September 17, 2017

Devon Balwit


The falling man falls through the feed while, beneath him,
female soldiers serve in a bunker. Then, someone reposts,

and the order reverses, the women behind the blast door
now above the man who plummets. Both make the heart

hammer: the dead man, not yet dead, and the women, living,
but standing ready to dispense death. They are not the same,

yet they are juxtaposed. Coming upon them, our fingers
hover a moment; how much do we want to know, and what

will it cost us? For sixteen years, the falling man has triggered
panic: his knowing, his choosing, his leaping. We carry his death

like a burden we can never put down. We did nothing to stop it.
We think by not watching we are somehow absolved, but he falls

regardless. So too, the missiles. We will not launch them. Neither
can we stop them. Yet we are implicated in our Age, born into it;

its hectic pulse hammers within us. We shake. We tremble.
Our lines quiver across the page. No one wants to claim

the falling man. We refuse him, his helplessness, his nakedness
before our lenses, the wind pulling the clothes off his body,

our eyes doing the same. So too, the women, deep underground.
It was better before we knew they were there, each with her half

of the code, ready to key in the launch, ten missiles on standby.
Maybe their fingers will hover forever, poised for our generation

and for that of our children. We hope our hearts will quiet.
We have that guilty feeling as if we have done something wrong.

from Poets Respond
September 17, 2017

[download audio]


Devon Balwit: “Oh, the images from 9/11. The feed pummels us. To log on is to ask for a beating.”

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September 15, 2017

Martin Vest


Anticipating my next move,
I sold my guns.
I knew I’d eventually try pills
so I swallowed them all in advance.
In the car there were too many potentials—
the burned-out shell on a lonely hill,
hose in a tailpipe, cliff—
so I sent it away with my marriage—
that dented plate
whose blunt surface
had dimmed my head.

I wore out streets, welcomes,
made beds of gardens and police cars.
Nearly outwitting myself once,
I slept too close to the river—
jumped in with the bread sacks
and grocery carts,
and floated dumbly
in the shallow stink.
Eventually I climbed out,
legs numb as cardboard,
my pockets filled with the sludge
of missing pets.
In dreams I hanged
myself from the sky
until my belt snapped
and I awakened,
alive with a bump
on the head.

Then, while staggering
along a road one day,
I found an old steak
knife in the gutter.
Unable to reach myself in time,
I drove the dirty blade
into my stomach,
counting the pop of layers—
the steel tip just kissing
the wet nose
of some friendly organ.

In the hospital they x-rayed,
pictured, committed me
to the fifth floor where lunatics
played Yahtzee and smelled
like couch cushions.
I had no horse.
No monstrous armor.
Not a penny.
I remembered that the sword
is the Samurai’s soul
and thought again
of my little bent knife
and how I’d lost it
not so long ago
in a fierce battle
with some woeful demon
whose name
escaped me,
high on a mountain of gods.

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

[download audio]


Martin Vest: “What an impossible bio to write. How has mental illness affected my poetry? The easier question for me to answer is, ‘How has poetry affected my mental illness?’ I’m still here.”

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September 14, 2017

Herman Asarnow


A few years later you had me take you
by hand through the neighborhood,
slowly, so you could squat to inspect
the johnny-jump-ups, soak your eyes
in the hedges of red azaleas, tilt your little torso,
then thrust your nose into rhododendron ruffles
and to the pepper in the dregs of the tulip’s cup.

Get to the bottom of things, the sacred beginnings
an indelible inscription I’d have passed on to you
had I never picked up a pen or sat like this
before a screen, trying to illuminate what we share,
hoping to say something you can carry along
as you prepare your first leave-taking,
having grown past us like the spindly red maple

we planted at your birth that’s now shot by
our bedroom window, quick as its May-green
leaves fluttered by the new century’s vernal wind.
I ride its fragrance back: your first night home
we waited for your cry in the blue-black hours.
It filled the dark when I shuffled wide-eyed
across the creaking floor to your crib,

when I lifted you to the new changing table,
leaned over you—your lips red petals parted
in a wail, your mouth an open cup of the loudest flower—
when I followed directions inscribed in us long before
we would ever think to do such things
and thrust my nose into its corolla,
breathed in your still celestial breath.

from Rattle #19, Summer 2003


Herman Asarnow: “I write because want is most real to me. Desire and lack set off the synapse’s snap, the endless migration of birds.” (book)

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September 13, 2017

Jill Talbot


Should I feel shame crossing off
the Caucasian box? White is the least 
honest color of all—I am not white—
I am shame. I am ashamed of
this box, this paint-by-numbers
diversity quiz. I could be a dyke?
Where’s the box for dead mother?
Where’s the box for adoption?

Identity confused: please call
Governor for report—where’s
the box for junkie—for warrior
gene? For should have been aborted?
Where’s the box for mentally unfit?
Where’s the box for asexual 
wannabe? Where’s the space 

for the time I got stitches and thought
it was the best thing that ever happened
to me—I was twelve. Stitches were
my identity. How they kept the white
out. Oozing red onto a dishcloth.

I thought I found God. 
She was white like me. 
I was twelve. 
I was twelve.
I was twelve.

I got a McFlurry 
with all of the flavors.
Just like my mother. 
White like me.
Dead like me.

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

[download audio]


Jill Talbot: “I actually debated whether or not to submit here. There is no doubt about whether or not I have been diagnosed with mental illness—in fact, with several. Mood disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, substance use disorders … I have altered between conforming and fighting against labels. I would rather be called mad than ill. I refuse to believe that my personality is sick—but I believe I am strange, am odd, am mad as a mad hatter. I can submit because I no longer fight labels. If anyone has a borderline personality, I do. But writing has taught me that my eccentricities are something to be valued. Because of the high correlation between creativity and mental illness, I believe it is a sign that we should start rethinking illness, as we have done with sexual identities. From illness to simply different—unique—equally valid. I just want to be valid. This desire is at the root of much of my writing—to just be valid like anyone else. Sometimes this is covered with a bunch of other shit, but at the root, always the desire to be valid—to undo some of the traumas of my past—to have an Axis II label of: okay. Maybe okay people don’t get hospitalized in psych wards, but maybe the world is mad, and some of us are more sensitive to it than others. Some of us need poetry more than others.” (twitter)

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