February 28, 2024

Tim Seibles

ANTS

Sometimes you’ll see one
far from any yard, maybe 
on a bookshelf, Barnes 
& Noble—third floor 
of the mall—or somehow 
whipping across town 
with you in your car. 
 
There it is: stepping along 
the dusty dashboard
antennae askew, six tiny feet
marking a nearly straight line
pausing once    twice as if trying
to remember a missed turn
 
but without panic, though 
it’s probably hungry 
and a little pissed
and desperate for the lean 
chemical trail of its colony kin
 
who by now are a million
ant miles away, just beginning 
to notice that you-know-who 
hasn’t been seen for a while.  
Maybe their feelers twitch 
with grief or a little envy. 
 
Saw one today 
on the basketball court
and wished I could believe
what that ant believed
with those fancy sneaks
flashing all around.
 
Years ago, in Philadelphia—
Sharpnack Street: row houses
block after block, paint peeling
on the porches, one faded address
after another—I was looking
for Donna’s house.
 
She had the biggest afro 
in the city and a smile 
like a lead singer 
taking the mike: Donna Lee, 
the girl I called a “tackhead” 
back in 7th grade because 
no one had told me
what puberty could do.  
 
I must’ve had the street wrong
and soon found myself deep
in the turf held by The Clang,
tough guys mostly my age 
and always ready to move 
on a stranger, and I knew
 
those dudes didn’t know me. 
But I just kept walking 
while the dark flickered 
with the streetlights
starting to buzz and the city
like a black leather jacket.
 
I was sixteen, away 
from home with nobody 
bossing me around, lost
in a night that might have
gone on forever.
 
I felt that way again today 
wandering a neighborhood 
that should’ve been familiar 
but nothing is anymore:
 
not these pocked streets
and untrimmed hedges 
not my own busy head
tuning up every fear—
 
not even my country
though I was born here
almost 70 years ago, but what 
should I do? What can anybody 
 
actually do         but keep on walking.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Tim Seibles: “The way ant colonies are organized, the fact that they predate humanity by millions of years, and the everywhere-ness of these tiny beings has always fascinated me. This poem began when I noticed an ant on the fifth floor of my apartment complex; I still can’t figure out how it got there—maybe as a passenger on someone’s pants leg. I write poetry because life is both wondrous and poignant, and I feel compelled to celebrate what amazes me and to decry what wounds the world.” (web)

Rattle Logo

February 27, 2024

Anis Mojgani

CRADLE

Set the warriors to sea in a ship stacked with shields, layers of swords, mountains of gold. Lay them out with their wife. With their child. Lay them out with their livestock, with the whole farm. The rain is not coming here. Not today. For today the gods welcome one of their own back home. So set the hero out on the soft waves that will carry him to the other side of the pink ether where he will float on fire until the ash consumes him like the mighty warrior he once was and like the legend he will become. The flames will dance over his possessions, his goblets and arrows, his blankets, his paintings, his passions. The flames will dance across his flesh like the soft fingers of the soft lover he left, and as he sleeps this last sleep, the fires will eat him away, the heat will write his skin across the night sky to join the constellations that will guide the sailors at storm, the herders lost in the clouds, they will all come home by facing the direction his eyes are facing. The heavens are filled with smoke. This is history this is legend this is what we once were. Where the stories come from, what we are. When you fall in battle, they will take your body with the life you made in this world and set it off to sail behind you into the next, so that you will stay a king, remain forever the golden being you breathed as on this side of the mountain. When you pass, may your life follow you like a shadow into the light. When I go, bury me with nothing but my own skin. I spent far too many days trying to outrun this thing called mine, so if I set myself into your arms would you hold me like the earth, quietly? I am yours. Give me a field, give me a big sky. A mountain. Give me your mouth. I’m just looking for a quiet place that I could die inside of.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

__________

Anis Mojgani: “I have skinny arms and get cold easily. I have bad posture. I really like MF Doom. His rhymes are totally awesome to the max. I grew up in New Orleans. I have a BFA in comic books. Two months ago I watched my father try not to cry as he read about Baha’i martyrs dying in his home country of Iran. I wrote a poem about it. I like to write poems these days about people other than me. I like to write poems that illuminate the truths people hold in common. I like the myth of the poem, the ancient theater of its mythology. Right now I am writing a poetry book about a whale.” (web)

Rattle Logo

February 26, 2024

Jacob K. Robinson

THE POOL

Oh, right. About the boy from the sky
He fell, unexpectedly, feet first into the pool
Which is a silly thing to think
A boy with enough composure, while falling from a great height, to direct his feet earthward
I suppose it could mean he intended to land
To bend his knees on arrival
To cushion the impact
But could it also mean he was trying to create as little splash as possible?
To pencil his body through the earth, like water
To show his skill at making no waves, causing no tumult, no hubbub, no trauma
Maybe he was competing in a diving contest
Between four other boys and himself
And he simply wanted to win.
 
The other boys had competed finely
There were flips and jackknifes and a cannonball just to stir the pot
They had no judge but themselves, each other
A scale of zero to ten, though no one would give a zero
That would simply be too cruel
And a ten was out of the question
A score only given to the impossible, the unattainable
A target to aim for, knowing they could never hit it.
 
With each dive they had raised the stakes
They had upped the ante, so to speak
This didn’t imply that the following dive need be better
Just that it had to be more, different, else
The thinking was that one must never step back, regress, devalue the competition
One must always add add add
Lift the competition to new heights
And in so doing, lift each other
It was really about encouragement, was it not?
It was really about making each other better, stronger, more capable
It was really about tough love and hard won battle scars
It was really about elevation.
 
From way up in the sky, the pool looked like a target, an eye
It had lost its kidney bean shape
And morphed into a simple dot
A little crystalline blue pupil with an off-white iris made of concrete and pebbles
Surrounding that, a green green green sclera
That was the wide open land of rural Texas
That was the cow pastures and hay fields
Hay fields in the off season, wild grass spurting up from the untilled dirt
There was a house next to the eye, a long ranch home
One could imagine it as a nose but that was upsetting
Then one might expect there to be another eye, bookending the bridge of the nose-house
But there wasn’t.
There isn’t.
There couldn’t be.
And it would be a sad thing to think about a missing eye, a semi-lost vision
So the nose-house does not exist, it disappears from view at this height
Not by actuality but by actualization
This was not an eye of a pair of eyes
This was a kind of cyclops, a singular point from which the Up Above is viewed
The Up Above in which a boy could be seen
Falling, feet first, toward the target-eye.
 
The other boys continued their competition
The highest score to be achieved thus far, an 8
Which is to say, they were nearing the end.
The dive that had achieved the 8 was a half back flip twist maneuver
Hard to render completely, but that is the description the attempting boy used
A sort of half back flip twist, then, head first, arms in front, straight down like a needle
And he did it
He pierced the water with hardly a ripple, comparatively anyhow
In fact, the only reason he did not merit a 9 was that he had not made the full twist
His entry was achieved at—roughly—a 350-degree position from how he began
Which was with his back to the other boys
So, given the parameters of the dive he described, he should have entered the water facing away again
And he nearly did
But not quite
Thus, the 8.
 
From below, the feet of the boy from the sky looked like an equal sign
Spread just slightly apart, the smallest of gaps between them
He had considered keeping them pressed tight to one another
Ankle to ankle, as it were
But that had proved to be uncomfortable to hold
And he would be holding it for some time
So instead he opted for the more sustainable: slightly apart.
There was something to this strange stance he had positioned himself in
This kind of gentle at-ease
Say one was flying in an airplane and looked out the window and saw the boy
He would look like he was standing on air
What a sight.
 
The diving boys did not know about the boy from the sky until he was there
They knew him, of course
He was a friend of theirs
Or an acquaintance maybe
But they didn’t know that word then
So they used friend
They didn’t know he was taking part in their little competition
They didn’t know how badly he wanted to win
They didn’t know how long he had been planning this dive
All they knew was that he was suddenly there
Crashing
Feet first
Into their pool.
 
The water, that blue pupil, spilled out onto the iris of off-white concrete and pebble
All of it
The pupil space that remained became the color of bleached bone, empty
Its blue trickled away away away
Over the concrete and pebble
toward the green green green sclera
And then it seeped down into it
And was gone
The boy from the sky was the new vision
The diving boys were seeing.
 
Cracks began
To form
In the pupil
As if the boy from the sky
Kept wanting
To go down
 
It was aging
Everything was aging
At a pace
Unexpected
Drying out
Unused
 
The green green green
Is now brown brown brown
And the nose-house that never was
Is being sold
The memories contained in the pupil waters
Now somewhere else
Scattered on impact
 
The pool
Will be demolished
Filled in
And maybe become a garden
Or a garage
 
The four diving boys
Will eventually forget the boy from the sky
Or no
Not forget
Simply not remember
Not every day anyway
But occasionally they will recall
The dive that was an 8
They will laugh about how close it was to a 9
And
Then
Oh right.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Jacob K. Robinson: “At the end of the day, I think I’d like to be summed up like so: I am Texan by birth, a Georgian by blood, and a New Yorker by choice. I like a good pair of Levi’s, mowing the lawn, and playoff baseball. I am doing my best.” (web)

Rattle Logo

February 25, 2024

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

TWO YEARS LATER.

The last thing I want is another poem
about war and dead children and how
we’ve forgotten their names.
My children are learning to count: bones
 
and wars and dead children and how
many days are left, Now? they ask, now?
My children are learning to count bones—
twenty-seven in the hand, twenty-two in the skull.
 
Many days are left now. They ask, now?
The last thing I want is to imagine them dead,
twenty-seven, twenty-two, their hands, their skulls.
I keep counting to make sure they’re all there.
 
The last thing I want is to imagine the dead
we’ve forgotten. Their names,
I keep counting to make sure. They’re all there.
The last thing I want is another poem.
 

from Poets Respond
February 25, 2024

__________

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach: “I’m at a loss for words for the continued violence against Ukraine, my birthplace. And yet, I keep finding more insufficient ones. I keep turning to form to provide some semblance of order amid atrocity that resists sense or comprehension. War analysts thought Kyiv would fall in two days, but February 24th marked two years. Two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion and still, Ukraine remains standing. Two years of fight, resistance, and endurance. If you are able, please consider contributing to an aid organization that helps those who are in Ukraine and refugees trying to flee. I recommend Ukraine TrustChain. An all volunteer-run nonprofit started by Ukrainian immigrants in the U.S., they work with local volunteers on the ground, going directly into areas hard to reach by larger international organizations. TrustChain provides urgent food, medical supplies, and transportation to safer regions. Poetry is often criticized for making nothing happen in the real world, but poetry has raised thousands of dollars for Ukraine. You reading this poem and asking questions about the global violence that continues is the beginning of action.” (web)

Rattle Logo

February 24, 2024

Steven M. Smith

MONOPOLY

My son’s the sticky-fingered banker—
a vault of red licorice squeaks
in his mouth. He conducts business
from his wooden chair on his knees,
puffing on a fresh piece of licorice,
clutching his stack of $500 bills
as if the IRS is coming for his
fortune with a giant vacuum cleaner.
I’m responsible for the deeds.
I have the few remaining ones fanned
out like a questionable poker hand
on the dining room table.
I toss a handful of M&M’s—
such sweet analgesics—in my mouth
and wash them down with Kool-Aid.
Of course, my son’s got the car.
And I got the boot.
He’s got hotels like red parasites
from Pacific Avenue to Boardwalk.
And he controls the railroads too.
Landing on Luxury Tax would be
the answer to my prayers.
I just want to go to jail,
not pass Go and stay there;
the jail house shower is safer!
Well, I’ve mortgaged everything,
except my hotels on Cockroach Corner—
Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues.
I’m on Marvin Gardens, and it’s my
turn to toss those little evil
squares speckled with black holes.
I land on Chance, and I start to wipe
the sweat of bankruptcy from my face,
but then my son hears me whimper:
“Advance token to Boardwalk.”

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006
Tribute to the Best of Rattle

__________

Steven M. Smith: “I know that my students are not likely to remember the titles of the poems I bring to the class, but I trust that by bringing passion to my students, they will know it’s possible, and go out to find something in their lives to be passionate about. I know this is possible through poetry.”

Rattle Logo

February 23, 2024

Amy Miller

UMBRELLA

Someone said Watch
the baby, so I watched her
sleep, small mouth with 
a bubble at the edge. Hands
 
like little double OKs. All
of human history pulsing
in the shallow vein
of her temple. A thin beige
 
umbrella over her head, 
raindrops exploding 
themselves against it, 
trying to touch her.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Amy Miller: “I am not a baby person. Grew up the youngest kid in my extended family, never liked babysitting, never had kids of my own. When somebody passes me a baby I freeze, holding this squirmy little creature. And yet … I was a school photographer’s assistant in my 20s, and found that I loved working with kids, especially the little ones who needed help blowing their noses and combing their eyebrows (that’s a thing in photography). It was actually one of the most thought-provoking jobs I ever had, although I constantly had the flu. Now when somebody hands me a baby, it’s still awkward but also sort of epic. Time and galaxies collide.” (web)

Rattle Logo

February 22, 2024

Desperado by G.J. Gillespie, abstract portrait of a cubist-like figure in blues and pinks

Image: “Desperado” by G.J. Gillespie. “Emergence” was written by Chris Kaiser for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2024, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

__________

Chris Kaiser

EMERGENCE

I remember you nude, descending
a staircase, the Times glued
to your hip. What was that four-letter
word beginning with “o”? Oh, I
 
remember your pentimento skin,
a collage of silent wounds that spoke
to my tongue in the pink moments
of dawn, your stitched body,
 
a patchwork quilt of stop-gap
bloodletting. But too often you
covered truth with hope: “Can I
escape the mechanized chime
 
of church bells that take their toll
on each dying day?” Oh, I wish I
had tasted the gasoline in your veins,
believed in the violence of hope,
 
drowned in the rich delta of tears.
Maybe I’d’ve risen like the salmon-pink
moon over the radius of your pain
and burrowed like a winter squirrel
 
into the geometry
of your sorrow and love.
 

from Ekphrastic Challenge
January 2024, Artist’s Choice

__________

Comment from the artist, G.J. Gillespie: “While some poems evoked violence or disease, which wasn’t my initial intention, ‘Emergence’ resonated with the deeper layers of existential perplexity in my artwork. The poem’s rich and sensual imagery, like ‘pentimento skin’ and ‘the rich delta of tears,’ captures the emotional complexity I aimed to portray. The allusion to ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ adds a layer of historical context and artistic dialogue. While other poems responded to the collaged nature of the artwork, none incorporated unique elements like the ‘geometry’ of sorrow and love, which beautifully reflects the fragmented yet interconnectedness of the figure. More importantly, the poem’s undercurrent of longing and the speaker’s desire to delve deeper into the subject’s pain mirror the sense of mystery and invitation I hoped to create in my viewers. It’s a poem that lingers in the mind and invites repeated exploration, much like my artwork.”

Rattle Logo