May 28, 2024

Doug Ramspeck

BOTTOMLANDS DREAM

The boy fell from the Monahegnee Bridge,
and his parents buried him, and the years
were a cottonmouth swimming in an oxbow 
lake, and the boy became an owl as he fell
and lived in the woods so that when he held 
himself motionless, he felt himself becoming
the gray bark of the tree. And sometimes
the boy swooped low across the bottomlands
behind the house of his parents, and sometimes
they watched him going by, and maybe he held
a mouse in his talons, or maybe the sun’s eye
blurred across the glass and transformed him
into a diffused smear of photons. One time
when he fell, he was caught in the updraft
of a prayer lifting itself toward the heavens,
and another time he landed in the lake then
became a catfish swimming along the muddy 
bottom, his body twisting and raising swirls
of murky visions. And his parents dreamed
sometimes of opening their arms at the bottom 
of the bridge and catching him. And the boy 
became a cottonmouth twisting his way
across the water’s surface, and the water
rippled out behind him and made of everything
a transitory motion, something there then gone.
And the boy whispered in the air as he went by,
I fall and fall but never strike the ground.
 

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024

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Doug Ramspeck: “I wrote this poem in the fall, while being distracted by a bear with her two cubs as they climbed the oak trees outside my office window and fed on acorns and sometimes napped.” (web)

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May 27, 2024

Kirk Robinson

THE BREAKS

To learn more about your new Kenmore
washer, break the plastic seal.
—from the manufacturer’s instructions

I’ve a friend who says, “Treat anything mechanical
as if it’s just about to break.”
I’ve a feeling           broken-hearted
he’s talking about himself
in relation to his ex-wife,
but I don’t tell him that. She called me break the news
just before she left him. “Breaking up” was her phrase,
as if we were all broken promise still in grade school.
“I’m leaving,” she said, “For good.” I pictured him exactly
where I knew he was at the time—in mid-schuss
breakneck on a mogul-filled downhill in Vail.
He wouldn’t be back for two days, and had no idea
it would be to a broken home. And then,
no note, on the kitchen table or anywhere.
No red box on the wall: IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
BREAK GLASS.

Two weeks later we sat line break
in front of a ridiculous amount of beer.
I was trying, at that point, to explain to him
that humans didn’t invent weaving … breaking point
that it was an innovation of certain brightly colored,
long-beaked birds, and when we stumbled upon
the wonderful, twisted nests, we figured them out
by breaking them apart.
Something in him broke loose, I guess. I’d been talking
as if I could say anything groundbreaking
about love. In retrospect, he probably should’ve broke my nose,
but all he did was sit there, for the first time, slumped over
in a bar, and cry. “I looked everywhere,” he said,
“for a note.” Everywhere. He kept saying it. What’s the word?
What’s the word for one of those great big crashing waves?

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011

_________

Kirk Robinson: “I’ve always loved poems—like David Clewell’s ‘A Heart for Patricia’—that take a single, well-worn idea and then run at it from angles until it’s new again. When a friend of mine spoke those words of advice about mechanical things, I happened to hear a decent line in my head. Then I sat down, and I made a break for it.”

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May 26, 2024

Ryan McCarty

ODE TO THE COP NEXT TO THE ONE WITH THE PEPPER SPRAY

Your cheek turns, Christ-like
from your buddy with the buddha
belly blowing chemicals
on crowds of my students. One falls
facedown while her own mucus
and sweat bottlenecks in the rush
to exit every hole she has. You
might or might not know the blind
terror of drowning, the lung-torn
scream that almost always does
the trick eventually, boosted by the guts
heaving underneath, till air breaks
through. Ten seconds, not like Floyd,
but enough to feel your mother
pounding inside your skull,
calling for you this time, to forget the grass
hasn’t always mixed with gravel
on your knees and palms in a prayer
of almost-dying. Officer, you know
the straight-backed virtue
of duty, eyes cast to the horizon,
white vapors spreading
to the morning. You avoid the sight
of a baseball cap skirting the fog,
kneeling, eyes on your chin, helping
the retching shoulders rise.
I’ll buy you a beer. Let’s rewind
and rewatch on half-speed, wait
for one foot to stir, one hand to drop
the pose. Never. You never break.
While we play you again and again,
you can explain, for all of us
non-heroes, how to hold the line, to pity
the spastic terrified flapping
of robins, escaping their trees in the choke
your boy backhands into the crowd,
how to see the birds disperse
when sense commands, how to look
away from a body and really believe.
 

from Poets Respond

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Ryan McCarty: “I keep rewatching this video of University of Michigan campus police pepper spraying a crowd of my students, colleagues, friends, and community members. Most of my life (but especially the last dozen years or so) have been spent watching the cops who are doing the beating, the spraying, the kneeling, the dragging. But this time I can’t stop looking at one cop near the pepper sprayer. They’re looking upward, toward the east and some trees where I know hundreds of birds nest, and the sun had just risen. Can poetry help us understand that moment? Can anything?” (web)

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May 25, 2024

Maria Mazziotti Gillan

RAPUNZEL

Think what it must have been like for her, caged
in her tower, the small window cut into dark
stone, the hours it took to brush

and untangle her hair, waiting for the prince
to come so she could let down her hair
and he could climb up to her room.

Think what it must have been like for her, lonely
and starved for attention like the girls now
who stare into their bathroom mirrors, brushing

and combing their hair, applying perfume, mascara,
skin softener, make-up, all in honor of the man who
will stand outside the window, their beauty a braid they

climb up on, their lives spent, breathless and silent,
waiting for a man to rescue them as though their own
hands were not strong enough, their own hearts not

brave enough, their own minds not quick enough for
them to save themselves.

from Rattle #20, Winter 2003
Tribute to Italian Poets

__________

Maria Mazziotti Gillan: “Poetry is my passion—writing it and sharing it with others through my books, setting up readings for other poets, editing a magazine and anthologies, and organizing prizes. My mother always said, ‘The more I gave away, the more I had to give,’ referring to food, and I have tried to do the same thing with poetry.” (web)

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May 24, 2024

Amit Majmudar

SHOVELS

In a Polish forest as a boy
 
In a Cleveland driveway as an old man
 
He shoveled, he shoveled
 
The secret was to spin and fall 
 
A heartbeat in advance of the gunshots
 
Over the hole in history
 
He shoveled, he shoveled
 
A heartbeat in advance of the aspirin
 
In a Cleveland snowdrift as an old man
 
In a Polish winter on another continent
 
He shoveled, he shoveled
 
In Bialowieza, Europe’s last old-growth forest
 
Trees like people hunted to extinction
 
Children like winged seeds sailing to a far soil
 
He shoveled, he shoveled
 
A little divot in a big continent
 
And shook out seeds from a paper packet
 
Better than clawing his way down
 
As he clawed his way up
 
Through a Polish mass grave as a boy
 
In Bialowieza, where the last oaks crowded into a ghetto
 
His pale forearm sprouting in the moonlight
 
Dirt and blood lining his fingernails
 
Lying on his back in the mound
 
He shoveled, he shoveled
 
Screaming soundlessly into the soundless flurries
 
In a Cleveland driveway as an old man
 
In a Polish forest as a boy
 

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024

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Amit Majmudar: “I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland filled with Eastern European Jewish immigrants and their descendants. I was always fascinated by the histories that lived in the accents and eyes of my friends’ grandparents. This poem was prompted by my memory of a classmate’s grandfather who survived the Holocaust by hiding in Europe’s last old-growth forest and died in an Ohio winter many decades later, while shoveling snow. The image of the shovel connected, for me, Josh’s grandfather’s past and his end, for he had been forced, when a child, to help dig a mass grave.” (web)

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May 23, 2024

Night Train by Gerrie Paino, train car deserted at night with stars in background

Image: “Night Train” by Gerrie Paino. “Tracks” was written by Matthew Murrey for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, April 2024, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

__________

Matthew Murrey

TRACKS

after Tomas Tranströmer

It is the last night—
stars, moonlight, thin clouds—
and I am sad nothing
remains but the baggage car
 
where I packed myself
still crying and holding on
to my mother’s soft skirt
the second day of school,
 
where I stowed my sister and I
watching a black and white
movie on TV until our father
says “Turn that off.”
 
My first time seeing you
is in there, along with a pair
of shoes, a funeral, a bed
on the floor, and two horizons.
 
What a noon it was when
the whole train was on its way
across rivers and fields heading
toward mountains and the sea.
 
I was looking forward to far
more, but this will have to do:
bright moonlight, leafless trees,
stars forever out of reach.
 

from Ekphrastic Challenge
April 2024, Artist’s Choice

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Comment from the artist, Gerrie Paino: “The evening I came upon the solitary train car that is the subject of my Ekphrastic Challenge photograph, I felt a sense of fascination and mystery. What stories would that deteriorating hulk tell, should it be given a voice? The opportunity to have so many talented poets share their answers was both a delight and a challenge, but, ultimately, I kept returning to ‘Tracks,’ as the one that felt absolutely right. ‘It is the last night,’ begins this poem, begging the question, ‘Last night for what?’ From that point on, we are offered deftly-rendered fragments of memory which include a ‘mother’s soft skirt’ being clutched by a child afraid to go to school, a gruff father, and, most striking to me, ‘… a pair / of shoes, a funeral, a bed / on the floor, and two horizons.’ The final stanza, with its sense of longing and resignation, seems to summarize everything that might be contained in that deteriorating behemoth as it crumbles, inexorably, beneath ‘stars forever out of reach.’”

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May 22, 2024

Danielle Lisa

I’M CONVINCED YOU ACTUALLY LIKED THE WHOLE WHEAT PANCAKES

for Mom

Remember the first apartment we chose? When it was time
for us to finally live together and we had to find something fast
 
and imperfect. With the landlord who barged in every time we were too 
loud—I think she had an 8 p.m. bedtime. It was stomaching that,
 
and then the new school, where I had to wear a uniform
and listen to classmates brag about how much money 
 
daddy spent on them. In Spanish class, we were assigned
to draw a diagram of our homes, labeling each space. 
 
I thought nothing of our four rooms, until hands started
to rise, small voices asking, “What’s the Spanish spelling
 
for movie theater?” Apparently, some of them had skate 
parks. That’s when it got hard to get me to school. I 
 
remember it well: your relentless hands around my relentless 
ankles. Every morning, you pulled, and I fought, until 
 
it was too late to catch the bus, and you had to drive me.
And every morning, you gave me a bowl of Agave syrup, with 
 
some whole wheat pancakes swimming inside. You acted
like you hated them, but each morning, when I held the bowl 
 
in my hands like just being near them was wrong, you’d 
have me pass them up front and you’d suck them down in seconds. 
 
I’ll never forget when I asked you one of my first sex 
questions, and you replied with, “I don’t know, Google it.”
 
But it was that morning of 6th grade when I didn’t want to 
 
go to school, so you wrote a note that began with, 
“Danielle’s under the weather,” and justified it to me with, 
 
“Well … there’s weather happening above us,” that I first knew 
living together was going to be an adventure, which is always 
 
what I wanted most of all, not love, or happiness, just something 
to talk about, which (at some point) translated to writing. 
 
I wasn’t sure where anything would take us, but look at here. 
What we have built together. I can say anything, and 
 
nothing rattles. You can say anything, and what we
have stands still. We can climb on it, threaten it, light
 
it on fire, but the beast we built just yawns, and we go 
quietly on, in our (sometimes covert) little ways of 
 
loving one another. I’m twenty-five, and you push me
onto the sidewalk when a car comes. Always desperate
 
to save my life, not knowing you already did. 
 

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024

__________

Danielle Lisa: “At the age of two, I had a bad fall. I cried and cried. Nothing my mom did was calming me down until, in her attempts to say something comforting, she happened to use two words that rhymed. The crying stopped instantly, as I repeated the words back in awe. She knew in that moment that her daughter was a poet. Now at 26, poetry doesn’t get me to stop crying; it makes me start. It has been a lifeline. My dream is to write full-time, but for now, I will continue to work office jobs and sneak off to the bathroom whenever an idea strikes.”

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