June 24, 2024

Stephen Allen


When the beloved is present, presence lights a burning fire.
When the beloved is absent, memory sparks a yearning fire.
Swirls of summer dresses. Delicate beauty catches the eye.
Be more cautious of her scorn than Cupid returning fire.
Lust is easier to manage than purified love, sometimes.
Saint Francis flung his tempted body into a churning fire.
An education in nature starts with the basic elements:
learning earth and air, learning water, learning fire.
A tattered manuscript covered in something not quite leather.
Scattered fragments of an archaic treatise concerning fire.
Driving home at midnight, staggered lights on the northern horizon:
a rare Aurora Borealis, a wall of upturning fire.
Between this world and all it holds and the floating world of illusion
lie nothing more than shadows cast by the mind’s discerning fire. 
Whose vision of heaven do you want? What geometries?
The saints and angels circle, their paths an arc of turning fire.
And whose Hell is this? A space of silent loneliness.
Boredom much worse torture than tradition’s interning fire.
Face it, Stephen, the only fire in the belly you have is heartburn.
You should fall in love some time. Embrace the affirming fire.

from Rattle #84, Summer 2024


Stephen Allen: “Experimenting with forms is always fun for me, a chance to bring some order into my life. Writing ghazals, in particular, has been very satisfying: the jumps between couplets mirror the way my mind works, and the traditional subject matter of lost love is one I find very sympathetic at this point in my life.”

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June 23, 2024

Talley Kayser


To mirror the desert, you must wear away.
I learned this on a long walk, long ago.
My skin went dark past bronze. My hair grew dust.
Sun washed my clothes into rock-colored gauze.
When only the wet of my eyes and mouth
could reveal me—suddenly bighorn
bimbled cliffs. Suddenly lions
eased among the creosote. I learned
to be gentler when shaking scorpions
from my boots. To mirror this desert
you need an edge you trust
to crumble, need to feel
each blooded life surviving desert
as your kindred. Desert will pit you
against winds you cannot withstand
by standing. Desert will topple all your light
with greater light. Desert will swallow
whole your pilgrims. Look how alien
you are—I say your glare
is no protection and less art. I say
desert (fiercer art)
will not abide reflection.

from Poets Respond


Talley Kayser: “The mysterious metal monoliths appearing in remote locations around the world—including, this past week, in my home desert—are easy to read as wry, sci-fi inflected jokes. This is especially true of the current monolith (illegally) installed near Gass Peak, Nevada. Its hyper-shiny surface reflects the desert at odd angles; the color palette matches, but the lines don’t. It looks, at a strangely visceral level, like a glitch. I’m always disappointed by how common it is for artists in this region to use highly reflective surfaces (think Airstream trailer) as sculptural material. I imagine the impulse is grounded in an appreciative tension: the reflection echoes the vastness of the desert landscape, while the smooth texture provides a sharp contrast to the desert’s natural materials. But as someone who has spent a great deal of time walking the Mojave desert, I chafe at how this strategy flirts with cultural narratives that write desert as only space: as empty, as wasteland, even as ‘unearthly.’ It seems that art about the Mojave rarely engages with its aliveness and intimacy—with how the extreme conditions here shape every living thing, including the rocks, into specialized beings worthy of attention and awe. In Nevada, the story of desert-as-empty has real impacts; it’s why Nevada was repeatedly bombed with nuclear weapons, why Nevada only narrowly staved off becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dump, and why large-scale lithium mining is being greenlighted in Nevada despite strong objections about its environmental consequences. I know the desert-as-empty story will also empower interested parties to seek out this new monolith with relatively literal regard for the desert itself; a similar installation in Utah attracted would-be admirers in hordes, most of whom had no problem driving their vehicles through protected areas and leaving their (literal) shit wherever they liked on their quest to find the Big Shiny Thing. Into this cluster of associations, I wrote ‘Advice to a Monolith.’ It’s a poem about minding your manners in a place with every capacity to eat you alive. I wonder, if it were left to stand, how long the surface of this monolith would stay mirror-bright. On its own time, I know the desert always wins.” (web)

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June 22, 2024

Helen Buckingham




returning home
a builder’s crane
gives me the finger




high art
one kid
draws a gun




in the midday sun—
a whale of a yacht

from Rattle #47, Spring 2015
Tribute to Japanese Forms


Helen Buckingham: “The reading and writing of Japanese style short-form poetry is my grounding mechanism, be that ground high or low, urban or rural, external or internal. The poems included here were written while living in Bristol and in the past six months since moving to Wells, in the heart of the Somerset countryside, though in many instances their gestation can be traced to my South London childhood. I only wish I’d had access to haiku and its associated forms back then.”

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June 21, 2024

Jana Bouma


My dentist warns that my gums are letting go; they’re
threatening to set my teeth adrift on a current of words.
So I’ve bought myself an electric toothbrush, 
and my teeth, now, after brushing them 
are so clean that they are a wonder, 
and every day I trace them with my tongue, 
relishing their smoothness. And when I spit into the sink 
and turn on the faucet, all that roughness 
goes spiraling down the drain, through the pipes, 
into that long, tentacled river flowing continuously 
beneath our feet, carrying away all that we do not want 
to think about or see again, 
uniting stream with stream of effluent from my kitchen, 
my bathroom, the neighbor’s kitchen, and bathroom, 
every kitchen and bathroom in my small town, 
in the neighboring city, in a thousand cities 
across a continent. 
Away it all goes but leaves behind trace after trace 
in the pipes-become-channels-become-
subways that men can walk within and do 
walk within, looking for the leaks and the corrosion 
and the clogs that would flood a city street 
or back up into your basement if there were not 
someone         willing         to disappear 
into the street’s round, dark openings, 
to descend into a chamber knee-deep 
with the excrement and the sluice that we’ve all 
tried to forget, that we all have forgotten 
as soon as it leaves our sink or bathtub, and Mike Rowe 
has made a television series, an entire career 
out of the work that such men do (and such women),
unclogging the sewers, digging a river’s worth of silt 
from inside the dam, shovelful by shovelful,
stripping the feathers from bird carcasses,
carrying away the excrement of enormous animals, 
because hard work 
                                   is beautiful 
no matter the muck that you do it in, 
and the men and women who do it are, yes,
the women with fingers raw from turning seams in the coat factory, 
the men with faces blackened by the forge’s fire, 
the husband and wife toiling, bent over the long rows of strawberries, 
their infant bundled under a tree at the field’s edge, their ears listening 
for the sound of approaching sirens. 

from Rattle #84, Summer 2024


Jana Bouma: “I love that poetry brings to our awareness the things and the people that we seldom think about, or that we actively avoid thinking about. For years, I tried to write this poem with that very intent until, one day, a visit to the dentist’s office provided me with that one ‘other thing’ that made the poem work, and the poem came pouring out.”

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June 20, 2024

Bird Ascending the Fire by Barbara Hageman Sarvis, painting in oranges and purples of a bird flying over a woodland lake

Image: “Bird Ascending the Fire” by Barbara Hageman Sarvis. “Wildfire Dreams” was written by Linda Vandlac Smith for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2024, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Linda Vandlac Smith


at night sleep slides
its matchbox open
sparks old torches
a woodland of flares
twizzling up through
brittle boughs of
dream all wick from
roots to treetops
everywhere lake
laps heat’s edge at
the border of what is
and isn’t afire what is
wind or what creates
it as smoke makes its
lateral move through
curve of vision nearly
obfuscates a bird risen
from shadow’s char
not phoenix but drone
misshapen angel or
ancestor I cry out for
any stranger born into
a wildfire of dreams
only a distortion of
myself parting troubled
clouds making orange
apologies from within
the same dark scowl
that ignites thunderstorm
this incubator of flame
that renews forest
with one jagged strike

from Ekphrastic Challenge
May 2024, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Barbara Hageman Sarvis: “I loved the poems very much, but felt that the poet of ‘Wildfire Dreams’ did an excellent job creating words, metaphors, and a narrative that describe both literally and emotionally the visual imagery in my painting.”

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June 19, 2024

S. A.


The wine-dark pain spills over, in my bed alone.
In nighttime stillness is my heart beset alone.
Why did you make me this way, why did you make me?
O God, why did you make the world, thus left alone?
My lone soul that aches for others’ nearness,
Why not make me like you, and be glad alone?
My forebears made us for company in sorrow.
You, motherless, childless, cannot beget, alone.
Why was I born from another’s pain? A mother’s
body, carried me—but suffered and bled alone.
To what do I owe the tormenting of this heart,
A solitary drum that beats “not-dead,” alone.
What do I owe you, thus born into this sorrow,
Are we all bound to you in debt, alone?
I was anointed “shame” ere having seen the light.
Why give me to the world, naked, blood-clad, alone?
Why must we plod and sweat and toil to till the earth?
Answer me, Lord; we cannot live from bread alone.
We were abandoned, then commanded to find you.
Why send us prophets to die in your stead, alone?
I’ll renounce you too, God, unveiled, unfettered, I
sing, birdlike, free, and leave my prayers unsaid, alone.
I trace my finger ’round the mirror Pleiades.
Around me Time winds its unending thread, alone.

from Rattle #84, Summer 2024
Tribute to the Ghazal


S. A.: “As a multilingual poet growing up speaking Arabic, I’ve always been fascinated by classical Arabic poetry, and how these poems and poetic forms can be read, appreciated, contrasted, reworked, reflected, and reimagined. I wanted to see if the ghazal form could work as well in English as it would with the mellifluous, dense imagery of the Arabic language. I wanted to evoke many of the same images, phrases, and ideas that show up in ancient Arabic, Persian, and Urdu ghazals, and this decidedly heretical ghazal is still grappling with the same themes of love, loss, and god.”

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June 18, 2024

Jeannine Hall Gailey


Remember: you are a blank page
no amount of shopping can cure.
One night you go out in tassels
and the next like a nun, but we still
love you. Can’t hold your liquor?
Never mind. Little angel, little bomb-thrower—
where would our malls
be without you? And the readings
you give in your corset are always good
for a crowd. I didn’t stop to give you
any advice. Get moving, screams Self
Magazine, or get medicated. Stay in the sun.
One more roast beef sandwich to watch you
wear yourself out for the muse. In the mirror,
you continue to shrink and I tell you—
eat this piece of cherry pie. It’s laced with cinnamon,
and maybe lithium. Also, write, but remember
writing will not be the death of you, or the life.
Keep watching the skies. Or skis. Sign a happy tune.
If this world doesn’t know the magic they behold,
create it for them. Remember to paint over the lines.
Forget your high heels and dance, Cinderella, dance.

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005


Jeannine Hall Gailey: “Since memorizing ‘Anyone Lives in a Pretty How Town’ for a fifth-grade poetry recitation contest, I’ve been in the thrall of language and the elegance of this art form. I’m still working on writing something worthy of memorization by a future fifth grader.” (web)

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