September 29, 2022

Worm by Enne Tesse, black and white drawing of a worm turning into a mushroom

Image: “Worm” by Enne Tesse. “Haute Buttons” was written by Kenton K. Yee for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2022, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

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Kenton K. Yee

HAUTE BUTTONS

My mother ran her Singer past midnight.
I learned to tune out whirling.
Who knows why I’m telling you now.
In shadow. In chiaroscuro.
A rectangle’s infrequent beeping.
Its text that doesn’t say what it means.
We sew between choo-choos.
We sew and wash. We wash and change.
I had just changed to slacks when we were
what? I hope not just some fad
like sideways caps or capri pants.
What we are is not what we want to show,
or see. Some of us tire of the fabric
and others, the colors. Or the buckles.
And changing clothes—like coloring, or not
trimming, or affecting a new voice—is escape.
Whoosh! Bonk. Brown eggs.
Maybe I will be the same. At least I will be different.
Do you miss dancing me on nine threads?
My mother still sewed after retirement.
I’m sure that’s what you were going for.
The world teases us.
Old aggressions. New passivities. Sweatshops.
It’s all so fast and all too fast.
You wonder why I’m thinking of sewing
but I’m thinking of how we did not change.
You were my marionette. Prices are climbing again.
It was terrible. It’s beautiful.
Truth is I don’t want to stop sewing.
I can’t sew and I can’t stop sewing.
 

from Ekphrastic Challenge
August 2022, Editor’s Choice

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Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “It would have been easier to fixate on the surreal nature of the image, but Kenton took the metaphor deeper, exploring the threads of change itself. The poem moves freely through the layers of his mind, like the image moves through layers of transformation, stitching from memory something surprising and new.”

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September 28, 2022

Darius Atefat-Peckham

ALL BODIES

As in every language, 
there are different words 
for all bodies 
 
of water. Somehow 
it still surprises me
how many. Like the goldfish 
 
who died one after 
another in the days leading up 
to Nowruz, the New Year 
 
whispering 
at their budding
lips. There are rules:
 
I don’t know them yet. 
From what I can tell, 
rood-khaneh is House 
 
of River. The Ocean 
encompasses
The Seas. You will find 
 
fountains and springs 
in any suburban 
yard, children’s hands 
 
submerged within them.
And you can become 
imprisoned in any 
 
window you see
through. Once 
kayaking, my small 
 
boat flips over
in the rapids. I become 
like a fish, betrayed 
 
by my own opened
mouth. For fourteen days
I drown in my 
 
great-grandma’s kitchen, 
and the sabzeh grows 
backwards into 
 
itself. The rings 
of my scales sound 
outwards. My belly 
 
splitting open 
the surface. I pretend-
die like this, watching 
 
the people twirl together
like water-bugs, some heaven 
above me. A young boy 
 
wades over to watch 
me, from the other side 
of the glass, eating 
 
myself to death.
 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022

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Darius Atefat-Peckham: “In my poem ‘All Bodies,’ I was interested in exploring the acquisition of knowledge as a way of attempting to know a place—the beauty and pitfalls of this method. Learning about the history, language, and culture of Iran has been one form of transport for me as I yearn to go there physically, but can also feel, at times, like an imprisonment of sorts: of the body, the spirit, the mind. I guess I wonder if there can exist something about connection that is beyond the physical. Can we connect in the breathing, the drowning, the looking? I think we can and many of my most recent poems are attempts to do so.”

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September 27, 2022

Bruce Bennett

ON VIEWING KEN BURNS’ DOCUMENTARY “THE U.S. AND THE HOLOCAUST”

Some made it. Some did not.
You hear their stories here.
It is as if by lot.
Some made it. Some did not.
Who chose which straws they got?
No answer’s ever clear.
Some made it. Some did not.
You hear their stories here.
 
They want their stories told
so no one can forget.
They hold on and they hold.
They want their stories told.
Though they are frail and old,
they are not finished yet.
They want their stories told
so no one can forget.
 
We listen and we think,
How could they be so strong?
How low can countries sink?
Then look around and think,
We too are on the brink.
We may not have too long.
We listen, and we think,
How could they be so strong?
 
We hear their stories here.
Some made it. Some did not.
No answer’s ever clear.
We hear their stories here.
We listen, and we fear
we too may draw their lot.
 
We hear their stories here.
 
Some made it. Some did not.
 

from Poets Respond
September 27, 2022

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Bruce Bennett: “Ken Burns’ powerful new documentary on the Holocaust is also a reminder of where we ourselves may be heading as a country. Can anyone who knows of the recent attacks on libraries and books, for example, not think of those when watching the scenes of book burnings? And there is so much more.” (web)

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September 26, 2022

Frank Báez

IN THE BIBLE NO ONE APPEARS SMOKING

But what if God or those who wrote the Bible
forgot to include the cigarettes
and in reality those Biblical figures 
spent the day puff-puff-puffing
just like how in the ’50s one could smoke
onboard airplanes and even on television
and I imagine those glorious Jews
raising cigs to their lips
and expelling smoke from their nostrils
while awaiting 
visions or God to speak to them,
and I imagine David plucking the harp
in a smoke-webbed temple, 
and Abraham chain-smoking
before deciding to kill Isaac, 
and Maria lighting up before breaking 
the news to Joseph that she was pregnant,
heck, I even imagine Jesus pulling out a cigarette
from behind his ear and scratching a match 
to take a breather before addressing the masses
gathered around him. 
I’m not a smoker. 
But sometimes I get the urge and I smoke
just like this moment as I watch the rain
pouring outside the window
and I feel like I’m Noah when he was waiting
for the flood to cease, and how he walked 
up and down the ark just
trying to figure out where he had left
that damned pack. 
 
 
Translated from the Spanish by Anthony Seidman
 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Tribute to Translation

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Frank Báez (Dominican Republic, 1978) is one of the leading poets of his generation, and the recipient of the Salomé Ureña National Prize for Literature in 2009. He is also a founding member of the experimental rock group El Hombrecito. | Anthony Seidman: “In the poetry of Frank Báez, I value the sense of humor, zest for life, fearlessness in melding pop culture with high culture, his fusion of spoken word energy with traditional verse, and his vision rooted in the quisqueyano experience. It was my attempt to recreate his tone by incorporating American slang and humor, and it was an easy fit, as contemporary North American poetry (in English) has influenced his verse. Dominican poetry has been surviving on the periphery of Latin American literature, despite the presence of such luminaries as Juan Bosch, Pedro Mir, and Manuel del Cabral. Frank Báez possesses a major voice, and it is my pleasure to spread the news among Anglophone readers.”

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September 25, 2022

Susan Sue

HOW MANY TIMES

To live is to count.
He concluded when we clasped
on my apartment bed.
He was a fireman, a man
who touched my legs
like tracing
a bruised star.
At night, he talked about people
disappeared in the smoke.
We were in that burning building.
Seven of us, only six
made back to life.
He always paused
here as if he still felt the fire
licking over his lap, blurred
voices counting down
to his face.
I am always thinking of seven … you know? But I only
count to six.
 
It was August. After sex,
he let me wet his wounds
with my lips and told me
an old Chinese myth:
Time is a ferry adrift
on Lethe. People lose
track of their property. The day
they stop counting, they fall
into bare-black stones and become
the flower of fire,
Manjusaka.
 
He had large hands, large enough
to scoop the moon when
he cupped my face.
I was reminded of my grandpa.
He was a tough man. His face
was never shaved in the right way, black
stubble sprouted out like tendrils until
he was put under treatment.
I counted: four
fingernails, two teeth, no hair, only
a small shard of his face
belonged to him.
 
They shoveled a stone
to place his ashes.
I watched him grow back again.
This time, he was red.
 
I count: half-
pair of teeth brace, additional
aspirins, keys, three nail cutters, no
mole on my left knee, inside a new
red suitcase I put D.H.Lawrence’s
Sons and Lovers, which he gave to me
last winter. We have broken up
long enough.
 
I think of him
when I watch the news tonight:
A bus turned down to the ground.
Twenty-seven people died.
I am not sure if he still stays in his job if he does
he will be there—
lug up the burned-black bus, pull
the locked windows, press
against the hot iron crust.
What you have touched,
he once told me,
will grow in you.
 
Years later,
He will bring up the night:
how he took off his gloves and touched
the bus shards. All
the rubble, the red rearview, soft shreds
of lives goldened his hands. In the dark,
another woman will wet his wounds
with her lips until fire grows
back in his fissures until
he whispers that story—
 
But how many times should we count
to bring them back?
 

from Poets Respond
September 25, 2022

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Susan Sue: “September 18, 2:40 a.m. On the highway of Guizhou province, a bus carrying 47 people ‘flipped onto its side.’ Twenty people were injured. Twenty-seven people died. I wish the dead find peace in eternal rest, and I send my deepest condolences to those who lost their loved ones. My grief and anguish forced me to write this poem. It was the only thing I could do.”

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September 24, 2022

Reagan Rafferty (age 13)

MY GRANDMOTHER’S EYES

My grandmother’s eyes are very dark,
And most think that they are brown;
But I can see specks of sun,
That make them green and golden;
The wrinkles around her eyes,
Remind me of what she has seen;
And the deep lines on her forehead,
Tell me where she’s been.
 
And her hands are warm and old,
For they’ve held so many treasures before;
They’ve given love to a new life,
And felt an old one slip away.
 
My grandmother’s smile is bright,
Like it’s seen all the beauties in the world;
Like the sun knelt down upon it,
Surrendering its worth.
 

from 2022 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

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Why do you like to write poetry?

Reagan Rafferty: “Poetry has always been a meaningful outlet for me to express what I truly feel. I write poetry when I don’t know exactly what to say; when normal and monotonous words don’t carry the same meaning as a poem’s beautiful rhythm; when my window is rainy and my insides feel small, I write poetry so I can feel. I write poetry because of its melodic sounds and impactful words that make the ears feel soothed and the soul feel heard. So much of my life consists of poems, both literal and figurative. Poetry is a lifestyle and a philosophy. Poetry is art, so much more personable than normal words and so much more beautiful. Without the rhythmic support of my familiar stanzas, my emotions wouldn’t have a place to live freely.”

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September 23, 2022

Noah Arhm Choi

ONE GOOD MEMORY

It’s Sunday afternoon with too many people wearing white
for a barbeque. The sweet smoke floats up into the trees from the galbi
on the grill, the picnic tables lined with kimchi, lettuce wraps, polite 
Tupperware fighting for space. The girls are called away
to pick flowers for the tables as the boys
ready to muddy their knees around the baseball diamond.
 
I’m wearing a Space Jam T-shirt two sizes too big,
cargo shorts and a bowl haircut. I don’t hate flowers
but I do hate watching my father walk away towards the field and so
I run up to him, tears suddenly mixing with summer sweat,
beg him to let me play with the sons catching praise 
like pop flies. I’m surprised he says yes, dares 
the other fathers to say something
to his beer-easy sneer.
 
How is this the memory that comes up when I think of him in summer,
not the cigarette held too close to my shoulder, not the way his face stills
before it sprays spit. He leads me to the plate, cheers too loud
as I run to first base, never says a word as he watches
me part my hair like him, or jump on home base like the other boys,
daring someone to say I should be anywhere but here.
 

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022

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Noah Arhm Choi: “The ways we are socialized to define the world in a binary of good/bad or right/wrong leaves little room for the nuanced knot of emotions that is most often, for me, the true center of an influential experience. Sometimes we are validated by people who have otherwise harmed us and vice versa. This poem is an attempt to nurture what is positive and affirming without shying away from violence.” (web)

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