June 4, 2023

Thomas Mixon


You can quit.
We can help.
Times are bad,
but what else
is new? You
clue us in,
with each breath,
to what more
we must do.
We failed you.
We want you
strong and full
of vim. Life
gasps, and veers
off the road
when you suck
in the smoke.
We suck, we
have let you
down, got you
hooked, raised tax
on your vice,
blew the dough
on false threats,
big flags, grabbed
land and now
stand with signs,
small, to stamp
on your grave
stones, your soot
sticks, your kind,
while you die.
Who was it
who said fate
is the same
as a hill
built by ants?
Was hope part
of the quote?
That’s one more
thing that goes,
your mind. Some
types of fumes
are wrong, some
less so. Firms
pay a fine
to shoot gas
way up high.
We must be
stern with you.
We gave you
goals you lit
with a match.
If you choose
to kiss flames,
we will boost
the font, words
so big no
one will see
your gaunt face,
your cheeks stuck
next to text.
We will taunt
you to raise
your mood. There
is no phrase
we won’t use.
Why waste time
and ask whose
fault this is?
We aimed too
high, grand schemes
that dropped out
of the sky,
like fire ants
at the peak
of a vent
that coughed, burst
from fixed screens
while the clock
tick tocked. Shame
is the last
chance we have.
Your charred lungs
are not clean.
We don’t aim
to be mean,
but it is
all the same.
If it works.

from Poets Respond
June 4, 2023


Thomas Mixon: “The title and first two lines of this poem come from the warnings that Canada will soon be printing not only on boxes, but on individual cigarettes. I lost a set a grandparents to Big Tobacco and am in favor of anything that can help people quit. But I don’t think anything could’ve made them stop. When I was in 3rd grade, I wrote that what I wanted most for Christmas was for everyone in the world to stop smoking, and if they didn’t I would make them. My younger self would have loved these warnings, but now it just makes me sad.” (web)

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June 3, 2023

Anne Swannell


Plums, heavy
in a copper bowl.

A copper bowl,
heavy with plums.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Tribute to Buddhist Poets


Anne Swannell: “I am a mosaicist with Zen Buddhist leanings. I become the plate and the china teapot I smash with a hammer. Then I put myself back together again in the form of a flower, of many flowers arranged in a vase and framed in square-cut tile.” (web)

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June 2, 2023

Josh Parish


Do you know what is never the right tool for the job?
Needle-nose pliers. Anytime I use needle-nose pliers
it is with hopeless resignation. I stare at a thing 
needing fixing, shake my head, and say, “I guess I could try 
needle-nose pliers.” I do not blame whoever invented them.
They look like a very good tool. Would you like to twist, pull, 
or push something small in a tight little space? Here is a tool 
where one end fits your palm and the other end grabs tiny things.
In the middle are even wire-cutters, should you need to cut wire 
or something similar. The truth is: Would you like to strip, shred, 
or otherwise destroy a thing, plus also pinch all hell out of that 
soft cushion of flesh at the base of your index finger? 
Then here. Here are the needle-nose pliers.

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023


Josh Parish: “For me, a good poem delivers the same feelings as other small, simple things that surprise you with their potency: ships in bottles, old music boxes, wool sweaters, hornet stings, well-practiced card tricks, 7-Layer Burritos, hangnails, etc. I write hoping to evoke similar feelings, occasion to occasion, in the reader.” (web)

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June 1, 2023

Carlos Cortez Koyokuikatl


Long ago, there was a vaquero
who rode alone on the plains
except for his horse,
and his herd of cattle.
He was hungry for a woman,
but there was no woman
for hundreds of miles.
While riding, he saw a tree
and chopped it down.
When he peeled the bark off
he saw the wood was a rich golden brown.
With his machete,
he carved the trunk into the form of a woman.
By the campfire that night,
he held the woman of wood in his lap.
With his left hand
he caressed her neck.
With his right hand
he played with her breasts and tummy.
The woman of wood moaned with pleasure
and began to sing.
With happiness in his heart, the vaquero sang along with her.
Each night by the light of the campfire
they sang, and that is how la guitarra was born.

from Rattle #12, Winter 1999
Tribute to Latino/Chicano Poets


Carlos Cortez Koyokuikatl: “Poetry is the oldest of the arts, outside the art of preparing food, without which there could be no other arts. For me, it is a way of communicating my indignation of the injustices that exist within our human society, particularly that of too many decisions being made by too few people.”

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May 31, 2023

Alicia Ostriker


How much human happiness can we stand?
I don’t know but don’t we all like to drive fast?
Exceeding the speed limit is a blast,
the cup runneth over running a light and
getting away with it; happy too is a leisurely drive
with public radio Bach on the first of May
along the tree-lined Hutchinson River Parkway
heading north, sun bright, elated not yet to arrive,
remembering the early cars, the first boyfriend
and his forest green Chevrolet, its new car smell
and his shaving lotion smell, parked on the hill
of glowing kisses that would never end,
remaining unconsumed since that first day
like the bush that beckoned Moses to its burning,
promising happiness, or at least promising
freedom, which is what all cars do, anyway.
So what do I feel, giving my Prius away
dear as it is, to my dear and handsome son
now that I am a city-dweller? One
feeling is loss, the other feeling: Hooray.
He’s manually skilled, he’s in good shape,
he’ll take it camping, climbing with his wife.
I wish them happy highways in this life;
I give away the car. Love’s what I keep.

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023


Alicia Ostriker: “I don’t usually write in traditional forms, but this poem somehow asked to be in quatrains. I also don’t usually write about happiness (who does?), so it made me happy that I could do that, and gather past, present, and future happinesses into a single poem, like a little distillation of joy. As Robert Frost says: ‘For once, then, something.’”

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May 30, 2023

Matthew Gavin Frank


painting by Corrado Cagli

I promised him I would not say
grasshopper, or superman. So

Fortune is this fish and this
flower, and neither are the body—

not some smart flat
of a knife. Not some

wondering about the stars.
The coming into the world

insectile, or some dumb gang
of coral, smacked with its first air—

I can’t look at a fish without thinking
how lucky they are to have

the ocean. How can they watch
the stars? It’s beautiful

what must be substitute,
their words for night,

the different way they
hold their fins.

How we come into
this thin tissue with a stroke

of fingertip over gill, the words
we have to explain, dumb

as the coral—wing to bird, fin
to fish, leaf to tree—is that

the best we can do?
Our heartbreak is last year’s

nest, the frozen lake, the yard
we forgot to rake. The lie

is that we’ll miss our families most.
Instead: the silver batteries

agitating the surface of the water,
the things we aren’t—some wild

mating we can only read about,
all strange biology and our hearts

that are a part of it, kept from us,
something else we’re not. We’re

made up of servants
without a lord, working to push us

toward cold water and
it’s beautiful, we’re science

and there is no substitute
for the stars. Not mother

or husband or daughter, but fish,
but finch, but fir.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009


Matthew Gavin Frank: “I’ve ran a tiny breakfast joint in Juneau, Alaska; worked the Barolo wine harvest in Italy’s Piedmont; sautéed hog snapper hung-over in Key West; designed multiple degustation menus for Julia Roberts’ private parties in Taos, New Mexico; served as a sommelier in Chicago; and authored a book of poems. Tonight, in the kitchen, I will combine blesbok venison with chocolate, jalapeño, espresso, and blood orange.” (web)

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May 29, 2023

Howard Nelson


What was it that gave me the discerning taste 
when I went into the record store in 1958, 
when I was twelve years old, an ordinary kid (white) 
in the suburbs, middle class, to buy the album 
Here’s Little Richard? It may have been 
the first of the big vinyl discs that became 
my record collection, which was for me for a while there 
(and in a way still is) something like the Bible 
is for religious people. What it really was was 
good fortune, and being young and ignorant, but interested, 
and being able to walk into the record store, 
in the riches of a moment of time. 
And there was Little Richard. 
His screams came out of gospel, 
though I didn’t know that at the time. 
I knew “Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” 
and “Long Tall Sally,” and I’m sure 
Little Richard’s piled high hair 
had something to do with it too.
Early on he crossed back over to gospel, 
but later he crossed back again. 
Many crossings and recrossings, ups and downs, 
comebacks and never-lefts, 
in his long career and life. 
Little Richard was not little—he was five feet ten.
His name was Richard Pennimen. 
Somehow he lived to be eighty-seven.
Even musicians thought of as the pioneers
were influenced in their pioneering
by what Little Richard had already done.
Elvis said he was his inspiration.
Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers,
recorded his songs. The first time he toured Europe, 
the opening act was The Beatles. 
He gave Paul McCartney singing lessons. 
If you want to remember him on his passing, 
I recommend watching the video of him doing “Lucille” in 1957.
He’s wearing a beautiful baggy white suit, it must have been linen,
and there are three saxophone players moving in sync behind him, 
two guitars, bass, and drummer, also in white suits, 
and Richard out front, with his tall pompadour,
standing-dancing at the piano, skinny mustache, blazing eyes. 
Nobody’s eyes opened wider than Little Richard’s. 
He had a purity, a beauty, a laughter and a fire. 
But you might also watch Otis Redding’s 
induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Otis, of course, was long gone, more 
than twenty years, but it was a good choice 
to have Little Richard do the honors. 
He had a gift for public speaking, 
as frenetic, and beautiful in its way, as his singing. 
He was no longer young that evening, 
but the energy and his spirit were still with him. 
“I’m still here—I still look decent,” he said, 
and he did, still with his mustache, now 
with a long mullet of lustrous curls.
Who better to sing selections 
from Otis’s songs? Just a few verses. 
And when Otis’s widow, Zelma,
came up to accept the award, Richard
put his arms around her, and held her. 
And when she had given her moving, tearful
two sentence speech, it was beautiful 
how he walked with her, how he escorted her, 
with great tenderness, from the stage.

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023


Howard Nelson: “I’ve been writing poems that are a kind of personal archeology—poems of memories from early years, which are also celebrations of cultural figures important to me, and important to the bigger flow of the historical moment I happened to drop into, being born when I was. So, Little Richard. One of the flamboyant greats. Other poems in this vein, to James Brown, Otis Redding, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Ronettes, and others, are in my book That Was Really Something.” (web)

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