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

__________

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

__________

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

__________

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

_________

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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