November 9, 2020

Jackleen Holton


Every week there was a new defensive tactic
added to the handbook, and we catalogued
and passed them around like recipes

while Manager Dave waited in the back of the house
by the walk-in refrigerator. Everybody’s ass
got groped or grazed. In those days we called it

an occupational hazard. But the tips were better
than anywhere else this side of stripping
so no one wanted to leave if they could help it

unless they left for good, for Hollywood
or Happiness. Cover me, we’d say
when we had to go into the pantry or the freezer.

We pulled the new girls aside,
gave them the lowdown. We went out
to smoke in pairs, even if we didn’t smoke.

On the back dock on one such night, Orion
loomed above, larger than I’d ever seen it, every stud
in the hunter’s belt ablaze. The other waitress,

I forget her name, talked and blew smoke
rings into the sky as I beheld the tapestry,
each bright stitch, and everything else fell away:

my day-to-day despair, Manager Dave, the heavy door
he tried to trap me behind. For a moment I sensed
a world beyond that one: the desert city, its merciless

string of waitressing jobs, the not-quite-men it offered up
like crushed beer cans, F-150 trucks and dirty jokes
washed up on a shore the moon had long abandoned.

I tell you this because that night I knew
a peace I’ve forgotten too many times, though it laps
at my ankles tonight like this cold tide

that seems to cast us backward as it recedes.
And I wonder how the stars so long ago, blinking
out their ancient code, could have known

to deliver me to this shore, this quiet night, and to you,
our feet sand-blackened, a latticework of clouds,
the bright hunter’s moon moving through.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020
Tribute to Service Workers


Jackleen Holton: “I put myself through college waiting tables, and have fallen back into it a few times when I was feeling less than enthusiastic about my career options. I was good at it, but not as good at managing the stress I caused myself in doing it. What I didn’t realize, at least in the early days, is the spiritual value of service, of discarding one’s self-importance for a time to give to others. I’ve since discovered that all work is service work.” (web)

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February 18, 2020

Jackleen Holton


sprung up on the right side of my neck
so I went to the doctor, who patted around
the mass, told me it was probably nothing, a cluster
of pissed-off cells, a mini-revolt.
I started to say the word I feared.
No, he said, probably not that, but we’ll run some tests.
Just as I thought, he told me after the needle biopsy,
the CT scan, just a minor populist bloc.
In fact, it looks smaller than before.
Go home, rest. Then we’ll do another scan.
And after that, because it had begun to throb,
a little fist just under my jugular vein,
I said I think it wants to do me in, but he shook
his head, and then he cut me, pulled out the bloody
lump and sewed me back up. I went numb.
He told me I might not feel anything
for about a year. I tried to speak but my voice
came out like a weak wind.
After they biopsied it, he called to say
that it was after all the thing I’d feared,
and that there were surely more pockets
of fascist cells. He said we have to go into battle,
we’ll use this agent we found in the war.
I said I had to think about it. He said don’t think too long.
I went home and cried until a sleep like death
came and covered me, and a god I didn’t know
if I believed in held me in her arms
and whispered you have to love it,
but I knew I already did because it had broken me
open, sent my roots down, it gathered my friends
around me, and we wove a shawl
of prayers. And I said Jesus, and she nodded
even though that’s not her full name. And I said America,
that’s what I call my body sometimes,
we have to love ourself now, we can’t go back
again, we must use this to grow into something
so much greater than we’ve ever been.

from Poets Respond
February 16, 2020


Jackleen Holton: “John Dean said to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal: ‘We have a cancer within—close to the presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily. It’s compounding.’ In the week following Trump’s acquittal by senate Republicans, it is more apparent than ever that the cancer on this presidency has compounded and continues to spread throughout our republic.”

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December 19, 2018

Jackleen Holton


I tried it once, the being saved,
my devout older cousin standing
before me on the steps of the city pool.
She said, you can’t plug your nose,
so I didn’t, and she dunked me, held me
under for a long time because
it has to hurt so He’ll know
you’re ready to receive His grace.
I spoke in garbled tongues, bubbles
rising from me as I tried to catch
her faith, felt the water enter
me like a needle—
the way it does now, the spout
of the neti pot pressed to one nostril,
a torrent of salt water
blazing out the other one
as I remember the straight line
her mouth made, so intent
was she on this ministry
that it had to be love,
the sun behind her aflame
in the wavering sky above me.

from Rattle #61, Fall 2018


Jackleen Holton: “I write poems to gather my thoughts and make sense of things, though it rarely works that elegantly. More often than not, it comes from something like being down with the flu, and hearing from an evangelical leader that my condition would have been entirely preventable had I possessed the right brand of faith, which gets me thinking about faith, all the ways I’ve tried to catch it, and how those attempts have always felt a little bit like trying to breathe underwater.” (web)

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June 24, 2018

Jackleen Holton


my daughter says
when I remind her
she won’t be watching TV
today, and I nod and say
I’m a little sad, too,
about the tantrum
at the grocery store.
I woke up sad, but I don’t
tell her that, don’t say I’m sad
with her daddy for not listening,
just like my mother never listened—
my mother whose sadness
I only just realized
wasn’t my own.
So I know my daughter
won’t understand how I’m sad
for my country, sad
with news, and the fish
I had to flush,
sad with the way endings
just show up, bright and orange
as the living thing, though tilted
to one side, still
and sad, black bubble
of an eye
on the water line.

from Poets Respond


Jackleen Holton: “For me, this was the saddest week yet in our nation’s recent history, mainly owing to the continuing crisis on the Southern border, and infant internment camps, or ‘tender age’ facilities. While the family separation policy has been reversed by the administration that created it, the fate of many parents and children remain in the balance.” (web)

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August 14, 2018

First Publication

Conversation with
Marvin Artis

Rattle #61This fall we’re celebrating the joy of first publication with fourteen poets who have never before had their poems appear in print or online. Rattle has always been a testament to the fact that publishing histories do not matter—powerful poems lurk inside all of us—and this issue highlights that truth. Culled from over 1,000 submissions, these standout poets are starting what we expect to be long careers in literature. The issue is also the breakout party for Marvin Artis, a previously unpublished lawyer in New York City who has enough brilliant poems hidden away to fill up a book. We’re publishing four of them in this issue, and Alan C. Fox visited with him for a conversation to learn more.

Also in this issue, an especially deep open section draws on love, death, and life in a hot dog factory. Featuring two poems each from Heather Bell, Kim Bridgford, James Valvis, and Roberty Wrigley, plus two Francesca Bell translations of German poet Max Sessner—this is the most poems we’ve ever published in a quarterly issue—47 of them.


First Publication

Audio Available Marvin Artis Meditation on a Dining Room Table
Audio Available Purple Hearts
Audio Available Life
Audio Available Penumbra
David Borman Modern Form
Audio Available Justin KB Slow Worship
Audio Available Caleb M.X. Dance Handscape
Kristian Doyle Sonnet
Thomas Mann Ask
Farah Peterson Auschwitz I & II
Audio Available Natasha Rao Poem for a Blue Page
Justy Rothe Twice
Audio Available Julie Schultz Singularity
Audio Available Ryan Thier The Call to Pour
Daniel Valdez Leslie Doesn’t Believe in Love
Audio Available Jessica Venturi To Mourn
Audio Available Nasreen Yazdani How to Turn Off a Ceiling Fan


Heather Bell Love Poem
Sad Song
Audio Available Kim Bridgford The Carbon Monoxide Gas
Audio Available The Oven
Travis Burke Uncle Ivan and the Last Dog Race
Barbara Campbell Tangles
Audio Available Robert Carr After Mother Dies, Most Men Need a Lover
Audio Available Kevin Clark Elegy
Audio Available Nicelle Davis After Coffee with My Nurse Friend
Audio Available Stephen Gibson The Real Thing
Audio Available Mike Good C.W.P.
Audio Available Jackleen Holton Jesus Is My Flu Shot
Audio Available Samuel Hughes At Night, My Father Does Not Sing
Audio Available Judy Kronenfeld Letter to the Ministry of Loneliness
Jacob Lindberg You’re Bound to See Someone You Know …
Audio Available Katherine Lo Gravitational Time Dilation
Audio Available Taylor Mali The Father Speaking Through My Son
Benjamin Myers The Town Drunk Recalls the Rainmaker …
Audio Available Soonest Nathaniel Parting Ritual
Audio Available Kathryn Petruccelli Lamps
Audio Available Doug Ramspeck The Long Dead
Aaron Reeder To My Uncle Who Is in Prison for Robbing Banks
Audio Available Mather Schneider Suicide Lane
Prartho Sereno A Few Questions Before We Go On
Audio Available Max Sessner August Evening
Audio Available It Is
Audio Available James Valvis Mail Call
Audio Available The Distracted
Audio Available Robert Wrigley So We Meet Again
Audio Available Rain


Marvin Artis

Cover Art

Thomas Terceira

June 4, 2017

Jackleen Holton


In my native tongue that has as many names
for money as the Inuit have for snow,
a new word surfaces like a tiny, red
stone in the rubble, or a morning poem
pieced together from dreams,
though my head throbs as I huddle
over my desk, doing its bidding—
is there not a word for that,

the idea you must get down on paper
before it dissolves and you cease to know it?
A thought that shape-shifts into something
like longing? Or is it more of an atmospheric
loneliness that storms through you, the rain
on your face mingled with tears—
although there is no word for that either.

For so long we have been a country
devoid of those words that transcended language
to elicit, for example, the Swedish reflection
of the moon on a body of water: Mångata;
or Jijivisha, Hindi for the one who epitomizes
what the French know as Joie de vivre, another quality
for which we have long been wordless,

so thick-tongued that even the lines
in between the lines couldn’t quite enlighten us.
It’s like the way our minds try and fail
at constructing the bright
threads between constellations—
and speaking of which, why isn’t there a word for that?

But might there be a name for the thing that floats
across borders, links one world to another? Perhaps it’s a kernel
of truth in the red eye of madness. The center is silent
as an eclipse. If we listen, could it awaken us?
Or has it already begun? It’s not warm,
though steam rises from it.

from Poets Respond


Jackleen Holton: “The typo #covfefe took on a life of its own. Something about it suggested transcendence and beauty, despite its origin. So I went where it led me.” (website)

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August 14, 2016

Jackleen Holton


The news has gone so far beyond absurd
that I can’t watch it anymore; the little boxes
with their talking heads all talking
about the same damn thing. So I switch
the channel again, let myself be mesmerized
by the swimmers with their exquisite butterfly
wings, the way their bodies undulate
through the water, rising open-mouthed,
as if in praise, then diving down, making it seem effortless.
And I’m reminded of Leni Riefenstahl’s film Olympia,
documenting the 1936 games in Berlin,
and how, as the movie progresses, the athletes, in shadowy
black and white, leave the stadium behind, turn
godlike, their sculpted bodies blossoming
like time-lapse flowers in the sky.
Yesterday, scrolling down my Facebook feed,
I read about a woman in Missouri who saw Donald Trump’s
likeness in a tub of butter, the way once-upon-a-time
somebody was always glimpsing the Virgin Mother
in everything. But there it was, the face
I see in every other post, bubbling up in the yellow
spread, bulbous mouth frozen mid-holler.
The swimmers in the individual medley form a graceful V
like a flock of soaring geese, the pool morphing into
Riefenstahl’s majestic sky. I have a friend who can see
the spirit animal in everyone. For her, every trip
to the grocery store is a safari. But I understand it now,
watching these swimmers mount their blocks;
this one’s a gazelle, that one, a panther.
Leni Riefenstahl loved Hilter. Her beautiful films
were the glorious Aryan face of his regime.
And before the ceremonies began, her camera lingered
on him, his right arm raised to a surging sea of outstretched arms.
Though the mood is festive, her chiaroscuro
montage takes on the somber tones of history.
But today, I love the swimmers for what our animal bodies can do
when the spirit wants it enough. I lean forward as the one
in the middle lane closes in on the world record line.
Someone strung up a confederate flag at a Trump rally
yesterday, which, I told my husband is exactly what I would do
if I were a protester: I’d disguise myself as an asshat,
hoist it up and wait for the cameras.
But of course that wasn’t a joke, either.
Riefenstahl disavowed the Nazis after the war,
but I wonder if her love lived on in some secret bunker
of her heart where she only dreamed in black and white.
Another record is broken, a new medalist stands
on the platform. I can’t help it, my eyes well up.
The lady in Missouri says she thought for a moment
about putting her tub of butter on eBay
to see what she could fetch for it, but in the end
she just wanted buttered toast, so she dipped a knife
in, and handily scraped away the apparition
of that little, angry face.

Poets Respond
August 14, 2016

[download audio]


Jackleen Holton: “The Trump campaign imploded this week, although it has been headed in that direction for some time, and although the media continues to milk the sideshow for ratings. If there is any symbolic meaning to the butter sighting, it may be, as Jan Castellano, the woman who found the contorted face looking back at her from a tub of Earth Balance said, she hoped his campaign ‘melts away like butter.’ But that can’t happen if we continue to give this candidate our attention and energy. Meanwhile, the Olympic games provided a welcome, sometimes inspiring distraction. While the precise nature of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s relationship with Adolph Hitler was not known, she did praise him effusively in a letter she wrote during the war, and she benefited greatly from the Nazi regime in a way that only a few individuals can with such a system in place.” (website)

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