November 19, 2017

Devi S. Laskar

THOUGH THE STARS WALK BACKWARD

after E.E. Cummings

People worry over it as if it were a heavy object,
Atlas carrying the world on his back, always
a black and white sketch of the yoked oxen
next to the definition in the illustrated dictionary—

Atlas carrying the world on his back, always
it is as big and small as you wish it to be,
next to the definition in the illustrated dictionary.
The roll of the years and the quick tick of the hours.

It is as big and small as you wish it to be:
a thin scratch where the skin is torn open,
the roll of the hours and the quick tick of the years
and at once a gash that scars, requiring stitches.

A thin scratch where the skin is torn open.
Carry it as if it were a dream, half-remembered,
and at once a gash that scars requiring stitches
silvery around the measures, sometimes sweet.

Carry it as if it were a dream, half-remembered,
carry it as if it were a song, auld lang syne
silvery around the measures, sometimes sweet—
your tongue tripping over the last line.

Carry it as if it were a song, auld lang syne,
carry it the way a tree would carry it,
your tongue tripping over the last line
all bark, all roots, all sticky gold sap.

Carry it the way a tree would carry it,
stooping to it but not breaking its boughs—
all bark, all roots, all sticky gold sap.
Carry it as if you had life expectancy

stooping to it but not breaking its boughs;
and freedom of an ocean breeze:
Carry it as if you had life expectancy
and a sunset to look forward to

and freedom of an ocean breeze.
A black and white sketch of the yoked oxen
and a sunset to look forward to.
People worship it as if it were a heavy object.

from Poets Respond
November 19, 2017

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Devi S. Laskar: “This is my response to a series of mass-killings, and the grief and the guilt for living while people so young were murdered.” (website)

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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

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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 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

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__________

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 5, 2017

Molly Fisk

VIOLENCE FRACTAL

First it’s locations you’ve never heard of, then far-away places
you haven’t been. Then countries you’ve traveled to, but not
that city, and not in a long time. Slowly, a tulip unfurling red petals,
it’s Paris, Rio, Toronto. And Florida, where your grandmother lived
and you flew for a visit, age 12. Frogs on the window screen croaking
all night. Las Vegas is just one state over. So far no one you know,
but now it’s people your friends can name: a daughter’s schoolmate’s
psychologist mother. This week a bike path, a Walmart in Denver
where Ellen still lives and your favorite niece, but no one we know
shops at Walmart, do they? Soon, though. It’s only a question of numbers
and luck. It will be someone you liked but lost touch with, a boyfriend,
a roommate. Then someone you love. And then you.

from Poets Respond
November 5, 2017

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Molly Fisk: “The violence has been increasing for years, but the NYC bike path car attack and the shootings outside Denver this week pushed me over the edge. I live in a small mountain town, but I can feel slaughter coming toward me. And it fascinates me to watch how humans fend off the truth “not me, not me,” which I don’t think we can help but do, even as we’re also trying to say, ‘Yes, it’s me, it’s us, we’re in this together, what the heck do we do!?’ I really don’t know anyone who shops at Walmart, but the line was meant to be ironic/American upper-middle class/clueless/white/etc., to continue the privilege and isolationism of the first lines, for effect.” (website)

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October 31, 2017

Jeff Whitney

THE BLESSING

Las Vegas Shooter’s Room in Mandalay Bay Hotel Blessed by Catholic Priest
—Newsweek headline, 10/25/17

Even the ants in the walls
are Catholic, on all knees
& hauling in their mouths
the dead home, rising
between floors toward
heaven. If there is wind
it is from the window-
less part of the room
where a hole ten butterflies wide
whistles the whole night
more silent. And a man
speaking for the living.
Isn’t this all we can do? Wait
for diamonds. Clutch someone’s
heart. In the desert a star
means luck. Some nights
after a bad beat or run
of jacks you might hear them
falling and believe you are hearing
the first word echoed back,
the blessing that says
tonight in this shining city
even the stars will drop.
Buckets of the rarest coin.

from Poets Respond
October 31, 2017

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Jeff Whitney: “This poem responds to a Newsweek headline that was published this week: ‘Las Vegas Shooter’s Room in Mandalay Bay Hotel Blessed by Catholic Priest.’ It was so difficult not to imagine the really quite unusual scene that must have taken place.” (website)

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October 29, 2017

Aaron Poochigian

MMXVII

1.

How late’s the age we live in? What I mean
is now, a Thursday in the Holocene,
wildfires are singeing Anaheim, and sea
levels are rising, and I can’t escape

the sense of living in a libertine
empire, the sense payback will wipe us clean
out of creation. Hey, you hearing me—
yeah you—my countryman, my fellow ape?

2.

Listen: on Sunday, when a brute wind gusted
through the trailer in my pal’s backyard,
a dirty window tumbled from its frame,
and I said ‘shit,’ went out and found it busted.
I slit a finger picking up a shard.
The stars and stripes is smashed like that. A shame—
all those shivers lying in the mud,
their edges threatening there will be blood.

3.

Our world is breaking down as squirrels play
in tall grass underneath a cottonwood.
As lizards easy in their creaturehood
sun on a stucco wall, I have to say

the world is breaking down, down, down for good.

If I could wrestle hope out of the way,
if I got past “You know, I really should
try doing something,” if I understood
time isn’t working toward a better day,

I would be beast-content and bask for good.

4.

Absent an eschatology,
bright birds are singing, We are one
with ourselves, the children of the sun,
while fluttering from tree to tree.

5.

Too much is broken, and there will be more
headlines for hopelessness to wallow in:
angrier hurricanes, American
disintegration into civil war.

Sure, we might want to flit away and sing
in private heavens sealed against the news,
but such escape is cheap—as cheap as booze.
What’s hard is to affirm the following:

Despite the bad times now and worse to come,
despite disaster and a crass regime
of lies and thugs, despite the national scam,
I will be conscious. I will not play dumb.
Eyes tracking everything I can redeem,
I will be right here; I will give a damn.

from Poets Respond
October 22, 2017

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__________

Aaron Poochigian: “This poem grew out recent news of California wildfires, hurricanes damaging Texas and Puerto Rico, and the whole political climate of the past year. The affirmative message at the end came out of nowhere—a blessing.”

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October 22, 2017

Emily Sernaker

NOW, WHEN I THINK ABOUT WOMEN

I think about Aziz Ansari’s Netflix special
where he asked the ladies in the crowd
how many had been followed—not cat-called—
actually followed down the street
by a man, many blocks, and how nearly
half of Madison Square Garden raised
their hands. I was home raising my hand,
thinking of moments in multiple cities,
how it was suddenly time to be scared.
Now, when I think about women,
I think about educated men who ask
if we secretly love being hollered at.
Don’t you kind of enjoy the attention?
Isn’t it flattering? It is 2017 and my best
friend says: a man in a car pulled up
beside me as I was bicycling, he was
jerking off to me, at me, I froze,
had to force myself to start pedaling
away. Last October, I consoled
my most enthusiastic canvassers: girls
who were chased and assaulted while
trying to get out the vote for the first
female president. Now, when
I think about women, I think about violence
and the threat of violence, how it’s like
an alarm inside going from zero to blaring.
The week I moved to New York
a girl my age went for a run.
People said it was her fault for dressing
that way, for taking that path. The article
said there was evidence of a struggle:
that before she died she bit her attacker
so hard her teeth cracked.

from Poets Respond
October 22, 2017

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Emily Sernaker: “This poem was written in solidarity with ‘Me, too’ and takes its cue from the Julia Alvarez poem ‘Now, When I Look at Women.’”

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