December 7, 2022

Jessica Lee


If I told you a child taped two Band-Aids across her heart 
and one Band-Aid across her cheek,
you might not believe me, 
as I did not believe my friend, a preschool teacher, 
who described how Aila went on to pour glue 
into her hands and rubbed the Elmer’s between her palms, 
creating a potion to make no one you love leave you ever
while her classmates built towers with yellow blocks
in a separate corner of the room, 
towers they knocked down moments later, 
laughing at their own power to make and destroy 
as Aila continued staring into her small hands, 
the glue hardening in the palm lines that might
tell her future, this girl who already knew 
more than we knew about suffering,
or maybe she just knew how to solve her heartache 
more practically than we ever tried to—
after all, Elmer’s is fast-drying, multi-purpose—
and my friend told me all of this over coffee, 
her eyes as glazed as the china we were drinking from 
because she was being left, too, by the man 
she thought would be the father of her future children, 
a man who didn’t want to have children after all,
and when she finished explaining 
how Aila used the entire bottle of glue 
we sat in silence as our coffee went cold, 
wishing what we loved could stick 
or else for heartbreak to be quicker, 
rather than the trap door it is, the door we fall through
that returns us to our knees, on the floor 
of our very first loss, where my friend is now, 
remembering when she was four, the same age as Aila, 
and how her father was always leaving the room 
for the Crystal Geyser bottle filled with vodka—  
and I want to tell her this is why I don’t want children, 
because there’s no way to escape making
their first imprints for loss, like boot prints through snow, 
even if the action is out of our control, 
as when my mother, pregnant, was wheeled 
into the elevator at Mercy General 
when I was seven and knew without knowing 
I might not see her again 
after the gray doors closed and she went up, 
up to the cold table where she was sliced open 
under the operating lights while I watched Bambi
on my great aunt’s waterbed, miles away, 
and though my mother lived, the blinds were drawn
for a full year and everything was dark—
but you can’t tell a woman who is grieving the loss of a lover
and the children she imagined they’d have 
all your own reasons to not have children, 
so I just held my friend’s hand
and later we walked together through the woods
where we found deer hoof prints in dirt
and noticed how each impression split at the center.

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022


Jessica Lee: “‘What the Heart Does’ is indebted to my friend’s student, who really did tape Band-Aids across her heart and cheek, rub glue between her hands, and declare she was making a potion ‘to make no one you love leave you ever.’ For privacy, I decided to give the girl the pseudonym, Aila—the name I hoped to give my own daughter.” (web)

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December 6, 2022

Francesca Bell


After the plumbers leave, having installed
new toilets because the old ones failed
to whisk fully away what our bodies discarded,
and we are of an age where we crave
the satisfaction of good and final riddance,
of never seeing again what we have chosen
to set down, the ultimate, sweet pleasure
of divestment, and after they have accidentally
allowed my old beagle to escape, and I walk
up and down the streets calling and whistling
and return to find her waiting at the front door,
triumphant, a long-dead bird’s leg bones gripped
in her mouth, talons still attached,
I read in the paper that a foot was found on a beach
in Richmond, still laced into its Saucony shoe,
and the article asks breezily for the public’s assistance,
as if someone has unwittingly lost a right foot,
size 6 or 7, perhaps while out running,
before going on to clarify that every couple
of months, small parts of people wash up
on Bay Area beaches, mostly fingers or feet broken
loose at the water’s slow insistence
from the bodies of suicides who’ve tossed themselves
whole from one bridge or another, dropping
as that bird must have, finished finally
with the entire enterprise, believing the Bay
to be as powerful as a new toilet, able to afford
a person the simple luxury of washing away
the whole stinking, burdensome mess,
but something keeps keeping us,
a scavenging dog, a tide, a faulty toilet,
even the Bay unable to stop our little bits,
our wasted, torn-apart pieces
from clinging to shore in refusal.

from Poets Respond
December 6, 2022


Francesca Bell: “The day I read about the running shoe that washed up on a Richmond beach still holding its foot, I really was having my toilets replaced, and my beagle really did escape out the propped-open front door, and she really was waiting for me, after my fruitless search for her, carrying someone else’s leg bones in her mouth. All of it got me thinking about how difficult it is to ever be completely finished with or free of anything. We humans cling to pretty much everything, it’s true, but this world is sticky in its own way and seems also to not want to let us go.” (web)

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December 5, 2022

Dag T. Straumsvåg


Most inventions are inspired by things in nature. Think of the wheel. Or the computer. The computer is not unlike the human brain, complex and frail, a bearer of bad tidings: “A fatal error has been detected in Station C.” Station C is the base-camp for a group of archaeologists. For three years they have been looking for signs of intelligent life in the Mantell Sector, North Nekhebet, Resurgam in the Delta Pavonis System. A cold and relentless wind blows across the dry plains. The only things the three-day hurricane didn’t destroy were an iron shovel and the ship’s log. I’koor, the last survivor from Station C, writes: “This expedition has been a failure from day one. There wasn’t any sign of intelligent life out here until we arrived, and now I’m going to hit myself over the head with this shovel.”
Translated from the Norwegian by Robert Hedin and the author

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Tribute to Translation


Dag T. Straumsvåg was born in 1964 in Kristiansund, a city on the sparsely populated coastline of western Norway and raised in the nearby village of Tingvoll. He is the author and translator of seven books of poetry, and his work has appeared in a wide range of journals in Norway, Canada, and the United States. | Robert Hedin: “I have been translating the prose poems of Dag T. Straumsvåg for more than twenty years. What attracted me to his poems in the first place was their quirky, quixotic nature. As seen in ‘Resurgam in the Delta Pavonis System,’ his work is lively, idiosyncratic, and, above all, endlessly inventive—brief, jazz-like riffs that often voyage off the map into worlds where nothing is as it seems. The result is work that is filled with the playful joys of discovery, of the imagination, the immemorial spirit of the creative journey itself.” (web)

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December 4, 2022

Andrew Posner


Blank sheets of white paper were a symbol of defiance over the weekend as Chinese protesters braved likely prosecution to openly oppose the government’s policy of zero tolerance for COVID and public dissent.

I stare blankly at the page, wanting to fill
it with meaning. In Xinjiang, 7,000 miles
away, a morning sun, reflecting off the
glasses of early risers, the windshields
of commuters, is so bright as to redact
last night’s graffiti: Down with Xi. The
people, smiling the wry smile of the
long-aggrieved, hold up blank pages
and say nothing, while everywhere censors,
police, apparatchiks, always listening, watching,
fill page after page with names, addresses, offenses:
Zhāng Wěi disrespected the Party, Lǐ Nà seeks to
sabotage the social order. In Los Angeles, I am
busy besmirching the page, smearing it with ink
as though covering the purest snow in de-icing salt.
The snow melts down to mud. Poetry reduces to
a mush of guttural sounds, incomprehensible
to the moment. Heaving a sigh, I make a double
espresso, add a splash of cream and sugar, savor
each peaceful sip. Outside, a hawk, saying nothing,
carries off a rabbit in its talons. Is this the natural
order of things? For once I hear the tearing of flesh,
see the sky turn blood-red. No one will apprehend me
here, cup in hand, crumpled paper on the floor, blank
visage belying the seeds of treason. But were they to try,
which treason would I admit? And which would I deny?

from Poets Respond
December 4, 2022


Andrew Posner: “I’m watching the ‘Blank-Paper Protests’ in China from the comfort of my home, wondering how I would react were I living under such an authoritarian regime. Then again, the authoritarian streak in America is ever-looming; so perhaps the question of my response to such circumstances is not so moot.” (web)

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December 3, 2022

Doug Ramspeck


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


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


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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