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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May 21, 2024

David T. Manning

AT THE SPRING

Before she could drink from the garden hose
a cardinal landed on her wrist
and plunged its beak into the clear bubbling.
 
She froze in scarlet presence
but managed to gentle the nozzle’s flow.
Never so close to a wild thing,
 
she was soaked but held rock-still
as the redbird clung to her wrist
tilting its head up and down
 
as it drank, so close she could see
its tiny tongue. There was a song—
whether in her stunned mind
 
or from a distant bird, she could not tell.
For a moment nothing died and the winds
lost their ways. The hose chirred
 
softly like a night-thing’s call
and she heard the redbird lisping
as it dipped again and again into the spring.
 

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007

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David T. Manning: “I’m fascinated by birds for their beautiful alien lives and intelligence, so different from ours. Once, in Wrightwood, California, a green-tailed towhee landed on the toe of my shoe to check me out. Later, a nuthatch hopped to within my hand’s reach and virtually commanded me to leave his feeder alone. The world is stranger than my wildest imaginings. I fully expect a cardinal to land on my wrist and drink from a hose someday.”

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May 20, 2024

Michael Jones

BUBBA COUNTRY

Nineteen and drivin my fly ass whip
to Malvern to visit my grandparents.
Could taste freshly killed bird and home
 
fries cooked in a skillet cast in 1914.
Sugar, honey, baby, swirled in the air
I breathed. And that foul goat Rocky,
 
who chased me when I was eleven, 
that bastard still had the run of the farm
but now had tennis balls on his horns. 
 
Drove on I-20 stereo bumpin
stopped at the Blue Monkey Lounge
for a leak and caffeine. I knew I was in bubba 
 
country when nigger this nigger 
that slurred from a man in Carhartt overalls
slobbering drunk and staggering my way. 
 
The crowd drifted back but the nigger
shit didn’t faze me after living in the south.
I wasn’t going to run from a fist fight. 
 
The asshole pulled a pussy gun,
a twenty-two that spat a bullet
eight millimeters into my shin. Blood 
 
gushed over my boot as I ran. Bullet
wound flamed when I put in the clutch. 
Tongue felt heavy, face weighted and drained. 
 
Stopped in front of the police station, world 
dark in my vision. Lay my fist on the horn.
Pissed off cop came out to see what was wrong.  
 
Dude was six seven six eight and called me 
son. Carried me like a baby into the station, 
asked a few questions, dispatched    
 
a car to the bar. Felt like a forklift
when he hoisted me back up against his body 
armor. I slumped in the rear of his vehicle. 
 
The doc at the hospital called me
sir. Plucked that bullet with a pair of blue
plastic forceps. Filled the hole with bone putty.
 
Hurt like a motherfucker. Called Grandma.
She blessed me out for not calling sooner. 
Grandpa wanted to off the guy.  
 
The asshole at the bar was still tossing
back shots when the cops arrived. 
Got three hots and a cot for two years.  
 
If I had walked into the bar and shot 
that redneck for fun, I would have been
drug behind a truck or hung. 
 

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024

__________

Michael Jones: “I am the middle child of 12 siblings from three marriages. I grew up in gang-infested neighborhoods around military bases in Southern California. After high school, I broke the cycle of young black men perpetuating street violence and enlisted in the Army. This career would show me the world in many spectrums: The beauty of different cultures, the splendor of nature, and the horrors of combat. After the service I attended 2 HBUs, Bowie State and Howard. Though experienced in life, I learned my history through academia and gained a greater sense of pride in my past and more hope for my future.”

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May 19, 2024

Christine Potter

CLOSE CALL

I’m still not sure I really saw the car—shiny red
on a day that was a long green nap—go airborne.
 
I saw the utility pole it had hit tremble—testing
itself against electric wires that couldn’t catch it—
 
and fall. But the car was surely on its roof and
beyond it the reservoir was lovely as that word’s
 
sound, and full of springtime rain. And past that,
long suburban lawns, eighty different shades of
 
green, green that owned itself so proudly you’d
need a Geiger counter to say how green: crazy, a
 
neon green, Kelly green, green like tomato vines
about to blossom and bear fruit. So I called 911.
 
My husband got us parked and ran across the
street to the kid in the upside-down red car, who
 
we both thought must be dead. And who seemed
profoundly still but moved his hands to put them
 
both over his face. It was raining again by then,
tiny drops you couldn’t see, and there were wires
 
down on the wet pavement. The cop who helped
the kid stand up and walk to the ambulance that
 
arrived told us he heard those wires singing. We’d
known they must be live. I’m old, my husband too.
 
The measure of our lives stretches out like a silly
accordion. We understand any number of dangers,
 
often read the papers to find out about them. We
step carefully in these day-long dusks, this sugary,
 
constant May rain. But I think our country is still
a garden. Look, irises snap their purple fingers on
 
creek banks; somehow, kids flip their cars and live.
And somehow the wires are still singing with news.
 

from Poets Respond
May 19, 2024

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Christine Potter: “I have been especially disheartened by the news lately—and it’s hard to pin it down to just one story. The war in Ukraine is going poorly. But the New York Times Magazine story about extremist Israeli settlers twisted my gut the hardest; I’m a New Yorker with lots of Jewish friends, and I used to work for a school with a branch in Tel Aviv. I love Jewish people, but I see the brutal actions of the far-right Israeli government echoed in the far right here in America, who I fear would be equally violent, given the chance. I support the kids protesting on college campuses but worry about the consequences on the Presidential election in the fall. And then yesterday, my husband and I were driving to the local bakery when we ended up about half a minute behind a young man flipping his car. But everyone survived! I believe in American democracy more than most things. I hope for the best for my country, too.” (web)

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May 18, 2024

Michael Hettich

THE WILD ANIMAL

They knock over everything, boys and girls,
hardly more than instruments waiting to be played;
hardly more than rivers waiting to be navigated,
waiting to be damned; hardly more than songs
waiting for their harmony; hardly more than eyes.
I lived inside the hope of rain, she says. I lived inside
the gesture of a fisherman casting out his line.
The bait was still alive and swam frantically and bled
as the tide reached its arms out and gathered up the seaweed
filled with tiny creatures and stories of the depth of things
where you and the other world, the one without end
without end became mesmerized, covered in a pelt of fur
no one had a name for. So they called you Wild Animal
and wondered what you’d do now, how you’d manage to survive,
and they watched you carefully, and they gave you fancy names
in an otherwise forgotten language, as they tracked your slow demise
otherwise known as extinction.

 

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009

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Michael Hettich: “‘The Wild Animal’ comes out of a project I worked on during the summer of 2008, in which I made myself write at least one ‘poem’ every day and I didn’t allow myself to look back or revise until I had reached 200. The hope was to discover a way to go beyond my long-practiced techniques of revision, to get beyond certain habits of mind that felt limiting. I’ve saved approximately 60 of these pieces, of which ‘The Wild Animal’ is one.” (web)

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May 17, 2024

Charlotte Innes

SLOW WALK

I take my father’s arm. 
We are about to embark on a long journey
across the lawn.
From hydrangea curling around the back door
to a Norway maple at the final edge.
Thirty-five yards. And then
thirty-five yards back again.
It takes an hour.
 
Each time I visit, I insist we walk,
some vague idea I have to keep him fit.
He’s always game, although the distance lessens.
Now, at ninety-seven,
he totters along with his two walking sticks,
refusing a walker, veering slightly left. 
I tug him gently back on track.
Alzheimer’s clouds his brain.
My goal is to have a talk as best we can.
 
I didn’t know that this was to be our last.
And I don’t remember much, except 
when I asked if he recalled where he grew up, 
he answered promptly, 16 Hittorfstrasse! 
with the triumphant look of a student 
who knows he got it right. No sign
that this was a place he was forced to flee.
England welcomed him 
and that’s where he wants to be.
 
Five months later, I’m on the plane.
He fell downstairs, filling his brain with blood.
They say he won’t last long, but he toughs it out 
for four more days. At 10 p.m., 
my stepmother gets a call.
We go to see him one last time.
His mouth is open wide like a baby bird’s
but he looks easy. The old traveler, 
almost ready for his final journey.
 
And how my father loved to travel. 
Summers, we camped in Europe’s outer reaches, 
Dubrovnik, Slovakia, Greece—though never fascist Spain.
We skied in Scotland, climbed in Wales,
hiked by the River Dove, the moors on Kinder Scout.
But he loved to be home. 
My stepmother had engraved on his headstone,
a granite rock from the local quarry,
the final line of Tennyson’s Ulysses
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 
 
Everything else, the difficult past, 
my angry years, the years we didn’t talk—
my family’s good at that—it all recedes,
 
dwindles down to the moment when
he heard my question, answered right,
pleased with himself, pleased with me.
 

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024

__________

Charlotte Innes: “More and more, as I get older, almost every change seems like a loss, until I make a poem out of it. And then, bingo! Whatever the mood of the poem, angry or exultant, I’m out of jail. For a while, at least. Why? I don’t know. I suppose I’ll just have to keep writing.”

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