March 31, 2017

David Kirby

THIS LIVING HAND

Tom Mannarino defends his MFA thesis brilliantly, but when
I stick my head in his office door to say so, he’s slumped
in his chair and staring at the floor, and when he looks up,
there’s no other way to describe him than horror-struck.
Tom’s thesis is a novel about his escape from a crushing

religion and the freedom he finds in the love of men, and now
that it’s written and we’re all telling him it’s brilliant,
he realizes that he’s at a turning point, that his story isn’t
academic any more, that it will be published and people
will see it, his family included. It’s so hard to connect

with others sometimes. Keats wanted to: Leigh Hunt remembered
that his young friend looked often at his hand when he was
near death, a hand “faded and swollen in the veins, and say
it was the hand of a man of fifty,” and then Keats turned
from one of those long poems he was no good at to write

in the margin a fragment that begins, “This living hand,
now warm and capable,” and ends, “see, here it is,” and
“I hold it towards you.” In Celtic theology it’s said that heaven
and earth are only three feet apart, but there are thin places
where the distance is even smaller: “The door between this world

and the next is cracked open for a moment,” wrote one mystic,
 “and the light is not all on the other side.” When soldiers
at the Battle of Little Bighorn realized the jig was up, they shook
hands with one another. Goodbye, Calhoun! Goodbye, Ross.
And the Arikara scouts kissed their horses and told them they loved

them. Tom, you try to live your life, but home calls you back.
On a beautiful May morning, your parents are away.
You mow the lawn, put the mower back in the garage,
pick up the gas can, pour its contents over you,
strike a match. Tom, it should be a better world. It isn’t.

Why didn’t you just leave? 200 years ago in Philadelphia,
wise men wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal.” Why couldn’t you believe them?
Jefferson had originally written, “We hold these truths to be
sacred and undeniable,” but Franklin struck the three words 

that made the claim religious, changing it to a claim based
on reason instead. Tom, you weren’t thinking, were you?
Maybe religion could have saved you, though not
the kind that says people who are different from us are evil.
Paul McCartney was fourteen when his mother died of cancer.

Later, she came to him in a dream: “It was great to visit with her again,”
he said, and then he wrote “Let It Be” because in the dream,
his mother told him, “It will be all right, just let it be.” Keats’ hand
was faded and swollen, but his skin is clear now, his fever cooled.
Can you see? It’s just here, Tom. He’s holding it out to you. Take it.

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016
2016 Readers’ Choice Co-Winner

[download audio]

__________

David Kirby: “I connect Keats’ early death with that of a student and friend, though as I worked on ‘This Living Hand,’ I began to wonder if I was telling too much and betraying an intimacy. So I asked my wife, the poet Barbara Hamby, who said, ‘You have to write that poem—people are already forgetting Tom, and you will keep him alive.’” (website)

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February 2, 2022

Jasmine Ledesma

CATACLYSM

My youngest brother takes the garbage out with both hands. 
His face is full of acne ripe enough to pluck. 
He could burst at any moment. I miss him all the time but especially 
when he is right in front of me. 
We haven’t left the house in four days. 
This virus is dancing, my dad says over the phone. 
I count the syllables until he hangs up. Then, I sit in the 
frilly backyard with the other dogs and stare at the 
sky’s timid girl face, the same one I used to wear. 
Years ago, a man’s hand was like light against my face 
which I thought made me the deer. 
When I turned nineteen, I figured out I had eleven months to die. 
But I keep coming back. A red ant avoids crawling onto my hand. 
The wind whistles. When my sister was my age, she slurped 
iced coffee and never insisted on being heard. 
Last month, I got paid two hundred dollars to write about her death. 
The neon alphabet that lives in my mouth never lets me down. 
A fallen tree knows it has fallen even if nobody else does. 
It is a vision of self-respect. I watch a distant plane fly across 
the horizon like a pair of scissors. My hair lifts behind me like a flag. 
I live in so many different places and each one hurts. 

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

Jasmine Ledesma: “I wrote this poem at the height of the pandemic last spring while sleeping on the floor in my mother’s house. Everything was bad news all of the time. As a result, I wanted to celebrate and inspect resilience as an all-powerful force. It is hard to be alive. Impossible, sometimes. But it is also when we decide to push forward in our depths that we are living most earnestly and most poetically. This poem is a relic of that realization.” (web)

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December 22, 2021

David Mason

A PESTILENCE

At night a needle of sound nears my ear,
waved off by a drowsy hand, yet the whine
had a winged and long-legged body I see
this morning, afloat above my coffee cup.
Still here, still living, my little enemy?

I’ve made the journey to another year,
another island where such creatures are
in all their hunger, poised upon a nerve,
their being honed into the sharpest spike.
They too are dodging danger in the night.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021

__________

David Mason: “Though Tasmania is famous for poisonous spiders and snakes, we’re not really bothered by such things. It was the more common pest, the mosquito, that was bugging me when I wrote this poem. I had just escaped lockdown in the U.S. and come home to Tasmania, narrowly avoiding hotel quarantine, and the word ‘pestilence’ was in the air. So was this rather persistent mosquito. I began to think that he and I were locked in the same struggle, the same relationship, and I had no desire to donate blood to his cause. But we do live in relation to everything, don’t we?—even the things we would sometimes like to avoid.”

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February 16, 2022

Leticia Priebe Rocha

I HATE IKEA

Maybe because my mom and I always fight
over the indecipherable instructions and missing screws, the
hammers meeting fingers that give way to fuck-shit-fuck
God-it-would-be-so-much-easier-if-there-was-a-man-in-the-house.

Maybe it’s the fact that IKEA uses 1% of the world’s lumber,
exploits laborers in the global south, was founded by a Nazi,
and the sheer impossibility of living ethically—living at all—under
capitalist imperialism threatens to drown me every second.

Maybe it’s the memory of our first big furniture shopping trip,
or, more accurately, its disruption. We could finally afford
a couch, dressers, and bed frames after two years in this country,
the four of us happily stuffed inside our paint-chipped

2000 Toyota Camry, windows down in the sweltering Miami
heat because the AC never worked. The clashing yellow and blue
logo had just come into sight when the sound I heard in my
nightmares blasted behind us, the sickening woop-woop

of a police car. See, at the age of 10 I had memorized the date
my father’s license would expire, the seconds ticking down
to when the unspeakable would be possible. It was 4 months past
that date, and as an 11-year-old I faced my father’s imminent

deportation in the now-infinite distance between us and the IKEA
parking lot one stoplight ahead. Hiccupping sobs erupted in my chest,
eliciting panicked wails from my then-baby sister. My mother turned
to hold our hands, her own tears spilling over as she fearfully eyed

the two officers advancing with relish, slowly closing in
on their latest prey. My father remained stony-faced, lowered the front
windows and his head. License and registration please, said the one
next to my dad’s window. The other on my mother’s side frowned

into the spectacle of tears, barking out:
Why are you all crying?
Stop. Why are you crying?
Why do you keep crying?

Maybe it’s because we couldn’t
find the right colored dressers and
our couch was delivered 2 weeks later
with a gaping hole on the side.

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

Leticia Priebe Rocha: “My affinity with writing emerged as poetry became the only way I could truly untangle my experience as a highly politicized being in this country and move towards understanding the world. My greatest hope is that my work can help others fulfill the same impulse.” (web)

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October 20, 2021

Amlanjyoti Goswami

A NEW BAPU

Would take to Twitter like fish to water
But grow out of it
And use it as a protest tool.
Once in a while, he would take breaks with vows of silence.
He would use the extra time
To sort out, ends and means
The broken strings.
He would be wise to know 
Greed remains greed and power is now
Like electricity, everywhere,
From the clerk to the high heavens.
He would look for a place to start— 
And it would be with himself.
Cleaning the toilet on a weekday, 
Making plants grow with bare hands. 
Not using a sensor to figure it out.
He would be wary of AI, robots, anything that takes the mind away.
They take the soul out, he would say.
But he would take to planes more easily, for the utility.
He would still write letters, with a fountain pen
And send postcards, to children.
He would recycle paper and look inside, for answers. 
He would be worried about
Climate change.
He would pass the street and you wouldn’t even know.
He would travel incognito. 

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets

__________

Amlanjyoti Goswami: “India pervades my experiences and poetry. This is about living, breathing, and thinking deeply about things around me. Where I come from and where I am going. Traditions, histories, ways of seeing, hearing, and knowing. I draw upon rich traditions of Indian aesthetic in my work and am not afraid to cross borders. This is about the neem tree as much as the new Mercedes on the street, busy with street vendors selling you dim sums. There is an aesthetic in all this I wouldn’t find in New York or London. Layers more than strict lines. A lot of colour.”

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December 21, 2021

Jean L. Kreiling

TIME IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

With half our faces covered, and six feet
from most other sources of body heat,
we navigate “new normal” in our own
germ-fearing bubbles, freakishly alone
or feigning human contact via screen,
as months of tragedy make dread routine.
Our past and future both grow vague. The counting
of days confounds us, as the death toll, mounting
obscenely, renders numbers both abstruse
and cruel, and new variants reduce
the quantity of breaths we each might take,
how many years we each might get to make
a life, a home, a work of art, a dent
in our to-do lists. We cannot invent
a kindly clock, and it’s not a surprise
when time turns blurry: it both creeps and flies,
it twists into unmeasured shapes, it flouts
the laws of physics, and threatens redoubts
of certainty and order. Has it been
six months, a year, or two since you were in
a restaurant, a plane, a concert hall?
Since you shook someone’s hand? Can you recall
when you began to forego pedicures?
Like sci-fi movies, this weird life obscures
the clock, the calendar, reality
itself, and though we are apparently
the stars of this film, we’re oblivious—
the ending certainly unknown to us,
the plot a murky, convoluted mess;
the running time is anybody’s guess.

from Poets Respond
December 21, 2021

__________

Jean L. Kreiling: “The surreal quality of pandemic life strains the brain, and recent news of spikes in infections and deaths has exacerbated the stress. While I’m grateful that Covid-19 has not affected me or my loved ones in any dire physical way, I suspect I’m not the only one who feels as if I’m living in some alien universe—some unimaginably difficult world from which I cannot escape, where time (among other things) doesn’t function properly.”

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April 26, 2022

Amy Miller

THE NEW SUPERSTITIONS

When the movie starts, cross yourself
for all the nights and weekends
lost by the long lists of workers, for the ones
who got sick and quit the business, who blew
all their money on shrinks, for the one
who got beaned by an ashtray thrown
by the petulant star.

Walking by a playground, throw bark
over your left shoulder as you watch
the little boy tease the girl, the budding man
inside him rising like a fist.

Wear your lucky slob clothing while you watch
the movie of the man playing a slob, his sideways
sneer like your own while you crash daily
into the obstacles of love and faith, while you try
to balance a coffee in one hand and your childish
expectations in the other, while holding
in the fold of your belly a fear of being made a fool,
of loving a photo of someone or maybe an actual body
living right there with you, who has always set off
your alarms but you choose to think they’re only
your own irrational blood pounding
in your ears for no real reason.

On the sidewalk, step over every doubt. You have
no room for them. You are busy and you want
to like what you like and go to bed without
a nagging thought that burrows in and wakes up
your body at 2 a.m., whirring in the dark.

Do not walk under the ladder of your friendly
neighbor, who has always been too friendly and
damn it, you don’t want to think that, you want to be
stoned on kindness like a yoga teacher, but you also
have caught him looking down from his upstairs window
late at night while you’re bringing in the trash can and
damn it, that’s never felt right.

If you break your car’s side mirror you’ll get seven years
of some guy watching you eat lunch as you sit in the safety
of your ’67 Cougar before you realize his face hasn’t moved
from his mirror and he’s watching you steadily, sitting
in his car in the next row in the lot, bouncing you off
a 45-degree angle and making some motion you see
just enough of to know, and you start your car
and drive away nonchalantly as if you didn’t notice,
watching in your mirror to make sure he doesn’t follow.

While you watch the movie, light incense to bring you
back to yourself, to remind you that you are living here
now, that the world has always had dickheads, that you
are not sitting with one right now, and outside a frog
has started up croaking behind the hawthorn bush,
and he’s talking about sex and maybe some aggression
but you know exactly where he’s coming from,
and you’re not a frog so it’s just a song, something
that lulls you to sleep, as all lullabies are darker
and more dangerous than you once believed, but even
sleep is now something different, not entirely pure
but it has its pleasures, its emptying, its motionless beauty.

from Poets Respond
April 26, 2022

__________

Amy Miller: “I saw the news this week that Bill Murray has been fired from his current movie project due to ‘inappropriate behavior.’ The article goes on to describe decades of aggressive and violent behavior toward fellow actors, artists, and his ex-wife. Reading this brought back—as so many things do—the hypervigilance that women live with daily; you can’t live as a woman in the U.S. and not know about that. It’s exhausting to see one pop icon after another bite the dust; there seems no point in admiring anyone. Our culture of celebrity heroes is flawed at its center, engineered to break our hearts. More vigilance.” (web)

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