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


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)

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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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October 13, 2017

George Ovitt


That summer we shared a motorcycle
and a girlfriend and drank your pop’s 
booze and stayed out all night on the beach.

You had a mean streak and a bad temper—
you might still, wherever you are; nobody
liked your foul mouth or the way you sneered,

as if the world had done something awful, 
which it had, but not to you, not at sixteen.
Your brother was worse, Eddie the Creep, 

a cheap punk who spit on my father’s roses—
Christ, I thought my old man would kill him, 
but he was scared of Eddie, “that psycho.”

And your mother was a floozy, 
“cheap,” though she drove a Cadillac 
and wore high heels to the A&P;

you’ll remember when she kissed me
right on the mouth, stuck her tongue 
in my ear and her hand … forget it.

And your father, the judge, a crook, 
on the take, a fat man in seersucker
who swilled screwdrivers at breakfast,

and kept a lady friend installed at the 
Shore Motel, Room Six, top floor, too
close to the highway, remember? 

You’d fight with the judge over Mom, 
sticking up for your mother, loyalty
being your only virtue. Otherwise, 

I’m sorry to say it, you were a loser.
But on a day like today—hot and dusty—
a miserable day good for nothing at all,
it’s you I remember, and no one else. 

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017


George Ovitt: “Though I am today the most boring person in the world, way back in 1964, aged sixteen, I ran with a wild crowd of cut-purses, scalawags, and ne’er-do-wells. The leader of our gang was a reprehensible character who is now probably dead or in jail—or both. This summer I took some time off from writing boring poems to commemorate my shady past. The truth is, poetry, mine anyway, invites this kind of Walter Mitty daydream. Writing a poem, I give myself leave to remember, to revel in, what I’d never allow myself to think about otherwise.”

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October 12, 2017

Taylor Mali


Because men murder their wives every day;
because when a woman dies and it looks
like a tragic accident, a botched burglary
or even (in fact, especially) a suicide,
it too often turns out to have been her husband,
I wonder if, when the detective called
to tell me what had happened to Rebecca
(It seems your wife has taken her own life,
those were the words he used: seems
and taken her own life, not killed herself
or committed suicide instead, and nothing
more than seems even though she was dead);
I wonder if as I began to cry the tears I never cried
when first my father and then even my mother died;
I wonder if he was secretly taping my every word,
my breathing, the entire act of sorrow, for playback
at some future date just to see if I sounded
like an innocent man.

Because later, after the services;
after the shrine of flowers and candles disappeared
as suddenly as it had bloomed on the sidewalk;
after the medical examiner made her ruling
and I was allowed to break the tape that sealed
our apartment and walk in on her last night,
the scene of the crime, untouched except for the window
from which she had jumped, now closed,
but everything else—the small and final stones
of her ritual still lying in a cross on the floor,
goldfish floating dead in the fish tank;
even as I bagged and gave away her clothes,
invited friends to take what fit if they could,
to remember; I wonder if I still—or ever—
was considered a suspect in her murder.
Because I think sometimes I should have been.

I don’t mean that I was there or opened the window for her;
gathered her screaming in my arms and let her go,
but rather by the small, sad cloud that hung
over her and which rained stinging, black,
and bitter tears on her daughter-of-the-Holocaust head;
I knew that she would one day do this,
even—and I cannot stand myself for saying so—
even hoped she would in the same outrageous,
secret way you might hope a dog (like our dog,
the one she picked out herself
because he cowered in the back of his cage
as though he did not expect to be saved
from the shelter); in the very same way
you hope to god this dog will die
before you have to put him down.

from The Whetting Stone
2017 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

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Taylor Mali: “In both of the books of poetry I published after Rebecca’s death I tried to include a few poems about her. But they were always so unlike the rest of the manuscript that they couldn’t stay in. I’ve known for a decade that all my poems about Rebecca would need to be published in a collection by themselves. The Whetting Stone is that collection.” (website)

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October 11, 2017

Ron Koertge


Once my friend Rusty and I saw that movie, we couldn’t think of anything else. Sometimes we wanted to go to the moon in small space suits and surprise them. Other times we wanted to be Cat Women. The possibility of a new and feline gender made us queasy and excited. We fantasized about pouncing on our schoolyard tormentors and tearing their throats out with our claws and fangs. Then we would change back into boys with baseball gloves who were interested in Marilyn and Becky, pretty girls in our grade who wore fuzzy socks. But we weren’t just boys. We were Cat Women, too. We prowled on our way to school. We ate only fish sticks and drank only milk. We thought some day we would marry girls like Marilyn and Becky but never tell them that we, Rusty and I, dreamed the same dream every night: on the moon with our Cat Women friends: playing with a ball of yarn, grooming each other, watching for a rocket ship which we hoped would never come. 

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017


Ron Koertge: “I love movies and see about 50 a year. In theaters. DVDs and Netflix aren’t part of that 50. I see a lot that way, too. I’m always available for a poem, or at least that’s the idea. There’s a cool video rental place in South Pasadena called Videotheque. Big old place with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of DVDs. They also have a poster outside; it’s under glass like in an old-fashioned Orpheum or Rialto, and it changes every few weeks. One evening there was the poster for Cat Women. I could feel the warm breath of the muse, so I just stood there for a while. I thought about the poem a lot, stroked it in a way. Then pretty soon—presto: There it was.” (website)

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