February 22, 2018

Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2018: Artist’s Choice


Muse Laura Christensen

Image: “Muse” by Laura Christensen. “Half of Everything” was written by James Valvis for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2018, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

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James Valvis


Half flooded by her advancing cancer,
my mother stands like a false Christ
who believes she can yet walk on water,
believes the pills she takes will be enough

to staunch the sea rising around her.
If she wears her finest dress and jabot,
if she keeps her hair combed and dry.
if she just stands still long enough,

hands folded, forever proper, civilized,
submerged table set for morning tea,
she can go on believing, as she has,
the world is only a fraction of what it is.

Already she’s turning back into the girl
who could not face my father’s alcoholism,
or her son’s sadness, or any deluge,
only clear skies and cumulus clouds.

If she ignores half of everything,
she thinks without ever thinking it,
her last half doesn’t need to go under
and she can find a way to fly home.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
January 2018, Artist’s Choice

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Comment from the artist, Laura Christensen: “Before reading this poem, I had considered how water could represent a subconscious (amongst other things), but I had not quite imagined a place where one might place parts of reality they want, or need to ignore. Reading this poem, I am touched by the mother’s futile struggle for control. In my art, I contemplate a similar, but more general concept of quality and grace in the face of entropy.”

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February 21, 2018

Alan Jernigan


“People want specifics,” the cop said. We were standing in the middle of the park, staring at each other. “For example, they’re going to want to know about the bruises.” “What bruises?” I said, shuffling in my stance and trembling awkwardly. “These bruises,” said the cop, as he bludgeoned my arm with his nightstick. “They’re going to want to know who gave them to you, and they’re going to want to know why.” “But there’s no reason,” I cried. “You’re just doing this. What am I supposed to tell them?” “Just describe it,” said the cop, stomping on my feet with his military-grade moccasins. “Describe it all.” “I’m not going to want to talk about any of this,” I sobbed. The cop’s face lit up with a pleasant smile. “My name’s Officer Gordon Swift,” he said, “and it was not my intention to cause you any harm. I suddenly feel very protective of you. Come with me, son. I’m gonna take you to my lonely apartment, and you can get into my bed and nestle in the sheets and feel real cozy. How’s that sound?” “That sounds great!” I said, feeling happy and cared for. “Hey, my bruises are already gone!” “Yeah,” said the cop. “That’s because of magic.”

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017


Alan Jernigan: “You ever been in a department store, maybe wandering around Sporting Goods, and you get to a little clearance section, and amongst the items there’s a single metal detector on sale, or something like that, just some random object that means little to you but that nevertheless catches your eye. And suddenly you imagine someone else, another shopper desperately looking for an item like that, someone who gets excited just thinking about finding that metal detector. And for a second, you feel an odd dizziness, almost like you’re going to swoon, but you know you’re not, and it’s not a bad feeling. Just overwhelming. Because even though you might not know this other person’s motives, for a second there you just felt their emotion, their desire. It would be cool if a poem could invoke that vertigo of seeming to start to fall into someone else’s life, or someone else’s mind, or another form of logic, or a form of non-logic. I’m not sure if my poems do that, but I think that’s one type of feeling I tend to strive for.”

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February 20, 2018

Lara Bozabalian


Do you remember, Nancy,
when we sat in the Creole restaurant
and glanced up at the television to see students running
with their hands in the air and photographs
of two young men?
Their angular faces. Trench coats.
We didn’t understand what was happening,
our brains felt like mush, it wasn’t the wine,
it was like being in a foreign country,
on the street corner, at a hospital,
struggling to understand or be heard.

This morning, on the way to work,
the radio announced another shooting.
The commentator said it was the 8th this year,
and I stretched back to that dinner we shared,
huddled in our booth, mouthing gumbo
and blackened alligator, feeling safely exotic,
friends at the end of a university adventure,
so much left before us,
even the tragedies we didn’t know about
—fractured hearts, burials—
were still adventures to be experienced.

But never this,
we never ran from classrooms
with our hands in the air, shoulder to shoulder,
screaming or crying and trying not to slip in the blood.
We never had pop pop pop trigger-stitched into dreams,
saw how buildings could be transformed into cages,
that we then had to walk through for years,
pretend that algebra mattered in,
obey in, eat in, drive by, graduate from.

Annamaria didn’t even pause when she heard the news.
I have done that, surely, Nancy, through some of the last 25.
Because the number snuck up on me,
like a birthday you gazed at from the kids table (so many candles),
and couldn’t, even in your wildest dreams,
imagine reaching.

from Poets Respond
February 20, 2018

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Lara Bozabalian: “This poem was written on the morning after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, dictated into my phone as I sat in my car outside the high school I teach in. It had occurred to me that, since the first fateful and incomprehensible Columbine shooting, we, the public, had actually learned to digest these events as news. It struck me as a tragic metaphor for schooling.” (web)

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February 19, 2018

Jamey Hecht


for B.B.H.

That woman you loved, the one you pine for,
she’s gone. It’s over. The past has swallowed it.
Likely you will never see her pretty face again.
That is all right. Why is it all right? Because
the mountains are flowing away like water
and all things pass away, tangent to eternity.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017


Jamey Hecht: “I live in L.A. where I teach, write, and practice psychotherapy. I hope one day to return to my homeland of Brooklyn. My more ambitious poems try to unite the public, the private, and the cosmic, because if epic poetry is dead (which it may not be) then some lyric poetry must take up that task or else the world will fall apart. Also, I was born on 5/13/68, right between the CIA-and-police murders of MLK (4/4/68) and RFK (6/5/68).” (web)

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February 18, 2018

Dante Di Stefano


for my wife, one month after the birth of our daughter

You look like the world in your rocking chair,
the nightlight a butterfly flowering
the moon of your breast beaconing against
the thought that what we are living through might
destroy us. We are safe in suburb
and side street and at work I now only
think of you and our little girl, except
today when my student, Angel Cruz (not
his name), smiled and told me how he’d paid off
his debt to the men who had smuggled him
across the border and now he could save
one hundred dollars from the three hundred
a week he earned washing dishes to send
to his mother back in Guatemala,
unless ICE raids the diner where he works;
he worries, but he doesn’t stop smiling,
and I am grateful that our girl will grow
into the small axe of the self without
such worries. She will have other worries,
the sad strange knowledge that our comfort comes
at a cost. Always. It is true, before
she was born I didn’t really know love
or fear, but now both are braiding rivers
inside my chest and a new chamber thumps
wifely inside each chamber of my heart.
Meanwhile, the football coaches arm themselves
with dirty jokes as the president tweets,
the EPA pins Silver Stars to dead
polar bears, and somewhere in the Midwest
someone’s making a confederate flag
out of melted red plastic army men.
To our newborn child I say: sweet cluster
of cells containing a cosmos, this world
you have entered now would terrify me,
if I did not understand the body
as writ for flying, as juke, hew, and cleave,
as among the ruin and breakage, this shine,
if I did not know your birthright is fire,
your mother’s real name, Illumination.

from Poets Respond
February 18, 2018

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Dante Di Stefano: “This is a Valentine’s Day poem for my wife, written while thinking about the many immigrant students I have taught over the past decade in my job as a high school English teacher. The conversation with the student in the poem is based on a real conversation I had with a student last week. With the continued debate over DACA in the news yet again this week, and the perpetual virulent rhetoric about a wall on our southern border, the commercial holiday seems crasser than usual this year. However, I am an optimist. I believe in my newborn daughter’s ability to change the world. I believe in my wife and in our family. I believe in Love.” (web)

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February 17, 2018

Sophia Buss (age 6)


The clock is ticking,
the clock is tocking.
I am waiting for someone
like you.
You’re like a soft ocean
that wants me.
The breeze blows to an island
and that very island
sadly sails away.

from 2018 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

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Why do you like to write poetry?

Sophia Buss: “I really like to write. It’s fun to just let the words out of your mind and the feelings out of your hands.”

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February 16, 2018

Meredith Davies Hadaway


after Betsy Sholl

One parent was a river, the other was the tide.
She wandered through her day—she had her ups
and downs.

One was a candle, the other a chandelier—all those
little prisms bending light. No wonder she was bright—
but scattered.

One tinkered, the other shopped.
She puzzled over wheels and springs—then
gave up and bought a watch.

One spoke in numbers, the other, verbs.
She calculated miles ahead by
step and slide.

One flew across the night in streaks of dust, the other
faded out of sight, she’d lost
her wings.

One parent left me a piano, the other a pup.
Now I write songs only a dog
can sing.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017

[download audio]


Meredith Davies Hadaway: “Not long after my mother passed away I came across Betsy Sholl’s wonderful poem, ‘Genealogy.’ She inspired me to think about origins and endings and the family dynamics that serve as rocket fuel for poetry. Many others have responded to her poem. This is my attempt to join the conversation.” (web)

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