December 8, 2023

Brent Schaeffer


So we make carnitas for the family. 
Ten pounds of pork shoulder carved into chunks
big as clenched fists split between two crock pots
set to slow cook for hours. You can see how big 
your brain is, teacher says, but I don’t know. 
Fore-knuckles together, I have small hands. 
Your hands mix the oregano, black pepper, cayenne, 
cumin, cinnamon, and salt. We’re expecting our first.  
Glioblastoma is your brother’s diagnosis. 
Remember visiting Bryan in Oahu? We got coffee: cold brew 
with a lotus flower tidy in the latte top. We ate musubi
then bought aloha shirts and denim at a thrift shop—
all left behind now in his apartment with the big straw hat
and ukulele, his Kazakhstani soccer jersey.  
Today your mother digests she’ll outlive her son, the pressure
building in his skull cavity. Now six centimeters, 
the tumor constricts his spine. It’s almost time.
The carnitas break down to meat juice, amino acids 
and salts. A week from now at the rec center,
like a proud wife tucking in a tail, straightening a tie, 
your mother will arrange the lei on his photo, 
her hands slow in the sun-heavy light.
Yesterday the midwives said the baby was fifty centimeters.
Even your maternity jeans don’t fit. We’re accidentally 
pregnant: living in a liminal breadth 
between experience and experiencing, life—
and all its unacknowledged risks. Shake the toy globe. 
The big picture is hidden in the flurry of this:
carnitas, cumin, fenugreek, and the ginger tea 
you drink every night to settle the baby.
At the memorial, you will wear green like the light
in the leaves. A fractal of pastel, 
almost paschal: the hunks of dead meat, 
the guitar, the light, the singing.

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023


Brent Schaeffer: “Lying belly down on the grey rug after church one Sunday, I fell in love with the big words from comic books (uncanny, expatriate, macabre). On camping trips, I’d play with those words telling stories to thrill my friends. Autumn, decay, woodsmoke, hot cocoa: words are still my favorite toys and poetry the best game.”

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December 7, 2023

Nancy Miller Gomez


They used books as weapons.
This is not a metaphor.
Because there were no blankets and they were cold,
the men in cell block L threw books
with intent to do bodily harm.
They rained down from above.
Rained down from the cells.
Guards shielded themselves
with dinner trays and mop buckets.
The men tossed entire libraries. A rage of books.
Lobbed in high arcs like footballs,
or pitched overhand like grenades.
Hardcovers shattered on cheekbones
or exploded on the back of someone’s head.
Paperbacks spiraled down, loose pages fluttering.
Thin ones skipped across the shiny tile like stones on water.
There was mayhem. There was blood.
Words littered the floor. Guards ran for their lives.
The men had spent years collecting—
biographies, mysteries, histories, science fiction,
even poetry books, their spines fine and reedy,
or thick with free verse.
One man threw his grandmother’s leather Bible.
Inside the front cover in elegant script
she’d noted the date and time of his birth.
Now it lay face down, back broken.
Another man hurled his family album.
It fell from the third floor, the photos scattering
on impact. His wife, his son, his daughter
smiled up from the chaos.

from Punishment
Rattle Chapbook Series Selection


Nancy Miller Gomez: “Poetry helps me to make emotional sense of my life. Each poem is a struggle to clarify something I don’t yet understand.” (web)

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December 6, 2023

Shannon Connor Winward


after “Reupholstering a Chair” by Jenn Givhan

This used to be the tallest living thing
in the house without legs. What happened?
You can’t remember if it was over-water
under-light, death-by-cat—just that
you read somewhere the limbs, sleek and stiff, once 
damaged, would never recover. Best to amputate, make room
for the new. Your scissoring left only two fingers 
poking out, a desert of husks 
tiny and curled
on themselves as if flinching. You left them
by the sliding door—full afternoon sun—and you stayed
your lust, your watering can. You trusted
time would do its work. But then you touched one
and it broke. You watch the other, now
worried it too is illusion
that beneath that dry earth lies the loss
of the plant entirely, its leaves, majestic, green
as serpents rising to the ghost of a charm 
that you no longer possess. 

Prompt: “When my children were young, when I was tired and sick all the time and struggling to write, I felt Jennifer Givhan’s ‘Reupholsteringa Chair’ like an unvoiced scream. I tried to learn from what Givhan does with space, and the brutality of lines like ‘Your love will no longer / unclog drains or screw in light bulbs / or replace the hydrangeas you’ve suffered / death in the tiny plot you vowed to protect.’ I challenged myself to start with an ‘after’ to echo those invocations—the quiet desperation of trying to patch together chaos with a staple-gun—but from my own lived experience. That cutting voice of self-doubt became my inadvertent murder of the thing I was trying to save in the poem, and over time the scissoring of couplets became the undulating lines of that long-suffering plant that may or may not be dead in the corner of my kitchen.”

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023
Tribute to Prompt Poems


Shannon Connor Winward: “My creative process is a cycle of productive highs and lingering lows. Over a lifetime, I’ve learned ways to navigate a dry spell, such as the use of prompts to encourage words to start flowing again. When I am struggling to find my own voice, it often helps to engage with the voices of poets I admire. I might start with a poem that speaks to whatever it is I feel unable to say, looking closely not just at what the poet says, but how, and also what they leave out.”

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December 5, 2023

J.B. Penname


after Jamaica Baldwin

Whose bright idea was it to start tearing
out pages of poetry and wadding them up
to plug our wounds? The poems I like don’t
even come when you call them. As though
they’ve forgotten their masters, lost the sound
of their own names. They bear no antiseptics,
cannot cauterize you clean, but the way they
lick themselves is still good for a laugh. Is that
what I aspire to? Five years ago I nicked my finger
slicing a carrot. Five years and I can’t even watch my
father carve a turkey without getting second-hand
please-don’t-lose-your-goddamn-fingers syndrome.
But sure, when he’s done I can sit at the counter. In the
quiet of the kitchen, I can eat the turkey. Man what a turkey.

from Prompt Poem of the Month
November 2023


Prompt: Write a sonnet with the title “The End of _____ Is Not _____” after Jamaica Baldwin’s American sonnet, “The End of Sorrow Is Not Happiness.”

Note from the series editor, Katie Dozier: “As someone that has been plugging my wounds with poetry since childhood, I found the humor in J. B. Pename’s poem as refreshing as it is powerful. These fourteen lines have caused me to redefine what it is to heal. Man what a poem!”

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December 4, 2023

Paulette A. Pashibin


we have no need to know if we are loved 
or that love exists. 
No worry whether sky is blue or gray
or even sky.
We float in a darkened drum
tethered to echoes
No need of need 
nor dream of self.

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023


Paulette A. Pashibin: “I fell in love with poetry sometime between reading Noyes’ ‘The Highwayman’ and watching a televised Air Force recruitment ad that featured Magee’s ‘High Flight.’ I was young, bookish, and quite melancholy. I spent as much time at my grandmother’s as I could get away with and ‘High Flight’ always aired during the Fulton J. Sheen show, so it became the first poem I memorized. The internet makes it easy for me to read poetry every day, but I’m an undisciplined writer. Sometimes I toss words in my head for weeks before putting them to paper; other times they spill over the keyboard in a fever. Writing poems—no matter how they turn out—allows me still to ‘slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the skies.’ Like magic.”

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December 3, 2023

Dante Di Stefano


I wonder about the future poems
I will read, generated by AI,
the imperceptibly pixelated
tulips pushing through the rich soil in them,
the deepfake MFA bios attached
to them like deflated orange balloons,
the shining metaphors crowing from them
as I open the App of my eyelids
and scroll lithely from stanza to stanza.
I wonder if I’ll be able to notice
in their red wheelbarrows full of roses,
how a chatbot has damasked every stem.
I found the poem I’m writing now, tucked
in the galley of a tiny schooner
circumnavigating the four chambers
of my heart. It was wedged under a cask
of lime juice. It was written in the scrawl
of a mad captain hellbent on shipwreck
or treasure or unspecified glory.
It was found, it was wedged, it was written
to explain a flower growing in me,
a blue bonnet sprouting from my boot print,
gently stretching skyward to touch the stars,
but like all poems we humans fashion
from want and need and yes and must and what,
it ended up saying something else beyond
the arc of unsaying, something fevered
and cut, rizzed up against the scurvy dark.

from Poets Respond
December 3, 2023


Dante Di Stefano: “Often lately, I have been teaching and reading and thinking about generative AI. Despite all I’ve read about Sam Altman, ChatGPT, etc., it’s hard for me to imagine how this technology will transform our world. Reading the article about Meriam-Webster’s word of the year further confirmed how enmeshed we are in this transformation already. Authenticity is a fraught term in poetry anyway, so I think this poem wandered into some of the fraughtness and complexity that comes with the terrain of lyric saying. For me this is less a poem about AI than it is a poem about the ancient technology of poetic utterance in all its mystery. The word rizz that I use at the end of the poem is an internet neologism added to Meriam-Webster this year, meaning ‘romantic charm or appeal.’” (web)

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December 2, 2023

Megan Sexton


“The steady evolution of the language seems to favor union—two words eventually become one usually after a period of hyphenation.”
—Strunk & White

I remember that brief period of hyphenation.
When separate cups held each of our toothbrushes,
and they bowed to one another honorably from across the vanity.
Now they nuzzle bristle to bristle, germ to germ, in the same cup
like so many words, each one suitable enough on its own—take bed’s
monosyllabic brevity and slide it next to chamber’s Old French spookiness
to make bedchamber and suddenly I’m thinking of swains and maidens and
European linens with extreme thread counts
and you and me, way beyond hyphenation, fused under the bedclothes.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013


Megan Sexton: “When Maira Kalman’s illustrated Elements of Style came out a few years ago, I was in ecstasy. One of the passages she chose to highlight led me to write ‘In Favor of Union’—I also was thinking about my friend Caroline’s comment from many years ago. She said that she knew that she and her boyfriend were going to last when she saw their underwear comingling on the hardwood floor. Writing poetry is so much fun; that’s one of the main reasons why I do it.”

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