November 17, 2017

William Evans

I SAY CATHEDRAL WHEN I MEAN GUNPOWDER

Over winter break, Frank put a shotgun
in his mouth and killed himself in his mother’s
home, which was not his home, but I can under-
stand not wanting to die in a place you’re not sure

will care for your bones after you’ve left them.
Maybe break is a generous word because I was
back in the home my father had left and I was 
never going back to school, but ghosts have 

a way of knowing where all keys are hidden,
what kind of pacification the most guarded
beasts will submit to. It is 2 a.m. and a person 
I have left behind is telling me someone I had

lived with is trapped behind the present tense
forever. Now it is four days later and I am
in my best clothes driving into Fairfield County
where I was once called nigger on the baseball

field, where I once needed a coach to walk
with me to the bus to avoid my own purging
and a teammate told me that it wasn’t because
I was Black, but because I was that good,

because I was not old enough to be two
things at one time yet. Frank loved Wu-Tang
and once argued me who had the best verse
on Triumph, but no one at this funeral knows

this story, at least not the part where Frank
once kissed my forehead at a party while
we re-enacted Ghost and Rae over the music
too loud for anyone to be truly sober that night.

There is a humming here, whenever another
mourner approaches me, with a trespass glare
and I hope that Frank knows that I came here,
again to a tree that looks at my neck and misremembers

gravity, to see him lowered into the world that
tries to claim me, each and every day. I don’t want
him to see me as brave, but to know that I, too,
understand what it means to walk into a cathedral

and hear every lock turn behind you, that the stained 
glass is sometimes just light born in a better neighborhood
and I can still smell the gunpowder you swallowed every time 
I startle a flock of birds, that will never again be still.

from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

__________

William Evans: “I think being from the Midwest is a unique negotiation for a writer as I often find myself putting forth an idea that isn’t so much profound as it is making a statement of awareness for readers. I often feel that the aesthetic of many poets outside of the Rust Belt is an affirming action that confirms or reinforces what we may believe about the location already. In my part of the country, I think the writers are often defending their home. It’s a pursuit of not only relevance but of reverence of where our voice fits in the national conversation. This poem, ‘I Say Cathedral When I Mean Gunpowder,’ feels particularly Midwest when it encounters the shifting environments, hard-to-penetrate culture, and realities of what being in the middle of the country demands.” (website)

Rattle Logo

November 16, 2017

Mike Catalano

LONNI LITTLE RIVER

He could fish before he walked;
and he was more attuned to the speech
of Sockeye salmon than any human.
It surprised no Athabaskan
that his fish were hooked
before bait spanked the white rapids.
When he became one with the water
without ripple or bubble,
he petrified himself like a totem
and speared the most unruly Cohoe.
But the legend of Lonni Little River,
long after his death,
came when he snagged fish
with one hand. Some say he trained
his hand hours a day playing a game
akin to jacks. Some say he plucked a bee
from a grizzly’s paw, becoming the bear
with all its instincts.
I say he kissed the land, the water,
and all therein, never wasting his spirit,
long drained by settlers.
So the river rewarded him
as one of their own with more
than Houdini’s hands,
with a love none dare equal.

from Rattle #11, Summer 1999
Tribute to Editors

__________

Mike Catalano: “I killed my first deer this past winter—going 65 mph in a driving rainstorm. I’m thankful to the Iowan people who helped scrape the remains from my totaled Toyota. I’ve been on a two-year sabbatical writing and researching my family’s biography. I’m happy to be writing history instead of being history, after hitting that deer.”

Rattle Logo

November 15, 2017

Sarah Wylder Deshpande

THE PATRON SAINT OF BOREDOM

As compensation for a boring life, he received a job
in heaven in the department of tropical fruits
and quickly moved up to miracles.
When all the excitement is too much,
he slips down to Earth
and doodles in the back of math books
or goes to Mass and finds
the two-year-olds who crawl beneath
the pews picking at stale gum.

from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

[download audio]

__________

Sarah Wylder Deshpande: “I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, the recreational vehicle manufacturing capital of the world. It’s an industrial town with two rivers, the Elkhart and the St. Joe. I spent my childhood exploring rivers and abandoned factories and riding trains. I live outside the Midwest now, but I miss the wide-openess of landscape and driving along the highway with cornfields on either side, always being able to see the horizon.” (twitter)

Rattle Logo

November 14, 2017

Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

I CAN’T CLOSE MY EYES WITHOUT SEEING JASON PERO’S BODY

Boys like us don’t make national news.
That’s what we’d tell each other, fleeing

the long blue arms of police LEDs.
Our hightop Reeboks kissed gravel

miles of Central Pennsylvania Street. Us
not old enough to have kissed a lover. Boys

like us, cops shoot & ask questions never,
we laughed. We ran. We laughed. We hollered

“Pig!” as if it was just another pickup game
of basketball on the blacktop. We were so young—

how young is too young to teach a boy never
turn his index finger & thumb into the hammered steel

of a gun. You might die. I breathe for decades,
older & older & now when I close my eyes

I can see Jason Pero isn’t with us boys—us running
from cops. Jason is at home. He was a teddy bear,

said his grandpa. He teased his little nephews once
in a while but that was the meanest part he had.

Jason Pero is in his front yard making the best
of Bad River Reservation, turning porch boughs

into a drum set, each stick cracking stained wood.
He imagines making it all the way to high school

drumline. & here comes that cop with report
“of a man carrying a knife.” & here is Jason drumming.

& here there will be no justice for death, no video
evidence of Jason’s dying. Just this one that plays out

endlessly in my head. The greatest horror
writers know it’s worse when you can’t see the monster:

jaws that catch, claws that bite, hidden in darkness.
In Onondaga, our clan mother says kahséhtha’ I hide

something akweriákon in my heart. But tonight, I am done
with hiding. Jason Pero was shot once in the shoulder

& once in the heart. & my heart beats faster the longer
I sleep. The longer I close my eyes. The longer we hide.

from Poets Respond
November 14, 2017

[download audio]

__________

Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley: “Jason Pero, a middle schooler, was shot by a cop twice and killed in his home on Bad River Reservation.” (twitter)

Rattle Logo

November 13, 2017

Todd Davis

CRACKS

A pickup slips over the ice, rear tires spinning, turning 
a circle, then another, a series of donuts in a mechanical dance 
that causes the three boys to swear and laugh, spilling beer 
onto their laps and the seats that already stink of cigarettes 
and sweat. Their dads and uncles sit in hastily erected shacks, 
hovels spread across the lake, humped over like the dirt 
at the entrance to gopher dens. Men fish in the half-light 
of heaters, drinking schnapps and whiskey, readying themselves 
for the rod to bow, hovering over an augured hole 
as if it were a nest in need of guarding. When at last 
the line jerks down into the dream of a northern pike, 
they fumble with the reel, hearts racing ahead of an ending 
they imagine will be told at the bar on a Saturday in June, 
glasses of beer sweating, hands spread wide in a lie 
to suggest the size of that fish whose head sprang 
from the slush-filled abyss, only to escape their grip 
into the black depths of late December. Air snakes 
through the truck’s cab, windows rolled down 
so these bored boys can scream at the stars 
salted across the sky. Most of the men have gone 
to eat supper, to watch the Lions lose one more game 
on TV. The smell of propane lingers, stirred with the beer 
the boys burp as they smoke cigars and cough. 
They’ve parked the truck at Ralph’s shanty, 
and the older brother spits into a plastic jug, snuff 
stuffed under his lower lip, as he tells stories 
about a buck he killed in October and a girl he dated 
from the next town over with a mouth as soft as velvet. 
There are always cracks in the ice, but trying to decide 
which seam is harmless and which leads to the bottom 
is a matter of luck. They’ve grown accustomed to the lake’s 
groaning, having heard its teeth chatter since they were children: 
sun melting into the horizon, everything refreezing 
in a slick swatch of darkness. Toward the south end 
of the lake, springs thin the ice, but the boys believe 
the cold insures their passage. On the way back 
a wheel breaks through, front end dipping, the entire truck 
tipping, then plunging forward like a duck, tail feathers 
pointed at the moon. Every year some drown, 
and even more trucks sink. But tonight, 
with the windows open, each boy places a foot 
on the seat and leaps to safety, rolling onto their sides, 
praying the ice-shelf will hold. The sound of the truck 
being sucked beneath the surface is smothered 
by their happy hollering. None of them thinking 
about the cost when Szymanski’s Towing 
sends a diver down with a cable and hook, 
or how their moms will cry as their dads berate 
such stupidity, which of course is inherited. 
For now they can only hoot at their own good fortune. 
The cold stars warmer with their escape, sparkling 
like the fake diamonds they give their girlfriends
on their six-month anniversary, and the moon 
offering just enough light to help them to shore 
and to the county road they’ll walk 
all the way back to town.

from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

[download audio]

__________

Todd Davis: “I was born, raised, and have lived in the Rust Belt for 52 years. The first eighteen years of my life were spent in the factory town of Elkhart, Indiana, playing basketball and football and dreaming about the deep forests in upstate New York where I’d visited to backpack with my father and uncle, places that seemed otherworldly, so green and with water we drank directly from streams flowing out of the sides of mountains. After that, I lived in northern Illinois for seven years, then another six years in Goshen, Indiana, and for the past fourteen years I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, ten miles north of the dying railroad town of Altoona. Because of these places, notions of decay and injury can be found in my poems, and poets like Jim Daniels and Jan Beatty have been important in showing me ways to write about what matters here. The small village of Tipton where my house sits is near 41,000 acres of game lands. I hunt and fish in what seems to be an imitation of those first forests I encountered in upstate New York, planning my escape into their creases. But even in the most remote places in these 41,000 acres I can’t escape the legacy of the Rust Belt: acid mine drainage from deep tunnel mining and strip mining for coal creates ‘kill zones’ in the forest and makes some of the streams sterile. I suppose I hope that my poems offer a glimpse of the good in these places while not flinching at the harm we’ve done to the land and to each other.” (website)

Rattle Logo

November 12, 2017

Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco

PARTIAL LIST OF MEN

the man who wrote me
all the letters about love
when I was nine the man
who stared at me in math
class through the window
masturbating the man who
cupped his hand real quick
around my ass when I walked
by the man who followed
me one time on the bus
home the man who followed
me one time in his car the
man who chased me till
I ran into a church to get
away the man who followed
me one night outside the club
telling me that he would fuck me
the man who pushed me
down until I couldn’t breathe
the man who stood outside
my house till I got home the
man we laughed at in the
car with his junk out how

at first I had thought it was just a tool belt

from Poets Respond
November 12, 2017

[download audio]

__________

Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco: “The fact that Roy Moore has not (as of this writing) left the Alabama Senate race despite the fact that he is almost certainly a sexual predator, coupled with the fact that he still stands a good chance of winning, inspired me to write this. In some ways, my experiences with predatory men have been pretty minor—I’m lucky. But everyone I know has had experiences like these (or much worse), and this is a huge problem. Also, this is not even a comprehensive list of what I have experienced. I feel like we need to keep talking about this. It makes me so angry that being a sexual predator doesn’t preclude one from holding office. It means that people who vote don’t think this matters.” (book)

Rattle Logo

November 11, 2017

Valerie M. Smith (grade 12)

GRAY

I remember how her small ankles
would guide her feet
to sun-bathing rocks
nestled in sea water
and pelican coffee breaks.
Her arms would bleed
from their gagged mercy
protruding from the sea,
gray hearts longing
for her precious liquid life.
We’d spread out our ribs
on these rocks,
feeling them push into our skin.
Too shy for bathing suits
and the sun’s soothing rays,
we’d sleep
wrapped in California dreams
and familiar arms and legs
that counted a mystical four
instead of a lonely two.
No better human pillows ever existed.
This was the sin
that parents should scorn
because she possessed me
like she possessed beauty.
It was all the life
I felt to be lived
in mysterious oceans of eyeliner.

from Rattle #9, Summer 1998
Tribute to Children

Rattle Logo