September 18, 2017

Mark Lee Webb

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T WEAR GLOVES

Trimming oleander along the back fence
might be easier than a few too many pills.
They’d say he forgot to wear gloves. Whatever
happens after that is none of my business.
Let my new wife handle the details:
sparklers maybe. Taquitos fried just right.
Hire a juggler—the man from Venice Beach
with a hand hanging from his elbow.
Invite vatos in Eldorados selling pulque
liquor brewed in milk bottles. Thursday:
a classified ad for the antique shaving stand
I stored in the shed. She always liked the back
left leg, how it wobbled. And the lacquer finish
(not original). It’s worth two-fifty but she’ll
take seventy-five. That’s why I married her.

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

[download audio]

__________

Mark Lee Webb: “I have experienced mental illness from both sides of the window: as an intern in a state mental hospital while in college, and with my own personal bipolar episodes and depression as an adult. If nothing else, this gives me a lot of material for my poetry! When I am depressed nothing works; words lie flat on the page. When I’m on my bipolar ‘A’ game, my writing is fluid and in touch with the universe. Somewhere in the middle are my best poems.”

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September 17, 2017

Devon Balwit

THAT FEELING

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

THE DAY I TRIED TO COMMIT SEPPUKU OR, HOW I LEARNED I AM NOT A SAMURAI

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

AT BOTTOM (MAY 1982)

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

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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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