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)

Rattle Logo

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)

Rattle Logo

February 24, 2024

Steven M. Smith

MONOPOLY

My son’s the sticky-fingered banker—
a vault of red licorice squeaks
in his mouth. He conducts business
from his wooden chair on his knees,
puffing on a fresh piece of licorice,
clutching his stack of $500 bills
as if the IRS is coming for his
fortune with a giant vacuum cleaner.
I’m responsible for the deeds.
I have the few remaining ones fanned
out like a questionable poker hand
on the dining room table.
I toss a handful of M&M’s—
such sweet analgesics—in my mouth
and wash them down with Kool-Aid.
Of course, my son’s got the car.
And I got the boot.
He’s got hotels like red parasites
from Pacific Avenue to Boardwalk.
And he controls the railroads too.
Landing on Luxury Tax would be
the answer to my prayers.
I just want to go to jail,
not pass Go and stay there;
the jail house shower is safer!
Well, I’ve mortgaged everything,
except my hotels on Cockroach Corner—
Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues.
I’m on Marvin Gardens, and it’s my
turn to toss those little evil
squares speckled with black holes.
I land on Chance, and I start to wipe
the sweat of bankruptcy from my face,
but then my son hears me whimper:
“Advance token to Boardwalk.”

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006
Tribute to the Best of Rattle

__________

Steven M. Smith: “I know that my students are not likely to remember the titles of the poems I bring to the class, but I trust that by bringing passion to my students, they will know it’s possible, and go out to find something in their lives to be passionate about. I know this is possible through poetry.”

Rattle Logo

February 23, 2024

Amy Miller

UMBRELLA

Someone said Watch
the baby, so I watched her
sleep, small mouth with 
a bubble at the edge. Hands
 
like little double OKs. All
of human history pulsing
in the shallow vein
of her temple. A thin beige
 
umbrella over her head, 
raindrops exploding 
themselves against it, 
trying to touch her.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Amy Miller: “I am not a baby person. Grew up the youngest kid in my extended family, never liked babysitting, never had kids of my own. When somebody passes me a baby I freeze, holding this squirmy little creature. And yet … I was a school photographer’s assistant in my 20s, and found that I loved working with kids, especially the little ones who needed help blowing their noses and combing their eyebrows (that’s a thing in photography). It was actually one of the most thought-provoking jobs I ever had, although I constantly had the flu. Now when somebody hands me a baby, it’s still awkward but also sort of epic. Time and galaxies collide.” (web)

Rattle Logo

February 22, 2024

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

Image: “Desperado” by G.J. Gillespie. “Emergence” was written by Chris Kaiser for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2024, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

__________

Chris Kaiser

EMERGENCE

I remember you nude, descending
a staircase, the Times glued
to your hip. What was that four-letter
word beginning with “o”? Oh, I
 
remember your pentimento skin,
a collage of silent wounds that spoke
to my tongue in the pink moments
of dawn, your stitched body,
 
a patchwork quilt of stop-gap
bloodletting. But too often you
covered truth with hope: “Can I
escape the mechanized chime
 
of church bells that take their toll
on each dying day?” Oh, I wish I
had tasted the gasoline in your veins,
believed in the violence of hope,
 
drowned in the rich delta of tears.
Maybe I’d’ve risen like the salmon-pink
moon over the radius of your pain
and burrowed like a winter squirrel
 
into the geometry
of your sorrow and love.
 

from Ekphrastic Challenge
January 2024, Artist’s Choice

__________

Comment from the artist, G.J. Gillespie: “While some poems evoked violence or disease, which wasn’t my initial intention, ‘Emergence’ resonated with the deeper layers of existential perplexity in my artwork. The poem’s rich and sensual imagery, like ‘pentimento skin’ and ‘the rich delta of tears,’ captures the emotional complexity I aimed to portray. The allusion to ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ adds a layer of historical context and artistic dialogue. While other poems responded to the collaged nature of the artwork, none incorporated unique elements like the ‘geometry’ of sorrow and love, which beautifully reflects the fragmented yet interconnectedness of the figure. More importantly, the poem’s undercurrent of longing and the speaker’s desire to delve deeper into the subject’s pain mirror the sense of mystery and invitation I hoped to create in my viewers. It’s a poem that lingers in the mind and invites repeated exploration, much like my artwork.”

Rattle Logo

February 21, 2024

Meredith Mason

USE YOUR WORDS

My son looks up from drawing plants with teeth,
says, “You’re long-gone when we’re at Dad’s,” then tries
to find a better green. I think I’ll weep,
or maybe raise my hand and give him five.
 
He’s used his words. I want to hand him back 
some other words, remind him that he’s fine,
but nights when he’s not here I jolt awake;
the other side of his long-gone is mine.
 
I burrow underneath my blanket pile,
remind myself he’s safe, we’re fine, and … and …
the research shows, blah, blah, that kids can thrive …
Outside the maples wave their empty hands.
 
My son sleeps on the river’s other side.
I cannot swim across. It’s cold, and wide.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Meredith Mason: “I love the way that sound and meaning are in conversation with each other in the making of a poem, how they inform and guide each other. The process of weaving something whole and surprising from the varied sounds and symbols that make it feels like a chance to become more whole myself, feels like a kind of relief I crave. It’s a little like if you had a terrible itch in your duodenum, or right under your left kneecap, and poetry was the only thing that could relieve it, you would have to write poems, and read poems.”

Rattle Logo

February 20, 2024

Chera Hammons

ASTEROIDS AS BIG AS SKYSCRAPERS

We should come up with better ways
to define the size of an asteroid.
One headline likens Asteroid 2008 OS7
to a football stadium, as if we are in the habit
of measuring distance in sports arenas set end-to-end;
as if they are all the same,
the small-town stadium like the professional one
in its acreage, parking lots, and concessions,
and how many disappointments it can hold.
 
Asteroid 2007 EG is said to be the size
of sixty-four Canada geese,
with no indication of whether those geese,
for purposes of this illustration, fly in formation,
or rest beside each other in the grass,
or are stacked like sandbags in a heap.
 
The asteroid in the news today
is a city-killer the size of two love boats, they say,
but we must guess at what a love boat is,
whether it means the cruise ship in an old sitcom,
or a swan boat on a white-flowered pond,
or any yacht or rowboat or ferry or aircraft carrier
capable of carrying someone affectionate.
Some readers must assume two boats to move in tandem,
others side-by-side, through water either
calm or white-capped, or blooming with blue light.
 
Minor planets mix too many metaphors.
This is an imperfect knowledge, impossible to manage.
Today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.
To observe one, you must give up the other.
There is an asteroid hanging above us
right now, annihilation the size of two love boats,
and the Wordle answer today happens to be TALON,
which took me five turns to guess.
I almost arrived there too late. A talon
clings to a bare branch in the winter wind.
 
A talon slices through slippery muscle to the bone.
Everywhere, we find signs that show we must pass
through a world full of people
who had believed there would be no surviving the loss
of someone they loved, until they did it;
 
people who have Googled the stages of grief
to find out how much more there is to get through,
 
only to find there are either five or seven stages,
depending on who you ask, and they are not in linear order,
and the best guide to the process of mourning
is the map of a forest with no paths,
only landmarks you must pass again and again
during a single journey.
 
And always above us, somewhere in the darkness,
the silent weight of metal, mineral, and undrinkable water,
a strange stone frozen and airless and alone,
hurtles fathomless past the green warm places where life is.
Like holiness, the only way to measure it, a guess
based on how brightly it appears to us,
translated into what little we already know—
 
We, who can’t even define the boundaries of our own grief,
though it carries the heft of a high school football stadium
once the crowds have gone, the empty parking lot,
the unnoticed dandelions growing in cracked cement.
Though it is the height of the Empire State Building,
and sways the way it sways.
Though it is the size of sixty-four Canada geese,
flying in a V toward a far horizon.
Though it is the size of two lifeboats
which pass each other in the night,
and the dark water moves
like a mystery between them.
 

from Poets Respond
February 20, 2024

__________

Chera Hammons: “There was a weird confluence of events this week. The Super Bowl. Another high profile mass shooting. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday were the same day. I saw several different stories about asteroids (one saying that water had been found, but the water molecules are chemically bonded to the minerals in the asteroid; one about how an asteroid might hit earth on Valentine’s Day 2046; and one about an asteroid ‘the size of two love boats’ passing by). Every time there’s a story about an asteroid nearing earth on my news feed, I take a screenshot because the measurements used to define them are so bizarre. I have quite a collection now, but my favorite is the asteroid said to be the size of 64 Canada geese.” (web)

Rattle Logo