August 12, 2016

Risa Potters

IN MY MOTHER’S THINGS

specifically, in one of the old recipe boxes she kept in the kitchen pantry,
was a poem. Soon after she died I went through her kitchen,
carefully opening each drawer, and like an eavesdropper I inspected shelf
after shelf, getting to know her intimately through the objects I found.
I separated the dishes to be kept and the pots and pans to be given away.

In a large and beautiful antique cabinet she kept in the dining room,
I found her silverware. I opened the lid of the dark mahogany box
lined with burgundy-colored velvet, and remembered
how often I had polished each piece before a party, rubbing them with
a soft cloth until they shined, getting to know them.
It is astonishing how objects can hold memories,
how you can be lost in them, just by looking. Feeling the weight of
the knives and serving pieces in my hands, the small and large forks
and spoons, some tucked in soft pouches to protect them
from scratching, the memories were all there, among the silver.

Recently, I heard the story of a Buddhist monk who came to America and,
when presented with a fork, had no idea what it was, or how to use it.
Coming from Tibet as a young boy, he had never seen one.
What would he think of the box of silverware and the many
sets of dishes carefully wrapped, waiting to be used?

In the front of one of the dusty boxes marked Recipes
was the poem. On an index card, mixed in with the recipes
she hoped to make one day, some torn from the newspapers she read daily
and the hand-written she copied from memory, the poem was there.
My mother thought it belonged there, in the box, loosely filed with the rest.

Written by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, it was printed
on newsprint and she had cut it out and taped it to an index card
so it would fit the box. It had the caption, Read my poem from
our News and Views, written in my grandmother’s hand. I think she
must have been referring to the Jewish rag put out
by the Community Center in Brooklyn, and I noticed how both
their handwritings, my mother’s and grandmother’s, looked the same;
I had to look carefully to tell them apart.

I picture my grandmother sitting at her small table in the
middle of the main room of her small apartment in Brooklyn,
perhaps after a night’s sleep, writing the poem.
In it, she talks about sweeping her hair from her eyes and
I see her soft, beautiful white hair, not yet braided, and her sleepy eyes.
When I visited her, she would ask me to help her put her hair up,
and I would brush the fine strands, braid them and pin
the braids to her head, like a crown. And then, I would help her
fasten her large corset, before stepping into her dress, as she bent forward
to position her large breasts inside the cups; there were so many hooks,
they went down to her waist and when she took it off, after a day
of being cinched in, the body that had been tightly secured inside
its stiff bones became itself again, able to move.

The poem is simple, just a few lines, but in it,
I know her; I know her struggles, her dark thoughts and,
most of all, her courage. In the poem, though her name
is not written, is her mother, my great-grandmother and namesake,
tragic in her own right; I feel her there; I feel her struggles.
My own mother, who endured a motherless childhood, is there, too.
In the courage of those few lines, I can see the months of pain and
separation away from her children, hoping to find relief from
the depression that plagued her. My grandmother suffered deeply;
manic depression is a cruel companion. She was removed
from her home for months at a time, hidden from her sadness,
relieved of her duties, relieved of her life, until she could return.

You never know what you will find in a recipe box.
Amid the recipes filed loosely, mixed in with the cakes and pies, there was
her poem. But where in the box do you file sadness? Where does that belong?

And, in this short poem, there is also me, not yet born, but struggling
to free myself from the depths of a sadness passed down
from generation to generation of women, each one rising slightly above
the rest. Many generations in four lines, that’s all, a prayer of sorts,
that’s all it is, heartbreaking and hopeful.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

__________

Risa Potters: “It sounds like such a cliché, but the first things I remember when landing in California from Brooklyn were blue skies and palm trees. To my eight-year-old eyes, they were the bluest skies I had ever seen and the palm trees, all lined up in a row along the boulevard off the airport, were beyond exotic. To me, the West has always held an expansiveness that I treasure. The West fits me, and it fit my father as well, who brought us to Los Angeles after falling in love with it so long ago. He drove his blue Buick across the country looking for a radical change from the life we had in New York and then, finding the new beginning he sought, sent for us—my twin brother, mother and I—setting us up in a small furnished apartment a block from Santa Monica beach. There, we spent every summer day walking down the California Incline to the sand and diving into the Pacific Ocean, coming out only to eat tuna fish sandwiches. It was heaven. Since then, I have never taken the California lifestyle for granted. The beauty, the diversity and the ability to be outside every day are things I yearn for when I am away from home. Although I have been to many beautiful places, I am still astounded by the stunning beauty that is right outside my door. From desert trails, to lush California Oaks, there is a landscape here that I use and is my constant, dreamy companion. I am grateful for my father’s vision; he loved it, like I do, and once he hit the California sand, never looked back.” (website)

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September 2, 2022

Eri Okoye

MY MOTHER’S SON

I was 19 when I first started to look like my mother;
cupid’s bow forming flat above my lip and
tear filled eyes going over and over pages of numbers, 
looking for new ways to crunch.
I began to learn a new and adult way to become afraid.
 
I’d always known about money and the way that it kills,
from an early age I saw it slit my mother’s throat and drain her raw
and I’d always known that we were poor.
But growing up now, and almost grown too,
I was reminded again whilst doing things like renting homes;
I had always worked, always paid my own phone bill with extra to spare
so it became easy to forget the weight of debt.
 
Debt weighs as if you carry the universe upon your back—
my mother looks like Atlas and I have my mother’s eyes: 
wearisome and tired but brown and alive—
and I have the same worry lines
though I was just a child two years ago.
 
It goes that money can’t buy you happiness but I can’t agree,
because I am too young to be afraid of debt,
too young to be afraid of the green that does not grow on trees,
 
Yet debt weighs like feet trampling down roots,
it is like chemicals and acids poured upon the place 
where things grow;
I am far too young to feel this stunted
but at least I finally look like my mother.
 

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022

__________

Eri Okoye: “I write poetry because turning things into metaphor and lyric is the only way I’m able to rationalize and make sense of my issues. I treat it like medicine.”

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September 18, 2021

Kakul Gupta (age 13)

TEN HAIKU

 

metropolitan city—
each raga
smoke-laden

 

coin collection—
the clink
of grandma’s voice

 

away from home—
the crackle
of mother’s onions

 

virtual classroom—
now my friends
captured in squares

 

gas tragedy—
pale glow
of the sun

 

winter fog
… with each layer
a brewing argument

 

winter chill …
in search of bread
a roaming dog

 

sunrise
the old city
lights up

 

summer holidays—
mangoes
in my dreams

 

winter fog …
each tree
a ghost

from 2021 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

__________

Why do you like to write poetry?

Kakul Gupta: “I realised that poetry is my way to indulge with the world, and I am thankful to my brother for introducing me to it. I love haiku the most, because they are short and succinct. The best thing about a haiku is its juxtaposition: how you are in two worlds in just 3 lines and (less than) 17 syllables.”

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July 21, 2021

Lewis Crawford

SOMETIMES THE DREAM COMES BACK TO ME

A short gravel driveway, the tatty wooden fence
that stumbled—this way, that way—
like the strides of a drunkard
from the highway to the makeshift carport
where me and daddy strung a gray tarp 
from a sagging oak
to the far side of our trailer.
       No, not to stop the rain       —for the acorns,
little brown rivets that could punch through
a windshield like a fist through the living room
drywall, mama screaming
You promised,              not
in front of the boy. 

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021
Tribute to Appalachian Poets

__________

Lewis Crawford: “If growing up broke in dirt-poor southern Georgia taught me anything, it’s that people are fragile even in their toughness. From my mother’s heroin addiction to my grandmother working sixty-hour weeks at a nursing home to keep a roof over my head, I’ve seen often how easily things can fall apart. If violence could be any kind of language at all, there’s no doubt that my family would be fluent in it.”

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January 13, 2022

Vandana Khanna

ECHO

I cannot make it lovely,
this story of my father: his body
raw under the lights like a skinned

almond, surrounded by sandalwood,
pickled carrots, and the hush of
rice settling in a bag.

I can’t help it, I need metaphors:
his body curls like the curve of a cheek,
a knife lies beside him, done with its work.

This story in metaphors. Not simply:
You lie on the floor. You’ve been cut
by two men you don’t know. They wanted

money and you were too slow, didn’t understand.
But rather: bruises braid his skin, the bitter black
of leaves, eyes red as the swollen sting

of chili powder. Why do I write into the past?
He smells only sweat, sickened blood seeping,
nothing familiar—not black and red pepper pinched

into the air, not the jasmine of his mother’s
kitchen. Nothing—until his breath is like a tea
bag twisted, pressed into the cup of the room.

But it’s not an Indian grocery, it is a shabby
downtown hotel, the kind that lock their doors
at ten, have security guards to stop the prostitutes

from coming in, from warming themselves
in the lobby. The kind where hallways echo
of accents. The phone is off the hook.

Not, why do I write about the past?” but, what story
must I tell? You lie there dreaming, but I’m
not sure, dreaming of your childhood in Lahore:

the city escaping the finite lines of a map, erased
by riots, civil war. You remember the hot nights,
chattering birds—how the world was never silent then.

You tell me over and over but I can’t write it:
the same story, but I know we are leaving
things out. Embellishing. What they must

have said, the words, harsh like Bengali, you never
tell, the first cut and then the next, how you fell
like a sack of mangoes into a heavy tumble.

You have left the spaces empty for me to add
in colors, the smells, to translate to English.
To translate into the present, into beautiful.

I nearly forgot what I wanted.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001

__________

Vandana Khanna: “I began writing when I was nine and have continued to write as a way to re-live, re-member, and re-vision life. I received my MFA in poetry from the University of Nebraska, where I came to love corn fields, donuts, and walks through cemeteries. Currently, I live in Los Angeles—a place where I can pretend that, outside my window, the freeway sounds like an ocean.”

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November 3, 2021

Srinivas Mandavilli

RAIN

We lay together on a charpoy, the thrum on asbestos roofs ending all days. The downpour cantillates like Sanskrit chanting we had heard at Kamakhya temple, the one in the drenched valley of leechee and guava trees. As we gathered by Dikhow’s shore, the river gravid with mud, branches and massive trunks flowed with a ferocity towards a cantilever bridge. Brahmaputra becomes a sea every monsoon, never settling, inundating all the elephant grass which our mahout carefully holds back on our rides. Today we wander into another summer on Lakshman Jhula where the Ganges turns green, tourists run to small motels to escape the drizzle. Some things do not change—the small delight of sitting on a railway platform savoring chana dal fritters by wet train tracks with steaming cardamom tea in clay cups. There is a storm expected, already the smell of rain mouses its way in like the time you cried after your mother’s passing, the sky was splayed by Indra’s bow. There was so much dampness the night your water broke, as we ran from the laundromat with a newspaper over our heads, the car’s floor mats also soaked from a leaking heater core. And this is how I know you, on an outrigger listening to a whale song in a drizzle, breeze coursing on your face, not joyless but not joyous for anything and in its swells  

flood waters pour in 
a thought that the world might change 
once or not at all

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets

__________

Srinivas Mandavilli: “My first experience of writing poetry in English was during high school years in India and for that I will forever be indebted to Sr. Helen Mary, an English teacher in a small dusty town in Western India. Several years later, in the U.S., I found myself returning to writing and many poems seem to stem from memories of childhood spent with family, or around food and travel. Such memories seem to emerge from revisiting India as an adult and a tourist, but also from the distance created by living in the U.S.”

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May 19, 2021

Esther Ottaway

ON WHETHER THE EARTH IS FLAT, ROUND, OR THERE AT ALL

dyspraxia, developmental
topographical disorientation

It means not knowing where you are in space, 
your arms and legs, your clumsy feet, your hands;
the door, and how you get from here to there, 
forgetting how this puppet walks or stands
(exhausting). And, more broadly, means not knowing
where you are in the building, or the street, 
the suburb where you’ve lived for twenty years. 
Means driving round till you admit defeat
in a tangle of roads that disconnect,
trying to find the familiar shop or school, 
your work, your friends; this often brings on tears. 
To travel is to struggle like a fool
because, despite the Google maps, the signs,
the sun, you stay as lost as when, at three,
you let go of your mother’s hand and stood
terrified, mouthing shopping-centre pleas;
it’s why you take a taxi, not a train,
miss entrances, ask people where things are,
eat in the one cafe you know, again,
because you dare not walk a bridge too far. 
It makes the world veer, shift, and be nowhere. 
Come here to me. Don’t make me meet you there.

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity

__________

Esther Ottaway: “I am an Australian poet, an autistic woman raising an autistic daughter; we have ADHD and many more conditions, which are part of the autism spectrum. Our physical health is also affected. Since we are not boys, we have had to fight hard to get diagnoses and support and are still working on this. I am currently writing my third book of poetry, titled She Doesn’t Seem Autistic, about the experiences of women and girls with autism and its related conditions.” (web)

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