May 30, 2024

Night Train by Gerrie Paino, train car deserted at night with stars in background

Image: “Night Train” by Gerrie Paino. “Of California, the Wild” was written by Breonne Stiglitz for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, April 2024, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Breonne Stiglitz


There, on a midnight railway,
beyond the static
of the locusts,
a small, broken hum
from an old radio
blinks in and out,
in and out,
through Cuyahoga Valley
when Ohio was for lovers.
A golden sepia-toned starlet
leans on the glass
of the window
and wonders
as the steam blows
from the engine ahead.
A man in a frock coat
and a three-piece suit
tips his hat
as her wonder floats
into the aisle
where it collides
with his glistening glare.
Her rosy, peach cheeks pull
her mouth to her ears,
and she can hear
the distant voices
of California, the wild
calling her name. There,
where the cars drive
faster, the trees turn
to telephone poles,
and the lights burn
an afterimage
into the eyes of twilight—
puddles spilt
in the street, reflecting
the stoplights, the theater,
the neon signs
that curl fingers inwards
to lift skirts and seduce
prey, to convince onlookers
to buy lipstick and pearls
that bleed and coil
like snakes around the necks
of the Beautiful
and the Enlightened.
And it pulls like a venom,
a steam engine traveling
across the skin
of a Hollywood dream,
where it once whistled
like a biting catcall,
that now, sits amongst
the brush and thistle
to shelter the rabbits
from the foxes’ mouths,
an orchestra of crickets—
the sounds of the night
the locomotive to move
again under God’s collection
of dying stars, wheels
that once turned as time does.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
April 2024, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the series editor, Megan O’Reilly: “There is a dreamy, cinematic quality to this image that I felt was perfectly captured by ‘Of California, the Wild.’ I found it effortless and satisfying to imagine this ‘golden sepia-toned starlet’ looking out the train window until the natural landscape fades and ‘the trees turn / to telephone poles.’ There is magic in the way the poet contrasts the glamour and glitz of Hollywood (“the neon signs/that curl fingers inwards”) against the still-wild California land. The poem ends with a haunting reminder that the train is an agent of time–once relentless and vibrant; now frozen, just a memory.”

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May 29, 2024

Mather Schneider


Full of a million things
that cost a dollar apiece
Nothing is truly old or truly modern 
everything could be anyone’s
even the family pictures on the walls 
Giant Sears and Roebuck dollhouses
do people live here
or stuffed animals?
Spice racks of hollow glass idols
that are never touched
salt is the one true god 
Shoot or poison animals
to keep them off the lawn
replace with plastic deer and flamingoes 
No stone lions 
at the entryways
only ceramic frogs 
Humid hairy armpit summer afternoons
the grass they mow 
and mow and mow and mow
The thunder
of a drunk father
home from bowling night
A man sets his alarm clock
clicking in the dark
like an S.O.S
At Grandpa’s
small circle of family
medicine ball conversation
At the end of the summer
our last kiss 
tastes like bug-spray

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024


Mather Schneider: “I don’t like trying to come up with something clever for these things. I write poetry and prose when there is something I want to put down. I don’t like writing for the hell of it.”

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May 28, 2024

Doug Ramspeck


The boy fell from the Monahegnee Bridge,
and his parents buried him, and the years
were a cottonmouth swimming in an oxbow 
lake, and the boy became an owl as he fell
and lived in the woods so that when he held 
himself motionless, he felt himself becoming
the gray bark of the tree. And sometimes
the boy swooped low across the bottomlands
behind the house of his parents, and sometimes
they watched him going by, and maybe he held
a mouse in his talons, or maybe the sun’s eye
blurred across the glass and transformed him
into a diffused smear of photons. One time
when he fell, he was caught in the updraft
of a prayer lifting itself toward the heavens,
and another time he landed in the lake then
became a catfish swimming along the muddy 
bottom, his body twisting and raising swirls
of murky visions. And his parents dreamed
sometimes of opening their arms at the bottom 
of the bridge and catching him. And the boy 
became a cottonmouth twisting his way
across the water’s surface, and the water
rippled out behind him and made of everything
a transitory motion, something there then gone.
And the boy whispered in the air as he went by,
I fall and fall but never strike the ground.

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024


Doug Ramspeck: “I wrote this poem in the fall, while being distracted by a bear with her two cubs as they climbed the oak trees outside my office window and fed on acorns and sometimes napped.” (web)

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May 27, 2024

Kirk Robinson


To learn more about your new Kenmore
washer, break the plastic seal.
—from the manufacturer’s instructions

I’ve a friend who says, “Treat anything mechanical
as if it’s just about to break.”
I’ve a feeling           broken-hearted
he’s talking about himself
in relation to his ex-wife,
but I don’t tell him that. She called me break the news
just before she left him. “Breaking up” was her phrase,
as if we were all broken promise still in grade school.
“I’m leaving,” she said, “For good.” I pictured him exactly
where I knew he was at the time—in mid-schuss
breakneck on a mogul-filled downhill in Vail.
He wouldn’t be back for two days, and had no idea
it would be to a broken home. And then,
no note, on the kitchen table or anywhere.
No red box on the wall: IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

Two weeks later we sat line break
in front of a ridiculous amount of beer.
I was trying, at that point, to explain to him
that humans didn’t invent weaving … breaking point
that it was an innovation of certain brightly colored,
long-beaked birds, and when we stumbled upon
the wonderful, twisted nests, we figured them out
by breaking them apart.
Something in him broke loose, I guess. I’d been talking
as if I could say anything groundbreaking
about love. In retrospect, he probably should’ve broke my nose,
but all he did was sit there, for the first time, slumped over
in a bar, and cry. “I looked everywhere,” he said,
“for a note.” Everywhere. He kept saying it. What’s the word?
What’s the word for one of those great big crashing waves?

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011


Kirk Robinson: “I’ve always loved poems—like David Clewell’s ‘A Heart for Patricia’—that take a single, well-worn idea and then run at it from angles until it’s new again. When a friend of mine spoke those words of advice about mechanical things, I happened to hear a decent line in my head. Then I sat down, and I made a break for it.”

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May 26, 2024

Ryan McCarty


Your cheek turns, Christ-like
from your buddy with the buddha
belly blowing chemicals
on crowds of my students. One falls
facedown while her own mucus
and sweat bottlenecks in the rush
to exit every hole she has. You
might or might not know the blind
terror of drowning, the lung-torn
scream that almost always does
the trick eventually, boosted by the guts
heaving underneath, till air breaks
through. Ten seconds, not like Floyd,
but enough to feel your mother
pounding inside your skull,
calling for you this time, to forget the grass
hasn’t always mixed with gravel
on your knees and palms in a prayer
of almost-dying. Officer, you know
the straight-backed virtue
of duty, eyes cast to the horizon,
white vapors spreading
to the morning. You avoid the sight
of a baseball cap skirting the fog,
kneeling, eyes on your chin, helping
the retching shoulders rise.
I’ll buy you a beer. Let’s rewind
and rewatch on half-speed, wait
for one foot to stir, one hand to drop
the pose. Never. You never break.
While we play you again and again,
you can explain, for all of us
non-heroes, how to hold the line, to pity
the spastic terrified flapping
of robins, escaping their trees in the choke
your boy backhands into the crowd,
how to see the birds disperse
when sense commands, how to look
away from a body and really believe.

from Poets Respond


Ryan McCarty: “I keep rewatching this video of University of Michigan campus police pepper spraying a crowd of my students, colleagues, friends, and community members. Most of my life (but especially the last dozen years or so) have been spent watching the cops who are doing the beating, the spraying, the kneeling, the dragging. But this time I can’t stop looking at one cop near the pepper sprayer. They’re looking upward, toward the east and some trees where I know hundreds of birds nest, and the sun had just risen. Can poetry help us understand that moment? Can anything?” (web)

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May 25, 2024

Maria Mazziotti Gillan


Think what it must have been like for her, caged
in her tower, the small window cut into dark
stone, the hours it took to brush

and untangle her hair, waiting for the prince
to come so she could let down her hair
and he could climb up to her room.

Think what it must have been like for her, lonely
and starved for attention like the girls now
who stare into their bathroom mirrors, brushing

and combing their hair, applying perfume, mascara,
skin softener, make-up, all in honor of the man who
will stand outside the window, their beauty a braid they

climb up on, their lives spent, breathless and silent,
waiting for a man to rescue them as though their own
hands were not strong enough, their own hearts not

brave enough, their own minds not quick enough for
them to save themselves.

from Rattle #20, Winter 2003
Tribute to Italian Poets


Maria Mazziotti Gillan: “Poetry is my passion—writing it and sharing it with others through my books, setting up readings for other poets, editing a magazine and anthologies, and organizing prizes. My mother always said, ‘The more I gave away, the more I had to give,’ referring to food, and I have tried to do the same thing with poetry.” (web)

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May 24, 2024

Amit Majmudar


In a Polish forest as a boy
In a Cleveland driveway as an old man
He shoveled, he shoveled
The secret was to spin and fall 
A heartbeat in advance of the gunshots
Over the hole in history
He shoveled, he shoveled
A heartbeat in advance of the aspirin
In a Cleveland snowdrift as an old man
In a Polish winter on another continent
He shoveled, he shoveled
In Bialowieza, Europe’s last old-growth forest
Trees like people hunted to extinction
Children like winged seeds sailing to a far soil
He shoveled, he shoveled
A little divot in a big continent
And shook out seeds from a paper packet
Better than clawing his way down
As he clawed his way up
Through a Polish mass grave as a boy
In Bialowieza, where the last oaks crowded into a ghetto
His pale forearm sprouting in the moonlight
Dirt and blood lining his fingernails
Lying on his back in the mound
He shoveled, he shoveled
Screaming soundlessly into the soundless flurries
In a Cleveland driveway as an old man
In a Polish forest as a boy

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024


Amit Majmudar: “I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland filled with Eastern European Jewish immigrants and their descendants. I was always fascinated by the histories that lived in the accents and eyes of my friends’ grandparents. This poem was prompted by my memory of a classmate’s grandfather who survived the Holocaust by hiding in Europe’s last old-growth forest and died in an Ohio winter many decades later, while shoveling snow. The image of the shovel connected, for me, Josh’s grandfather’s past and his end, for he had been forced, when a child, to help dig a mass grave.” (web)

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