May 20, 2022

David Kirby

MASS SHOOTINGS: A BIOGRAPHY

For most of history, multiple murders 
were an option for aristocrats: everyone 
else was too tired. Then people
moved to cities, got factory jobs,
had evenings and weekends off,
became more anxious: suddenly
they were living next to people
they didn’t know. In the early 1900s,
nervous disorders spiked as the spread
of information became faster and cheaper
and local stories became national news: 
if people were being killed in Spokane,
why not in your town? The long gun
became the Tommy gun became
the assault rifle, the technology 
speeding faster than our ability 
to fathom it. When Admiral Parry
sailed for the Arctic Circle,
his men carried food in tin cans, 
an invention so new that there were 
as yet no can openers.
 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022

__________

David Kirby: “There are daily killings in our country for many reasons, but the dozen or more mass shootings (generally defined as involving four or more victims) over a weekend that inspired this poem stem largely from a growth in firearm availability that is only partially understood by experts, largely opposed by the American public, and seemingly unstoppable.” (web)

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May 19, 2022

Truck Stop Shell by Greg Clary, photo of a closed and abandoned Shell gas station

Image: “Truck Stop Shell” by Greg Clary. “The Next Time” was written by Byron Hoot for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, April 2022, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

__________

Byron Hoot

THE NEXT TIME

They gather when they hear LaRue’s horn
on 80 sound. Rose smiles, starts thinking
of what she’s going to say when he says,
“What’s new with you?” The ghosts come
one by one, two by two. They know that horn,
they know the whine of that truck, they know
what’s left behind. Enter the Iron Kettle
Restaurant at The American Plaza truck stop.
They take their places at the counter; Cokes
and coffee and cigarettes and the smell
of the grill and soft conversation
and sudden laughter and softer sighs mix
with all of them looking for LaRue’s truck
to pull in. They talk as if they’re living, as though
yesterday was yesterday and tomorrow is tomorrow.
Jim says, “It was real.” Steve replies, “It was a dream.”
An old argument to which Reverend Smith decides—
“It was both.” They all look outside: the empty pumps,
the wind-damaged signs, the cracked concrete, no
trucks, no cars, no people. Rose says “He’s not
coming” like saying the Rosary. First light is breaking,
they get up slowly and leave, mumbling, “Maybe next time.”

from Ekphrastic Challenge
April 2022, Artist’s Choice

__________

Comment from the artist, Greg Clary: “The story of ghosts gathering each evening in hopes of seeing their old trucker friend was imaginative and compelling. This is not a story of random travelers but that of a truck stop family whose nighttime vigil maintains and sustains their relationship. The scene and characters inside the Iron Kettle are vividly described and quite relatable to any traveler who has sought out a familiar roadside respite. The once vibrant, but now deserted truck stop’s impact on these likable spirits is melancholy. Yet, even as another dawn breaks without the return of their lost friend, LaRue, hope prevails—‘Maybe next time.’”

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May 18, 2022

Catherine St. Denis

LUCKY ONES

I. 
 
I was 17 when my father said, You are like her
and handed me a biography of Sylvia Plath. 
Yes, she and I had both pulled poems 
like deli tickets from between
our ribs, had both slouched at the counter 
of suicide and ordered up our demises. 
Did Dad mean it as a consolation, this notion 
that artists are destined to suffer? That I would 
one day retire my heavy skull into a gas oven,
meninges bursting with unspent words?
 
At 18, I was bereft of gas ovens, but had a prescription 
for Carisoprodol with aspirin. The ER nurses 
defended the sanctity of life by licking their teeth 
and sneering at me. The psychiatrist knew his statistics, 
of course. I was female—less likely to succeed if I tried
again—so he filled my belly with charcoal syrup 
and sent me home on the city bus, deafened by tinnitus, 
sprinkled in broken capillaries, a madcap human cupcake 
in a butter-coloured, vomit-soaked shirt. 
 
How to survive when your brain is the worst
kind of liar? I tried. The designer tessellations 
of pharmaceuticals did nothing but tie thick knots
in my dreams; nights, I swam with manta rays, gave birth
to lifeless babies, clawed at my own voiceless throat 
while demons approached from behind. My illness 
was classified treatment-resistant after medication nine.
 
Counsellors fed me stones to try 
to weight me to the world, smooth, curved
morsels called strategies and insights. Only
over and over, I lifted off: shopping for rope 
at Canadian Tire, staring down from the highest bridge 
while the midnight current rippled by, a black banner 
promising relief. I graced the air with a spray of pennies 
as I drained myself into crimson, clot-filled bathwater, 
then wore lines of stitches like barbed ants marching 
shame into my palms. 
 
Adopted, I didn’t understand my place
in the watershed of my ancestry—our tiny helixes,
broken-runged. A great-uncle who buckled 
the house around himself like lamellar armour. 
A grandmother who could have salted 
a thousand codfish with her tears. 
Her son, my birth dad,
          a switchback.
Please believe, I didn’t know, I didn’t know
all this was so until after I had my own children.
 
 
II.
 
At first the light was gold, translucent
butterflies fanned their wings
at the corners of our eyes. 
Wise-faced, tiny-fisted, a shock
of dark hair, we gazed at each other
and the room slid away like velvet. 
 
The birth had been hard. She was turned
the wrong way. And every time I pushed,
I heard her heart slow on the monitor.
After, my midwives showed me the placenta,
umbilical cord attached loosely at the edge 
of the membrane, blood vessels 
branching unprotected from the centre—   
the easily-severed roots of a wind-torn tree. 
 
Twelve years later, we would be back
in this hospital, two floors down, in a room
where drawstrings, nail clippers, and belts
are banned, where children are not allowed
to speak with each other just in case 
despair is contagious. 
 
I did not gift my daughter 
a tragic biography, but sat
by her bed and fed her a river 
of stones—smooth, curved 
stories of ancestors, survival.
Tall, tall tales of luck.
 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tribute to Librarians

__________

Catherine St. Denis: “I am a teacher-librarian, and I often ask my students to make connections between the texts we read together and other texts, their lives, or the world at large. I have not yet written about libraries or librarianship, but here is my ‘text-to-text’ connection: A poem is a sort of library, filled with the guts of language, stacked with colorful layers of meaning, and always striving to enforce an absurd attempt at order amidst chaos.”

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May 17, 2022

Rayon Lennon

UNPLUGGED

for Arlana Miller and Naomi Judd and others who have died from mental illness

My car dies, in a largely
empty parking lot surrounded
by fragrant family restaurants
and 3-story homes. I gather
it’s the battery. I don’t have the energy
for new trouble. It’s a 2-week-
old used car with 30,000
miles on it. So it has
no reason to die. I open
the hood and it’s dizzying
how many parts it takes
to keep the Altima alive.
It’s as complicated as the human
brain. There is still enough
juice in the battery to power
the radio but not enough to turn
over the engine. I sit in the car
like a casket as Naomi Judd’s Spotify
voice fades. “Love can build
a bridge between my heart
and yours … don’t you think
it’s time?” I still can’t believe
her voice is gone. Killed by
depression. She had no
energy to fight death.
My Galaxy cell is dying
also. It has 3 percent
life left. I go to pee
in the hell of a pizza
joint’s bathroom. Filth
browns the seat. Grime
lives on the sink. Back out
in the chill, I check
my phone to find
the roadside assistance
guy had called. I call
back and he says I missed
his call and so he had to help
someone else. I explain
I visited a bathroom.
He says he would
come after he is done
and he says I should keep
my phone on. I tell him
my phone is dying too. He says
keep it alive. I stand
in the darkening cold.
I feel empty as the water
bottle in my numb hand. I read
the public Instagram suicide note
of Arlana Miller, a pretty young college
cheerleader. She said goodbye to her
mom and family and how
Covid, her ACL injury
and failing grades deepened
her emptiness. She said she felt
dead inside, the water is peaceful
and she lost her connection
to God. She said she was not
enough. I imagine
the unbearable peace
and sadness of her final
minute. I am alone with
the clouds and thundering
traffic. The car still won’t
wake up. Dark crashes
down. I was supposed
to meet up with
a friend for drinks
and chase women. I stand
under the hidden stars
and see my life. I’m desperate
to find a wife to feel at home
in the universe. Yet I have given
back good women in search
of what I will never find. The director
of my family therapy
agency sends an email encouraging
us to take care of our mental
health as we take care
of the clients we empower.
He says in the email how therapists
and clients are ending their lives
at an alarming rate. I think
of my own war with depression, OCD,
and anxiety. I think of how many
days I have had to pull
myself up to help
a client who is struggling
to hold on. I am more than
tired. Mental illness killed
Naomi Judd at 76 and Arlana
at 19. There are a billion
ways to die, including chemical
imbalance. My drinking
friend calls to give me
advice but never volunteers
to come by and give me a jumpstart.
He says he will head to the strip
club to down wings and watch
a basketball game. I almost hate him
for driving past this worn-out seaside
town without rescuing
me. I know he is searching
for love and fatherhood.
I am searching too. We feel lost
without offspring. I wait for the roadside
assistance guy like God,
someone I don’t exactly know,
but who will release me
back to my routines.
I call the roadside
assistance guy before my phone
dies and he sends me
straight to voice-mail. Twice.
He blocked me and reported
to Nissan that the job was completed.
I find charging in the grime-filled
pizza place and call my insurance.
They send another guy out.
He’s forty minutes
away. I sit and watch people walk
in even though they are unaware
of the never-cleaned bathroom
and years of scum glued to the sink
and floor. A Black boy
and his Mexican girlfriend
sit behind me. The boy has new
love and suburbia in his voice.
He orders a ton
of wings and when it comes
he says he is rewarding
himself for slaving
at a job he hates. He says
he will be off tomorrow
and he didn’t even know
it. I go outside to be
with my car. I can’t find
the stars. I am alone.
The new roadside assistance
guy pulls up with a woman
in his crumbling SUV and quickly
jump-starts the car. He’s black.
He says I look like
someone he knows. I say
I don’t. The woman looks
out at me like she could
enhance my life. I get in my car
and my father calls. He gives
me late advice about the battery
and alternator and how to park
the car once I get home
so the tow truck can easily grab it.
He wasn’t part of my world
for the first 13 years
and when I left Jamaica to live
with him in America he was not naturally
nice to me. I think of the car finance
guy who 2 weeks ago looked
at my credit report and said
he would give me advice
like I was his own son.
I didn’t cry. I think how some
people are set up to win. The finance
guy told me how his son
had an 800 credit score
and just bought a home.
I drive by homes on water
so big and beautiful that they
outshine the quarter moon.
The moon rocks like an empty
rocking chair. I drive in warmth.
Downtown New Haven
is not full because it is
Wednesday and the Yale kids
strain over exams. Two black-dressed
Spanish ladies keep falling
as they walk from a bar. I want
to stop but I think my car
breaking down was God sending
me another message to turn my world
around. Last winter, I nearly died
in a hit-and-run accident that killed
my car. I am the same man.
In more debt and depression.
So many people are dying
right now. And I get to climb
the Victorian stairs to a place
called home. There is nowhere
to go but bed after washing
off a sad day. I used to be
afraid of falling asleep and never
waking up. Now I accept
there is another
world. The TV purrs.
All the lights can’t go
out. I let silence take me
beyond this night. Unable
to find sleep I listen to Naomi.
I listen to “Love can build
a bridge” between poor
and good times. I hear
the rumble of a distant
train cutting through a scenic
valley of ponds and greening
trees. Sweet memories
return to me. First kiss.
First goal in a high
school soccer match. First
poetry award. First ace
in a golf tournament. First
time a woman said she loved
me more than herself. I get
up and savor the dark richness
of gingered sorrel. The way it carries
me back to Christmas nights, family,
lights and songs. I hear delicate notes
falling from a flute. I know life is likely
in love with me too.

from Poets Respond
May 17, 2022

__________

Rayon Lennon: “The decorated country music super star Naomi Judd, 76, recently took her life after decades of battle with mental illness. We learned this week how she died. She died a few days before being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Arlana Miller, 19, a first-year student at Southern University and A&M College, recently committed suicide after posting a detailed suicide note to Instagram about her struggles with what appeared to be depression. Two beautiful souls with so much to live for were killed by mental illness. As a therapist who also struggles with low-level depression, I wanted to highlight the hell of depression. When my car didn’t start recently, I found the perfect metaphor to highlight the features of depression. People with depression tend to have low or no energy/motivation to do basic tasks, like getting out of bed. Arlana’s note is perhaps the most detailed and tragic suicide note I have ever read. It’s all there—emptiness/worthlessness/excessive guilt, distorted thinking, suicidal ideation, hopelessness, etc. It’s sad. It’s a reality for millions of people each day.” (web)

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May 16, 2022

Jill Kandel

HOW MUCH DO YOU WEIGH?

A question asked often by old men or young, friends, strangers
on the road. How much? I didn’t know how to answer. Certainly
 
not a question you’d ask of a woman—not in America where
I’d come from—but common in the village where I lived, deep 
 
in the Land of the Lozi, people of cattle and sand. Zambians 
living twenty miles from Angola. Twenty miles from civil war. 
 
Tins of cheese from the United Nations, vividly marked Not for Sale 
gathered dust in our nearly empty market. Exorbitant price. Unobtainable.
 
When a fat campaigning politician came slick to our village, 
gaunt mothers with emaciated children gathered and pointed, astonished. 
 
Admired his weight as if wealth. Look! He can eat and eat, 
more than enough! What to make of a man who is fat? Unimaginable 
 
fantasy to anemic mothers with brittle-boned children, bellies swollen
by hunger, legs weeping with sores. What a relief just to eat not defeated
 
by dry empty fields, crops gone to dust. Such ease to eat and eat
what you please and not stop. How much do you weigh? No longer
 
unseemly, no longer a goad. Compassionate. Tender. Driven by hunger,
rendered by need. A question which reconfigured might just as well ask,
 
do you have enough? Have you eaten today? Will you sleep hungry? 
Tell me. How much do you weigh?
 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022

__________

Jill Kandel: “I grew up in North Dakota and married a man from the Netherlands. We spent ten years living and working abroad in Zambia, Indonesia, England, and Holland. I began writing poetry as a way to play with words and intensity. I wanted to condense my writing into something tighter and brighter. I love the journey into poetry. It’s just about all I read these days. My four children have moved out of the house and I find myself needing to write about time and motherhood, past and present. Regrets. Hindsight. Love. This poem goes back to the time when my first daughter was born, in a small village in Zambia on the edge of the Kalahari Basin. I lived there for six years.” (web)

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May 15, 2022

T.R. Poulson

LONG SHOT

for Rich Strike

I have been the player benched
at tip-off, game by game, watched nets dance
with leather, felt the storm and wrench
of clumsy. I defied it. Made my chance
in cones lined up on pavement. Only
the sun to coach my feet, my hands.
I have been that lonely.
 
I have sought bouquets of crimson roses,
hid beyond the slides and swings at recess,
played in fields, held my princess poses
among the calves. I have worn a dress
and asked a boy to dance, as Sony
speakers belted love. He didn’t say yes.
I have been that lonely.
 
I have drained a three point shot, the one
that glitters memory like waves curl to sand,
felt all of that and more in a man’s hand.
I kicked, slapped, not knowing I had won
everything. When the long shot bites the pony
after he wins the roses, I understand.
I have been that lonely.

from Poets Respond
May 15, 2022

__________

T.R. Poulson: “After winning the Kentucky Derby, 80-1 long shot Rich Strike tried to bite the lead pony. This poem is in response to comments by his trainer, Eric Reed, after that bite seen around the internet. The form of the poem is an imitation of one of my all-time favorite poems, ‘Her Kind,’ by Anne Sexton.”

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May 14, 2022

Taylor Mali

MAGNIFIES AN OBJECT TEN TIMES

is what it clearly said
on the handle of the magnifying glass
my father received on his fifth birthday.
He took it as a warning; the birthday gift
would only work its magic ten times
and no more, becoming, after that,
just a small round window with no miracle,
toy giant’s monocle, a circle of simple glass.
 
And so he went about his days with curious thrift,
weighing how much he needed to see any part
of the world up close, observing as best he could
with his own eyes first, thinking, Do I need to see
that dead bug big? That dandelion, that blade
of grass, that wriggling moth in the spider’s web?
I can imagine most of nature’s gifts and crimes.
Best not to waste one of my ten precious times. 
 
He lost count of how many miracles he’d left,
and for weeks after half-expected the magic of the glass
to simply stop. And I have asked him to tell me 
of the thrilling moment he realized, or was told,
“ten times” in this context simply meant tenfold
and not ten instances, but he cannot remember. 
Likewise the joy that must have come with such
a limitless epiphany. But what he does recall
and says most he misses still is the way the magic
made him see the world the rest of the time,
not through the glass, but all the time
he thought that magic would not last. 
 

from Rattle #42, Winter 2013

__________

Taylor Mali: “I define spoken word as ‘poetry written first for the ear, and then for the eye,’ and that’s the kind of poetry I write. But the older I get, the more those two become the same. Still, I curate a series in New York City called Page Meets Stage (where the Pulitzer Prize meets the Poetry Slam), and those nights are magic for me.” (web)

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