April 26, 2018

Ekphrastic Challenge, March 2018: Editor’s Choice

 

Chickens! by Marion Clarke

Image: “Chickens!” by Marion Clarke. “The Visitant” was written by Marietta McGregor for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, March 2018, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

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Marietta McGregor

THE VISITANT

We never found out where she came from, our hen. One morning she was just there, in the back yard. That was one of the times when only two of us, Mum and I, lived in that house. One of the times when Dad had gone off, we didn’t know where, driven by demons we couldn’t imagine. It happened at unpredictable moments. Something would set him off, he’d start drinking, and he’d disappear. We had the house to ourselves. Life settled down a bit. I’d go off to my Seventh Day Adventist Primary school each day and hurry home, glad to have Mum to myself.

And then someone else came to live with us, this plump, glossy Black Orpington, gentle and sweet-natured. She loved a cuddle, and would sit on my knee, crooning soft warm chicken songs for hours while I stroked and settled her feathers and babied her as my special doll. She had a whole repertoire of contented burbles and trills. Sitting with her warm bulk on my knee I felt happy, protected. I wondered who she was, really.

I found out much later that chickens make about 30 different sounds. We’d do well to learn their language. I tried murmuring her talk back to her, which she seemed to like, arching her neck under my hand, fluffing and resettling herself. I don’t remember how long she stayed with us, I only remember the pleasure of having her there. One day she wasn’t. There were no signs of pain or mayhem—no foxes in Tasmania in those days. We thought she must have moved on to warble to another family.

My father came home later that year. He’d been in a War Repatriation Hospital for some time, and looked ill and tired, the emphysema beginning to cave in his chest. We never saw the chicken again.

a handful of mash
that ache for something
different

from Ekphrastic Challenge
March 2018, Editor’s Choice

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Comment from the editor: “To be honest, every time I encounter a haibun, I read the haiku first; I can’t help myself. The haiku here is wonderful, in a wonderfully inexplicable way. You could probably write an essay on how ‘that ache for something new’ is like ‘a handful of mash’—and there’s no doubt it is. That sense of juxtaposition is the power of haiku. And then I read the prose, and what a moving and honest story that turned out to be, too—and again perfectly juxtaposed with the haiku, which I read again thereafter. This is an exemplary haibun, and another example of a poet turning a single image into its own entire universe.”

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April 25, 2018

Floyd Cheung

IMMIGRANT ENGLISH PROFESSOR’S LAMENT ON ASSIMILATION

Sometimes life is so middle-class normal I write
in standard English fucking iambic pentameter
except that one word is a fucking spondee.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Tribute to Immigrant Poets

[download audio]

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Floyd Cheung: “Raised speaking Cantonese in Hong Kong, I learned English by watching Sesame Street in our house in Las Vegas, whose windows were shielded with aluminum foil to make it dark enough for my parents to sleep whenever they could between their several jobs. Now I find myself a professor of English, and I sometimes turn to poetry to meditate on how I arrived at the life I’m now living.” (web)

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April 24, 2018

Judy Barisonzi

SISYPHUS

After awhile, I no longer remembered
why I was being punished, and after that
I was not sure it was punishment at all. There was enough
to do with checking the weather each morning,
selecting the right clothing—waterproof for rain,
my slatted sun hat for bright afternoons, a heavy shawl
pinned round my shoulders on frosty mornings. Then a bite
to eat, choices there too, oat cakes or bread, honey
or marmalade, so many decisions
before starting the work of the day. And each day
was different. There were small blue flowers
breaking through the cracks when the weather warmed,
huge dusty turtles I had to swerve to avoid,
the occasional passerby, too far for conversation,
but close enough to study the new styles
of hat and jacket, each one’s way of walking,
a shuffling gait, a jaunty step. And then
the rock itself was never the same. My fingers
would penetrate encrustations, caress
slopes worn smooth as powdered skin,
its touch remembered these many years,
dimly remembered, like morning rain
find sparking grains that embedded themselves
in tiny dimples. But always, behind the flux,
keeping confusion in check, that constant cycle,
that slow plod upward, that weight against my chest,
measuring my muscles, my soul, inevitably followed
by a wild mad dash to the bottom, the moment
of joy, of mad release. I was often overwhelmed
by the complexity of it all, and only rarely
had a recollection of something
I had meant to do, a time when I had said
When I reach the top, then … but I could not find
anywhere, in my mind, what I had intended.

from Rattle #23, Spring 2005

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Judy Barisonzi: “I’ve written poetry, off and on, ever since I was a teenager, but it was not until well into adult life that I grew into being a poet. Perhaps moving from the East Coast to Wisconsin, and becoming intimate with trees, marshes, and lakes, had something to do with it. In any case, now that I’m nearing sixty, I think I’m at last beginning to gain some faint understanding of what poetry is all about. Ask me again when I’m eighty.”

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April 23, 2018

Elizabeth T. Chao

QÍ PÁO

                The
               neck
       of my mother’s
   qí páo is too small for
 me, delicate silk fists too
  weak to punch its way
   around my thick pipes
    and clasp in a fixing
        embrace. The
          waist of my
       grandmother’s
   qí páo was too nar
  row for even my twelve-
 year-old paunch. By then
my gluttony for all things
sweet and forbidden had
 corroded and cracked the
   tiny straight teeth of its
    zipper.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Tribute to Immigrant Poets

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Elizabeth T. Chao: “My family moved from Taiwan to Texas when I was seven. I was in first grade, and I wore a navy-blue uniform that had the three characters of my name embroidered just above the left breast pocket. In America, I wore jeans, t-shirts, and purple shoes to school. In America, the three characters of my name lived in a distant drawer and smelled funny. In America, I learned to dump my leftovers into a big trashcan and feel free to go get more.”

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April 22, 2018

Ojo Taiye

THE ONLY FOREIGN AID MY MOTHER EVER WANTED WAS SAFETY

after the four Congo refugees who died when their overloaded canoe capsized in Lake Albert, with lines borrowed from Kristin Chang’s “Poem for an Immigrant’s Daughter

i kneel in the hairline light                 of exile & home. no one leaves                 home
if the ocean will swallow         them         up. strange         how sitting                 in a truck at the Sebagoro landing site on Lake
                Albert shoreline means peace.                                 yesterday
        my                         mother ate her own appendix in a Ugandan bound pirogue. not
because hunger makes you                                                         whole but because there
is a name for grief         to grow into. i come from a small world—a lifted paragraph from one                 of the worst conflict displacement affected shit holes.                         i understand the need to
define as a need for hope. In Uturi, my relatives are dying;
               not because they are                                                 Hema or Bagagere, but because
        they share the same land                 with minerals. once this
               highland was our birthplace.                         once we were birds carrying the sky
        into night. now i wake to red sand & follow                 a trail of enmity & blood.

* * *

on the side of a road in                 Kasia province,         a woman’s abandoned                         luggage
                        & a suitcase spilling out music CDs.                         what happened
to the                 woman?                           why is the case open? did she manage
                                                        to run away?

from Poets Respond

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Ojo Taiye: “A recent wave of targeted attacks has left a trail of death, destruction, and mass displacement in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern province of Ituri. The above poem is a sort of requiem for the symposium of endangered stars evicted to the water.”

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