April 4, 2017

Christopher Cessac

ELEGY FOR A BAYOU

Those who can love a concrete sewage ditch
have plans to pave the swamp that taught you right

from wrong, water snake from cottonmouth.
What your grandmothers found in Hail Mary

after Hail Mary, whatever good comes
from transcendental meditation, what Byron

or Bierce was looking for when each found death,
you found with ease—johnboat, duck-call, fly-rod.

What remains for now of your bayou is clogged
with hulking cypress, trunks draped in burdens

of Spanish moss, worn like gray beards on men
who have outlived their wives and aspirations

… history’s only plot: men escaping
from cities, men who abhor their neighbors, set sail,

go west, with selfish reasons to abolish hell
or taxes—forgetful men who always die

with hopes their children build a town with roads,
potable water, police, convenience and art.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002

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Christopher Cessac: “This poem is for my grandfather, Adras LaBorde, who was a writer and a naturalist from Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana.”

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April 3, 2017

Craig Santos Perez

THANKSGIVING IN THE ANTHROPOCENE, 2015

Thank you, instant mashed potatoes, your bland taste 
makes me feel like an average American. Thank you, 

incarcerated Americans, for filling the labor shortage 
and packing potatoes in Idaho. Thank you, canned 

cranberry sauce, for your gelatinous curves. Thank you, 
Ojibwe tribe in Wisconsin, your lake is now polluted 

with phosphate-laden discharge from nearby cranberry 
bogs. Thank you, crisp green beans, you are my excuse 

for eating dessert later. Thank you, indigenous migrant 
workers, for picking the beans in Mexico’s farm belt, 

may your children survive the journey. Thank you, NAFTA, 
for making life so cheap. Thank you, Butterball Turkey, 

for the word, butterball, which I repeat all day butterball
butterball, butterball because it helps me swallow the bones 

of genocide. Thank you, dark meat for being so juicy 
(no offense, dry and fragile white meat, you matter too). 

Thank you, 90 million factory farmed turkeys, for giving 
your lives this holiday season. Thank you, factory farm 

workers, for clipping turkey toes and beaks so they don’t scratch 
and peck each other in overcrowded, dark sheds. Thank you, 

genetic engineering and antibiotics, for accelerating 
their growth. Thank you, stunning tank, for immobilizing 

most of the turkeys hanging upside down by crippled legs. 
Thank you, stainless steel knives, for your sharpened 

edge and thirst for throat. Thank you, de-feathering 
tank, for your scalding-hot water, for finally killing the last

still conscious turkeys. Thank you, turkey tails, for feeding 
Pacific Islanders all year round. Thank you, empire of 

slaughter, for never wasting your fatty leftovers. Thank you, 
tryptophan, for the promise of an afternoon nap—

I really need it. Thank you, store bought stuffing, 
for your ambiguously ethnic flavor, you remind me 

that I’m not an average American. Thank you, gravy, 
for being hot-off-the-boat and the most beautiful 

brown. Thank you, dear readers, for joining me at this 
table. Please hold hands, bow your heads, and repeat

after me: “Let us bless the hands that harvest and butcher 
our food, bless the hands that drive delivery trucks 

and stock grocery shelves, bless the hands that cooked 
and paid for this meal, bless the hands that bind 

our hands and force feed our endless mouth. 
May we forgive each other and be forgiven.

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016
2016 Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

[download audio]

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Craig Santos Perez: “I am a native Chamorro poet originally from the Pacific Island of Guam, and I currently live and teach in Hawai’i. I write poems to raise awareness about cultural, political, social, and environmental issues. I hope my Thanksgiving poem ruins your appetite.” (website)

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March 20, 2017

Ellen Bass

POEM WRITTEN IN THE SIXTH MONTH OF MY WIFE’S ILLNESS

I didn’t know that when my mother died, her grave
would be dug in my body. And when I weaken, 
she is here, dressing behind the closet door,
hooking up her long-line cotton bra,
then sliding the cups around to the front,
leaning over and harnessing each heavy breast,
setting the straps in the grooves on her shoulders,
reins for the journey. She’s slicking her lips with
Fire and Ice. She’s shoveling the car out of the snow.
How many pints of Four Roses did she slide
into exactly-sized brown bags? How many cases
of Pabst Blue Ribbon did she sling onto the counter?
All the crumpled bills, steeped in the smells
of the lives who’d handled them—their sweat,
their body heat, cheap cologne, onions and
grease, lumber and bleach—she opened
her palm and smoothed each one. Then
stacked them up precisely, restoring order.
And at ten, after the change fund was counted,
the doors locked, she uncinched the girth, unbuckled
the bridle. Cooked Cream of Wheat for my father,
mixed a milkshake with Hershey’s syrup for me,
and poured herself a single highball,
placed on a pink or yellow paper napkin.
But this morning I think of a scene I never
witnessed, though she told me the story years later.
She’d left my father in the hospital—this time
they didn’t know if he’d pull through—
and driving the hour back to the store, stopped
in a diner and ordered coffee.
She sat in the booth, silently crying
and sipping the hot black coffee,
and the waitress, she told me, never said a word,
just kept refilling her cup.

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

[download audio]

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Ellen Bass: “Poetry gives me a way to see and accept my experience as part of the human experience. It allows me to be curious instead of judgmental. To lean into my life instead of resisting it. In a poem, one event or emotion isn’t superior to another. Each has its own individual interest and each is rich with reality.” (website)

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March 15, 2017

Sung Yim

ODE TO DEFEAT

i am thinking about my parents’ heartbreak when they lost 1 house, then 2. i am thinking about my father blaming himself for his own systemic ravaging. i am thinking about my mother getting on her knees & praying for safety as the life they were coerced into collapses all around them under its own burdensome dream. i am thinking about us all as the fingers of a world tender with shame & famine. i am thinking about my parents fighting over interest rates & loans with the gall to demand mathematical truth. i am thinking about education as a commodity on chokehold, bestowing while taking away like tiny paper cups of methadone. i am thinking about my hospital bills & regret ever signing those checks. i am thinking about the world as a body sick with grief & wars/gouges & plunder, what feels like an absurd back & forth in place when we are actually losing. when the skin is breaking where we’ve amassed the most. i think of my father cradling his head like an eggshell when i say survival is too lofty a goal. i think of my father loosening his belt after feasting on church barbecue & wonder why this is not enough/why we play any games just to win/why pleasure can’t be a goal unto itself. i think of us as the fingers of a dying body, touching & feeling, performing the last instinct to hold & flex & let go as the crash cart stops in the hallway.

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016

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Sung Yim: “I am writing a space for people who need connection most. People who aren’t written to or for nearly enough. People who, like me, aren’t seen as the default and have learned from alienation the skill of relating beyond recognition.” (website)

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March 7, 2017

Jed Myers

JEWISH CEMETERY NIGHT

Those headstones at Mount Carmel, each
must weigh more than a man, and taken
a couple of men a piece to bring down,
one then the next, nearly a hundred,
into the night. This was a team,
I imagine—together they pressed
their shoulders and chests and cheeks
and palms in uncanny brief intimacies
into the names of women and men
who walked the Northeast Philly streets
before these raiders were born. I see
the impression of some part of loving
father remain for minutes embossed
in the pad of flesh under a thumb. Another’s
brow is stamped with the Hebrew letter
aleph that stands for the first of the Ten
Commandments. I hear the men grunt
in unison on the heave after three.

And the gratification, the bonding
these guys, I’m sure they’re young, must be
able to feel, with what they’ve achieved—
what lives have they been leading? Is this
as close to a shared heatedly held
meaning as they can get, faceless
amalgam of the dead under their feet
and available to be blamed? The hugs
these topplers must’ve exchanged, shined
by their sweat in the moonlight. What lives
led to this? That it was just common
hate could uplift them? Don’t they drink
their pints after work in the tavern, cheer
and curse the game over the bar? Doesn’t it
keep their hides secure round their hearts
and their eyes off each other? I think
it’s their secret aloneness does it, down
in that dark dark as the dirt.

Poets Respond
March 7, 2017

[download audio]

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Jed Myers: “We witness a terrifying upsurge in multiple dimensions of us-and-them thinking and associated destructive enactments. Judgments won’t help, but seeking to understand just might. The news of another assault on cemetery headstones can serve as entry into empathic-intuitive exploration.” (website)

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