March 31, 2017

David Kirby


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


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


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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December 4, 2022

Andrew Posner


Blank sheets of white paper were a symbol of defiance over the weekend as Chinese protesters braved likely prosecution to openly oppose the government’s policy of zero tolerance for COVID and public dissent.

I stare blankly at the page, wanting to fill
it with meaning. In Xinjiang, 7,000 miles
away, a morning sun, reflecting off the
glasses of early risers, the windshields
of commuters, is so bright as to redact
last night’s graffiti: Down with Xi. The
people, smiling the wry smile of the
long-aggrieved, hold up blank pages
and say nothing, while everywhere censors,
police, apparatchiks, always listening, watching,
fill page after page with names, addresses, offenses:
Zhāng Wěi disrespected the Party, Lǐ Nà seeks to
sabotage the social order. In Los Angeles, I am
busy besmirching the page, smearing it with ink
as though covering the purest snow in de-icing salt.
The snow melts down to mud. Poetry reduces to
a mush of guttural sounds, incomprehensible
to the moment. Heaving a sigh, I make a double
espresso, add a splash of cream and sugar, savor
each peaceful sip. Outside, a hawk, saying nothing,
carries off a rabbit in its talons. Is this the natural
order of things? For once I hear the tearing of flesh,
see the sky turn blood-red. No one will apprehend me
here, cup in hand, crumpled paper on the floor, blank
visage belying the seeds of treason. But were they to try,
which treason would I admit? And which would I deny?

from Poets Respond
December 4, 2022


Andrew Posner: “I’m watching the ‘Blank-Paper Protests’ in China from the comfort of my home, wondering how I would react were I living under such an authoritarian regime. Then again, the authoritarian streak in America is ever-looming; so perhaps the question of my response to such circumstances is not so moot.” (web)

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February 16, 2022

Leticia Priebe Rocha


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

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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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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April 26, 2022

Amy Miller


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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