September 25, 2023

José A. Alcántara


Neither do I, but yesterday, in the hospital,
for two hours, I held the hand of a dying woman—
my friend’s grandmother, 94, barely intelligible,
and in unrelenting pain. Every few seconds,
she slurred what could only be, Help me.
Help me. Help me. Over and over. Nothing
we did worked: not water, not raising or lowering
the bed, not massage, nothing but canned pineapple,
the little piece we would place in her mouth,
the chewing, something she could do; the juice,
a blessing on her dry tongue. But all too soon
the pain bit back down—the moaning, the grimace,
the Help me. The human remembering the animal.
Suffering and more suffering. Until my friend
placed her phone next to her grandmother’s ear
and played Alan Jackson singing “What a Friend
We Have in Jesus,” when, from the first chord
on the guitar, her body stilled, her face went slack.
For two minutes, she went somewhere else,
somewhere quiet, beautiful, free of pain.
We played it again. And again. And when
she fell asleep, when her breathing deepened,
her mouth and eyes still open; when the Furies
stopped their gorging, we were so grateful,
not to God, but to her faith, to her belief in something
better, something kinder, and with fewer teeth.

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023


José A. Alcántara: “It’s quite a gift to be there for someone when they are pushed beyond what they can bear. My sister did that for me once in a hospital in Costa Rica. This was my turn to be there for this lady whom I had met just two weeks before. On that earlier day, she kept saying what a wonderful driver I was. Who knew where it was that I would soon be taking her?” (web)

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September 24, 2023

Lisa Majaj


for Sabra and Shatila

The trees burned first, ablaze in the inferno of exile.
The tsunami of death drowned the ones washed up by exile.
Soldiers surrounded the camps, then set up flares for the killers.
Knives shone in the dark, a steely passage to exile.
The killers hated them because they were in their land.
They came because they were refugees, forced into exile.
The alleys were littered with bodies, knifed, machine-gunned.
The corpses twisted in choreographed despair: oh exile!
Dust settled thick on the broken stones. Flies clustered everywhere.
Wrecked buildings marked the camp’s collapse into exile.
The reporters stopped counting bodies after they reached a hundred.
Children and grandparents sprawled in death’s terrible exile.
The orchestrators watched through binoculars as the murderers worked.
They wanted the victims dead, not just in exile.
Youth taken by surprise fell like crumpled puppets, limbs outflung.
Blood pooled beneath their bodies, staining the dirt of exile.
Pregnant women lay with their bellies slashed open—
babes torn from their wombs, condemned to a lifeless exile.
The bodies piled up in stacks: horses and corpses.
Bulldozers scooped the dead to rubble-filled exile.
Word traveled across oceans in time for the evening news.
TV corpses brought the dead to their families in echoes of exile.
Hands flung wide, mourners still clutch at the broken air.
Their lungs struggle for breath in the vacuum of exile.
Who will comfort the children of Sabra, the mothers of Shatila?
What light can they find in the ravaged lanes of exile?
At the port there is no boat waiting, only sailors with dirges.
Memory sinks to the depths, carrying the grief of exile.
The days and the years glided away with my loved ones.
Oh Palestinians, it is a departure without return from exile!

from Poets Respond
September 24, 2023


Lisa Majaj: “In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, led by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. In September, as Israeli soldiers watched through binoculars and lit flares to light the dark, Christian militias friendly to Israel massacred thousands of Palestinian civilians at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut. Palestinian fighters had already been evacuated and the camps were defenseless. A UN commission of inquiry found Israel and several individuals, including Sharon, bore responsibility for the massacres. I was a college student in Beirut 1978-1982, and evacuated out during the invasion (our refugee boat was arrested and taken to Israel by an Israeli navy ship for interrogation). By September I had settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for graduate school. When the massacre happened I was stunned by the images of bloated bodies on the TV screen. There was no context for my grief on that calm campus of grass and squirrels. Later I learned that someone I knew learned her uncle had died when she saw his corpse on a pile of bodies in the lane of the camp on the evening news. This year marks 41 years since the massacre. News agencies in various places in the world marked the anniversary. Reading the news from the distance of decades, now on the island of Cyprus—the place my refugee boat brought me to at last during my evacuation in 1982—I found my anguish rising potent as ever: over the massacres, and over the fact that Palestinians are still exiles. The italicized lines in the poem are from a lament by a Palestinian woman after the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, quoted in Laleh Khalili, Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration, 2007.”

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September 23, 2023

Ziqr Peehu (age 10)


My mother says
Her dog visited her in her dream,
The night it died. Death is a tragedy till you can’t go back. Till you can’t go forward
I am not a spiritual person but
I wish to touch my mother in her dream
The night I die too.
My mother tells me she used to be like me
She’d look at god and she’d look at faith
And she’d spit on it. She’d spit on it in a way that it disintegrates
Like she was hurtling acid.
She says it’s inevitable though, receiving faith.
In Hindi, you don’t have an enlightenment,
It’s something that happens to you.
In Hindi, you don’t become religious, don’t believe in a god,
You go in it. Within it.
You succumb to it.
In Hindi, it’s inevitable.
No wonder, I’ve always preferred English.
My mother knew her dog died before anyone ever told her.
My mother knew her grandmother died before the doctors told us.
My grandmother says, my mother is prone to these things.
That god chose her well and special and made her more sensitive to it.
My grandmother doesn’t say that god forsook me.
He did.
My mother knows when people die because they all visit her.
All of them.
My dog died with her face in my mother’s hands, cupped just as so.
Her dog died and came to visit her.
People do not die on my mother because she does not let them.
My mother was touched by god and in turn she touches everyone around her
She leaves us all connected to god, all of us and then we are forced to visit her when we die.
We all touch my mother when we die.
She wouldn’t have it otherwise.

from 2023 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

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September 22, 2023

Frank Beltrano


Boy, I could
Be in trouble.
Before I left
By myself to go grocery shopping, we
Built a list of what we need
But on the way to
Buy it all I
Blundered, lost the list, don’t want to go
Back, admit my error
Besides it would
Be a waste of time.
Believe it or not, I remember everything, not a
Billion items and all
Began with a
“B”. First up 
Bacon enough for four sandwiches. You won’t have more than that, too fat.
Bananas and
Bagels for
Brussel sprouts
Because we 
Both love your special recipe.
Boil them a
Bit. Add chili peppers, soy sauce.
Both almond and dairy, salted and not. Hot
Barbequed chicken
Blue cheese cuz it pleases you
Black Diamond slices for me
Brie for
Both of us. A
Brick of ice cream
Blueberry pie, not sugar or pecan
Because all the sugar reminds me
Brown sugar, and 
Brown eggs from happy chickens
Barn-raised maybe
But also free to range
But, am I forgetting something. Ah! A
Broom. Not 
Big, small, more a whisk with matching
Black dustpan to sweep up
Bread crumbs and sesame
Bagel seeds from the floor. What’s more
Bags for the vacuum cleaner
But, finally, not on the list
Beautiful cut flowers, something we’ve missed. 
Prompt: “A Two Sylvias Press prompt, entitled, ‘Make a list, baby!’”

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023
Tribute to Prompt Poems


Frank Beltrano: “Over the past couple of years I have probably written over 200 poems to prompts. I particularly love Peter Murphy prompts and prompts written by Two Sylvias Press. It’s not because I have a shortage of imagination or inspiration. I find that a prompt gives focus, and the more demanding the prompt the more rewarding the result. Also I imagine the writer of the prompt is listening, wants their curiosity answered, and becomes the person to whom the poem is written.” 

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September 21, 2023

Seamstress by Lily Prigioniero, oil painting of an elderly woman sewing by a window

Image: “Seamstress” by Lily Prigioniero. “My Wife, Sewing at a Window” was written by Eithne Longstaff for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2023, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Eithne Longstaff


Spring wanes
and as is her custom
she pulls the dusty
cover from her Singer
and sits at the window
to fashion cotton,
sprigged with tiny
roses, into tiered
summer skirts
for whichever
grandchild wants one.
Time stretches like
the elastic she holds
and I recall a trip
to Rome where,
laughing, we fell
into a church
as raindrops slid
from bare arms.
In a dark side chapel
we clattered coins
into a metal box
and the space lit up
with a yellow glow,
revealing a Caravaggio,
just for us. She said
he has painted the light
and we stood
and marveled.
Then our ninety seconds
of illumination was over
and we stepped back
into lives that were all about
where to next, and
our house will be blue.
Now she is the old
master and as she works
light ripples her clothes
and crowns her head
with cirrus. The rose
fabric is stippled
with thorns and I see
only where the light
falls to make her perfect
and dare not look
to the room’s dark corners.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
August 2023, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Lily Prigioniero: “Although the seamstress in my painting is my mom, I related to this poem in many ways, especially regarding the passage of time, a major factor in choosing this one among many. The images at the beginning are vivid and easily approachable in their present-tense setting; then there’s the transition into a past memory with the simile, ‘Time stretches like / the elastic she holds / and I recall a trip / to Rome …’ We are then brought back to the present by tying the Caravaggio experience of light to ‘Now she is the old / master ….’ This time around, however, the passage of time feels heavier and more mysterious, not only because the rose fabric is ‘stippled with thorns,’ but because we are given a glimpse into the future with the poem’s powerful last line ‘and dare not look / to the room’s dark corners.'”

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September 20, 2023

Alana Joblin Ain


The key to the car is inside an electronic device called a fob

Don’t worry if it’s your first time hearing that term and you’re over 40 with an MFA! 

It doesn’t matter that it’s called a fob; it’s too hard to open anyway and I’ll need to run onto the baseball field to ask the kid’s PE teacher to pry it with my hair barrette

which will set off the Subaru alarm sending an email to my husband that the car’s had a break-in.

Press the Start / Engine button to dismantle the alarm then watch 

YouTube videos of men taking apart the fob to replace the lithium battery.

Press Pause and Play as many times as it takes you to do what they did.

This isn’t my gift—

I am a poet married to a rabbi and when a light burns out we adjust to less light. 

For years it’s been me—the woman with everyone’s keys, letting in the guy who vents the dryers, the guy who patches the roof, the guy who puts spikes out to deter pigeons, the guy to fix the leaky dishwasher, the basement boiler—all the guys with billable hours.

Because for so many years people thought that I did nothing while raising my kids I had to learn how to do everything

Even return the cable box—and returning the cable box is annoying. 

Sherrie didn’t do it when she decided to leave this earth; she just left a diagram of how to find it in her note. 

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023


Alana Joblin Ain: “I write poetry and prose, but find that I can traverse time and space most easily in verse, and surprise myself by where I end up—in this case beginning with the chaos of being locked out of my car (and unable to change the dead key battery) with my kids on a sports field in my 40s bringing me to a set of mundane instructions: an image from Sherrie’s suicide note, to myself at age 15, on a first date in a snowstorm, very late to return to my young aunt’s home—decades of life still ahead of her.” (web)

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September 19, 2023

Matthew Olzmann


An ordinary man hires a contractor to build
a new house. When it’s done, he rushes
to see it. But it’s not what he’s paid for,
there must be some mistake. The house
is shaped like a human head. Two eyes
instead of bay windows. A circular mouth
for a doorway. There’s even a small lantern,
like a nose-ring, set on the right nostril.
Furious, he calls the contractor. You godless
pig fucker, he yells, You whore of a human shell.
He files lawsuit after lawsuit. But the contractor
has nothing—his bank accounts hold
the emptiness of vacant lots, and his business,
which was merely failing before, has now officially
failed. So the man is stuck with this piece
of real estate. At first, he hates the head, hates
sleeping in its temporal lobe, hates eating
breakfast on a row of teeth. As stated before,
this is an ordinary man. His thoughts
are ordinary and his ambitions are sparse. Then,
in the middle of hating his ordinary life, a change.
People take pictures when he trims the ivy—
which looks oddly like facial hair—on the north
façade. Stoned teenagers road trip across
the country just to hang out on the front lawn.
National magazines run feature articles.
Suddenly, this man who was—just weeks ago—
utterly forgettable, is a minor celebrity.
He wants more. He imagines a vivid future.
So he calls the contractor to apologize. He wants
to suggest building a second house, perhaps one
shaped like the president or Elvis. But the line
is disconnected. No one’s there. Turns out,
the contractor has vanished—after the lawsuits,
his luck took a turn for the worse, then another,
then—nothing. He disappeared. So, there will
be only one house shaped like a head.
And after a couple months, the novelty wears off.
The man inside is old news. But night
after night, you can see him up there, sitting
behind the house’s left eyelid, both he
and the house just staring at the street.
What must the street look like to them?
Tonight, there’s so much fog, both the trees
and the sky are invisible. But every once
in a while, there’s a part in the mist, a rip
in the veil, an opening where the world looks—
for only a moment—different. Then
it’s hazy again, then it’s nothing at all.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010


Matthew Olzmann: “I was writer-in-residence at a high school in Detroit. As is true at pretty much any high school, the kids felt—seemingly at all times—this incredible pressure to fit in, to be like the rest of their peers. Often this meant hiding, denying or simply not talking about the things that made them unique and interesting (being the smartest one in the class, being an accomplished ballet dancer, having a collection of antique table cloths, etc.). That’s where ‘Rare Architecture’ begins and ends—the urge to blend in with the rest of the neighborhood.” (web)

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