May 24, 2022

Devon Balwit

DONKEY AT THE MET

It’s quite a coup to be a donkey at the Met:
you, showily costumed for your brief part,
arias in front and behind as close as you get
 
to fame, to sending a bray to the upper deck.
You drink in the lights as you pull your smart cart.
It’s quite a coup to be a donkey at the Met.
 
When the wings approach, you feel regret—
who wouldn’t, scratching just the surface of art,
arias in front and behind as close as you get.
 
As you add to the atmosphere, you try not to fret—
All life belongs to the same beating heart.
It’s quite a coup to be a donkey at the Met:
 
Most only labor—no museums or ballet—
their hides ignorant of melodies that pierce like darts,
arias lifting and swelling the closer they get,
 
the ensemble on the balcony, the lover’s duet,
the crowd joined in passion before coming apart—
It’s quite a coup to be a donkey at the Met,
to witness the arias from as close as one gets.
 

from Poets Respond
May 24, 2022

__________

Devon Balwit: “Amidst the continuing war, the threat to reproductive rights, ugly elections, and racially motivated shootings, perhaps a poem like this seems trivial—still—this story spoke to me and made me think of my own walk-on part on life’s great stage.” (web)

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May 23, 2022

Betsy Fogelman Tighe

ALPHABETS ARE LIKE COWS IN SUNLIGHT

Always standing. You won’t see the letters lie down.
Not when there are words to spell! And children to line up
for learning. Splinter. Alphabet upright.
Syrup. Still up. Sanctimonious. Okay, alphabet does drop 
to one knee, but won’t put its face in the grass,
won’t chew its cud an hour or more before
mooing off for a sip of clean water.
 
Alphabet does like to huddle
raising its eyes to the sky to spot from whence it was spit
the ahs and soughs of them, the plosives & fricatives & dipthongs.
The letters are making the milk of pretty, the marrow of vitamin D 
that will build the bones and the A that keeps the skin clear
as a washed blackboard.
 
Alphabet can be herded back to the barn and massaged
into double production, their heads tipped back, large eyes
wondering when you will leave them alone.
 
At night, perhaps, when the farmer has gone to bed,
the alphabet does take a chance on rest,
tipping over like a pitcher too full,
its untold words spooling into sleep.
 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tribute to Librarians

__________

Betsy Fogelman Tighe: “I’m in my 12th and final year as the teacher-librarian at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon, where, like all the area high school librarians, I have produced the school Poetry Slam each year. This year, my TAs proposed a charitable drive for the holidays, and, consequently, we teamed up with Street Books to gather books and reading glasses for the houseless. In the fall, after a freshman borrowed all of the Douglas Adams books, I recommended to him Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and J.D. Salinger, whose names the student assiduously recorded, a pinnacle of my career.”

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May 22, 2022

Gordon Taylor

THE ENTERTAINERS

Once, I was appointed alternate valedictorian
in case the main boy got sick. I was a scholar
of sex then—glossy men in magazines stacked
at the back of a tobacco store on Queen Street.
 
A guidance counselor scratched a penis onto
a chalkboard but never explained pleasure or
HIV or how silence equals death—sign bouncing
in a documentary we weren’t allowed to watch.
 
+
 
Today, another valedictorian stares, speechless
into a Florida crowd. He can’t say the word
gay and—you show me a stone leopard
in a book, poking through sand, memorial
to the Sacred Band of Thebes, pairs of male
lovers, elite warriors enlisted to defeat an army
of Macedonians. It was expected they’d fight
harder to defend ardent bonds. They were all
slain at Chaeronea: cameo concluded.
 
+
 
Once, my brother hated me, though
his smothering never succeeded. In my teenaged
bedroom, floor littered with books and socks,
magazines hidden in a box in the closet,
his hands circled my throat when he shared
a belief that the honor of loving someone
means his voice belongs to you.
 
You sound like a girl.
 
+
 
Today, My Best Friend’s Wedding whines on TV.
I gripe about queer sidekicks in Hollywood movies:
He has no arc. He speaks just to make the hero
laugh. My husband hisses, quiet, you’re ruining the film—
plus, you don’t need this rage anymore. Our clasped
fingers made of centuries of holding. Our legs braided,
a dialogue, on our sofa. His own brother, our best
man—but I still feel hands crushing my larynx.
 
+
 
Once, I ran up an ancient green hill but tripped,
dropping my spear, just here for you. You looked
back at me, protective but annoyed. We reached
a crowd of clanging and slicing at the top. I lost
sight for hours in a scrum of shields, and pink
cloaks, avoiding cuts, pretending to be dead,
beside your hushed head in the purpled grass.
 
+
 

from Poets Respond
May 22, 2022

__________

Gordon Taylor: “This is in response to the news story out of Florida, in which a gay youth was appointed valedictorian, but due to the ‘don’t say gay’ laws, cannot refer to his activism or gayness in his speech. For me it harkened back to the eighties when I was a closeted teenager trying to come out in the onset of the AIDS epidemic, when it seemed being quiet was the only way to ‘stay safe.’ Are we moving backward? Has anything changed?”

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May 21, 2022

Lola Haskins

THE FRUIT DETECTIVE

On the table, there are traces of orange blood. There is also a
straight mark, probably made by some kind of knife. The
detective suspects that by now the orange has been sectioned,
but there is always hope until you’re sure. He takes samples.
Valencia. This year’s crop. Dum-de-dum-dum.
          The detective puts out an APB. Someone with a grudge
against fruit. Suspect is armed and should be considered
dangerous. He cruises the orchards. Nothing turns up except a
few bruised individuals, probably died of falls.
A week passes. There are front page pictures of the orange.
          No one has seen it. They try putting up posters around town.
Still nothing. The detective’s phone rings. Yes, he says. And Yes,
thanks. I’ll be right over
. Another orange. This time they find
the peel. It was brutally torn and tossed in a wastebasket.
Probably never knew what hit it, says the detective, looking
sadly at the remains.
          There is a third killing and a fourth. People are keeping
their oranges indoors. There is fear about, that with oranges
off the streets the killer may turn to apples or bananas. The
detective needs a breakthrough. The phone rings. If you want
to know who killed the oranges, come to the phone booth at the
corner of 4th and Market
, says the voice.
          The detective hurries on his coat. When he gets to the
booth, the phone is already ringing. It is the egg. I did it, says
the egg, and I’ll do it again. The detective is not surprised. No
one else could have been so hard-boiled.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010
Tribute to Humor

__________

Lola Haskins: “As a kid I loved the way Jack Webb (whose hat I also loved) used to say ‘Just-the-facts-ma’am.’ I had a really good time writing this in that spirit. And I won’t regret eating the egg, not one bit; after all, he’s already hardboiled. I do, however, feel sorry for the oranges so I said a few kind words to the one I had for breakfast this morning. And, having suffered through my little ditty, I’m sure the reader will be relieved to know that my book coming out in June has nothing to do with fruit.” (web)

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May 20, 2022

David Kirby

MASS SHOOTINGS: A BIOGRAPHY

For most of history, multiple murders 
were an option for aristocrats: everyone 
else was too tired. Then people
moved to cities, got factory jobs,
had evenings and weekends off,
became more anxious: suddenly
they were living next to people
they didn’t know. In the early 1900s,
nervous disorders spiked as the spread
of information became faster and cheaper
and local stories became national news: 
if people were being killed in Spokane,
why not in your town? The long gun
became the Tommy gun became
the assault rifle, the technology 
speeding faster than our ability 
to fathom it. When Admiral Parry
sailed for the Arctic Circle,
his men carried food in tin cans, 
an invention so new that there were 
as yet no can openers.
 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022

__________

David Kirby: “There are daily killings in our country for many reasons, but the dozen or more mass shootings (generally defined as involving four or more victims) over a weekend that inspired this poem stem largely from a growth in firearm availability that is only partially understood by experts, largely opposed by the American public, and seemingly unstoppable.” (web)

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May 19, 2022

Truck Stop Shell by Greg Clary, photo of a closed and abandoned Shell gas station

Image: “Truck Stop Shell” by Greg Clary. “The Next Time” was written by Byron Hoot for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, April 2022, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

__________

Byron Hoot

THE NEXT TIME

They gather when they hear LaRue’s horn
on 80 sound. Rose smiles, starts thinking
of what she’s going to say when he says,
“What’s new with you?” The ghosts come
one by one, two by two. They know that horn,
they know the whine of that truck, they know
what’s left behind. Enter the Iron Kettle
Restaurant at The American Plaza truck stop.
They take their places at the counter; Cokes
and coffee and cigarettes and the smell
of the grill and soft conversation
and sudden laughter and softer sighs mix
with all of them looking for LaRue’s truck
to pull in. They talk as if they’re living, as though
yesterday was yesterday and tomorrow is tomorrow.
Jim says, “It was real.” Steve replies, “It was a dream.”
An old argument to which Reverend Smith decides—
“It was both.” They all look outside: the empty pumps,
the wind-damaged signs, the cracked concrete, no
trucks, no cars, no people. Rose says “He’s not
coming” like saying the Rosary. First light is breaking,
they get up slowly and leave, mumbling, “Maybe next time.”

from Ekphrastic Challenge
April 2022, Artist’s Choice

__________

Comment from the artist, Greg Clary: “The story of ghosts gathering each evening in hopes of seeing their old trucker friend was imaginative and compelling. This is not a story of random travelers but that of a truck stop family whose nighttime vigil maintains and sustains their relationship. The scene and characters inside the Iron Kettle are vividly described and quite relatable to any traveler who has sought out a familiar roadside respite. The once vibrant, but now deserted truck stop’s impact on these likable spirits is melancholy. Yet, even as another dawn breaks without the return of their lost friend, LaRue, hope prevails—‘Maybe next time.’”

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May 18, 2022

Catherine St. Denis

LUCKY ONES

I. 
 
I was 17 when my father said, You are like her
and handed me a biography of Sylvia Plath. 
Yes, she and I had both pulled poems 
like deli tickets from between
our ribs, had both slouched at the counter 
of suicide and ordered up our demises. 
Did Dad mean it as a consolation, this notion 
that artists are destined to suffer? That I would 
one day retire my heavy skull into a gas oven,
meninges bursting with unspent words?
 
At 18, I was bereft of gas ovens, but had a prescription 
for Carisoprodol with aspirin. The ER nurses 
defended the sanctity of life by licking their teeth 
and sneering at me. The psychiatrist knew his statistics, 
of course. I was female—less likely to succeed if I tried
again—so he filled my belly with charcoal syrup 
and sent me home on the city bus, deafened by tinnitus, 
sprinkled in broken capillaries, a madcap human cupcake 
in a butter-coloured, vomit-soaked shirt. 
 
How to survive when your brain is the worst
kind of liar? I tried. The designer tessellations 
of pharmaceuticals did nothing but tie thick knots
in my dreams; nights, I swam with manta rays, gave birth
to lifeless babies, clawed at my own voiceless throat 
while demons approached from behind. My illness 
was classified treatment-resistant after medication nine.
 
Counsellors fed me stones to try 
to weight me to the world, smooth, curved
morsels called strategies and insights. Only
over and over, I lifted off: shopping for rope 
at Canadian Tire, staring down from the highest bridge 
while the midnight current rippled by, a black banner 
promising relief. I graced the air with a spray of pennies 
as I drained myself into crimson, clot-filled bathwater, 
then wore lines of stitches like barbed ants marching 
shame into my palms. 
 
Adopted, I didn’t understand my place
in the watershed of my ancestry—our tiny helixes,
broken-runged. A great-uncle who buckled 
the house around himself like lamellar armour. 
A grandmother who could have salted 
a thousand codfish with her tears. 
Her son, my birth dad,
          a switchback.
Please believe, I didn’t know, I didn’t know
all this was so until after I had my own children.
 
 
II.
 
At first the light was gold, translucent
butterflies fanned their wings
at the corners of our eyes. 
Wise-faced, tiny-fisted, a shock
of dark hair, we gazed at each other
and the room slid away like velvet. 
 
The birth had been hard. She was turned
the wrong way. And every time I pushed,
I heard her heart slow on the monitor.
After, my midwives showed me the placenta,
umbilical cord attached loosely at the edge 
of the membrane, blood vessels 
branching unprotected from the centre—   
the easily-severed roots of a wind-torn tree. 
 
Twelve years later, we would be back
in this hospital, two floors down, in a room
where drawstrings, nail clippers, and belts
are banned, where children are not allowed
to speak with each other just in case 
despair is contagious. 
 
I did not gift my daughter 
a tragic biography, but sat
by her bed and fed her a river 
of stones—smooth, curved 
stories of ancestors, survival.
Tall, tall tales of luck.
 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tribute to Librarians

__________

Catherine St. Denis: “I am a teacher-librarian, and I often ask my students to make connections between the texts we read together and other texts, their lives, or the world at large. I have not yet written about libraries or librarianship, but here is my ‘text-to-text’ connection: A poem is a sort of library, filled with the guts of language, stacked with colorful layers of meaning, and always striving to enforce an absurd attempt at order amidst chaos.”

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