June 26, 2022

Kaitlyn Spees

FROM THE WOMEN’S RESTROOM

The restroom in my workplace is like
women’s rooms everywhere.
The floor is thumbprint-sized tiles
in three distinct shades of gray arranged
in no discernable pattern. Just above
the sinks of course there’s one of those
ubiquitous and sanctimonious stickers
shaped like a bare blue foot,
reminding me that “Water is Life”
and thanking me for “Using Less,”
which invites, in my view, a discussion
about what “Using Less Life”
might possibly mean. This restroom
boasts two paper towel dispensers—
one, modern, breadbox-sized gray plastic,
wails over waste while it grants
each waving supplicant a short
sheet. The other, old-school metal,
offers its three-fold papers freely,
then gapes, emptily, at a long-defunct
tampon dispenser still asking, forlornly, for quarters.
Flyers taped just above eye-level
inside each stall’s gappy half-door
entertain their (quite captive)
audience with primary-colored
flowcharts and checklists about the Clery Act
and guidelines for mandatory reporting.
I read them idly each month on the days
when I bivouac to the bathroom repeatedly
to shiver and yawn and pass
blood clots which bloom in the toilet water.
They’re strange little rooms, right? Where we choose
courteously not to hear our colleagues’ business.
The flyers change with the times.
In 2016, for example, the signage sought
volunteers for a clinical trial to see whether
IUD insertion could be made less painful.
The response was, understandably,
less than enthusiastic: because—given a choice?
Who would want to be on the control arm
of that study? For months that hopeful flyer’s
sad, intact, phone-numbered fringe fluttered
in the slam of stall doors until the election,
after which those little slips of paper
vanished like hotcakes. I think I laughed
a single dull bark when I saw how shorn
the flyer had become. And here,
I think today, shivering, yawning, cramping,
is the fruition; about to bloom in blood.
 

from Poets Respond
June 26, 2022

__________

Kaitlyn Spees: “I’m not sure this poem is finished yet, but tossing it out into the void this week feels like doing something, so here I am sending it in anyway.”

Rattle Logo

June 25, 2022

Michelle Bitting

THE SACRIFICE

I think about how you stayed up nights, Mother,
drinking coffee at your sewing machine.
The time you never went to bed
finishing my Isadora Duncan costume—
diaphanous number cut from a swell of black crepe
for the mad-grief dance after her children accidentally drowned.
Remember waking to find the garment realized—
dark offering you draped across the ironing board,
the fastidiously stitched seams that stroked
my just-coming curves so I’d be beautiful,
drunk in the lights of my junior high stage,
and you out there in the hushed cool of your reserved seat,
hands folded, resting now, the little bobbin of your heart
spinning inside its quiet nook while you watched me
do the hard, privileged work of feeling for both of us.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007

__________

Michelle Bitting: “I was at a workshop in Florida writing this poem, halfway into it, had conjured Isadora and the sewing element. I decided to do a little extra online research into Ms. Duncan’s life. Lo and behold the father of her children was none other than Eugene Singer, the sewing machine tycoon. Synchronicity: I knew I was on the right track.” (web)

Rattle Logo

June 24, 2022

El Camino de Esmeralda by Danelle Rivas, colorful painting of a woman in a dress surrounded by vines and many items, including a uterus

Image: “El Camino de Esmeralda” by Danelle Rivas. “Camouflage” was written by Katie Kemple for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2022, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

__________

Katie Kemple

CAMOUFLAGE

The images couldn’t
tell if they started inside
her head,
 
or if they
existed because she
could perceive them.
 
The hand of it all
kept painting to keep
them in frame.
 
If uterus,
then flag and Ferris
wheel. If octopus,
then keytar
and gargoyle.
If hummingbird
    cat
whisker
vase.
 
If you feed an image
a dumpling,
 
your stomach
will twist into
a blue lizard.
It’s so cyclical.
 
My effigy enters—
 
swirls
leaves,
and exits out
the window
with chopsticks.
 

from Ekphrastic Challenge
May 2022, Artist’s Choice

__________

Comment from the artist, Danelle Rivas: “Although many of the poems were very evocative, I was was particularly drawn to ‘Camouflage’ because, like the painting, it’s a kaleidoscope, a tumult of words like the articles within the dress. I like the way the words of the objects feel tossed in the poem and the line ‘the hand of it all, kept painting to keep them in frame’ is perfect as it describes the elements hemmed in within the magic frock. There is a true understanding of the whirl of images captured in this poem and the last lines, my effigy enters—swirls leaves, and exits out the window with chopsticks is everything.”

Rattle Logo

June 23, 2022

Tiffany Wu

REGULATION

They banned bubblegum to keep our streets clean,
to save our sidewalks from the sticky sweetness
brewed in our restlessness, so our flesh-
colored residue is not on display, so the pores
of our roads remain unclogged, the soles of businessmen’s
oxfords unsullied, the subway riders undisturbed by the smacking
of our lips, and so the ants teeter
along the curb single-file and scavenge
for some other sugar, and so no glazed goo clings to the bellies
of our desks, no coral contraband stains our pinafore pockets,
and so when our headmasters peer into our mouths
and under our tongues they find nothing, when we flash
our pearly whites at our dentists their hands linger
on our shoulders, and so we only chew
at the insides of our cheeks, only blush
the color of cane marks around our wrists, don’t stick anything in our sisters’
curls while they sleep, end every sentence with sir just to learn
what permanence tastes like, get down on our knees
each time he asks just to suck the flavor out of something, and so
we choke on nothing so we swallow everything
given to us, and so we step on the ants just to leave something small and dead
behind us, and then we continue onwards, a single file of clenched jaws,
slick ponytails, and foreheads stretched taut.
 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022

__________

Tiffany Wu: “Poetry is a space where I delve into my obsessions with the feminine, the bodily, and the unsaid. In this poem, I try to contend with the intersections of my identity and my cultural upbringing.” (web)

Rattle Logo

June 22, 2022

E.D. Watson

FATHER, DAUGHTER, HUNGRY GHOST

Sometimes Mom would say to you
Why don’t you two drive into town
and get a milkshake, get a Coke. 
What she meant was: spend some 
 
time with your daughter. Talk to her.
Both of us were so reserved. The shrink
I saw when I was eight said I was fine
even though I seldom spoke. 
 
I’d learned there were things I shouldn’t say
such as when I grow up I want to be a painter
or a waitress. You said waitresses don’t make
much money; painters only get famous after 
 
they die. Your father was the colonel;
I guess you thought it’s what a father was
supposed to say. We rode into town
in your old truck, listening to Dire Straits
 
not saying much, sipping our cold drinks.
A few years later you took me out on my first
date, to show me how a man should treat me:
you wore a suit, you opened doors and kept
 
your hands to yourself. You were the first man 
I ever loved, I loved you like they said I should
love God, I loved you like the moon: 
with wistful, distant admiration. 
 
The boys I snuck out at night to see 
were nothing like that, though. They
came to my window late like sneaks
and said, Come out there is no moon, 
 
let me hold you in the dark. I did. 
Before that though we’d talked for hours
on the phone. I would have given anything
to keep them on the line. 
 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022

__________

E.D. Watson: “Like yoga or meditation, writing poetry is a practice, a discipline to help keep my heart open. It’s also sometimes a form of prayer. Sometimes it’s spell-casting: the right words in the right order make magic. But mostly I write poetry to be understood—first and foremost by myself. Which is to say, I often don’t know how I feel about a thing until I write about it. For me, writing poetry isn’t only about art; it is about naming those weird emotions that live like blind crustaceans in the deep-sea part of me.” (web)

Rattle Logo

June 21, 2022

Gary Lemons

AN AVIARY OF NOTIONS

Wisdom sits down to dinner disguised
As a guest covered with small birds.
The birds are trying to fly but are stuck
In the fabric of the visitor’s adornment.

No one is happy, not the birds,
Not the other guests, not the table set
With candles or the freshly carved animal
With a knife in it—no one
Is happy when wisdom barges in.

If this moment were frozen
We’d see the birds are actually part
Of the guest, are eruptions from what
In him awakens that wants out.

We’d see the legs of the table tremble.
We’d see the oil from the flesh
Ooze down the knife into a pool
Where bread is dipped.

Speaking for everything
That has been deported to a country
Where love is hunted not for its
Meat but for its feathers,

I say—wisdom does not deliver
Itself to anyone that will
Break bread at its table—this
Is the human folly disguised
As an aviary of notions—

At any minute the birds might
Break free to live in the air,
To sing a song note by note, tree by tree,
About a forest where everything hides until,
Following the song,
We come with our axes to listen.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006

__________

Gary Lemons: “It’s almost a cliché to speak of poetry as a transformational process by which the poet begins, through the writing of the poem, the sacred work of becoming a better human being. I believe this. Each poem is a gift much like each prayer is a lesson. What matters to me is the tissue deep shift I feel each time the words come out in that spare and clean way that tells me I have spoken as truthfully as I can in my own voice. The poem as it is written becomes my window as well as my mirror. I am grateful for this every day.” (web)

Rattle Logo

June 20, 2022

e.a. toles

WHAT DOES BLACK TASTE LIKE

the cops walk free
while walls 
hold precedence
 
over an innocent black
woman’s life.
 
but i still have
a job to go to
so i have to be fine.
 
the streets molasse
thick with bodies//
some cities
 
forget what black 
tastes like.
 
we cant scream
forever//i do
 
the revolution
in my throat
is louder 
 
than the hole
 
in King’s//Till’s
Hampton’s//Taylor’s
 
head/stomach/throat 
dignity//humanity
 
doesn’t mean shit
if you’re black
 
terrified in your room
with family
friends 
or a television.
 
how many of us
are sick in these chains?
 
but, we still have 
to keep living
 
(a necessity of
endangered thugs//
 
hoodlums//super
predators//niggers//)
so we look for more
convenient times to mourn.
 
today my customers are all
smiling pearly white 
making small talk 
about tomorrow
 
and hope and the fbi’s 
fresh investigation 
and bob dylan’s protest
songs and humanity 
 
humanity all of us humanity
human rights and a lot of other
words that are supposed 
 
to sound comforting to my ears.
 
the cops walk free
and this country
 
is a tomb for my want.
it chews me and spits me out,
who wants to know
 
what black tastes like?
 
is it the wet salt of my brow
or the decaying stomach
 
burped up with every 
tweet about the last
 
four hundred years
 
(give or take 
depending on 
what critical theory
of race you want to
white wash)
 
or is it the bitter names
of, oh hell, I could pick 
 
a new one for next week
(or any from the last, 
you get my drift, right) 
 
a cop walks free
and we ask
 
how much does freedom
weigh? do you measure 
 
it with pounds of flesh
or is it light
 
as air forced from
crushed tracheas 
and collapsed lungs?
 
there aren’t beautiful 
things to say right now
 
because cops
walk free. 
 
what is the taste 
of black
 
can it be 
scraped from 
a dead tongue?
 
none of us 
have breathed 
in a minute
 
if ever.
 
three cops walk
because my skin
is America’s shame—
 
we were born 
with a death shroud
stitched to our bodies
 
and we still 
go to work 
because we’re fine
 
we’re fine fine fine
fine fine fine fine
fine.
 
it’s not the streets 
swelling
and we’re not sinking
from steel chains
 
and we’re not drowning
 
we’re fine.
 
three cops walk free;
 
the surviving wall
was probably painted white,
 
an indifferent cream at least.
 
three cops walk free
and we all lie buried still.
 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022

__________

e.a. toles: “The first time I read Emily Dickenson, I realized that there were other worlds in poems. Each line was a mystery building on top of what had come before. I lost myself in that collection of poems. The veil had been pulled back, exposing the subtle ache of humanity. I wanted to live in that aching feeling forever. So I started writing poetry.” (web)

Rattle Logo