October 29, 2020

Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2020: Editor’s Choice

 

Painting women lounging and swimming in a pool in the head of a bluish figure

Image: “Pool Head” by Pat Singer. “In the Dream-Pool” was written by Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2020, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]

__________

Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco

IN THE DREAM-POOL

All summer long,
the pool was closed,
and I swam
continents,
asleep.

Glimpses of aqua
through a fence.

A neighbor’s
swimsuit.

Mouthwash blue.

The thing with dream-pools is
you never get to swim.

The thing with dream-pools is
they all mean something else.

When summer ended, the need passed
like an old pet, drifting
somewhere, like the wildfire smoke, or souls.

I thought of towels I’d sewed my name on,
how they one time seemed important.

In a dream-pool, I am floating,
silent blue in sheets around me.

In a dream-pool I am safe,
cleansed of whatever

came in with me,
my skin tight.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2020, Editor’s Choice

__________

Comment from the Editor, Timothy Green: “Interestingly, both this poem and the artist’s choice throb with the losses of the pandemic while looking through a fence that isn’t in the painting. In this case, the closing of the summer pool becomes a kind of obsession, haunting in its absence, as so many things are. There are so many memorable lines here: ‘The thing with dream-pools is / you never get to swim.’ That will stick with me.”

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October 22, 2020

Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2020: Artist’s Choice

 

Painting women lounging and swimming in a pool in the head of a bluish figure

Image: “Pool Head” by Pat Singer. “Visiting the Gardens at DePugh Nursing Center, Winter Park, Florida” was written by Vivian Shipley for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2020, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]

__________

Vivian Shipley

VISITING THE GARDENS AT DEPUGH NURSING CENTER, WINTER PARK, FLORIDA

As if I am in a zoo, I peer through
bars of the black iron fence.
Restricted by the coronavirus
to outdoor visits, I’m unable
to touch my sister parked
in her wheelchair by the aide.
Under a trellis, vines seem
to yearn as I do to touch her hair.
Azure blue flowers, centered
in purple, rest near her face,
eyes closed, lips flatlining.
I whisper Mary Oliver’s lines,

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.

Someone has smeared on fire engine
red lipstick as if my sister might flirt
again, arm on a jukebox, index finger
running down a man’s tie.

Like a live beetle savaged
by fire ants swarming its cranium,
a brain tumor eats from inside out
until Mary Alice, who cannot
escape her executioner, will die.

I know the tumor in her skull is like
an ember, burning until any memory
of me in her lobes has been turned
to white ash. But if I could remove
the top of her head like the surgeon
had done to debulk the tumor, I’d like
to believe I’d find our pool in Kentucky
with us, the three sisters in tank suits.
Mary is floating on her back in yellow.
I sit on the edge in blue daring only
to dangle my feet in the water.
My youngest sister, naturally in red,
dives from the high board.

As a child, Mary Alice was the good girl,
Pointed her toes in ballet class, strung
glass beads on elastic bracelets in Methodist
church camp to help others find salvation:
white, the purity of Mary, red, the blood
Jesus shed, even for me. To give me faith,
she explained good and evil are like sun
and rain. God sends rainbows to make
sense of them together. I’d shoot back,
I didn’t need the world to have meaning,
had no ache to be saved or have afterlife.
Now, to be with her again, I do.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2020, Artist’s Choice

__________

Comment from the artist, Pat Singer: “The way this poem unfolds feels very real and unexpected. I enjoy the surprising and unpredictable way that the sister’s tumor introduces the visual of the pool inside the mind. The writer captured the grim, desolate reality of visiting someone who is unable to care for themselves anymore. Visiting someone who’s a husk of what they once were is difficult, sobering, and emotional. The words the writer uses conveys these feelings with raw power and an authentic voice. The visual cues tie in well with the art literally, but also manages to expand the meaningfulness into something much more robust and with more depth than what is on the surf.”

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January 11, 2021

Michelle Roberti-West

ACUTE MYELOGENOUS LEUKEMIA

It hit like that one ex who punched me
in the face at a seawall stoplight
and then weeks later backhanded me three times
in his Heights apartment before I finally
figured out to leave. Like that. Horror not known 
by the shock of violence, just by dumb repetition.
But I don’t mean to make this about me.
It hurt all of us.

This was years later. I had a family. It looked nothing like stopped at the red,
not those dingy digs. I had a husband and daughter. She believed in Santa.

Run-up to illness with the most obvious signs—
Lightning struck the tree out the kitchen window
and then the vibration of the windowpane shattered
the wineglass set against it.

It was the year Madison bought everything death’s-head-trend
at Hot Topic, at Target, and Halloween was more Halloween 
than usual—the plastic ghoul Jeffrey chose 
to hang from one of the limbs out front 
and the small styrofoam headstones he 
set up on the lawn. The kiddie pool-sized spider
strung above the porch.

Flowery voodoo skulls flavored our New Orleans vacation
and Dia De Los Muertos stiffs waved hello in Houston.

       Buzzards landed on the house.

Baker’s cysts behind his knees.
His little afternoon fevers.
The cut that wouldn’t heal.

All these signs as if deity, that mustache-twirling
villain, decided we must be the idiot family 
on the block too lovestruck in our suburb to recognize
subtle so he needed to wallop us Three Stooges-like.

Look at me, deity said. I’ve blown
the door open in the night. Anything
might have slithered in. Didn’t you hear it?
Ever heed a warning, ya fucks? I hurl
portents but you’re all oblivious.
 
It’s coming in, fools. 
It’s here.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020

__________

Michelle Roberti-West: “The God Hotline spit back ‘the number you have called has been disconnected or is no longer in service.’ In fact, it spit at us, except that one time when something picked up and cackled. That’s how my husband’s diagnosis and death felt and still feels. We’ve had eight and a half years to heal, but you wouldn’t know it. Only art answers. It answers both Madison and me.”

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September 26, 2020

Cassidy Lewis (age 15)

TO BUILD A MOTHER WHO STANDS LIKE A HOUSE

Love your neighbor as yourself.
—Galatians 5:14

I think if God and I lived in a house together, we’d never
really sleep. Because I would want to ask a thousand
questions and God would want to listen, droopy eyed
in the corner of my bedroom, head tilted to the side
to make like He was drifting off. Eating fruit from Eve’s
tree to stay awake, floating on a hammock of clouds,
hands tucked together, like the house He’s built for us
is Heaven. But if you and God lived in a house,

it would be constructed by Solomon and Isaiah and Josh,
written onto the street as if it was the books of the Old
Testament, and you’d keep the doors shut because nobody
should come inside. I think the two of you would eat supper
together in the dining room and God would storytell
about Heaven. About how it breathes, the way it opens
and closes like the wings on and off of an Angel’s back.
You are my mother but the night you introduced me

to Jesus, I met His eyes and the words felt wrong. I imagine
God as a hotel. As the different suites He could be, the furniture.
As the little yellow lights that reflect off balcony windows
during the night time. Think of Him as the swimming pool,
as the water, the tile. Bath linen, bed. Imagine Him as the wood
of a reception desk, as the receptionist. A keycard held in each palm
to hand to His guests. I’d like to see this God. Like to touch
Him how you touch the silver crucifix of Jesus hanging

above my nightstand. His hips curled in, lean. Hold Him
while you preach to me about love and hate and all the things
that fill us. The things that curate sin. Pride, envy, anger.
This is where I write we disagree. Because while your door
may close for the people you dislike in God’s name, His will
remain open. Yours is steeled shut, and His is revolving,
and mine is thin and transparent like glass. I sit in Church
and look at God standing on the stage by the pastor. A reminder
that He sees and loves everybody. That He too doesn’t want

closed-mindedness in our religion. And maybe you don’t see God
but His shadow, where it slips behind the stage curtains to hide.
Less God and more silhouette. I think He wouldn’t buy a house,
but build one. And it’d be made the same way He is. Bare footed,
sheet wrapped from shoulders to hips. Tall, head peeking down
at the two of us from His home up in Heaven. A knowing smile
growing from His thin lips. Pull off the road, I know that you’re tired.
Come to the hotel, there’s a room for you waiting.

from 2020 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

__________

Why do you like to write poetry?

Cassidy Lewis: “To me, poetry is a way to use my head as an outlet for expression—inside I’ve always been able to find words and images that can be blended together to describe almost anything. Not only feelings I’ve experienced, but things I’ve seen and experienced, even the most mundane, can be poetic in different ways. Through poetry, I can look into others’ heads too, and for a moment, see the world through a pair of eyes different from my own.”

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January 1, 2022

Gary Lemons

NEW YEAR’S DAY 2005

for Sam

1

I walk the streets today as I have so
Often in the last thirty three years.
It’s an arbitrary number to look back to
A place to start counting but my number
Nonetheless—thirty three years, the years of
Jesus, that good, misappropriated
Man, the years it took Conrad to begin
To launch dark missals at the human heart.

These are the years a man looks back at when
Winter comes not just to the place he lives
But to his body, left like last season’s
Tools, one storm too long without shelter.

Cold wind comes off the water. Ferries
Labor in grey chop through mill smoke bringing
Tourists, seagulls, perhaps a younger
Version of me to town to begin, one
Hopes, a more fluid way to turn to stone.

I remember this feeling, these shivers
That come from insights and under dressing
When I was a young poet walking from
One bar to another with a warm buzz
In Iowa City in the cold morning,
Late for one class or early for another …
The arctic express across miles
Of open prairie, bringing the smell
Of wheat stubble down from Canada.

There was frost on my face, fresh taste of
Breakfast beer, my words on my tongue.

Into the warm bar, Donnelley’s, where Dylan
Thomas was slapped off his stool for cursing
By the same withered Irish prude serving
Me now, Charlie, who at sixty still rides
Home with his Mother who won’t let him drive.
He sneers, brings me a democrat, a short
Draft with too much foam, would like to slap me
Too but almost got fired the last time
So contents himself with wiping a stain.

I believe in Iowa City each
Cold heart, each cold rustling stalk of corn
Left unharvested in the snow covered fields
Is warmed by a molten core of poems
Written by the dangerously young …

Music burbling under ice in creeks
Where coyotes cut their paws scratching
Holes in the ice to drink from the pool
Freezing slowly over the one remaining fish …

I still believe in the power of poems
To make a place where one wild thing survives.

 

2

So I find my place in a world where war
Is killing my friends, killing people I
Don’t know, killing any hope the old I
May one day become have of looking back
At their life to work out the intricate
Deception of a man struck each day
By a small, personal rock from space.

Because it is almost noon and I have
Not eaten, I pour tomato juice in
My beer—it is 1972
For the first time today and Imagine
Plays above the tinkle of glass, the loud
Sounds of pool, sung by a man still alive.

Too much introspection from a drinking
Poet is like mittens on a cowboy
So I unstick myself from friends, the warm
Evaporate echo of words, tell Charlie
He’s a beautiful man I’d love to kiss,
Dodge the bar rag, open the door on way
Too much light and real anguish.

I head west, a true conestoga poet,
To the Vine where Justice is counting
Money from an all night game and buying
Drinks for Norman who is building complex
Structures from pretzels and writing the last
Poems for In the Dead of Night on soggy napkins.

The new year has come, to the brave and the
Stupid, the ones who sharpen blades and the
Ones who grind what’s cut to bread, to the good
And the evil, but never to the dead.

 

3

So here it is, thirty three years later, thinking
Of my friend Sam whose new year will be a ledge,
Not a slope, from which he will fall or rise.
Thinking the fish breathes under water
Because it doesn’t know it can’t.

I have seen you breathe, in lonely places,
The fellowship that sustains and oppresses poetry,
Seen you daily labor with love, with
Great precision and joy, to extract the
Ordinary, infinite, thunderous
Relevant beauty from centuries of words,
Pissing off, in the process, those whose fuse
Is so wet it can no longer be ignited by ideas.

The first birds of spring fly just beyond the
Falling snow, waiting to land when the country
Thaws, waiting to begin the excarnation
Of my tongue, leaving only the bones of
Joy and one vowel, all that is needed
To begin a song of gratitude.

In everything there is the poem,
Stepping out of its own death.

This new year I have no pledges to keep.
I am doing all I can to be who I am.
To you I hope to say, at least once in
The remaining light, that I love you old friend,
Old teacher sweating rain in the garden.

 

4

When all the winters are added together,
All the summers, springs and falls of the oldest
Man or woman, we see they total less
Than the hair on our arms. This life is not
A nest we may sit indefinitely
But a single drop of water falling
From a clear sky that may, upon landing,
Give rise to a previously unknown vine
That itself will live only long enough
To take one fully awakened look
Around, flower, and then gently, without
Regret, remit it’s qualities to the air
And return to the work below ground.

What it all comes down to is, and yes, you
Can take this as a threat, if it gets
Any colder I’m switching to whiskey
Poured one syllable at a time into
A moment when all the shivering ends.

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006

__________

Gary Lemons: “It’s almost a cliché to speak of poetry as a transformational process by which the poet begins, through the writing of the poem, the sacred work of becoming a better human being. I believe this. Each poem is a gift much like each prayer is a lesson. What matters to me is the tissue deep shift I feel each time the words come out in that spare and clean way that tells me I have spoken as truthfully as I can in my own voice. The poem as it is written becomes my window as well as my mirror. I am grateful for this every day.”

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December 30, 2018

Rimas Uzgiris

THE ANCIENTS AND US

Thinking about post-truth today, Socrates
came to my mind, barefoot, of course,

not like a beggar, still eyed with the arrogance
barely cut by faux humility, by that ignorance

he made famous in his take-downs
of other men until they told him to split town

and he refused. What was he to do?
With no smartly Athens he was through.

Now with Trump in front we have our Gorgias,
just more dumb, with the demeanor of an ass.

Socratic dialogue can’t find the smallest ledge
to stand on, and speech itself has lost its edge

when everything said is like a thick, blunt club
to beat the heads of those who haven’t joined the club.

Some sibilant sibyllic virus has infected language use,
and nothing much we say these days still rhymes with muse.

Take my toddler recently who gazed at Christmas lights
and with ingenuous wonder declared, “Those lights are nice!”

He pronounced that final word now how I cannot:
no hyperbole, no irony, nothing of what is not.

Parmenides held that what is not is nothing at all,
and so our agéd tongues do skitter, slide over falls

to float dead in a pool with oil, plastic and refuse—
dead bodies decorated with lights, poisoned, no use

for us to help enunciate the unseen sight of what persists,
or touch the realm (corrupted kingdom!) of what really exists,

and as I couple these last lines, I wonder whether they have pith
or merely slide into the self-propelled simulacra of present myth.

from Poets Respond
December 30, 2018

__________

Rimas Uzgiris: “My poem was written after reading an academic article about Socrates that got me thinking about our “post-truth” moment, Trump’s tweets and Ancient Greek rhetoricians, and then when Christmas made an appearance as well, I thought, yes, Rattle, yes.” (web)

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February 12, 2019

Nidhi Zak / Aria Eipe

MONSTERS

for Victor Valdovinos

Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: ‘Here are our monsters,’ without immediately turning the monsters into pets.
—Jacques Derrida

There’s a monster in the closet
a monster ’neath the bed
a monster in the torchglow
  messing with my head

There’s a monster in the lights!out!
a monster in the night
a monster through the keyhole
  numbing me with fright

There’s a monster in my comic book
a monster at the store
a monster like a shadowman
  lurking by the door

There’s a monster in the kitchen
a monster on the stair
a monster here in bed with me
  clutching at my hair

There’s a monster in the crowds
a monster when alone
a monster with his lechery
  breathing down the phone

There’s a monster in the locker room
a monster, too, at school
a monster has his eyes on me
  swimming in the pool

There’s a monster in the driver’s seat
a monster giving wood
a monster pushing into me
  straddling the hood

There’s a monster at the movies
a monster in the loo
a monster with a wagging dick
  waiting there for you

There’s a monster in the future
a monster in my past
a monster in the present, there—
  I’ve said it now, at last

from Poets Respond
February 12, 2019

__________

Nidhi Zak / Aria Eipe: “In its March 2019, The Atlantic published ‘Nobody’s Going to Believe You,’ an article detailing the outcome of a year-long investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood director Bryan Singer. Journalists Alex French and Maximillian Potter interviewed over 50 sources—men claiming that ‘they were seduced by the director while underage; others say they were raped. The victims [….] told us these experiences left them psychologically damaged, with substance-abuse problems, depression, and PTSD.’ One of these men, Victor Valdovinos gives a detailed account of his experience of sexual abuse by Singer, and its aftermath. Valdovinos was thirteen years old, in seventh grade, at the time it occurred—he hadn’t even had hist first kiss yet. Over the years, he started to question ‘how his life might have gone differently if not for that locker-room encounter with Singer. ‘What if he never did this to me—would I be a different person? Would I be more successful? Would I be married?’ As he watched the Harvey Weinstein scandal unfold, Valdovinos thought, ‘Me too—only I was a kid.’ He considered going to Singer’s house and knocking on the door and asking him, Why? He thought about going public. But who would believe him? This is for Victor. Because I believe.” (web)

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