October 20, 2017

Steve Abbott


I’d never heard of a fire tornado until a late-summer newscast
explained how large dust devils mix with brush fires to create
a column of flame, and I thought of Israelites leaving Egypt.  
My wife looked up. Said, “That would make a good poem.”

This week, same story. Not the newscast, but once again
a family member or friend suggests a casual remark
on some fragment of living would “make a good poem.” 
Surprising new fact or everyday irony? That, too, they say.

Most of them are normal people, largely immune to poetry
except as a courtesy to me. But I still admire their reaching
to connect with what words can do. How they keep me out of
mischief, those flaming emails and irate letters to the editor.

It’s not that I want to ignore or dismiss the good intentions
of those who identify my vocation with the small things in
life, moving through our brief time together like field scouts
for the Muse, scouring the blue highways of America for

a promising quarterback to move this art down the field.
So much depends, after all, on our noticing what Neruda saw,
what Williams made remarkable in remarking on it—lemons
and forks and salt shakers, the nail in a woman’s shoe,

brown paper almost human in its tumbling down the street.  
I suppose I should be grateful, and appreciate how brief 
nods of others acknowledge and encourage this work, in that
awareness blessing themselves more than me or anything

as weightless as a poem. How strings of words can reveal
a mosaic’s host of fragments, bright shards that spark a return
to the everyday and find there reassurance in how small pieces
support the great weight of the world. That, too, a poem.

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

[download audio]


Steve Abbott: “The Rust Belt encompasses, depending on how you look at it, the northernmost Southern states or the easternmost Plains states. Right now, particularly in Ohio where I’ve lived my life, it’s a swath of nostalgia, resentment, and disorientation polluted by political opportunism and corporate venality. Some see the struggle here as rural vs. urban, but it’s actually conflict between those who want to keep living with people just like themselves and those who are accustomed or open to interacting with people of different races, cultures, religions, ideas, and appearances. The proximity of the two groups provides a high-resolution lens a poet can use to view contemporary American life—sometimes appalling, sometimes inspiring, but always deeply human.”

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October 19, 2017

Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2017: Artist’s Choice


Agnes Was Here by Jody Kennedy

Image: “Agnes Was Here” by Jody Kennedy. “Saved or Spared” was written by Devon Balwit for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2017, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Devon Balwit


No meek Agnos dei those
Catholic girls, plaid-skirted

and ready to fight as we huddled
on their turf awaiting the bus

that would ferry us across town
to our school. Above our heads,

in a shatter of stained glass,
hung our poor relative, their

Christ, as trapped as we,
all of us inheriting our stories,

red-letter, calfskin, skinned
knuckles, the slam of a shot-

glass, the kick of a shotgun.
Still womb-wet, we found ourselves

on hostile ground, did our best
to identify the threat, then stood

shoulder to shoulder with those
closest at hand. Befuddled,

we aped furious, anything to stay
behind the punch. We envied

their uniforms, they, our freedom,
neither able to state our creeds

to save our lives. Each day when
the airbrakes hissed, and the doors

swung open, we sighed, unsure
if we’d been saved or merely spared.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2017, Artist’s Choice

[download audio]


Comment from the artist, Jody Kennedy, on this selection: “I really appreciated all of the poems I read (thank you poets), but in the end this writer’s interpretation of the image won me over. It was one of several poems with, surprisingly, a Catholic theme, which I loved. There is a beautiful back and forth tension and in the end we aren’t quite sure, as the title implies, ‘if we’d been saved or merely spared.’”

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October 18, 2017

Francis Santana


Dear bor/der patrol officer,
you chased me into the
broi/ling land/scape. Fear
dro/ve me like the low

winds of a storm. I got
away with the uncla/imed
dust. I want to ap/ologize
for not gi/ving us a chance

to sit under the acacia
black/brush and talk about
what it means to be on the
inside of a line that mo/ves

like a fat belly. I wonder
what kind of wis/dom is
co/di/fied in/si/de your
han/dbook. Is there a

cata/log of lost ton/gues?
Are tribes tracked by the
displaced mile? Is there a
bla/ck/list for boys who

disregard space? But never
mind all this, I’m wri/ting
to see if we can find a way
to cha/ng/e the sa/me

old sto/ry. Let’s sit. We
have grown in/si/de each
other like the wood/worm.
But our daught/ers, th/ey

jump rope in the same
bac/ky/ard. Pe/rhaps, they
hold the key to what we
a/r/e. P/e/rh/ap/s, th/e/y

mean amplitude the way
we mean f/ence. I have to
go now, shou/ld start
picking all the ripe oranges.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017

[download audio]


Francis Santana: “When I was ten years old, I found Pablo Neruda gathering dust on a bookshelf—that’s when poetry became the only language I could speak to my first love. When that first love looked away I wrote to myself about solitude. When in that solitude I began to see my sisters and my brothers being carted away around me, I had to come out and speak up, to write beyond myself. I do get lost sometimes, mostly in the type of anger that supersedes tact and drowns the tenderness required to mend bullet holes. And the truth is I want to give up more often than not, but to hang back is not an option. I write to be heard, to keep away from extinction.” (twitter)

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October 17, 2017

Perie Longo


His illness had taken our lives
like one of those alligators in the living room
I read about in books exploring why your life
is so fucked-up. I’m not sure I can use the word
fuck in a poem and still be allowed
to be a member of the Poetry Society of America,
even though it sounds accurate. Moreover, my mother
who was a Daughter of the American Revolution,
might come back and disown me, she who made it clear
in my upbringing we were special
and never used such common language.

One day when I had matured enough to ask
what this relative did in the revolution, instead
of storming out with oh not that again,
she said with her head held high, though a little sheepish,
that he carried a lantern. That I could appreciate,
a great-great-great something-or-other who lit the way
so soldiers wouldn’t stumble all over themselves
but fall neatly to the side should they pass out
or even die.

So that’s what I came to do, cancer or not,
told the family this was the only life we had and together
we better find a way to fight even beyond seeing
the whites of their eyes, or for that matter
those common white cells.
And when it became the darkest, I lit
the kerosene lamp on the mantle with a sense of purpose
and paraded through the house in my sheepskin slippers
shouting, All is well.         All is well.

from Rattle #12, Winter 1999

[download audio]


Perie Longo: “A friend recently sent me a card of a woman jumping in the air at the sight of a mountain range, with the saying, ‘Life is too short to take seriously.’ I’m trying to laugh at myself a little more often, especially in unguarded moments, and trying, too, to capture those times in poetry.” (website)

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October 16, 2017

Ron Riekki


When I taught in prison, I told the prisoners
that if they murder someone on the page,
they can win an award, but if you murder

someone in real life, you’ll end up back
here in prison. One of the guys raised

his hand and said, What if you kill the person
who gives you the award? The class liked that.

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017

[download audio]


Ron Riekki: “Working in the military and in prisons has been, not always, but at times, to be honest, one of the most brutally negative experiences imaginable. In the horrors of those memories, I try to realize that comedy is one of the main things that can get you through hell, whether it’s a twelve-hour shift or a four-year presidency. Think of the onomatopoeia of ‘trump!’ being similar to ‘splat!’—the country tripping and landing on its nose. Even the Donald has a face and hair that is so clownish that when he posts his potentially war-inducing tweets, it’s pure post-millennial Dr. Strangelove. If I remember correctly, Robert McKee calls the mix of horror and comedy ‘delicious.’ It was wonderful to receive an email from the Rattle editors saying the poem ‘Just plain cracked us up.’ I’ll close with this eloquent tweet posted by Donald J. Trump on May 3, 2013, at 9:35 a.m.: ‘Amazing how the haters & losers keep tweeting the name F**kface Von Clownstick like they are so original & like no one else is doing it …’ I was cracking up myself just now retyping that. Ahhh, comedy. Hail to the thief.” (twitter)

Note: Audio read by M.C. Serch

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October 15, 2017

Dion O’Reilly


Jets are the new motor homes
chemtrails are the new clouds
the unknown dead on an island
are the calm before a storm
robots are the new immigrants
Roundup is the new hoe
Colbert is the new Cronkite
smoke is the new sky
drought is the new summer
cars are heart disease
dust is lawn
downtown is the new homeless
Amazon is the new mall
retired is the new nomad
needles are the new rusty nail
plastic is the new lead
viral is the new headline
posting is the new protest
the horizon of the western ocean
is the new ghost of Godzilla
the Cold War is the new Cold War
fire heading down a suburban street
is wind
anxiety is the new air
the Earth’s crust is the weak eggshell
of a songbird.

from Poets Respond
October 15, 2017

[download audio]


Dion O’Reilly: “There has been much in the news to cause anxiety this week: Trump’s assertion that his meeting with generals was the calm before a storm, the fires raging just a few hundred miles away from me in Sonoma and Mendocino County. Every alarming piece of news is part of a broader picture of a sea change– the eerie feeling we are being forced into a new and deadly normal.” (website)

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October 14, 2017

Alexa Rakow (grade 6)


When I was young I was a brook
I bubbled over everything
then became a fox and
ran the endless run.
I became invincible
then a blue jay,
a flower, rose to be exact
now am a wild goose
I flap my wings as softly
as the fog
I wonder
if I will become a shooting star
and have tea with him.

I wanted to talk with trees
and I became a deer.
Once when I was a giant I cried the tear
of loneliness and made the ocean.

I was Abraham Lincoln and gave
The Gettysburg Address.
I got bored and found lightning
was electricity. Benjamin Franklin
took all the credit.

I was Shakespeare’s inspiration
Picasso’s subject
the sky’s reflection in the water,
when I was young …

from Rattle #9, Summer 1998
Tribute to Children

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