August 1, 2017

Bayleigh Fraser

STRAIGHT SHOOTER

You are only as terrible as what falls,
like the season’s first kill, gleefully

from the wound of your mouth.
My cousin once told me not to fear God,

and that night I prayed to the graffiti ceiling
Please, no angels, brushed by wind from a window.

Every truth, sheared by the tongue that tells it,
by mirrors glinting like blood in the sun.

I would say to the clouds: rain takes my clothes off.
To my cab driver: another storm coming.

I’ve dyed my hair enough to stain my fingers
blue as an airless sentence

I have kissed too much. I have been in love quietly
with my country. Stroked the taxidermy

of her truth displayed like a sky on my television.
Someone once liked her image enough, limp as it was,

to hold her up in front of me, ask for a photograph.
I’ve cried for I’ve loved my country like a trophy,

like something I’d mount on my wall.

Poets Respond
August 1, 2017

[download audio]

__________

Bayleigh Fraser: “This poem came in response to Anthony Scaramucci’s recent phone call with a reporter. Afterwards, in a television interview, he called himself a ‘straight shooter.’ And now, as of Monday, he’s already been fired.” (twitter)

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July 31, 2017

Rhonda Ganz

WHAT GETS US OUT OF BED IN THE MORNING

I met a man Thursday whose brain once kept moving at high speed after his skull had come to an abrupt stop. When we met, he was pushing a shopping cart with empty soda cans and wine bottles, which he figured would get him six bucks at the depot. Seventy years old, he’d slipped on the ice three times already that morning because people on his route hadn’t cleared their sidewalks. He couldn’t decide between blueberry or cherry danish at Sally Café so I bought both, and we stepped into rare winter sunshine as he told the story of how he’d come to be where he was. When he got to the part about being in a coma for six weeks in Atlanta, a Southern drawl introduced itself. After the coma, he spent another 540 days in hospital. They were using him for drug experiments by then, wanted to dissect him for research. His sister, a lawyer in the fancy part of town, finally got him out of there and sued the state of Georgia for 5.6 million dollars. A cheque will be ready in February he said, signed by Obama before he leaves office; a cheque the new guy can’t take away from me. That’s great I said, February’s not very far away. Just around the corner, he said back. It’s just around the corner.

salt water aquarium 
jellyfish 
press against the glass

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

[download audio]

__________

Rhonda Ganz: “When asked to identify my illness, I have trained myself to answer only with my name, rank, and prescription number. When I write about depression, obsession, compulsion or other mental health issues, I challenge myself to do it without using those words. Sometimes I say to people that poetry saved my life. Unless they’re a poet, they don’t know how to respond, but truly, it has been the combination of psychiatry, the right medication, and the community I’ve found with poets and poetry, that keeps me here.” (website)

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July 27, 2017

Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2017: Editor’s Choice

 

No Name #2 by Ryan Schaufler

Image: “No Name #2” by Ryan Schaufler. “A Thousand Possible Clouds” was written by Valentina Gnup for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2017, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]

__________

Valentina Gnup

A THOUSAND POSSIBLE CLOUDS

Go find a pencil
the world is a terrible first draft.

When you write a story, you have choices—
horizon, chickweed, loneliness,

a copse of trees harbors soldiers
stealthily as a virus invades a body

or holds redwoods, gentle as grandparents,
collecting their centuries in a map of pale rings.

Listen, a foghorn beyond the fields
moans like an animal suffering

the sky has surrendered its hours
or exploded into a thousand possible clouds.

The children on the road far behind you
have lost their parents, their country—

someone got too greedy
someone believed he knew what was right.

Or they’re your children on that road
carrying home blackberries to make cobbler—

cut the butter into the flour, stop to kiss
the swirled crowns of their heads.

Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2017
Editor’s Choice

[download audio]

__________

Comment from the editor, Timothy Green, on this selection: “This amazing poem by Valentina Gnup seems to describe the mood of the painting by naming only what isn’t contained within it—all the things off-frame that we aren’t able to see. The best ekphrastic poems often operate tangentially, after a leap of separation from the visual content that creates the same effect as the cut that bridges disparate parts of a haiku: the poem is both completely a part of the painting and completely not. Gnup crafts this special kind of schism perfectly. I’m sure the children are there on the road, just off-frame, right next to the cow that sounds like a foghorn. What’s more, I read this on the 4th of July, and somehow, almost magically, all of Summer 2017 America is contained in the painting, too.” (website)

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July 26, 2017

Michelle Chen

KOOTENAI CRADLEBOARD

after Eileen Myles, while visiting the National Museum of the American Indian

You flowered
like a salmon
moves against 
sharp bone
like a beaded
ribbon swings
I called you 
loon because 
you knew
approaching
storms
I called you
washing, the wood
asleep like
a bowl
Inside 
your spine straight,
cheek against
buffalo teeth
Burbling, 
you swallowed
sweet camas bulb
in the shape
of your lung
And 
lifting
this cloth 
against
the mountains
bright under 
the light
like a 
wail

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

__________

Michelle Chen: “I’ve learned to write with greater empathy in my poetry because of my experiences with mental illness. Depression, obsessive compulsions, and social anxiety lent me more curiosity and sympathy for narrators who are on the fringes of society. However, both the thought and execution of empathy often falls short in my poems’ universes, and I utilize this theme as a reflection of the difficulties involved with emotional distress. The feeling of being disconnected is the main theme of all these pieces, involving narrators with several small differences or diverse situations that end up eating away at them. I hope that my work will give insight into the realities of mental struggle, if not mental illness, and bring to light the reality and importance of mental health. The lack of tolerance of mental illness has affected me personally—I’ve been personally advised to remove the subject entirely from multiple applications for school and work—and this institutionalized discrimination and delegitimization of those who struggle mentally just as with any other illness is important to discuss. I hope that my piece allows readers not to forgive, but to understand the distressing isolation of thinking and living differently.” (website)

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July 23, 2017

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

EVERY MUSICIAN’S SUICIDE MAKES ME THINK

of the first time you told me goodbye
over landlines when we were such children
and the morning seemed years away

how you warned me you wouldn’t last
the night and the promise
of my body                         wasn’t enough

to keep you but the next day
we made love on the floor
and I told you how hard it was

to know your body—        a sinking boat         a run-over deer’s ribcage
    warm         and expanding
    slower with each step         thick bass strings
    roped         into silent nooses
    a small boy’s voice         set to man’s music—

you told me it was easy
to want         nothing
and feel it

told me this after you came
and I didn’t believe you
trusted an ocean

of dead fish
was still an ocean
trusted such a mouth

must want for me to swim
inside         but desire
for another body

doesn’t mean love
for your own         and if your desire
were that ocean

it’d be one of mouths         gasping.

Poets Respond
July 23, 2017

[download audio]

__________

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach: “On the day Chris Cornell died, my first thought went to my husband, a huge fan and incredibly talented musician himself, who also struggles with depression. A man who holds a deep admiration for other artists and life, while often being overwhelmed by thoughts of the opposite. Hearing of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington’s death, and that his body was found on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday, and then reading about their friendship and the open letter Bennington wrote in response to his friend’s suicide, I was again taken to the musician I fell in love with and married. I felt at once grateful to still have him and scared at the prospect of this being temporary and fragile, living every day on the cusp of loss. I wrote this poem as a way of figuring out my own feelings about loving someone who fights this heavy darkness, a poem about being there to see the fight and feeling powerless to help.” (website)

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July 21, 2017

Katie Bickham

A DIFFERENT ANIMAL

1

Early in the morning, I ghosted 
into the white tile bathroom, stripped—
even my jewelry—

drove myself to vomit, spit, 
and defecate, shook out the ounces of my breath,
and took my weight. I avoided my crooked

reflection in the silver towel rack.
The worst days, I pondered quarters
of pounds harbored in my tonsils and my hair.

Eighteen summers, I silently mined
my body, seeking the fossil
of my skeleton inside me.

My mother watched me swallow
syruped squares of French toast.
She knew and didn’t know.

My death dangled on the edge
of every conversation,
a desperate drop on a cup’s rim. 

Humans facing death in youth
try to swallow everything, cry injustice, 
make wishes, hold their breath.

Dogs refuse food. When Sophie,
our Labrador, faced her end too soon,
my mother crawled beside her

with warm beef stew and my soft 
baby spoon. The dog died,
salivating.

2

I walked down the aisle with whale bones
circling my ribcage. I pictured the whale
vomiting Jonah onto the beach.

I had never purged in church
until that day. God was alive 
in those years and I knew

he saw me, corseted,
flowers fastened in my hair,
and looked away.

My husband tells me years later
the horror
of my torso from the room’s other end.

I feel proud,
but do not 
say it.

3

My doe-eyed mutt stands in the corner 
of the bathroom, watching me heave
my whole life into the toilet

on all fours. I suspect she’s always thought
we were the same—that I was
just another sort of dog

until this moment. She knows now,
I am a different animal entirely:
a creature dragging back

to its own ooze, a broken beast, rotten
with a sickness she can smell. And she
can’t tell a soul. 

After I’ve scrubbed my hand,
my weak teeth, I kneel again
and pat my knee.

Because she is a dog, she comes quickly
and fills my palms with her heavy head.
Starving, I let her love me.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

[download audio]

__________

Katie Bickham: “Eating disorder is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, and I have been wrestling with it for over a decade now. Disordered eating is one of the strangest mental illnesses, because it’s one that the sufferer almost always wants to have on some level. I’ve often felt addicted to anorexia and bulimia, strangely happy with the havoc they wreak on my body, hesitant to lay them aside and ‘grow.’ The strangest part of it is that I’m a feminist and support a woman’s control over her body and reject male-driven beauty norms. But still, I fight to shrink, to disappear. Then one day, a new therapist who I went to see when there was nothing left to do but die told me something that seemed to throw everything into reverse. She said, ‘You deserve to take up space in the world.’ That same week, I started graduate school and work on my first book of poems. I have grown—in every sense—but the desire is always there waiting.” (website)

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July 14, 2017

Sandra M. Yee

YOUR SHIPWRECK OR MINE?

for JCV

Zoo-like is how I like you, contained but not
too tamed, buttery billfold hiding

twin coins of want and want. Between us
the ocean beckons, and you dip

into my desert marine to unshell me,
dispel me from the illusion of water

everywhere and not a drop for me to drink.
You need no adornment or in this case

a shorning for the already-delectable,
and if personal hell is the price

for such pleasure, bring me a double
and tie me fast to weather

yet another season of bodily crisis
and acts-of-god doubt. In a handful

of days already we are changing
each other because we need

and want change. I’ll take your divorce
and raise you four deaths, your near-

paralysis to my near-blindness,
and these daddy issues that threaten

to collapse both our houses. Yes,
the past scars, the future scares us,

but here now the union of spare parts
and untidy ruins and the miracle

of these loosed hearts able
to desire again and again and again.

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017

[download audio]

__________

Sandra M. Yee: “I didn’t think I was depressed enough to write poetry, but then I took my first poetry class at a community college and was introduced to Susan Mitchell’s ‘Pussy Willow (An Apology).’ My classmates and I tried our best to analyze the poem in class discussion, and after half an hour of our stumbling and fumbling for words, the teacher finally asked did we not realize the poem was about masturbation? A gaudy neon light zapped on over my head, and thereafter, I was hooked.”

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