November 15, 2017

Sarah Wylder Deshpande

THE PATRON SAINT OF BOREDOM

As compensation for a boring life, he received a job
in heaven in the department of tropical fruits
and quickly moved up to miracles.
When all the excitement is too much,
he slips down to Earth
and doodles in the back of math books
or goes to Mass and finds
the two-year-olds who crawl beneath
the pews picking at stale gum.

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

[download audio]

__________

Sarah Wylder Deshpande: “I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, the recreational vehicle manufacturing capital of the world. It’s an industrial town with two rivers, the Elkhart and the St. Joe. I spent my childhood exploring rivers and abandoned factories and riding trains. I live outside the Midwest now, but I miss the wide-openess of landscape and driving along the highway with cornfields on either side, always being able to see the horizon.” (twitter)

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November 14, 2017

Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

I CAN’T CLOSE MY EYES WITHOUT SEEING JASON PERO’S BODY

Boys like us don’t make national news.
That’s what we’d tell each other, fleeing

the long blue arms of police LEDs.
Our hightop Reeboks kissed gravel

miles of Central Pennsylvania Street. Us
not old enough to have kissed a lover. Boys

like us, cops shoot & ask questions never,
we laughed. We ran. We laughed. We hollered

“Pig!” as if it was just another pickup game
of basketball on the blacktop. We were so young—

how young is too young to teach a boy never
turn his index finger & thumb into the hammered steel

of a gun. You might die. I breathe for decades,
older & older & now when I close my eyes

I can see Jason Pero isn’t with us boys—us running
from cops. Jason is at home. He was a teddy bear,

said his grandpa. He teased his little nephews once
in a while but that was the meanest part he had.

Jason Pero is in his front yard making the best
of Bad River Reservation, turning porch boughs

into a drum set, each stick cracking stained wood.
He imagines making it all the way to high school

drumline. & here comes that cop with report
“of a man carrying a knife.” & here is Jason drumming.

& here there will be no justice for death, no video
evidence of Jason’s dying. Just this one that plays out

endlessly in my head. The greatest horror
writers know it’s worse when you can’t see the monster:

jaws that catch, claws that bite, hidden in darkness.
In Onondaga, our clan mother says kahséhtha’ I hide

something akweriákon in my heart. But tonight, I am done
with hiding. Jason Pero was shot once in the shoulder

& once in the heart. & my heart beats faster the longer
I sleep. The longer I close my eyes. The longer we hide.

from Poets Respond
November 14, 2017

[download audio]

__________

Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley: “Jason Pero, a middle schooler, was shot by a cop twice and killed in his home on Bad River Reservation.” (twitter)

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November 13, 2017

Todd Davis

CRACKS

A pickup slips over the ice, rear tires spinning, turning 
a circle, then another, a series of donuts in a mechanical dance 
that causes the three boys to swear and laugh, spilling beer 
onto their laps and the seats that already stink of cigarettes 
and sweat. Their dads and uncles sit in hastily erected shacks, 
hovels spread across the lake, humped over like the dirt 
at the entrance to gopher dens. Men fish in the half-light 
of heaters, drinking schnapps and whiskey, readying themselves 
for the rod to bow, hovering over an augured hole 
as if it were a nest in need of guarding. When at last 
the line jerks down into the dream of a northern pike, 
they fumble with the reel, hearts racing ahead of an ending 
they imagine will be told at the bar on a Saturday in June, 
glasses of beer sweating, hands spread wide in a lie 
to suggest the size of that fish whose head sprang 
from the slush-filled abyss, only to escape their grip 
into the black depths of late December. Air snakes 
through the truck’s cab, windows rolled down 
so these bored boys can scream at the stars 
salted across the sky. Most of the men have gone 
to eat supper, to watch the Lions lose one more game 
on TV. The smell of propane lingers, stirred with the beer 
the boys burp as they smoke cigars and cough. 
They’ve parked the truck at Ralph’s shanty, 
and the older brother spits into a plastic jug, snuff 
stuffed under his lower lip, as he tells stories 
about a buck he killed in October and a girl he dated 
from the next town over with a mouth as soft as velvet. 
There are always cracks in the ice, but trying to decide 
which seam is harmless and which leads to the bottom 
is a matter of luck. They’ve grown accustomed to the lake’s 
groaning, having heard its teeth chatter since they were children: 
sun melting into the horizon, everything refreezing 
in a slick swatch of darkness. Toward the south end 
of the lake, springs thin the ice, but the boys believe 
the cold insures their passage. On the way back 
a wheel breaks through, front end dipping, the entire truck 
tipping, then plunging forward like a duck, tail feathers 
pointed at the moon. Every year some drown, 
and even more trucks sink. But tonight, 
with the windows open, each boy places a foot 
on the seat and leaps to safety, rolling onto their sides, 
praying the ice-shelf will hold. The sound of the truck 
being sucked beneath the surface is smothered 
by their happy hollering. None of them thinking 
about the cost when Szymanski’s Towing 
sends a diver down with a cable and hook, 
or how their moms will cry as their dads berate 
such stupidity, which of course is inherited. 
For now they can only hoot at their own good fortune. 
The cold stars warmer with their escape, sparkling 
like the fake diamonds they give their girlfriends
on their six-month anniversary, and the moon 
offering just enough light to help them to shore 
and to the county road they’ll walk 
all the way back to town.

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

[download audio]

__________

Todd Davis: “I was born, raised, and have lived in the Rust Belt for 52 years. The first eighteen years of my life were spent in the factory town of Elkhart, Indiana, playing basketball and football and dreaming about the deep forests in upstate New York where I’d visited to backpack with my father and uncle, places that seemed otherworldly, so green and with water we drank directly from streams flowing out of the sides of mountains. After that, I lived in northern Illinois for seven years, then another six years in Goshen, Indiana, and for the past fourteen years I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, ten miles north of the dying railroad town of Altoona. Because of these places, notions of decay and injury can be found in my poems, and poets like Jim Daniels and Jan Beatty have been important in showing me ways to write about what matters here. The small village of Tipton where my house sits is near 41,000 acres of game lands. I hunt and fish in what seems to be an imitation of those first forests I encountered in upstate New York, planning my escape into their creases. But even in the most remote places in these 41,000 acres I can’t escape the legacy of the Rust Belt: acid mine drainage from deep tunnel mining and strip mining for coal creates ‘kill zones’ in the forest and makes some of the streams sterile. I suppose I hope that my poems offer a glimpse of the good in these places while not flinching at the harm we’ve done to the land and to each other.” (website)

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November 12, 2017

Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco

PARTIAL LIST OF MEN

the man who wrote me
all the letters about love
when I was nine the man
who stared at me in math
class through the window
masturbating the man who
cupped his hand real quick
around my ass when I walked
by the man who followed
me one time on the bus
home the man who followed
me one time in his car the
man who chased me till
I ran into a church to get
away the man who followed
me one night outside the club
telling me that he would fuck me
the man who pushed me
down until I couldn’t breathe
the man who stood outside
my house till I got home the
man we laughed at in the
car with his junk out how

at first I had thought it was just a tool belt

from Poets Respond
November 12, 2017

[download audio]

__________

Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco: “The fact that Roy Moore has not (as of this writing) left the Alabama Senate race despite the fact that he is almost certainly a sexual predator, coupled with the fact that he still stands a good chance of winning, inspired me to write this. In some ways, my experiences with predatory men have been pretty minor—I’m lucky. But everyone I know has had experiences like these (or much worse), and this is a huge problem. Also, this is not even a comprehensive list of what I have experienced. I feel like we need to keep talking about this. It makes me so angry that being a sexual predator doesn’t preclude one from holding office. It means that people who vote don’t think this matters.” (book)

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November 11, 2017

Valerie M. Smith (grade 12)

GRAY

I remember how her small ankles
would guide her feet
to sun-bathing rocks
nestled in sea water
and pelican coffee breaks.
Her arms would bleed
from their gagged mercy
protruding from the sea,
gray hearts longing
for her precious liquid life.
We’d spread out our ribs
on these rocks,
feeling them push into our skin.
Too shy for bathing suits
and the sun’s soothing rays,
we’d sleep
wrapped in California dreams
and familiar arms and legs
that counted a mystical four
instead of a lonely two.
No better human pillows ever existed.
This was the sin
that parents should scorn
because she possessed me
like she possessed beauty.
It was all the life
I felt to be lived
in mysterious oceans of eyeliner.

from Rattle #9, Summer 1998
Tribute to Children

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November 10, 2017

Jim Daniels

PRODIGAL SON RETURNS TO WARREN, MICHIGAN

The air stings but you get used to it. Were always used to it. Buried it in your lungs at birth in anticipation of today. Dark comfort. Burning oil. Leaking transmission fluid. Exploding antifreeze. A lot can go wrong and already has. That’s the darkness. The comfort’s buried behind the garage. Cigarette smoke—trying to quit. Lifetime hobby. Like collecting LSD stamps. Marking stale beer kisses on your warped globe. Thumbnail bruise slowly making its way to the top. To be released. Good luck with that bruise on your heart. Life in Warren. Backfire misfire. Deliberate fire. Shotgun arson. That hiss leaking out that globe or a spray can sending another inscrutable message. Night breaks glass. Day keeps peace. Peace on loan from the bank. Interest on a ticking clock. The bank, a robot hooker. Hydrant full of trick questions and fake water. Air stings. You sting it back. The invitation lost in the mail with the lost children. Welcome home, soldier. Have we got a minimum wage job for you! No burned bridges. Our bridge takes you to Canada, that girl you always liked that was too nice for you. Ribbons and curls and a mean big brother. Forgot to wipe your shoes on the way out of town—you follow the smudged footprints back. What were you thinking, leaving? Like the senile dog, barking at the wrong door to get back in. It happens. Night is different here, spiked with acrid fear. Fists just lumps in your pockets. Nobody’s built a hill yet—uphill and downhill, relative terms. Related by marriage. Separated by birth. Blinded by the lack of light. The absence of an acoustic guitar. The dance of electric shock. One word for gray—hundreds of shades of it. Comfort, one word for it. Rungs on the ladder: imaginary. Leak in the roof: real. Basement nightmare-flooded. Cocaine cut on a ping pong table. Behind the eight ball. Beneath the cue stick hammering down. It’s all coming back. Blood on an empty dress burned down the neighborhood, but it’s still here. Just needs a jump. Got cables? Gentlemen, start your engines. The air stings with old spit and large betrayal. Rust-mobiles rattling and mumbling their damned prayers. Transportation specials. Dark comfort dome light glow. Somebody getting in, getting out. Idling. Flashers on. Adjusting mirrors. Emergency. Waiting for someone. Maybe you.

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

__________

Jim Daniels: “I have spent my entire life in the Rust Belt, born in Detroit, and living in Pittsburgh for the last 35 years, with a three-year stint near Toledo in between. My writing has always been focused on place—both the literal places of blue collar towns and the ‘place’ of social class. My style has always been straightforward and direct because of the influence of these places.” (website)

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November 9, 2017

Alan Harawitz

FINDING RELIGION

The lox man is waiting
behind the counter
in the back of the store,
an anachronism under an ancient
blue Dodger baseball cap,
gray hair and goatee surrounding
his pudgy pink cheeks and flabby chin.

It doesn’t hurt that his name is Nathan
and that he speaks with the slightest
Jewish inflection when he says,
“Hi, what can I get you?”
It’s one of those gourmet supermarkets
so prevalent in big cities these days.
For the last twenty years
I’ve been feeling like a man
left out on the desert with only a canteen
suddenly finding himself in the middle
of a freshwater spring.

I have memorized Nathan’s schedule,
hours and days,
his name as indelible in my mind
as my password at the ATM.

He is an artist, a genius of sorts,
an inspiration to workers everywhere,
a man who knows how to cut lox
with the skill of a surgeon,
the slices so thin you can barely
see through them, each one uniform
and together laid out like a mosaic
on the white wrapping paper.

He offers me a taste to help me decide
and he takes one himself before commenting:
“This piece is a little salty because it’s too
close to the head. Let me get you a different one.”
I’m staring at him like he’s God
and maybe he is: “Too close to the head?”
His generosity is overwhelming,
his wisdom beyond question.

“A quarter of a pound, please,” I say,
exiting like a disciple walking on air.

from Rattle #18, Winter 2002
Tribute to Teachers

__________

Alan Harawitz: “A retired teacher, I spend about none months of the year in my native Brooklyn, New York, and the remainder in central Maine. Evenings are spent listening to NPR, then writing poetry to the sound of the loons crying at the moon.”

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