February 25, 2018

Brian Wiora


A political poem is an egg with a Trojan horse inside it, is
the dead children with their hands stretched out, is the children
dying, is the sound that winter makes when it reaches the end
of snow, is the final cut of a postwar dream, is a dream I had
where all the children mocked me for my indifference, my living,
is cold, is crucified, is never a metaphor, is an AR-15
with a Trojan horse inside it, is how you woke me up and said
the children are over, is the smell of old blood, is my mother
forgetting the code to open the garage door, is a marionette
box-locked after its bewildering performance
at the St. Jude’s Children’s Theatre, is the way I wake up
to the news of another mass shooting, is another mass shooting,
is the children singing Ring Around the Rosie
without any knowledge of the plague, is the plague
of indifference, is a marionette inside a Trojan horse,
is Harry Nilsson spitting blood on the microphone to impress
John Lennon, is when Lennon said The Beatles were more
popular than Jesus Christ, is cold, is crucified, is when
my mother introduced me to The Beatles, is when
my mother forgot the code to the garage door,
is when you called me and left a strange voicemail
about space and time and what you need, what we owe
each other when one of us falls off the wagon again
and becomes the scotch and matches, is a dance club
in Orlando, a cinema in Colorado, a brother
fighting brother, is when snug guns go bang and blaze
the open pasture, is when the Soviets shot Tsar Alexander’s family
and the men died in their suits but the women survived
because their diamond embroidered dresses
blocked the bullets and the Soviets kept shooting but the women
wouldn’t die and they thought it was the elderhand of God
pushing away the bullets, is cold, is crucified,
is when we watched the documentary about the escape
of Anastasia and you said how sad and I asked
how sad was it, is dead children dying with their hands
shot off, is a weapon of mass destruction, is a lie,
is my mother with a tired snore so loud no matter
how many pillows I place over my head, is
our sick addiction to video games where one player shoots
and the other automatically respawns, is a closet
where Patty Hearst was kept alive until she became Tania
and fought for the Symbionese, is a child wondering why
the skies are blue when they should be happy,
is a father silently doubting our emotional response to blue,
is when a father says do as I say, not as I do,
is when Absolom’s father held his dying son in his arms
and said my son, my son, what has become of you,
is how winter folds over because it is cold, is crucified,
is Roy Harper’s only take on that fat cigar, is children dying
of secondhand smoke, is Syd Barret brushing his teeth
with a crazy diamond shining inside him, is an AR-15
without any regulation, is without you—the eye
of Annie Oakley’s apple, the Adam and Eve of it all
is the original gut shot, is the white of wide eyes,
is the martyr’s original endeavor, is Peter’s well-washed feet
by the cold hands of the soon to be crucified, is the service
where the pastor sends his thoughts and prayers to dead children
with their hands stretched out, is Clare Torrey’s scream
on the first side of Dark Side, is the false surprise
when I learn my mother has that incurable disease of aging,
is the marionette’s way of pretending he has limbs
with a gentle stretch, is when you said
you don’t need me anymore, is my clutch against the grain,
is my wave of sorrow do not drown me now, is the slush
that turns from frozen water, is my mother’s brain
with a Trojan horse inside it, is the children, the children,
is a God I need but cannot believe in.

from Poets Respond
February 25, 2018

[download audio]


Brian Wiora: “This is a poem inspired by the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.” (web)

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February 24, 2018

Elena Castro (age 15)


The first day I realized my father was a brave man,
was his first day as well. I watched his feet fumble,
stumbling over the stream of coffee he had spilt onto the floor.
The red-faced man snarled like a jackal, livid
over the dollar spent on the sole of his own shoe. My father
had just left home, just left the mother kneeling within her decor
of Jesus statues and flickering candles, pleading to the individual Jesus
responsible for her son’s safety. He left for a life
without the mud he had helped cake into the shape of a house,
without the dirt he called a kitchen floor. He took shelter
on the mats of a VW hatchback long abandoned in the parking lot.
The jackal led a pack of cops acting as hound dogs,
sniffing for the smell of contraband. His wet back
was soaked with sweat, rain beads lined the rear-view mirrors
as they did his windowed face. I got a peek of it, a glance
of his eyes curious about the world outside of their habitat.
I wanted to air out his enclosure, give him a taste
of what it’s like to be a free man, tastes of chalky asphalt
just inches from his reach but I knew he must stay hidden.
Exposing his sweaty skin to the fresh lick of nighttime
meant I would have to be the fearless one. I wanted to grab his hands,
rough with labor, and pull him away from his long game
of hide and seek, alert the hunting dogs to claim their prize.
I, too, am born a foreign tongue—like father, like daughter—
and see myself in him leaving behind my nascent life
so that he might return to the life of a happy man,
the life of a humble man. So that perhaps one day
my father would never again have to be a brave man.

from 2018 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Elena Castro: “Propagation is the term, often used in the context of succulents and cacti, which describes the growth of a daughter plant. It is also the term that describes the spreading of beliefs across regions. It describes the tireless effort of budding thoughts in a place where they may have never been seen before, in the event that their mother idea had to be propagated to a new area out of panic, out of fear of dying out. I write poetry with my mother plant in mind.”

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February 23, 2018

Lisa C. Krueger


I went through a phase where I lived for God; I gave up thoughts and actions. My will was divine in the way that youth ministers said it could be if you repeated Thy Will Be Done. In this phase, I attended prayer breakfasts where they served pancakes on paper plates. Maybe because it was six in the morning, they were the best pancakes I ever tasted. My parents were beside themselves with concern for my lack of intellectual investigation. I was pretty sure I had never been happier. I had my first boyfriend, an evangelical who always prayed after we made out. He backpacked a lot and convinced me to become a backpacker for God. We hiked with converts who knew how to sing and climb at the same time. I fell from grace on our best ascent. At a Sierra Nevada pass where the ledge was two feet wide and the drop was sixty, I remembered I was afraid of heights. I am alone after all! I said. My companions, who dreamed of becoming missionaries, looked at me with dismay and hiked on ahead. Even my boyfriend. Didn’t God say that? I thought, crawling the rest of the way on my hands and knees.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017


Lisa C. Krueger: “One of the deepest pleasures of writing for me is the mystery of creative acts: I never really know what will show up in a poem. This piece came to me one day when I was working very diligently on something very different. Above my writing desk is an Antonio Machado quote: ‘Walker, there is no path, you make the path as you walk.’” (web)

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February 22, 2018

Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2018: Artist’s Choice


Muse Laura Christensen

Image: “Muse” by Laura Christensen. “Half of Everything” was written by James Valvis for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2018, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


James Valvis


Half flooded by her advancing cancer,
my mother stands like a false Christ
who believes she can yet walk on water,
believes the pills she takes will be enough

to staunch the sea rising around her.
If she wears her finest dress and jabot,
if she keeps her hair combed and dry.
if she just stands still long enough,

hands folded, forever proper, civilized,
submerged table set for morning tea,
she can go on believing, as she has,
the world is only a fraction of what it is.

Already she’s turning back into the girl
who could not face my father’s alcoholism,
or her son’s sadness, or any deluge,
only clear skies and cumulus clouds.

If she ignores half of everything,
she thinks without ever thinking it,
her last half doesn’t need to go under
and she can find a way to fly home.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
January 2018, Artist’s Choice

[download audio]


Comment from the artist, Laura Christensen: “Before reading this poem, I had considered how water could represent a subconscious (amongst other things), but I had not quite imagined a place where one might place parts of reality they want, or need to ignore. Reading this poem, I am touched by the mother’s futile struggle for control. In my art, I contemplate a similar, but more general concept of quality and grace in the face of entropy.”

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February 21, 2018

Alan Jernigan


“People want specifics,” the cop said. We were standing in the middle of the park, staring at each other. “For example, they’re going to want to know about the bruises.” “What bruises?” I said, shuffling in my stance and trembling awkwardly. “These bruises,” said the cop, as he bludgeoned my arm with his nightstick. “They’re going to want to know who gave them to you, and they’re going to want to know why.” “But there’s no reason,” I cried. “You’re just doing this. What am I supposed to tell them?” “Just describe it,” said the cop, stomping on my feet with his military-grade moccasins. “Describe it all.” “I’m not going to want to talk about any of this,” I sobbed. The cop’s face lit up with a pleasant smile. “My name’s Officer Gordon Swift,” he said, “and it was not my intention to cause you any harm. I suddenly feel very protective of you. Come with me, son. I’m gonna take you to my lonely apartment, and you can get into my bed and nestle in the sheets and feel real cozy. How’s that sound?” “That sounds great!” I said, feeling happy and cared for. “Hey, my bruises are already gone!” “Yeah,” said the cop. “That’s because of magic.”

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017


Alan Jernigan: “You ever been in a department store, maybe wandering around Sporting Goods, and you get to a little clearance section, and amongst the items there’s a single metal detector on sale, or something like that, just some random object that means little to you but that nevertheless catches your eye. And suddenly you imagine someone else, another shopper desperately looking for an item like that, someone who gets excited just thinking about finding that metal detector. And for a second, you feel an odd dizziness, almost like you’re going to swoon, but you know you’re not, and it’s not a bad feeling. Just overwhelming. Because even though you might not know this other person’s motives, for a second there you just felt their emotion, their desire. It would be cool if a poem could invoke that vertigo of seeming to start to fall into someone else’s life, or someone else’s mind, or another form of logic, or a form of non-logic. I’m not sure if my poems do that, but I think that’s one type of feeling I tend to strive for.”

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February 20, 2018

Lara Bozabalian


Do you remember, Nancy,
when we sat in the Creole restaurant
and glanced up at the television to see students running
with their hands in the air and photographs
of two young men?
Their angular faces. Trench coats.
We didn’t understand what was happening,
our brains felt like mush, it wasn’t the wine,
it was like being in a foreign country,
on the street corner, at a hospital,
struggling to understand or be heard.

This morning, on the way to work,
the radio announced another shooting.
The commentator said it was the 8th this year,
and I stretched back to that dinner we shared,
huddled in our booth, mouthing gumbo
and blackened alligator, feeling safely exotic,
friends at the end of a university adventure,
so much left before us,
even the tragedies we didn’t know about
—fractured hearts, burials—
were still adventures to be experienced.

But never this,
we never ran from classrooms
with our hands in the air, shoulder to shoulder,
screaming or crying and trying not to slip in the blood.
We never had pop pop pop trigger-stitched into dreams,
saw how buildings could be transformed into cages,
that we then had to walk through for years,
pretend that algebra mattered in,
obey in, eat in, drive by, graduate from.

Annamaria didn’t even pause when she heard the news.
I have done that, surely, Nancy, through some of the last 25.
Because the number snuck up on me,
like a birthday you gazed at from the kids table (so many candles),
and couldn’t, even in your wildest dreams,
imagine reaching.

from Poets Respond
February 20, 2018

[download audio]


Lara Bozabalian: “This poem was written on the morning after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, dictated into my phone as I sat in my car outside the high school I teach in. It had occurred to me that, since the first fateful and incomprehensible Columbine shooting, we, the public, had actually learned to digest these events as news. It struck me as a tragic metaphor for schooling.” (web)

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February 19, 2018

Jamey Hecht


for B.B.H.

That woman you loved, the one you pine for,
she’s gone. It’s over. The past has swallowed it.
Likely you will never see her pretty face again.
That is all right. Why is it all right? Because
the mountains are flowing away like water
and all things pass away, tangent to eternity.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017


Jamey Hecht: “I live in L.A. where I teach, write, and practice psychotherapy. I hope one day to return to my homeland of Brooklyn. My more ambitious poems try to unite the public, the private, and the cosmic, because if epic poetry is dead (which it may not be) then some lyric poetry must take up that task or else the world will fall apart. Also, I was born on 5/13/68, right between the CIA-and-police murders of MLK (4/4/68) and RFK (6/5/68).” (web)

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