November 28, 2017

Alexandra Umlas

TOURING THE B-17 BOMBER AT THE PALM SPRINGS AIR MUSEUM

a golden shovel after Randall Jarrell

They climb a slender ladder. From
stitched-together metal, my
daughters disappear into the plane, a mother’s
intuition wanting them to sleep
longer in their not knowing. I
want to conceal how people fell
from the sky, how bombs glided into
their targets, how it happened in the
daylight, so everything hit. This State,

the state of being and of war. And
when they go further into the fortress, I
can no longer hear their hunched
tunneling. No oxygen masks needed in
this controlled air museum; its
planes are still. We are in the belly
of the third hanger, learning till
we are sick with statistics. My
eyes want to look away, wet
with sadness, with the soft fur
of faces that burned or froze.

My girls sit in the jump seats. Six
feet from ground, not miles
like the eight to ten men from
the past who flew this earth
in these planes, men loosed
into war, one man who crawled from
somewhere in this turret, from its
curved surface, with the dream
of getting home, with the want of
oxygen, and warmth and life,

someone’s son, someone’s, I
know this from Jarrell, how a man woke
into death. How am I to
explain these images of black
smoke trailing, or the definition of flak
or anti-anything? My girls and
their enthusiastic guide pause at the
plane’s plexiglass womb. Its nightmare
nested only the smallest fighters.

A single man curled knee to chin. When
my children emerge intact, I
hear the guide state how many died
but later, the girls tell me they
loved the plane, over washed
hair and brushed teeth, tell me
how some men were thrown out
because of their wounds, of
how their friends deployed the
parachutes, about the turret
and its smallness, tell me with
smiles, still unaware of what remains: a
poem, a person, a mess, a hose.

from Poets Respond
November 28, 2017

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Alexandra Umlas: “This weekend we toured a B-17 bomber at the Palm Springs Air Museum. My children took the tour with a guide, who walked them through the plane. I waited outside, staring at the Ball Turret of the plane. The idea of war has been in the news a lot lately, but the idea of war is different than the reality of war. I never paid too much attention to the poem ‘The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner’ (the entirety of the poem makes up the last word in each line) until today, when confronted with an actual Ball Turret and imagining a real person curled up inside. I hope my kids never know the reality of war. I hope war stays only as an idea—something abstract—part of our history. This is my attempt at a “Golden Shovel” poem that digs even though it doesn’t want to dig and tries to remember even the things I don’t want to remember.” (website)

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November 24, 2017

Kamal E. Kimball

I HEAR AMERICA RUSTING

All the fluorescent lights tonight
try to buff the dark to a shine
in the rec centers

and the laundromats and the beer glints
in the glasses, the cans. Sloshing
waves of amber. There’s a slow

sort of hunger as we watch the cars
grunt by, those gleaming dumb machines
are foreign and we want

to go home. The entire night
is chalked with the evidence of us.
We pass the crime scene

where workers mill around, faces
tight and shiny with tragedy.
Some start marching,

thrust their signs at nightsticks
as flagpoles corrode in their hands.
The bone whites

cell reds, the blues. Their eyes flint
into the wind that scratches off
our oxide smokestacks,

our scraped-out mountains, hollowed
wombs, our streets in Detroit
in Ferguson Youngstown

Baltimore Philly Cincinnati Gary
Dayton and Flint. The crumbling
is quickening

here where it used to boom.
Paint flakes off the brittle
black factory doors.

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

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Kamal E. Kimball: “I’ve lived most of my life in the Rust Belt, and have always been struck by its contradictions. It’s America’s breadbasket, overflowing with wheat, corn, and soybeans in the summer. I grew up in Michigan, where we spent long, refreshing afternoons on the beaches of the state’s many lakes. Yet the Rust Belt is also scarred with burned-out factories and dotted with towns that opiates and meth have ravaged. There is a looming sense of frustration, an anger at the past and for the future. This tension permeates my writing, which is at once abundant with musicality and haunted by a sense of something missing.” (website)

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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.

[download: PDF / JPG]

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Paul T. Corrigan

YOU MOVED YOUR WHOLE TOWN

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

[download audio]

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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 19, 2017

Devi S. Laskar

THOUGH THE STARS WALK BACKWARD

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

[download audio]

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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 17, 2017

William Evans

I SAY CATHEDRAL WHEN I MEAN GUNPOWDER

Over winter break, Frank put a shotgun
in his mouth and killed himself in his mother’s
home, which was not his home, but I can under-
stand not wanting to die in a place you’re not sure

will care for your bones after you’ve left them.
Maybe break is a generous word because I was
back in the home my father had left and I was 
never going back to school, but ghosts have 

a way of knowing where all keys are hidden,
what kind of pacification the most guarded
beasts will submit to. It is 2 a.m. and a person 
I have left behind is telling me someone I had

lived with is trapped behind the present tense
forever. Now it is four days later and I am
in my best clothes driving into Fairfield County
where I was once called nigger on the baseball

field, where I once needed a coach to walk
with me to the bus to avoid my own purging
and a teammate told me that it wasn’t because
I was Black, but because I was that good,

because I was not old enough to be two
things at one time yet. Frank loved Wu-Tang
and once argued me who had the best verse
on Triumph, but no one at this funeral knows

this story, at least not the part where Frank
once kissed my forehead at a party while
we re-enacted Ghost and Rae over the music
too loud for anyone to be truly sober that night.

There is a humming here, whenever another
mourner approaches me, with a trespass glare
and I hope that Frank knows that I came here,
again to a tree that looks at my neck and misremembers

gravity, to see him lowered into the world that
tries to claim me, each and every day. I don’t want
him to see me as brave, but to know that I, too,
understand what it means to walk into a cathedral

and hear every lock turn behind you, that the stained 
glass is sometimes just light born in a better neighborhood
and I can still smell the gunpowder you swallowed every time 
I startle a flock of birds, that will never again be still.

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

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William Evans: “I think being from the Midwest is a unique negotiation for a writer as I often find myself putting forth an idea that isn’t so much profound as it is making a statement of awareness for readers. I often feel that the aesthetic of many poets outside of the Rust Belt is an affirming action that confirms or reinforces what we may believe about the location already. In my part of the country, I think the writers are often defending their home. It’s a pursuit of not only relevance but of reverence of where our voice fits in the national conversation. This poem, ‘I Say Cathedral When I Mean Gunpowder,’ feels particularly Midwest when it encounters the shifting environments, hard-to-penetrate culture, and realities of what being in the middle of the country demands.” (website)

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