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 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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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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October 18, 2019

Catherine Pond

STAR SIGNS

Luna sits on the bed, taller than last summer, tan legs
dangling over the edge. You’re a Scorpion, like me,
she says, when I tell her my birthday. That’s right,
I say. At school in Oaxaca, she has a nemesis
named Oasis, pronounced Oh-ah-sees. She tells me
about it, bouncing up and down on the worn mattress.
Before they were enemies, she says, they were
best friends. Maybe you’ll be friends again one day,
I suggest, but she shakes her head. I don’t think so.
She tells me about her other friends, Sofia, Lucia.
I’m popular, Luna explains, and with a flush I remember
what those first loves felt like: all the girls I knew
by heart and wanted so badly to impress.
The pair of black patent leather sneakers
my mother bought me, which squeaked when I walked
and which I was too shy to wear until one day
I got up the nerve, and Kelsey Tucker, the most popular
girl in fifth grade, said, Cool sneakers, and suddenly I was in.
By middle school it was all over. I was too nerdy,
too desperate for attention from my teachers.
My mother bought my clothes one size too big
so I would always be comfortable, and when
I ran into my old friends in the bathroom,
sucking in their stomachs to get their pants
zipped up all the way, I was embarrassed.
I still wore jeans from Limited Too that sagged
in the butt, and t-shirts that announced all the tourist
destinations my father had taken us the previous summer:
Niagara Falls! said one. Luray Caverns! said another.
The other girls didn’t wear t-shirts anymore.
They wore halters so you could see their bras.
They liked being looked at. Didn’t they know boys
would hurt them, I wondered. Didn’t they know
that boys thought awful thoughts. I knew it
without being told, and wore big sweaters
so they wouldn’t look at my chest. Luna kicks at the bed.
Are you listening? she says, and I tune back in
to a story about a beach trip with her friends,
and the boys she hates. When I mention
my own boyfriend her face twists and her blue eyes
go steely. Who is he? she asks, barely veiling
her jealousy. You’d like him, I say, but it’s clear
she’s already made up her mind. I’ll be thirteen
in November, she says, eager to change the subject.
Maybe you can come for my birthday party.
I imagine boarding a plane, cruising south over
sun-drenched hills, red flowers dotting the valley.
Luna in a blue dress. That would be nice, I say.
Through the window behind her, the lake glimmers.
Rows of apple trees on the opposite shore
glow in the light. I don’t ask her
if she remembers the move to Mexico,
the day her mother boarded the plane and flew her
away from her father. In the few months each summer
he has custody, I don’t blame him for trying to win her
over, giving her the biggest bedroom
in the house, building her a pool in the middle
of the orchard, buying her whatever she wants.
Though her eyes are set wide in her face,
and mine are close together, though she is small
for twelve, and I was tall, we look alike.
We have the same broad nose and blue eyes,
as if we were burned by the same star
when we were born. I take a photo of her
standing in the bedroom with the pink wallpaper.
The lake ripples like a silver backdrop,
the kind they drape behind you for a school photo.
Later, we play Scrabble against “the adults.”
She and I are a team, and when we lose
she flips the board and storms out of the room.
Who does that remind you of, my father says,
and laughs. I find her by the water, sulking,
and in an attempt to cheer her up, find myself
making promises I know I can’t keep.
I’ll come visit for your birthday, I say.
I’ll write you every month. But when I fly back
to Los Angeles, I forget to write. Life tumbles in.
It’s September when the earthquake hits Oaxaca.
My phone buzzes in the silent room, my heart jolts
when I see the headline. Biggest earthquake
in a century, it says. I text everyone I can think of,
then move through my apartment as if I’m the one
darkness has settled down on, waiting to hear
that Luna is safe. An hour passes. Then another.
What is it like, I wonder, when that first bolt
breaks loose off the coast? What does she think
when the Earth doesn’t stop, but keeps buckling
beneath her, and she wakes inside the full force
of that rift, so sudden, so deep, and does she know,
though she is only a day older, how from then on
everything will be different.

from Rattle #64, Summer 2019

__________

Catherine Pond: “Scorpio is a water sign, and I wrote this poem for my cousin Jurni so she will remember that being ruled by water is ultimately a gift, though the depth of it can sometimes overwhelm you.” (web)

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July 3, 2019

Rayon Lennon

RED BRICK TOWN

I roll to Ohio
To find my sister
Who exists
In a red brick town
As flat as her affect.
In the condo, her three
Kids pool around her. I wave
To them as the stranger
I am. They don’t wave
Back, two teenage
Girls, one tall as Naomi
Campbell, the other
About half white; and one
Boy who is in love
With breaking the law. “Nice
To see you,” I say. “I’m sorry,”
Sis says. “What
Do you want?”
I say, “To see you.”
She sends the kids
Out to spend time
With water guns
Or their boyfriends.
“Sit down,” she says.
I don’t. The blue leather
Couch looms
Ominous as the hurricane
Heart of the Caribbean
Sea. “I hear
You’re a therapist,”
She begins. I nod.
“And you’re a nurse,”
I say. She’s in a light
Bluish outfit. “Did you
Figure out that
You’re gay yet?” she smiles.
“Don’t be childish,”
I let out. She says,
“You won’t find
Pity here.”
The carpet looks
Like an overused golf
Course. I pray her therapist
Told her she’s borderline.
She grins. The heat in the living
Room inches toward
Insufferable. “Life’s not
Been easy,” I say
Now. “We got here
The hard way. We are
Barrel children, after all.”
She nods. She looks
Like depression. I remember
Her constantly trying
To die as a kid
In Jamaica, threatening
To run out in front
Of a truck or jumping
Off the stone wall
Into the speeding brown
Sludge of the gully during
A storm. All after dad
Left us for America.
Her face is brittle
From too many slaps
And punches from
Men who loved her.
She’s fatter after
Too many babies
And too much greasy
Food. Scars from a recent
House fire litter her arms
And legs. Here stands
The damaged gal
Who used to pummel
Me until my nose streamed
Red. The sun
Wants to burn through
A window. “I remember
The first time
You called me
A whore,” she says.
“I was 12. You were 7.”
It was after church
On a Sunday in front
Of our old house
In Jamaica. “It made
Me want to die.
My own brother
Calling me trash.
I know I hurt you
Too. I hit you
For no reason.
I let you fall off
The bed and knock
Your head on the concrete
Floor. I couldn’t
Catch you. We couldn’t
Afford a crib. And mom’s
Bed was too high.
You were always
Smart but never
Quite right. I’m
Sorry. You could’ve
Been a supernova
Genius. I myself
Wasn’t the same after
Dad left.” Cars scream
In the distance. “It’s okay.
You’re a queen,
Sis,” I insist. She says,
“Thanks. But don’t
Lie. I’m sick
Too. I couldn’t stop
That freak older
Boy from fucking
With you under a bridge
When you were too
Young to know what
Was going on.”
The kids do sound
Like a war outside.
I say, “You didn’t
Know until I told
You afterwards,
And while you closed
The windows for
The oncoming
Rain, you cried.
That meant a lot
To me.” I hug her for
Perhaps the first
Time and say, “I love
You.” She stops
Breathing, and her
Body steels up.
“You don’t mean
That,” she says. “I
Love you,” I say
Again as the kids
Push open the door.

from Rattle #63, Spring 2019

__________

Rayon Lennon: “My work operates in that magical gray area between poetry and fiction. For this poem, I wanted to dramatize a number of the reasons behind the recent outrage over children being separated from their parents at the border. In the news, the focus has been placed on children and how being separated from their families adversely affects them—while their parents hunt for the American dream. You don’t have to pick a side on this issue to empathize with the children. This poem widens the scope on the issue—by exploring what happens generally when parents leave their children behind to pursue the American dream. My father left Jamaica when I was born to work on apple farms in Connecticut. His departure decimated the family. He overstayed his visa and did not return to Jamaica for several years (he returned briefly after becoming a U.S. resident; he and my mother eventually divorced because of the long separation). I was six and my sister was around eleven years old when our father left for good. She changed the day he left and has never been the same. My relationship with her suffered because of this. This poem—an imagined journey to see my sister—attempts to address and repair the harm done. I think I’ve only hugged my sister once. It was the day after my wedding. It still shocks me how shocked she was when I pulled her in for a long hug. It made me sad then to think about all the love that didn’t exist between us.” (web)

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