March 2, 2024

Bob Hicok

SHOW AND TELL

Sky the color of warning. Well not red but pink,
now salmon, it innovates faster than I have words
to shape into clouds on their way to their new life
in the midst of their old. There’s no stopping,
no point at which a cloud kicks back
and smokes a cigarette, they’re all process.
Between typing “process” and looking at the plastic
dinosaur head sitting on my “Impressionist Masterpieces
Art Cube,” the pink disappeared where it had floated
like the idea of a tutu over Paris mountain
and I became bored with myself. So things change:
how exciting. Go tell the river, tell the cow
in the river. How about this: “Red sky at morning, sailors
wear condoms.” That’s more interesting.
I’ve never understood the claim by men that condoms
take the pleasure out of sex, it’s not
like you’re wearing a length of pipe.
When condoms were still the intestines of goats,
a man set stones into the ground outside his house
in Ravenna, where I’d walk with you in the tomorrow
I hope is coming this summer or next. We don’t have to talk
about condoms or clouds at all, we can talk about the deer
eating their way across draught, no rain in weeks,
no way I’m getting out of this alive, or none of that,
just the ocean, that bit of interpretative dance
on the horizon. Maybe the goal was to stand still
and whisper across 144 miles that the battle had begun
by waving flags, one signaler to another. That’s fine
for you and your Napoleonic wars, but what if wind
is who you want to go to bed with and you’re alright
with the fact that she won’t be there
even as you touch her? This ascription of gender
implies I know something
about secondary sexual characteristics
that you don’t, but I’m no doctor of change,
just a fan, same as any kid in the bleachers
cheering for the boredom of the third inning
to be interrupted by a reading of Proust. Madeleines.
How yum. This sky has cleared, by the way, of anything
but blue, and I suppose now I could pin
certain notions of clarity to the hour and feel
that I’ve honored what seems to be time
or the inclination to put language to work
putting up mirrors around the house. Even the feeling
I had at the start of this sentence has left town
already, and as another forms, part of me’s
still waving at the last as the balloon slips away.
If I could talk to fire, talk to wood
right before it burns, in the second flames
tumble across the grain, in the instant
before that second, when wood’s still wood
but the match is lit, I’d have, finally, a vocabulary
for being human, alive. This explains my pyromania
but nothing else.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008

__________

Bob Hicok: “I think of myself as a failed writer. There are periods of time when I’ll be happy with a given poem or a group of poems, but I, for the most part, detest my poems. I like writing. I love writing, and I believe in myself while I am writing; I feel limitless while I’m writing.”

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March 1, 2024

Ardon Shorr

TIME TRAVEL FOR BEGINNERS

Every crumb of starlight 
sails across the universe, 
 
the journey of a million years 
to end inside our eyes.
 
Except I was looking at you,
canvas coverall cinched at the waist,
 
as you undressed me with photons,
wrapped me in stories, 
 
painted with x-rays,
until everything glowed 
 
with backstory—the names of trees, 
the name of an extinguished star,
 
still visible, ghost in the sky, 
climbing a staircase of optic nerve 
 
into an afterlife of sight.
Hand on my hand you pointed to the past:
 
the sun, an 8-minute time machine,
the moon, one second old,
 
and the incredible now,
unfolding like a cone,
 
megaphone of memory stretched to the sky
and balanced on the tip was us,
 
a luminous shout
of life at the speed of light.
 
In a blink, this moment reaches the moon.
When we pack up the hammock, it floats
 
in the acid clouds of Venus.
Which means that somewhere, there is a spot,
 
past the gaps in Saturn’s rings,
beyond the storms of Jupiter,
 
outside the curved embrace of the Milky Way,
at least one place in the universe,
 
where you could turn around and see us,
back when we were still in love.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

__________

Ardon Shorr: “I was trained as a scientist. There’s this moment in an experiment where you can ask a question of the universe and actually get an answer. It’s like something is speaking to you, and for a moment, you’re the only one who knows it. Then you get to share it. Poetry is how I return to that moment.” (web)

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February 29, 2024

Desperado by G.J. Gillespie, abstract portrait of a cubist-like figure in blues and pinks

Image: “Desperado” by G.J. Gillespie. “Portrait of my father as the Count of Monte Christo” was written by Joanna Preston for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2024, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

__________

Joanna Preston

PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO

They have made for him a mask, shaped of
face and chest and shoulders and throat, not
to protect him, but with seven long
black screws to lock him firmly down. He
goes into the machine and something
almost him comes out. Because this is
desperation, this attempt by force
to burn out every hyphae of this
thing burrowed in to his throat his jaw
his tongue into the voice and breath and
savour of my father, and so now
they will burn him.
 
My father goes into the machine, and
something almost him comes out.
For the burning they give
him morphine. For the burning
they give him morphine. For
the burning they give him morphine and
his skin peels into ribbons and he
goes into the machine, and something
of him comes out.
 
A chevauchée campaign. Some of his
hair has blackened as though scorched
to its roots. He goes into the machine, and
something of my father comes out. Kind
people pat him dry, press salve and clean
cloth and bandages against him. All this
they can do without looking. He goes
into the machine, and something almost
him comes out. But his mouth
is a charred cave, smoke-filled and
acrid, his throat a scoured-out gully.
His voice is a rumour of flame, carried
by the wind at dusk to where children
are sleeping. He goes into the machine, and
something almost him comes out.
 
For the burning they give him morphine.
For the burning they give him morphine
and methadone. For the burning they give him
morphine and methadone and catch
each other’s gazes above his weeping
skin. He goes into the machine,
and something almost him comes out.
 
His face inside the cage is burnt and his
lungs are the desiccated body of a crow
wired to a fence as warning and his body
is scourged and bleeding and it is
Christmas and he has been made
into tinsel and he goes into
himself and he is dressed
in a jester’s motley but cannot laugh
the white gown of a patient but he
cannot take any more wears the memory
of my father but it is charred
around the edges and there are embers
in his mind and he goes into
the machine and something
does not come out.
 

from Ekphrastic Challenge
January 2024, Editor’s Choice

__________

Comment from the series editor, Megan O’Reilly: “There is something part human, part machine, and part something else–something indefinable–in G.J. Gillespie’s bold, abstract image, and Joanna Preston’s poem reflects this combination in the most profound and brilliant way I can imagine. Though the subject matter is excruciatingly human, the poet uses repetition, metaphor, and a detached voice to emphasize the clinical, almost robotic nature of what her father is enduring. The result is a poem so weighty and haunting, I needed to remind myself to breathe after reading the last line. Coupled with the captivating image that inspired it, ‘Portrait of my father as the Count of Monte Christo’ will reverberate in my mind for a long time.”

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February 28, 2024

Tim Seibles

ANTS

Sometimes you’ll see one
far from any yard, maybe 
on a bookshelf, Barnes 
& Noble—third floor 
of the mall—or somehow 
whipping across town 
with you in your car. 
 
There it is: stepping along 
the dusty dashboard
antennae askew, six tiny feet
marking a nearly straight line
pausing once       twice as if trying
to remember a missed turn
 
but without panic, though 
it’s probably hungry 
and a little pissed
and desperate for the lean 
chemical trail of its colony kin
 
who by now are a million
ant miles away, just beginning 
to notice that you-know-who 
hasn’t been seen for a while.  
Maybe their feelers twitch 
with grief or a little envy. 
 
Saw one today 
on the basketball court
and wished I could believe
what that ant believed
with those fancy sneaks
flashing all around.
 
Years ago, in Philadelphia—
Sharpnack Street: row houses
block after block, paint peeling
on the porches, one faded address
after another—I was looking
for Donna’s house.
 
She had the biggest afro 
in the city and a smile 
like a lead singer 
taking the mike: Donna Lee, 
the girl I called a “tackhead” 
back in 7th grade because 
no one had told me
what puberty could do.  
 
I must’ve had the street wrong
and soon found myself deep
in the turf held by The Clang,
tough guys mostly my age 
and always ready to move 
on a stranger, and I knew
 
those dudes didn’t know me. 
But I just kept walking 
while the dark flickered 
with the streetlights
starting to buzz and the city
like a black leather jacket.
 
I was sixteen, away 
from home with nobody 
bossing me around, lost
in a night that might have
gone on forever.
 
I felt that way again today 
wandering a neighborhood 
that should’ve been familiar 
but nothing is anymore:
 
not these pocked streets
and untrimmed hedges 
not my own busy head
tuning up every fear—
 
not even my country
though I was born here
almost 70 years ago, but what 
should I do? What can anybody 
 
actually do       but keep on walking.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Tim Seibles: “The way ant colonies are organized, the fact that they predate humanity by millions of years, and the everywhere-ness of these tiny beings has always fascinated me. This poem began when I noticed an ant on the fifth floor of my apartment complex; I still can’t figure out how it got there—maybe as a passenger on someone’s pants leg. I write poetry because life is both wondrous and poignant, and I feel compelled to celebrate what amazes me and to decry what wounds the world.” (web)

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February 27, 2024

Anis Mojgani

CRADLE

Set the warriors to sea in a ship stacked with shields, layers of swords, mountains of gold. Lay them out with their wife. With their child. Lay them out with their livestock, with the whole farm. The rain is not coming here. Not today. For today the gods welcome one of their own back home. So set the hero out on the soft waves that will carry him to the other side of the pink ether where he will float on fire until the ash consumes him like the mighty warrior he once was and like the legend he will become. The flames will dance over his possessions, his goblets and arrows, his blankets, his paintings, his passions. The flames will dance across his flesh like the soft fingers of the soft lover he left, and as he sleeps this last sleep, the fires will eat him away, the heat will write his skin across the night sky to join the constellations that will guide the sailors at storm, the herders lost in the clouds, they will all come home by facing the direction his eyes are facing. The heavens are filled with smoke. This is history this is legend this is what we once were. Where the stories come from, what we are. When you fall in battle, they will take your body with the life you made in this world and set it off to sail behind you into the next, so that you will stay a king, remain forever the golden being you breathed as on this side of the mountain. When you pass, may your life follow you like a shadow into the light. When I go, bury me with nothing but my own skin. I spent far too many days trying to outrun this thing called mine, so if I set myself into your arms would you hold me like the earth, quietly? I am yours. Give me a field, give me a big sky. A mountain. Give me your mouth. I’m just looking for a quiet place that I could die inside of.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

__________

Anis Mojgani: “I have skinny arms and get cold easily. I have bad posture. I really like MF Doom. His rhymes are totally awesome to the max. I grew up in New Orleans. I have a BFA in comic books. Two months ago I watched my father try not to cry as he read about Baha’i martyrs dying in his home country of Iran. I wrote a poem about it. I like to write poems these days about people other than me. I like to write poems that illuminate the truths people hold in common. I like the myth of the poem, the ancient theater of its mythology. Right now I am writing a poetry book about a whale.” (web)

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February 26, 2024

Jacob K. Robinson

THE POOL

Oh, right. About the boy from the sky
He fell, unexpectedly, feet first into the pool
Which is a silly thing to think
A boy with enough composure, while falling from a great height, to direct his feet earthward
I suppose it could mean he intended to land
To bend his knees on arrival
To cushion the impact
But could it also mean he was trying to create as little splash as possible?
To pencil his body through the earth, like water
To show his skill at making no waves, causing no tumult, no hubbub, no trauma
Maybe he was competing in a diving contest
Between four other boys and himself
And he simply wanted to win.
 
The other boys had competed finely
There were flips and jackknifes and a cannonball just to stir the pot
They had no judge but themselves, each other
A scale of zero to ten, though no one would give a zero
That would simply be too cruel
And a ten was out of the question
A score only given to the impossible, the unattainable
A target to aim for, knowing they could never hit it.
 
With each dive they had raised the stakes
They had upped the ante, so to speak
This didn’t imply that the following dive need be better
Just that it had to be more, different, else
The thinking was that one must never step back, regress, devalue the competition
One must always add add add
Lift the competition to new heights
And in so doing, lift each other
It was really about encouragement, was it not?
It was really about making each other better, stronger, more capable
It was really about tough love and hard won battle scars
It was really about elevation.
 
From way up in the sky, the pool looked like a target, an eye
It had lost its kidney bean shape
And morphed into a simple dot
A little crystalline blue pupil with an off-white iris made of concrete and pebbles
Surrounding that, a green green green sclera
That was the wide open land of rural Texas
That was the cow pastures and hay fields
Hay fields in the off season, wild grass spurting up from the untilled dirt
There was a house next to the eye, a long ranch home
One could imagine it as a nose but that was upsetting
Then one might expect there to be another eye, bookending the bridge of the nose-house
But there wasn’t.
There isn’t.
There couldn’t be.
And it would be a sad thing to think about a missing eye, a semi-lost vision
So the nose-house does not exist, it disappears from view at this height
Not by actuality but by actualization
This was not an eye of a pair of eyes
This was a kind of cyclops, a singular point from which the Up Above is viewed
The Up Above in which a boy could be seen
Falling, feet first, toward the target-eye.
 
The other boys continued their competition
The highest score to be achieved thus far, an 8
Which is to say, they were nearing the end.
The dive that had achieved the 8 was a half back flip twist maneuver
Hard to render completely, but that is the description the attempting boy used
A sort of half back flip twist, then, head first, arms in front, straight down like a needle
And he did it
He pierced the water with hardly a ripple, comparatively anyhow
In fact, the only reason he did not merit a 9 was that he had not made the full twist
His entry was achieved at—roughly—a 350-degree position from how he began
Which was with his back to the other boys
So, given the parameters of the dive he described, he should have entered the water facing away again
And he nearly did
But not quite
Thus, the 8.
 
From below, the feet of the boy from the sky looked like an equal sign
Spread just slightly apart, the smallest of gaps between them
He had considered keeping them pressed tight to one another
Ankle to ankle, as it were
But that had proved to be uncomfortable to hold
And he would be holding it for some time
So instead he opted for the more sustainable: slightly apart.
There was something to this strange stance he had positioned himself in
This kind of gentle at-ease
Say one was flying in an airplane and looked out the window and saw the boy
He would look like he was standing on air
What a sight.
 
The diving boys did not know about the boy from the sky until he was there
They knew him, of course
He was a friend of theirs
Or an acquaintance maybe
But they didn’t know that word then
So they used friend
They didn’t know he was taking part in their little competition
They didn’t know how badly he wanted to win
They didn’t know how long he had been planning this dive
All they knew was that he was suddenly there
Crashing
Feet first
Into their pool.
 
The water, that blue pupil, spilled out onto the iris of off-white concrete and pebble
All of it
The pupil space that remained became the color of bleached bone, empty
Its blue trickled away away away
Over the concrete and pebble
toward the green green green sclera
And then it seeped down into it
And was gone
The boy from the sky was the new vision
The diving boys were seeing.
 
Cracks began
To form
In the pupil
As if the boy from the sky
Kept wanting
To go down
 
It was aging
Everything was aging
At a pace
Unexpected
Drying out
Unused
 
The green green green
Is now brown brown brown
And the nose-house that never was
Is being sold
The memories contained in the pupil waters
Now somewhere else
Scattered on impact
 
The pool
Will be demolished
Filled in
And maybe become a garden
Or a garage
 
The four diving boys
Will eventually forget the boy from the sky
Or no
Not forget
Simply not remember
Not every day anyway
But occasionally they will recall
The dive that was an 8
They will laugh about how close it was to a 9
And
Then
Oh right.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Jacob K. Robinson: “At the end of the day, I think I’d like to be summed up like so: I am Texan by birth, a Georgian by blood, and a New Yorker by choice. I like a good pair of Levi’s, mowing the lawn, and playoff baseball. I am doing my best.” (web)

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February 25, 2024

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

TWO YEARS LATER.

The last thing I want is another poem
about war and dead children and how
we’ve forgotten their names.
My children are learning to count: bones
 
and wars and dead children and how
many days are left, Now? they ask, now?
My children are learning to count bones—
twenty-seven in the hand, twenty-two in the skull.
 
Many days are left now. They ask, now?
The last thing I want is to imagine them dead,
twenty-seven, twenty-two, their hands, their skulls.
I keep counting to make sure they’re all there.
 
The last thing I want is to imagine the dead
we’ve forgotten. Their names,
I keep counting to make sure. They’re all there.
The last thing I want is another poem.
 

from Poets Respond
February 25, 2024

__________

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach: “I’m at a loss for words for the continued violence against Ukraine, my birthplace. And yet, I keep finding more insufficient ones. I keep turning to form to provide some semblance of order amid atrocity that resists sense or comprehension. War analysts thought Kyiv would fall in two days, but February 24th marked two years. Two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion and still, Ukraine remains standing. Two years of fight, resistance, and endurance. If you are able, please consider contributing to an aid organization that helps those who are in Ukraine and refugees trying to flee. I recommend Ukraine TrustChain. An all volunteer-run nonprofit started by Ukrainian immigrants in the U.S., they work with local volunteers on the ground, going directly into areas hard to reach by larger international organizations. TrustChain provides urgent food, medical supplies, and transportation to safer regions. Poetry is often criticized for making nothing happen in the real world, but poetry has raised thousands of dollars for Ukraine. You reading this poem and asking questions about the global violence that continues is the beginning of action.” (web)

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