January 18, 2018

Brian Clements


After all the worry, who wants to spend another minute of our middle years on work? Sure, the sermons were fine, but they never hit home until the third consecutive sexless week. You hear a rumor that the inner life is moving into the suburbs, then someone points a laser at your daughter’s window. There’s something comforting, sometimes, in an occasional conditional contract that lets you be a person; but then it’s nice sometimes just to sit and be a stem. In either case, something inside the language won’t let you forget that somewhere someone is doing something illegal to someone else; somewhere someone is drowning; somewhere anti-matter is streaking perilously close to someone’s hypothalamus. And this reminds you that it’s time to feel the series of hemisemidemiquavers just east of your liver, which reminds you that out of all the possible corpses you’ve only seen a few. That you’ll never see your own is perhaps more disturbing. That you’ll never get an answer to anything starts to come across as funny. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you start to feel like a lesbian trapped in a man’s body, which, for all you know, you may be. And there may actually may be something to that ache behind your eye. Let’s take a look. Come closer. Closer. Closer.

from Rattle #18, Winter 2002


Brian Clements: “I’m afraid that I can’t say much about myself in a few lines. I hear it’s because I contain multitudes.” (web)

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January 17, 2018

Lee Rossi


Everything fits into everything else.
We know that who come bursting
from our mothers in a gush of being,
our children already nestled in sacs
tucked safely inside. Infinite regression
sends us back into the womb
after womb from which we grew.
There was a soup, we’re told,
where the first living creatures
were brewed, not something you’d
eat, but eat it they apparently did
until little was left but waste
oxygen and each other.
How long did they take to find
a taste for those other squirming
thingies—eat it or fuck it,
and in which order, the rush
to colonize never stopped.
Except in our imagination,
we can’t stuff ourselves
back into that ever-expanding bottle,
which itself was once just something
infinitely dense, unimaginably hot,
and before that not even not.

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017

[download audio]


Lee Rossi: “Ever since my friend Tim water-bombed the Dean of Discipline and I memorialized the incident in rhyming stanzas (think ‘The Highwayman’), much to the delight of my seminary classmates, I’ve been hooked, poetry being the poor man’s heroin, junk for those who like their highs vicarious.”

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January 16, 2018

Lisa Meckel


All night I’ve remained awake
thinking how to reinvent myself;
struggled with the wild possibilities
and the desperate impossibilities,
considered how to create this happening.

a reinvention center for overripe women
a spa designed for reclaiming the brain
a salon for the soul
a machine to remind us who we longed to become
a clinic to revision the inner eye
workshops for re-assembling the split heart
a voyage of discovery to stimulate the inner voyeur
a retreat to repair, reorganize, and replace genetic makeup

Which leads me to consider
who invented me in the first place,
who filled my DNA with my own me-ness?
Thus to make myself over again
must I act like a deity once removed?

Or could this notion of reinvention
be really a process of removal,
scraping off the wretched scum
we let life lay on us, on our very self?

If so, then
I must go out into the rain
let those sweet drops wash off
fear of failure from my skin,
let the wind blow hope back into my thoughts,
believe once again in the ultimate mystery of the moon
let the bread be the truth of my table and let the salt sing
of the beauty of daily-ness
allow sunrise to begin the day
know that sunset is inevitable
that the cold night can be warmed by the inner fire
knowing again that the river is never the same river, ever.

from Rattle #19, Summer 2003
Tribute to the Twenty-Minute Poem


Lisa Meckel: “I have lived with words: as a stage actress; as a first grade teacher who loves to read to young children; as a mother, delighting in my children’s first words; as a young writer who wrote as if to confirm my being. The wonder of a word is that even a small word contains a universe of meaning, experience, and evolution; as if it has a life of its own. It was Perie Longo, poet and teacher, who showed me the way to find my life in poetry. Thank you, Perie.”

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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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