until all their complicated machinery
kicks in. But the motor
on the Hoover’s
gone again. The vacuum, or

the broken edge of it. Superimposed on a map:
Master Time Line. Revision #15.
Entry Interface to Coastal Crossing.
Approaching the Coast. Crossing
the California Coast. Mach 18. Crossing Nevada.
Crossing Utah. Crossing New Mexico.
Remote Sensors
Off-Nominal External Event. Momentary Brightening
of Plasma Trail. Crossing North Texas.
Last Pulse
Before Loss of Signal. Last
Recognizable Downlist Frame. The antenna
snapped off in the car wash so I took my son
to the seashore. Twenty video tapes
survived the crash, as did hundreds

of lab worms from a science experiment. One tape shows our hero
floating weightless above the smooth curve of this coastline.
My son is too old for tears
so I cry for him.

He sits on the sand at Caesarea, hot and unhappy,
while I lie down in the water
and let the waves break over me
again and again. Maybe it’s because

I haven’t told him yet, about those
who are lost in sorrow or broken, the way
their shadows draw up darkness
from the sea,

that even when we absent ourselves from
the burning hourglass or webs of salt, that
even when grief unfurls
with a snap of the cord,

whether we stare it down or look away, we are all
travelers on Earth’s dark craft,
husks of speed in the night.
Flaming wings.

from Rattle #44, Summer 2014

[download audio]


Sharon Kessler: “I published my first poem in the 2nd grade, in the P.S. 207 newsletter, but then considered other callings: cryptographer, Mossad spy, chemist, and astronaut. Most of these required math, for which I had scant talent. I hid Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind inside my 11th grade math book. Poetry was like walking on the moon or breaking a code or having a secret identity or discovering a new element. I began writing it with a passion. I eventually moved to Israel and married a mathematician, with whom I coauthored three children. I was happy enough as a poet until, during a writer’s residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute, I accidentally stumbled upon a museum exhibit of old printing presses. Amazed by them, I spent the next few years learning to set type and print chapbooks on an antique press, scavenge old equipment, and smuggle related paraphernalia, unavailable in my adopted country, through TSA checkpoints. In my poem published here, the text in the ‘Time Line, Revision #15’ is taken verbatim from a map published in the investigation of the tragic crash of the Columbia space shuttle.” (website)

February 7, 2013

Suzanne Kessler


darkens the girl
in the green bag.
Mercy the child,
beautiful and deep.
Feed her dirt
with a copper spoon,
paint three finger holes—
a purple dolphin
in her small room.
Touch her curving leg.
Mercy the child,
the noose,
the chair, the table,
the empty space
she was.
Better dead
or blind
or deeply placed
than merciful.
Drive mercy
into bird throats,
tree hands,
the eyes of grasses.
Walk away.
Leave mercy
to the shovels
and fools.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012
Tribute to Law Enforcement Poets


Suzanne Kessler (Police Officer): “I have always had a passion for writing and literature. As a small girl I was an avid reader and writer. Writing poetry has filtered in and out of my entire life. I wrote heavily in college and always shared my love of literature with my children (as an interesting aside: my daughter is a poet and my son a police officer). I made my way into law enforcement through a college required internship. I had never aspired to be in law enforcement, but fell into it while in school. I truly love my job, but still can’t resist my urge to write poetry.”

October 3, 2010

Stephen Kessler

                for Pierre Joris

Sometimes I feel
                like a motherless
                                tongue, an untongue-
tied motherfucker un-
                able to lick the but-
                                ton of my love mere-
ly monolingually but
                must multiply my
                                moves to include all
the landscapes my
                restless lips have tra-
                                versed in the course of
roaming so many worlds
                I can’t recall, record,
                                remember, recount or re-
collect them all, a
                long blur in my back-
                                ground which obscures
my ever questionable
                origins because after
                                all where was I any-
way when speech first
                struck me like a lash
                                across my voracious,
my insatiable mouth, my
                mind, my maw that
                                sucks in everything
in sight only to trans-
                late it later into un-
                                speakably conceptual
yet loud sounds, like air-
                craft landing on far-
                                flung runways or air
conditioners humming
                in the depths of hotels
                                where multilingual
scholars & miscellaneous
                scoundrels rendezvous
                                in momentarily shared
weltanschauungs to sip
                martinis and hope
                                to seduce each other
while exchanging recipes
                for revelation, as if
                                the sudden sight of
ancient schoolmates
                were not enough to set
                                poems homelessly in
motion in pursuit of
                what was missed in the
                                interim, attempting to
trace that unmistakable
                outline of aged profiles
                                whose uncommon ambitions
have branched like
                the lines on old maps,
                                rivers & roads that
changed as they flowed
                & unrolled into worlds
                                their respective travelers
scarcely foresaw when
                they set out but now,
                                in turned-back time,
have ripened &
                dropped like sweet
                                fruit into the mouths
of eloquent orphans
                who savor every last

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005

July 13, 2010

Stephen Kessler


Any hack can crank out a hundred sonnets
if he has to; all you have to do
is set up your metronome and start typing,
taking dictation from the day’s small gifts,
whatever presents itself in the street
or dredges itself up from memory
or dreams itself out of your transcribing hand.
It’s an insidious form, because it’s almost
easy, leading you by the wrist through rules
and rhythms as old as the English language
translated down the ages in idioms
transformed by time and driven by dying breaths.
It gives you a false sense of what you meant
when the closing couplet clinches your argument.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
Tribute to the Sonnet

September 15, 2013

Rattle is proud to announce the winner of the 2013 Rattle Poetry Prize:

Roberto Ascalon

“The Fire This Time”
Roberto Ascalon
Seattle, WA



“A Poem for Women Who Don’t Want Children”
Chanel Brenner
Santa Monica, CA

“My Mother Told Us Not to Have Children”
Rebecca Gayle Howell
Lubbock, TX

“Baby Love”
Courtney Kampa
New York, NY

“What He Must Have Seen”
Stephen Kampa
Daytona Beach, FL

“Man on Mad Anthony”
Bea Opengart
Cincinatti, OH

“Laundry List”
Michelle Ornat
Elma, NY

“Man on the Floor”
Jack Powers
Fairfield, CT

“Basic Standards Test”
Danez Smith
St. Paul, MN

“Who Breathed in Binders”
Patricia Smith
Howell, NJ

“Of You”
Wendy Videlock
Grand Junction, CO


These eleven poems will be published in the Winter issue of Rattle this December. Each of the Finalists are also eligible for the $1,000 Readers’ Choice Award, to be selected by entrant and subscriber vote (the voting period is December 1, 2013 – February 15, 2014).

Another nine poems were selected for standard publication, and offered a space in the open section of a future issue. These poets will be notified individually about details, but they are: Jacqueline Berger, Daniel Bohnhorst, Jackleen Holton, Sharon Kessler-Farchi, Michael Meyerhofer, Kathleen Nolan, Charlotte Pence, Sam Sax, and Timothy Schirmer.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the competition, which would not have been a success without your diverse and inspiring poems. We received a record 2,105 entries and well over 8,000 poems, and it was an honor to read each of them.