January 15, 2018

Li Qingzhao


The wind halts. The dust is fragrant
with fallen flowers.

Morning falls into evening. 
I am too tired to comb my hair. 

Things are the same, 
but people changed.

All is finished. 

I want to speak, 
yet tears flow first.

I hear them say 
spring is still good
at Twin Streams. 

I would float there
in a light boat,

but fear the grasshopper boats
at Twin Streams
could not bear such sorrow.

—translated from Chinese by Wendy Chen

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017


Wendy Chen: “Li Qingzhao is considered the greatest female poet in Chinese history. Yet despite her distinguished reputation in China, she remains relatively unknown and untranslated in the West. I am currently working on a translation of her body of work that, I hope, will revive interest and bring a new audience to her writing.” (web)

Li Qingzhao (1084–1151) defied cultural expectations for women by mastering ci (lyrics), composing scholarly wen (essays) on a variety of subjects, writing political shi (poems) criticizing government policies, and gaining the acknowledgement of her male contemporaries for her literary and scholarly accomplishments. She is renowned particularly for her ci, which are poems set to music with predetermined meters and tones. During the Southern Song Dynasty, her ci were gathered into a collection titled Rinsing over Jade that has since been lost. She persevered through war, exile, imprisonment, and the loss of her fortune, and continued writing all her life.

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January 14, 2018

Deborah Rasmussen


I’ve only known one. It was my uncle
the dairyman who taught me to dip one finger
into a pail of freshly drawn milk and offer it
to syrup-eyed calves, who sucked greedily
for small reward then followed my hand
into the pail over and over until they learned
that milk could be freely lapped!
a miracle in the eyes of us youngsters
and genius, I thought, on the part of my uncle
who called all his look-alike Holsteins by name
and taught each one which slot was her own
among identical stalls in the milking stable.
It was he who could find a calf newly dropped
in the field where its mother thought it well-hidden
and it was he who could stand outside
the barn door and call toward the outer pasture
come boss to bring the herd home safe.
All this I thought to be genius
but I never heard him say so.
He just quietly did his work.

from Poets Respond
January 14, 2018

[download audio]


Deborah Rasmussen: “When I heard a prominent person call himself a ‘stable genius’ last week, I thought of my uncle, who was a skilled and highly respected dairy farmer. He never took credit for his accomplishments or boasted about his skills so it is a pleasure to express the wonder I felt as a child at his abilities in working with cows. A great deal of his charm was his unassuming character, a quality I still admire.”

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January 13, 2018

Thomas Ball (age 11)


When I’m worried I feel like I’m in a hole, a hole with no escape.

Other people are so much different to me.

Red shows up on my ears.

Ropes tangle my brain like a bird’s nest.

I just wish this wouldn’t happen.

Everything is terrible when I get nervous.

Don’t try to make me feel better. It’s no use.

from 2018 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

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January 12, 2018

Al Ortolani


Last night, I bought a 12-pack of tacos
at Taco Bell, not because I was 
especially hungry, but because I could. 
My ship had come in, you see, 
and for once, I was rolling in it.
I ate six of them in front of the television
while bingeing on episodes
of some Netflix series, not because
it was particularly engaging, but simply
because I could. My ship, if you recall,
had come in. I packed up the other six tacos
and brought them to work for lunch
where my fellow employees marveled,
or laughed, I couldn’t tell which, at
my ability to eat six soggy tortillas,
microwaved in their wrappers, and spread
like dollar bills on the table. I gave
one to a friend, and she was happy,
happy for the taco, happy for me,
happy for everyone who waited
for a boat, any boat, to come in.

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017

[download audio]


Al Ortolani: “I became interested in Emmett Kelly recently, and as I was ‘surfing’ his life, I ran into a picture of him in full Weary Willie costume trying to put out flames at the Hartford Circus Fire in 1944. I had already started the poem from a sort of Everyman position, but I worked into an Emmett Kelly as archetype poem, one that was not about the fire in particular, but about the ‘funny man’ decompressing at the end of a day. I think it relates to most of us as we leave behind our ‘public face.’ In general I find poems in little moments. Small moments, maybe profound, but probably as ubiquitous as dogs behind a chain-link fence. I like the idea of opening the gate, so I can step in closer to see if they lick my hand, or bite my ass. Mostly, they’re good guys, but not too keen on playing dead or begging for treats.” (web)

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January 11, 2018

José Hernando Chaves


What did I do to deserve a day full of clouds,
threatening to drown me under their oppressive
gray beards? A day when even the traffic
encroaches like a murder of crows, as you
take shelter in a small cafe, unaware the coffee
has conspired with the cup to overthrow
gravity and take refuge in the embassy of your lap.
A waitress tries to quell the flames of revolution
with a wet towel, but crushes your nether region
in a painful coup that will last for days.
As you sit and think, how you’ve always
hated politics, but knew one day they’d find you.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001


José Hernando Chaves: “I tend to write poetry in all forms that contain an element of the absurd, and I believe the lyric can be a powerful vehicle for comedy as well as tragedy.”

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January 10, 2018

Behzad Molavi


Choosing the lesser evil
is choosing evil

Doing nothing
is always an option

But what kind of nothing, my friend

A blank ballot
A day at the beach

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017


Behzad Molavi: “One night we went through heavy turbulence on a plane to Stockholm. Oxygen masks dropped from above. The old man beside me began mumbling to himself. He was reciting poems as if they were prayers. That’s not why I write poetry, but it’s close enough.”

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January 9, 2018

Diana Goetsch


The first time I saw David Bowie it was a man who took me
to a cinema in Huntington 12 miles from our town
where they were showing Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,
the concert film with backstage footage of Bowie
during costume changes talking with friends he obviously loved.
He was young, with milky skin, as excited about the show
as his audience—no matter how garish the makeup,
how spiky the hair. He was, that is, an ordinary person
saying, “Wow, isn’t this a blast?” saying what I would say.
Soon he’d go back on stage in another skin-tight outfit,
the crowd would spend half a song wondering where his dick was,
before surrendering again, singing along to that big voice
as crisp and thrilling as sanity. He was so full of plain goodness,
yet also a space alien, truly fierce, a little grotesque, though I knew
he was nothing to be afraid of, for I was Ziggy Stardust too.
Soon I’d go away to college, putting distance between me
and the man who drove me to see Bowie. For a while he wrote me
letters mentioning other beautiful men. Richard Gere
was on Broadway playing a gay man in a concentration camp,
the Nazis made him wear a pink triangle, and perhaps, his
letter suggested, I might want to try on that triangle too.
Did I tell you he was my 12th grade English teacher?
His understanding of metaphor was quite limited,
but I’m glad I at least got to Bowie, who was so far beyond
gay or straight, a creature so wildly human
there was no word for him yet, which is why he needed
another planet to be from, a planet I needed to find.

from In America
2017 Rattle Chapbook Prize Selection

[download audio]


Diana Goetsch: “I’m basically a love poet. I’ve started to understand that after all these years. No matter the subject, I think my mission has something to do with redemption. And I just go for the hardest thing to redeem.” (website)

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