November 23, 2017

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2017: Artist’s Choice


You Moved Your Whole Town by Paul T. Corrigan

Image: “Biltmore Backyard” by Robb Shaffer. “You Moved Your Whole Town” was written by Paul T. Corrigan for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2017, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

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Paul T. Corrigan


The fog at the Biltmore Estate hangs thick and low over the rolling hills, the white oak, red maple, and green spruce, the ground yellow with stubble and leaves. A hundred dollars admission will show you the banisters, the forty-three bathrooms, the Gilded Age. But you need no tour guide. You are an exile returning, looking for your home. For one generation seven generations ago, you lived on this land. Two years after Emancipation, two weeks after Appomattox, two days after a Union general marched through the last of the Confederacy in the North Carolina mountains, you founded a free black town here. Old Shiloh. In Old Shiloh, you built your own barns, you baked your own loaves, you blessed your own God, you betrothed your own lovers, you buried your own dead. In Old Shiloh, your children knew not shackles, for the first time in three centuries.

Who can know the weight of that.

In Old Shiloh, you lived twenty years, till George Washington Vanderbilt asked you to move. What could you do. You moved your whole town. He didn’t threaten, didn’t have to. You’d had a long education in giving whites what whites want. Why decline the cash. Why risk your chance to start again. Your farms were falling apart, they said. You were happy to sell, they said. You were always happy, they said. You moved your whole town. He paid you to move, more than the going rate, promised jobs, and delivered. You built Biltmore. You tended his trees, grew his garden, cleaned his cutlery, fixed his food. And you moved your whole town. You moved your people, your plows, your houses, your cows, your wagons, your mules, your clothes, your tools, your bibles, your church. You moved your cemetery, carefully exhuming both headstones and bones.

Who can know the weight of that.

Surely, when you moved, you left things behind, things you might now find. The hills stayed. The trees. A broken axle here, a lost axe head there, a chipped plow shear, a mallet, a pulley, a chimney stone, the wild growth from an untilled field. You listen for your own coughs and laughs and love cries. You would have welcomed a neighbor. He came as an owner. You inhabited the land. He uninhabited it. Who needs two hundred square miles of backyard? It’s not the deeds on file at county records that define belonging but the deeds of adults and children walking and working the soil. You, like the Cherokee before you, belong here. These mountains stand older and grander than a white man’s ego. His two hundred fifty rooms can’t contain all this roiling air. The big house will crumble, and Old Shiloh will still be here. You must have known. Because you did not salt the ground when you left.

Who can know the weight of that.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2017, Artist’s Choice

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Comment from the artist, Robb Shaffer, on this selection: “The author of this work made me see the Biltmore Estate in a different perspective; it gave me an insight into how the place came to be. I liked the dramatic, fluid tone of the work and the picture that it painted as it tied into the photograph of the Biltmore backyard. Without scolding, the author helps the reader see what privilege can do, how privilege can move a town to clear a space for its own backyard. When the author mentions the native people displaced before the town was built, it invites further contemplation into how and why we are where we are, and the sacrifices people made in order for us to get there.”

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November 20, 2017

Kelly Fordon


I have eaten all your almonds
because you left them
on the counter. A better person
would not have done it.
A slightly better person
would have done it,
but left a note.
You would have eaten
mine though you say
you would not rob a bank.
I would only rob a bank
if I ran out of other options.
I go to church
and copy the rules out
on my hand.
When I break one,
I get absolution
from the priest.
When I say penance,
I feel better right away.
I shouldn’t have yelled
at that woman, but she
is a bitch. I shouldn’t have
slapped her, but she deserved it.
I am going to pray
until I am no longer angry,
and if I am still angry,
I will take it out on the maid,
who is stupid,
who should have learned
to speak English,
and then she would not
have had to be a maid.
I should not buy
(insert word here)
But I never buy myself
anything really.
I have not bought anything
since last year when I
purchased the Mac.
I needed that for
my foundation.
It’s a non-profit
dedicated to helping
people with problems.
There are so many.

from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

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Kelly Fordon: “Even though I spent a lot of time in the Midwest as a child, I was not truly a resident of the Rust Belt until I moved to Michigan in the ’90s with my husband and settled in the suburbs of Detroit. At that time, I was shocked by the divisiveness between the city and suburbs. I remain in shock. This poem reflects some of what I have witnessed in terms of privileged sensibility and racism in the suburbs.” (website)

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November 19, 2017

Devi S. Laskar


after E.E. Cummings

People worry over it as if it were a heavy object,
Atlas carrying the world on his back, always
a black and white sketch of the yoked oxen
next to the definition in the illustrated dictionary—

Atlas carrying the world on his back, always
it is as big and small as you wish it to be,
next to the definition in the illustrated dictionary.
The roll of the years and the quick tick of the hours.

It is as big and small as you wish it to be:
a thin scratch where the skin is torn open,
the roll of the hours and the quick tick of the years
and at once a gash that scars, requiring stitches.

A thin scratch where the skin is torn open.
Carry it as if it were a dream, half-remembered,
and at once a gash that scars requiring stitches
silvery around the measures, sometimes sweet.

Carry it as if it were a dream, half-remembered,
carry it as if it were a song, auld lang syne
silvery around the measures, sometimes sweet—
your tongue tripping over the last line.

Carry it as if it were a song, auld lang syne,
carry it the way a tree would carry it,
your tongue tripping over the last line
all bark, all roots, all sticky gold sap.

Carry it the way a tree would carry it,
stooping to it but not breaking its boughs—
all bark, all roots, all sticky gold sap.
Carry it as if you had life expectancy

stooping to it but not breaking its boughs;
and freedom of an ocean breeze:
Carry it as if you had life expectancy
and a sunset to look forward to

and freedom of an ocean breeze.
A black and white sketch of the yoked oxen
and a sunset to look forward to.
People worship it as if it were a heavy object.

from Poets Respond
November 19, 2017

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Devi S. Laskar: “This is my response to a series of mass-killings, and the grief and the guilt for living while people so young were murdered.” (website)

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November 15, 2017

Sarah Wylder Deshpande


As compensation for a boring life, he received a job
in heaven in the department of tropical fruits
and quickly moved up to miracles.
When all the excitement is too much,
he slips down to Earth
and doodles in the back of math books
or goes to Mass and finds
the two-year-olds who crawl beneath
the pews picking at stale gum.

from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

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Sarah Wylder Deshpande: “I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, the recreational vehicle manufacturing capital of the world. It’s an industrial town with two rivers, the Elkhart and the St. Joe. I spent my childhood exploring rivers and abandoned factories and riding trains. I live outside the Midwest now, but I miss the wide-openess of landscape and driving along the highway with cornfields on either side, always being able to see the horizon.” (twitter)

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November 14, 2017

Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley


Boys like us don’t make national news.
That’s what we’d tell each other, fleeing

the long blue arms of police LEDs.
Our hightop Reeboks kissed gravel

miles of Central Pennsylvania Street. Us
not old enough to have kissed a lover. Boys

like us, cops shoot & ask questions never,
we laughed. We ran. We laughed. We hollered

“Pig!” as if it was just another pickup game
of basketball on the blacktop. We were so young—

how young is too young to teach a boy never
turn his index finger & thumb into the hammered steel

of a gun. You might die. I breathe for decades,
older & older & now when I close my eyes

I can see Jason Pero isn’t with us boys—us running
from cops. Jason is at home. He was a teddy bear,

said his grandpa. He teased his little nephews once
in a while but that was the meanest part he had.

Jason Pero is in his front yard making the best
of Bad River Reservation, turning porch boughs

into a drum set, each stick cracking stained wood.
He imagines making it all the way to high school

drumline. & here comes that cop with report
“of a man carrying a knife.” & here is Jason drumming.

& here there will be no justice for death, no video
evidence of Jason’s dying. Just this one that plays out

endlessly in my head. The greatest horror
writers know it’s worse when you can’t see the monster:

jaws that catch, claws that bite, hidden in darkness.
In Onondaga, our clan mother says kahséhtha’ I hide

something akweriákon in my heart. But tonight, I am done
with hiding. Jason Pero was shot once in the shoulder

& once in the heart. & my heart beats faster the longer
I sleep. The longer I close my eyes. The longer we hide.

from Poets Respond
November 14, 2017

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Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley: “Jason Pero, a middle schooler, was shot by a cop twice and killed in his home on Bad River Reservation.” (twitter)

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November 13, 2017

Todd Davis


A pickup slips over the ice, rear tires spinning, turning 
a circle, then another, a series of donuts in a mechanical dance 
that causes the three boys to swear and laugh, spilling beer 
onto their laps and the seats that already stink of cigarettes 
and sweat. Their dads and uncles sit in hastily erected shacks, 
hovels spread across the lake, humped over like the dirt 
at the entrance to gopher dens. Men fish in the half-light 
of heaters, drinking schnapps and whiskey, readying themselves 
for the rod to bow, hovering over an augured hole 
as if it were a nest in need of guarding. When at last 
the line jerks down into the dream of a northern pike, 
they fumble with the reel, hearts racing ahead of an ending 
they imagine will be told at the bar on a Saturday in June, 
glasses of beer sweating, hands spread wide in a lie 
to suggest the size of that fish whose head sprang 
from the slush-filled abyss, only to escape their grip 
into the black depths of late December. Air snakes 
through the truck’s cab, windows rolled down 
so these bored boys can scream at the stars 
salted across the sky. Most of the men have gone 
to eat supper, to watch the Lions lose one more game 
on TV. The smell of propane lingers, stirred with the beer 
the boys burp as they smoke cigars and cough. 
They’ve parked the truck at Ralph’s shanty, 
and the older brother spits into a plastic jug, snuff 
stuffed under his lower lip, as he tells stories 
about a buck he killed in October and a girl he dated 
from the next town over with a mouth as soft as velvet. 
There are always cracks in the ice, but trying to decide 
which seam is harmless and which leads to the bottom 
is a matter of luck. They’ve grown accustomed to the lake’s 
groaning, having heard its teeth chatter since they were children: 
sun melting into the horizon, everything refreezing 
in a slick swatch of darkness. Toward the south end 
of the lake, springs thin the ice, but the boys believe 
the cold insures their passage. On the way back 
a wheel breaks through, front end dipping, the entire truck 
tipping, then plunging forward like a duck, tail feathers 
pointed at the moon. Every year some drown, 
and even more trucks sink. But tonight, 
with the windows open, each boy places a foot 
on the seat and leaps to safety, rolling onto their sides, 
praying the ice-shelf will hold. The sound of the truck 
being sucked beneath the surface is smothered 
by their happy hollering. None of them thinking 
about the cost when Szymanski’s Towing 
sends a diver down with a cable and hook, 
or how their moms will cry as their dads berate 
such stupidity, which of course is inherited. 
For now they can only hoot at their own good fortune. 
The cold stars warmer with their escape, sparkling 
like the fake diamonds they give their girlfriends
on their six-month anniversary, and the moon 
offering just enough light to help them to shore 
and to the county road they’ll walk 
all the way back to town.

from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

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Todd Davis: “I was born, raised, and have lived in the Rust Belt for 52 years. The first eighteen years of my life were spent in the factory town of Elkhart, Indiana, playing basketball and football and dreaming about the deep forests in upstate New York where I’d visited to backpack with my father and uncle, places that seemed otherworldly, so green and with water we drank directly from streams flowing out of the sides of mountains. After that, I lived in northern Illinois for seven years, then another six years in Goshen, Indiana, and for the past fourteen years I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, ten miles north of the dying railroad town of Altoona. Because of these places, notions of decay and injury can be found in my poems, and poets like Jim Daniels and Jan Beatty have been important in showing me ways to write about what matters here. The small village of Tipton where my house sits is near 41,000 acres of game lands. I hunt and fish in what seems to be an imitation of those first forests I encountered in upstate New York, planning my escape into their creases. But even in the most remote places in these 41,000 acres I can’t escape the legacy of the Rust Belt: acid mine drainage from deep tunnel mining and strip mining for coal creates ‘kill zones’ in the forest and makes some of the streams sterile. I suppose I hope that my poems offer a glimpse of the good in these places while not flinching at the harm we’ve done to the land and to each other.” (website)

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November 12, 2017

Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco


the man who wrote me
all the letters about love
when I was nine the man
who stared at me in math
class through the window
masturbating the man who
cupped his hand real quick
around my ass when I walked
by the man who followed
me one time on the bus
home the man who followed
me one time in his car the
man who chased me till
I ran into a church to get
away the man who followed
me one night outside the club
telling me that he would fuck me
the man who pushed me
down until I couldn’t breathe
the man who stood outside
my house till I got home the
man we laughed at in the
car with his junk out how

at first I had thought it was just a tool belt

from Poets Respond
November 12, 2017

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Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco: “The fact that Roy Moore has not (as of this writing) left the Alabama Senate race despite the fact that he is almost certainly a sexual predator, coupled with the fact that he still stands a good chance of winning, inspired me to write this. In some ways, my experiences with predatory men have been pretty minor—I’m lucky. But everyone I know has had experiences like these (or much worse), and this is a huge problem. Also, this is not even a comprehensive list of what I have experienced. I feel like we need to keep talking about this. It makes me so angry that being a sexual predator doesn’t preclude one from holding office. It means that people who vote don’t think this matters.” (book)

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