December 3, 2022

Doug Ramspeck

ONE TRUE POEM

The deer this time of year are gray. I see them
near the railroad tracks. What I like about them
is how they flee at the first sign they are observed.
But the one today is full-sized, on its side in the bar
ditch, with a white belly, its neck bent, smudges
of red in the snow like dropped handkerchiefs.
I have been thinking about how often my students
arrive at my office to show me poems they have written.
How often they tell the background story, how they
dressed up experience in the skin of a dead deer,
how they splayed themselves in a bar ditch for everyone
to see. Occasionally they weep, wiping their noses
with their fingers, their insides spilling raw at
the roadside, their necks lolling. Sometimes a single
salty drop falls to the handwritten page and stains it,
leaving a blue ink splotch, as though all sorrow
is a smudge. They want to be that poor deer
where the snow is coming down, dropping out
of the sky, making of the body a mound to be buried
in white, the smooth belly the same white as the snow,
as though a deer might enter the landscape, become
the landscape. To be that one true poem, the one
where you bleed a little on the snow. But tomorrow
I will remind my students that there is a weak sun
in this January sky, an old woman with b.o. they stood
behind once while taking the Sacrament, these Ohio
factories with their broken windows and the grass
in summer spilling through the cracks in the cement.
Please, I will say, there is more to write about than dying
grandmothers, a boyfriend who left you, a winning shot
in the state finals, a first sexual experience, an alcoholic
father who made your mother jump once from
a rowboat into Grand Lake St. Mary’s because she’d
forgotten the buns for the hotdogs. Just once let
your poems run wild into the night, like deer rushing
across the road, to feel the aloneness of the body, the way
the legs move and carry us. One last true poem, the one
where the deer is forever by the roadside, the cars
speeding past, how cold and hard the ground feels,
the snow covering us until the rains arrive come spring
and the body transforms gradually to mud. Together,
I will tell them, we will lift that deer from the bar ditch
and tumble it over the edge into the river, like in that
Stafford poem I assigned last week, though my
students all asked the same thing, over and over,
the same thing they always ask: is the story true?

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010

__________

Doug Ramspeck: “Given the content of ‘One True Poem,’ I feel strangely obliged to confess which parts of my poem are ‘true.’ I did not come across a dead deer before composing the work. My students do tear up sometimes and want everything they write to be confessional. I do plead with them to try something else. One student did write about her mother being forced from a rowboat because she forgot the hotdog buns. I did not assign Stafford to my students. Okay? Okay?” (web)

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December 2, 2022

Lance Larsen

WIDOW WATER

All summer, garden snakes slithered in and out 
of her grief. Now she has Canada geese to count, 
 
as they angle south for the season. The lake 
is empty of wings, reminding her how ice first 
 
honors edges, how inky skies honor where 
he drowned. At night, she makes and unmakes 
 
the bed but never sleeps in it. By day, the leaves 
don’t fall fast enough so she walks under 
 
the maple, banging branches with a rake. Gloves? 
She lost them weeks ago during a midnight 
 
ramble, so now she wears his hunting socks 
on her hands, wool with red stripes. She saves
 
his whiskers in a shaving mug, clipped fingernails 
rolled up in an old bra, little fixes that fix 
 
nothing. She used to scatter mums on waves 
but grew tired of watching them serenely float. 
 
Now she lobs one of his hammers or a handful
of screws, each splash a little gulp, a thank you.
 
On the couch tonight she’ll light his last cigarette
and let it smolder down to ash while she eats 
 
a pomegranate, jewel by bleeding jewel, smoke 
tonguing the wall like a spirit seeking release. 
 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022

__________

Lance Larsen: “I find it nigh impossible to write an elegy without thinking of Bishop’s ‘One Art’: ‘then practice losing farther, losing faster.’ ‘Widow Water’ traces the rituals, or soul bargains, we make out of the everyday to memorialize a loved one. Who knows what will help us cope, collecting whiskers in an old mug or throwing a hammer in a lake? The loved one is there and not there, and sometimes we can’t tell the difference.”

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December 1, 2022

Sarah Pemberton Strong

ANESTHESIA

After the anesthesia, I didn’t know
it was after. It was not like
having slept. It was not at all
like having slept, a state you wake from

having logged some knowledge
of time’s passage: twenty minutes
feels different from two hours, or eight.

But I woke from anesthesia
asking when the anesthesia

would begin. The operation’s
over, someone said. It can’t be,

I thought, no time has passed.
I had to put my hands
over the bandage to believe it.

At home I threw up for twelve hours
what seemed like gallons
of bile mixed with darkened blood.
Try giving chips of ice, the doctor said

when my roommates called at midnight
because I couldn’t stop. Try peppermint.
How far I’d gone beyond that.

Outside my window
I was dimly aware

of something happening.
The usual midnight things
on Sixteenth and Albion in 1991:

a bartender smashing empty bottles
in a dumpster behind the corner bar, people
shooting up or turning tricks in doorways
or sleeping, dark shapes to step over later

when the sweet light of morning
filtered down through the street’s acacia trees.
I always left my car unlocked so no one
would break the windows

to get in; someone I never saw
used to climb in the back and sleep there,
leaving candy wrappers on the seat.

At last the sun came up and burned
my room to life again. It was only then

I began to feel
something was wrong—the way you’d feel
a draft of air, and looking for its source,

discover a window had been broken.
Somehow a window had been broken
while time was stopped.

Or perhaps it was the act of breaking in
that had stopped time in the first place,

the way the smashed glass
of a wristwatch
arrests the movement of its hands.

from Rattle #49, Fall 2015

__________

Sarah Pemberton Strong: “When I look at these two poems—‘Anesthesia’ and ‘Stalin’—placed side by side, I realize that they are both interested in the relationship between memory, consciousness, and violence. It was Joseph Stalin who said, ‘A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.’ I look to poetry to wake me up from the stupor of statistics; to help me reconnect, through empathy and close attention, with the singularity of each life—and with all life on this imperiled planet.” (web)

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November 30, 2022

Max Sessner

ONE DAY

Everything comes back to haunt us
one day the boy you beat
up a long time ago
stands before you in the street car
he is like you now around
 
sixty his hair thin like
yours generally he looks 
like you moves like 
you as he approaches you
walks past gets off
 
at the next stop
that was it you turn
after him and note 
the stop and tomorrow
you will forget it
 
 
Translated from the German by Francesca Bell
 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Tribute to Translation

__________

Max Sessner was born in 1959 in Fürth, Germany. He has long lived with his wife in Augsburg and has held a wide variety of jobs, working as a bookseller for the Augsburg public library, and currently for the department of public health. Sessner is the author of eight books of poetry including, most recently, Das Wasser von Gestern (The Water of Yesterday). | Francesca Bell: “I first came upon the poems of Max Sessner in the pages of the Austrian literary journal manuskripte. I was reading German-language journals with an eye toward finding a poet in whose work I could immerse myself, and those first eleven Sessner poems caught my attention and held it fast. I wrote immediately to ask permission to translate them. In Max Sessner’s work, I found a poetry that is simultaneously melancholy and funny, deeply tender and yet eviscerating. His voice is entirely, profoundly his own, and his poems, deceptively accessible, contain complex, often uncanny, ideas and sentiments. I remain fascinated and humbled by how deftly he uses surrealism, not to obscure reality, but to illuminate it.” (web)

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November 29, 2022

Take Heart by 
René Bohnen, abstract watercolor painting of two figures above pine trees

Image: “Ballet Above the Bay” by René Bohnen. “Wingspan” was written by Christopher Shipman for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2022, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

__________

Christopher Shipman

WINGSPAN

We decided it was time.
After three years in North Carolina
we booked an Airbnb
dubbed “The Bird’s Nest”
in a little mountain town outside Asheville.
We’d gone to the Biltmore.
A brewery with a Putt-Putt course.
Strolled downtown shops.
Had dinner at a local pizza haunt.
Then on the last night, our daughter, sprawled
in the Bird’s Nest’s
only bed, plate of leftover pizza
balanced on her lap, asked the number of days
she’s been alive. Like a good
21st century father, I used Google
to calculate the days
from birth to Bird’s Nest.
And there nested in the newsfeed, where, let’s
face it, tragedy lives
beyond itself, I read a headline
that celebrated a father’s use of Google
to save his child’s life
when a heart attack nearly killed him.
When his heart broke
the article says, before it spills into confessing
the subsequent promise of love
whispered nightly
that provided the child the chance to tell
his parents who he really is—
a gay West African teen
marching unseen to the pulpit decades of days.
Driving home to Greensboro
mist is a religion spanning
the mountains—an obfuscation of angels
holding hands wing to wing.
There’s a heart inside it.
A kind of breaking. A kind of aching
to be seen. Like the moment
a child asks how long
they’ve been alive. Our daughter
has been alive 2818 days—one more
than this time yesterday.
 

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2022, Editor’s Choice

__________

Comment from the editor, Megan O’Reilly: “There are some wonderful turns of phrase in Christopher Shipman’s ‘Wingspan’ that caught my attention—‘from birth to Bird’s Nest / and there nested in the newsfeed …’—but what struck me most was the way the emotion of the poem captured the feelings René Bohnen’s painting ‘Ballet Above the Bay’ evokes. I sense a tension between past and future in both pieces, and a complex but unbreakable human connection, like the one between parent and child. ‘Theres a heart inside it,’ Shipman writes, and I can say the same about this poem.”

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November 28, 2022

Lance Larsen

THE GIRL

The girl has been missing five days. 
Also her boyfriend. She’s fifteen, 
red blonde hair, friend of my daughter. 
We’re taping a flyer to every door—
who wouldn’t? The girl’s pink backpack 
with skulls has entered my house, 
her two hands and a pencil ready to cram 
 
for Chemistry. We are covering a part 
of town too good for us—Yale Way, 
Harvard Circle, Stanford Lane …  
My daughter tapes the south side 
of the street while I tape the north, 
for speed she says, then she wanders 
to my side, speed not a god she wants 
 
to worship all alone. Our four 
taping hands much happier. The girl 
has been missing five days. Her tennis 
shoes scribbled with anime faces 
have entered my house. There are ants 
that know where she is and lint between 
her toes, maybe tampons and old 
 
taco wrappers and a green water bottle. 
And with each flyer, we are helping 
to drag the reservoir and comb 
the woods and wander a mystery street 
in Mexico, stuffing $20 in her right 
pocket, $40 in her left. We cross a river 
and my daughter throws in a stick. 
 
Gone in a swirl. The girl has been 
missing five days. We are helping 
her escape a man made of barbed 
wire and the beds he wet as a child 
and the cats he burned with cigarettes. 
We are with her cold body, patting 
her hand, helping her toes study 
 
the temperature of dirt. Meanwhile, 
I’m studying shades of fear, light yellow 
masquerading as daffodils, the shaggy 
browns of a dog barking us off 
a porch. The girl, missing five days, 
is not thinking of pi or personification 
or E=mc2 or resilient Rosa Park. 
 
The girl’s freckles have entered 
my house, the part in her hair. 
And just last week her arms balancing 
two pizzas—her chewing mouth, 
my daughter’s chewing mouth. It feels wrong 
for the girl to go missing so close 
to Easter. My daughter asks if I am ready 
 
for a break. We cross the street 
to sit in little-kid swings in the park. 
We want this to last, the saving 
of the missing girl, her collarbone 
and ankles, her henna tattoo, birthmark 
over her left eye, on a morning, blue 
with waiting, we may never see again. 
 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022

__________

Lance Larsen: “When my daughter’s high school friend went missing, I found myself in deep denial: how could she be gone, she was just in my house? I wrote this poem to explore the magical thinking that filled those days of waiting. If I rehearsed certain details (street names, colors, freckles, etc.), maybe she would come back. Of course, I was also trying to cast a spell on my own daughter and keep her safe forever. I consider this a poem of prayer, a poem of preparatory mourning, even if Deity is never invoked directly.”

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November 27, 2022

Gina Tranisi

LUNCH BREAK IN AMERICA

I’ll have a burrito bowl. White rice. Black
beans. Fajita veggies. Double protein. Double
back. Half-scoop of pico. No, I want a bowl of
broccoli cheddar. Not an apple, a baguette on
the side. I said a bowl of hot sad. I said a
Mediterranean bowl. Quinoa. Chickpeas.
Cucumber salad. A bowl of overturned
stars. Not stars, salmon. I want a poke bowl
with upstream fish. White rice. Wasabi mayo.
A bowl of fixed-blade knives. A bowl of billboards
for missing women who are becoming dead
as we send words back-and-forth inside
this speaker box. This metal order machine.
This Tupperware container of my voice.
Might be the last thing anyone hears
from me. So, an order of asada. I said a bowl
of bullets. Not a cup of guns. A bowl. A howl.
A howl of nightclub neon. A tourniquet. A bowl
of grandfathers who salute shots fired against
tyranny. A tyranny of Jell-O shots. A blue raspberry
rifle. A stiletto glitter shoe, stomping teeth
on beat. No beets. A beating. A bruise. I want to eat
a bowl of unbearable. I’ll need utensils, too.
Did you hear me? I said I want the corner
of an American flag to wipe my hungry
bloody queer star spangled mouth.
 

from Poets Respond
November 27, 2022

__________

Gina Tranisi: “Another heavy news week in America, and I find myself wishing I lived in a country that loved me back. I want a soft life. I want to dance. I want to sing. I want to buy my groceries. I do not want to fear being swallowed by the mouth of a gun. Because of my girlhood. Because of my sexuality. America loves putting our lunches in bowls. I wish we could order bowls of gun reform and LGTBQ+ rights, have them delivered to the doorsteps of Congress. Since that’s not possible, I collected all of these wishes of mine and put them in a bowl, I mean, a poem.”

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