September 21, 2023

Seamstress by Lily Prigioniero, oil painting of an elderly woman sewing by a window

Image: “Seamstress” by Lily Prigioniero. “My Wife, Sewing at a Window” was written by Eithne Longstaff for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2023, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Eithne Longstaff


Spring wanes
and as is her custom
she pulls the dusty
cover from her Singer
and sits at the window
to fashion cotton,
sprigged with tiny
roses, into tiered
summer skirts
for whichever
grandchild wants one.
Time stretches like
the elastic she holds
and I recall a trip
to Rome where,
laughing, we fell
into a church
as raindrops slid
from bare arms.
In a dark side chapel
we clattered coins
into a metal box
and the space lit up
with a yellow glow,
revealing a Caravaggio,
just for us. She said
he has painted the light
and we stood
and marveled.
Then our ninety seconds
of illumination was over
and we stepped back
into lives that were all about
where to next, and
our house will be blue.
Now she is the old
master and as she works
light ripples her clothes
and crowns her head
with cirrus. The rose
fabric is stippled
with thorns and I see
only where the light
falls to make her perfect
and dare not look
to the room’s dark corners.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
August 2023, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Lily Prigioniero: “Although the seamstress in my painting is my mom, I related to this poem in many ways, especially regarding the passage of time, a major factor in choosing this one among many. The images at the beginning are vivid and easily approachable in their present-tense setting; then there’s the transition into a past memory with the simile, ‘Time stretches like / the elastic she holds / and I recall a trip / to Rome …’ We are then brought back to the present by tying the Caravaggio experience of light to ‘Now she is the old / master ….’ This time around, however, the passage of time feels heavier and more mysterious, not only because the rose fabric is ‘stippled with thorns,’ but because we are given a glimpse into the future with the poem’s powerful last line ‘and dare not look / to the room’s dark corners.'”

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September 20, 2023

Alana Joblin Ain


The key to the car is inside an electronic device called a fob

Don’t worry if it’s your first time hearing that term and you’re over 40 with an MFA! 

It doesn’t matter that it’s called a fob; it’s too hard to open anyway and I’ll need to run onto the baseball field to ask the kid’s PE teacher to pry it with my hair barrette

which will set off the Subaru alarm sending an email to my husband that the car’s had a break-in.

Press the Start / Engine button to dismantle the alarm then watch 

YouTube videos of men taking apart the fob to replace the lithium battery.

Press Pause and Play as many times as it takes you to do what they did.

This isn’t my gift—

I am a poet married to a rabbi and when a light burns out we adjust to less light. 

For years it’s been me—the woman with everyone’s keys, letting in the guy who vents the dryers, the guy who patches the roof, the guy who puts spikes out to deter pigeons, the guy to fix the leaky dishwasher, the basement boiler—all the guys with billable hours.

Because for so many years people thought that I did nothing while raising my kids I had to learn how to do everything

Even return the cable box—and returning the cable box is annoying. 

Sherrie didn’t do it when she decided to leave this earth; she just left a diagram of how to find it in her note. 

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023


Alana Joblin Ain: “I write poetry and prose, but find that I can traverse time and space most easily in verse, and surprise myself by where I end up—in this case beginning with the chaos of being locked out of my car (and unable to change the dead key battery) with my kids on a sports field in my 40s bringing me to a set of mundane instructions: an image from Sherrie’s suicide note, to myself at age 15, on a first date in a snowstorm, very late to return to my young aunt’s home—decades of life still ahead of her.” (web)

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September 19, 2023

Matthew Olzmann


An ordinary man hires a contractor to build
a new house. When it’s done, he rushes
to see it. But it’s not what he’s paid for,
there must be some mistake. The house
is shaped like a human head. Two eyes
instead of bay windows. A circular mouth
for a doorway. There’s even a small lantern,
like a nose-ring, set on the right nostril.
Furious, he calls the contractor. You godless
pig fucker, he yells, You whore of a human shell.
He files lawsuit after lawsuit. But the contractor
has nothing—his bank accounts hold
the emptiness of vacant lots, and his business,
which was merely failing before, has now officially
failed. So the man is stuck with this piece
of real estate. At first, he hates the head, hates
sleeping in its temporal lobe, hates eating
breakfast on a row of teeth. As stated before,
this is an ordinary man. His thoughts
are ordinary and his ambitions are sparse. Then,
in the middle of hating his ordinary life, a change.
People take pictures when he trims the ivy—
which looks oddly like facial hair—on the north
façade. Stoned teenagers road trip across
the country just to hang out on the front lawn.
National magazines run feature articles.
Suddenly, this man who was—just weeks ago—
utterly forgettable, is a minor celebrity.
He wants more. He imagines a vivid future.
So he calls the contractor to apologize. He wants
to suggest building a second house, perhaps one
shaped like the president or Elvis. But the line
is disconnected. No one’s there. Turns out,
the contractor has vanished—after the lawsuits,
his luck took a turn for the worse, then another,
then—nothing. He disappeared. So, there will
be only one house shaped like a head.
And after a couple months, the novelty wears off.
The man inside is old news. But night
after night, you can see him up there, sitting
behind the house’s left eyelid, both he
and the house just staring at the street.
What must the street look like to them?
Tonight, there’s so much fog, both the trees
and the sky are invisible. But every once
in a while, there’s a part in the mist, a rip
in the veil, an opening where the world looks—
for only a moment—different. Then
it’s hazy again, then it’s nothing at all.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010


Matthew Olzmann: “I was writer-in-residence at a high school in Detroit. As is true at pretty much any high school, the kids felt—seemingly at all times—this incredible pressure to fit in, to be like the rest of their peers. Often this meant hiding, denying or simply not talking about the things that made them unique and interesting (being the smartest one in the class, being an accomplished ballet dancer, having a collection of antique table cloths, etc.). That’s where ‘Rare Architecture’ begins and ends—the urge to blend in with the rest of the neighborhood.” (web)

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September 18, 2023

John Colasacco


Jesus wasn’t going to make it, Jim kept coughing and crying
on the floor next to the blue crib, the longest hair
on the backs of the girls—none of it came back, a moth came back,
in the noise it wasn’t possible, the garden
wouldn’t turn around and show its face, it wouldn’t open, yes the black
and white story lady music teacher tells about a phantom, I listened to it,
I found out you could die with your eyes open, I went with E.
and D. upstairs and we played die with your eyes open
in the room with the sandpaper door like doctors
flying, flying around, one having more sadness than the other, one listening
close, and I needed to blink, but I was dead, so I tried to squint and I saw
a knuckle in a black tree branch, I saw my uncle saying it’s diseased
I saw my marker drawing of a snake, a brontosaurus,
and a t-shirt, and
a glowing in the dark; one had her wrist
over my eyes saying yes
this happens, how it can happen, and whether
it actually happens we answered in part, we were starting
to improvise and the bathing suits
had lives of their own with water in them under water. There was the week
my uncle took both pairs of scissors away
and didn’t tell me where they were; I found out about the insides
of my eye, and what was in there; I didn’t want to do it, but
I wanted to do it, and I said so, but I shouldn’t have said so,
and I tried to draw the knuckle but it came out nothing,
I was mad, the basement was on a slant, we put gasoline
in a coffee can, we kept playing but I blinked, it was fine, I explained
again the point of the game, I forced
them, I had a little sale. Some pretzels
and a deck of cards, it’s not called a brontosaurus
anymore and then some daisies died in my hand
when I picked them for this picture, this blue one,
with Jim, in a wagon. The fruit trees
would sting you outside the woods would sting you.
I fell into a log full of hornets and died.
I fell into a plastic swimming pool and died.
I had to cough. I forced it. It was Tourette’s. I wasn’t born. My uncle
was following me like gasoline in a coffee can, rows of snakes moved
in the garden and I caught one and killed it and my shoe sunk halfway
down like a thought, the garden stung you,
the basement was on a slant.
I had my own hatchet. My uncle
had a hatchet. The moon came out, they tore the kneelers
out of St. Edward’s and chopped them up for money, we chopped
branches off the branches, we chopped stakes
for the vines to climb and ate all winter, some lighters died, the for sale sign
was gone, my uncle said Who you like in the Preakness, when we were Italian
and the girls knew what I knew, my eyes were going; I blinked
at Jim and he came back, we took out two pairs of scissors, I found
out about scissors and water, my uncle swung a bucket of water
over his head and said Centrifugal force.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008


John Colasacco: “I want to thank my teachers Michael and Chris for helping me with this poem. It started as an exercise; I was basically listing as many distant memories as I could, especially memories that seemed mostly visual. While I was making the list I became aware of a frustration I have with my memory, and with list-making. After that the poem’s movement started to jive more closely with my frustration, and it seemed to become its own thing.”

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September 17, 2023

Alejandro Escudé


It’s not a lion,
The sun over the Serengeti,
And the rifle has not saved the free world.
The criminal is caught, yes.
But do you recall the human pyramids
In Abu Ghraib?
The shelter of the human of world
Is the human world.
One can’t slice morality like a birthday cake,
A piece for each officer.
Dogs to the front, like Egyptian statues,
Their lean snouts,
Having sniffed him out in the forests of Pennsylvania.
I mean the fugitive
Shot a mother in cold blood.
But every single photograph is a bloody act.
They belie the intrigue of the moment.
Ghosts sometimes appear at the edge of them.
Some from the Civil War,
Bearded, from both North and South.
This September, I thought of the World Trade planes.
The video of the first jet gutting the north tower
Like a long, silver fish.
This murderer stood as the photo was taken
Restrained by a trooper in fatigues.
The first shot of him caught
More like a war photo, in heavy brush.
Though he was no Che Guevara in Bolivia
Waiting for his swift sentence.
Later he stands as if dead. Suicide-like.
While an officer, uniform-dressed, holds the phone up
Like a proud father at prom.
There’s no name for a dehumanizing act
Despite the human animal that stands
Wrecked among a cadre of heroes.
He is a mangy possum,
A rat, a worm sliced in half.
Arrested. Cut. Self-mutilated. Bruised.
One can hear the dogs’ nails
Clicking on the concrete
When it’s quiet enough for the snap.

from Poets Respond
September 17, 2023


Alejandro Escudé: “It’s difficult to say what prompted this poem. I think it was a gross and immoral miscalculation to take a group photo with this escaped convict. I think it made me ponder about the phenomenon of group photos in general. How there’s usually an ulterior motive for the photo and for the subsequent posting of that photo.” (web)

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September 16, 2023

Hyunsoo Nam (age 14)


after Philip Levine

My father would come home from a construction site in Busan
and limp down the hallway to his room. I could hear the bed sigh,
his sandals resting against the wooden floor. “You can take them,”
he’d say. Through the mirror that settled on his table, his wrinkled
face was shaped with bleached white hair and pitted nose and he
would be lingering in that position long after noon only to wake up
to find me gone. Ten years would pass before I’d remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each son has a father who
disappeared when he dreamed, and dreamed when he rose to face
this life, and that together they were only one person clutching each
other’s hands and gazing at each other’s eyes that always hovered,
hands blemished and bruised, a mouth that stuttered, asking, “Do you
think I can carry on?” All day at the Seomyeon Gongsajang my father
stacked bricks and cement while sunlight lashed at him,
and the manager howled at his workers for doing work so slow.
In the 70s in the district of Seomyeon, buildings and skyscrapers started
to conquer the grassland that had sprawled all over the town. The city grew.
The grass became buildings. Giwajib became apartments. The homeless
wandered and the city bloomed with neon lights, the cars and trucks hissing.
I give you back 1971 and the years afterwards. Give me back the swollen
face with the pitted nose, the bleached white hair. Give me back my father,
exhausted, smiling in his blue Dodgers cap and leather jacket.

from 2023 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Hyunsoo Nam: “I am heavily influenced by the surrounding environment, including my school, my neighbors, and my family. I like to write poetry because I think it is the most effective way to express my thoughts and memories of other people. I also enjoy the fact that I can interconnect my theme to global issues from news and the internet.”

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September 15, 2023

Corey Mesler


We who have chuckled aloud
during the making of children,
ought to reform.
—Marvin Bell

The hurricane which is new-life
came to live with us, I guess
it’s been about four years ago.
It knocked us around a bit.
It turned one of us inside out,
the other into a Gordian knot.
The medicine we needed we kept
by the bedside, the bed where
we conceived our child. The
nostrum is love of course, just
like in any fairy tale, in any
fairy tale where the winds still
whistle through the woods
dark as the future, dark as the cave
from which we pulled her, squalling.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001


Corey Mesler: “With my wife, I own one of the country’s oldest and best independent bookstores, Burks Book Store in Memphis, TN. For the past few years I’ve been working in prose and poetry with dangerous mixtures of whimsy, bent mythology, and personal spirituality, cobbling together book-length manuscripts about the multi-varied world around me.”

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