June 9, 2024

Chad Frame

WE DON’T CALL IT A RIOT

for the Stonewall Inn, New York, 1969

That summer was an oven on self-clean—
beyond hot. The cops raided clubs for weeks.
Huddled, frightened men and men and women
 
and women and human and human held
at the end of a nightstick in contempt,
being held in the arms of a lover
 
in a brick-faced bar on Christopher Street
the night they’d had enough of this treatment.
We don’t call it a riot. No. Riot,
 
noun: violent disturbance of the peace
by a crowd. Like the peace of gathering
with your friends and family in a home
 
away from home, the peace of the jukebox
playing Let the Sun Shine, a trusted friend
behind the bar mixing you a cocktail,
 
of dancing free and uninhibited
when the crowds march in to bash down the door,
bash in your skull, bash-bash open the peace
 
hard-fought-won so you can be standing here,
unafraid for the first time in your life,
perhaps, and not the family who threw
 
you out on the street, not the government
who threw your card to the draft, not the men
and women who threw slurs at you walking
 
down that same street, not the church who threw fire
and brimstone proclamations, nor these thugs
marching heavy-booted with their badges
 
and balled fists can take it away from you.
Each brick of this place is home, each bottle
is nourishment. Fingers close around them
 
reflexively. And given fight or flight,
when you’ve always picked the latter—and where
has that ever gotten you, anyway?
 
fingers close around bricks and bottles, words
of defiance bubble up to your lips
from somewhere deep in the boiling cauldron
 
of your belly, you find the voice to say
No. We don’t call this a riot. Call this
being cornered and lashing out. Call this
 
being pushed to the brink. Past it. Call this
resisting systematic oppression.
Call this a rubber band stretched to snapping.
 
Call this a blessing that I can stand here
fifty-five years later unmolested
and read you this beneath a flag flying
 
my colors—all of our colors. No one
can wrest a rainbow from the sky. Call this
a memorial for everyone
 
whose sacrifice has gifted us the life
and freedom to stand here, proud, and call this
what it really is. It’s not a riot—
 
it’s rebellion. And it’s not finished
until we can all stand here, together,
hand holding hand, and simply call it love.
 

from Poets Respond

__________

Chad Frame: “This month marks the 55th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Earlier this week, I was invited to read a poem at my county’s pride flag raising ceremony, and I felt the need to write something to commemorate the occasion. I live in a small town in suburban Pennsylvania, and growing up here as a gay man, I never thought I’d see the day when an event like this would be held, let alone be invited to participate. But when I was sent the prepared remarks of the Commissioners beforehand, and saw that there were repeated references to the ‘Stonewall Riots,’ I knew I needed to address it, even if it ruffled some bureaucratic feathers. Veterans of Stonewall have repeatedly stated that they prefer the term ‘uprising’ or ‘rebellion.’ And so, at the end of the ceremony, when it was my turn to speak, I read this poem. And later, when the local news reported on the event, they used the right terms. Every education and breakthrough is a victory, no matter how small.” (web)

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June 8, 2024

Susanna Mishler

THE AFTERLIFE: IN THE SUMMER HOUSE

A scrap of canvas tacked to the kitchen wall
reads, in Russian and English:
AT THE DARK TIME
PULL OUT THE CORD.

A slim arrow points toward
some lost device that shifts now
in a north coast ice pack, or
was crushed and swallowed

by a flock of Arctic terns
and migrates from pole to pole in
thousands of fibers radiating through
food chains: the broken strings

hanging from closet lights. Lines
that raise half a window blind.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007

___________

Susanna Mishler: “I write as an act of rebellion against fruit flies, snobbery, and Newton’s 2nd law of motion.”

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June 7, 2024

Florence Weinberger

FUCK THE CARBURETOR

I was just out of high school.
Yes, I said, I am a bookkeeper,
when I’d had only one year of
numbers a few decimals short
of failure.
 
They hired me, sent me upstairs,
sat me at a desk cantilevered
over the body shop, a pack of
condoms in one of the drawers,
a fountain pen—
 
and below me, all day,
banging away, fixing wrecks,
the men cursed, fuck this,
fuck that, fuck the crankshaft,
fuck these fucking valves, until
 
one or another would remember
I was up there, an embodied angel
sent to keep an eye on them
and would sheepishly apologize,
and soon forget.
 
That was the fifties, fuck still a
dirty word. Even cock. Even
vagina. No longer obscene, fuck
reprises on movie screens, college
campuses, the news.
 
What is this loon fever that flies off
tongues ad nauseam, mumbled,
thundered, sung and rapped, tattooed on
knuckles, slapped on walls? Wikipedia
calls it profane, but not as bad as cunt in
 
England, where it’s first. Motherfucker
comes in second, but back to fuck, still
censored in some quarters, as if it causes
skin to peel, as if it comes with grief, for
the seeping out of tenderness, abandonment
 
of the long caress, promises whispered,
time given, held back, given over to the
rise that came with love and want. When
motherfucker eructs, the rage that rises in the
throat is only love, begging to be won again.
 

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024

__________

Florence Weinberger: “When I was eight years old, I said ‘fuck you’ to my mother; the beating I got baffled me. Of course I had no clue, only that it was a bad word, not yet in general use when I graduated from high school in 1950. Hearing it spewed with such gleeful abandon on the floor of a body shop in the Bronx, it still had its power to shake me. ‘Grist for the mill,’ as Ram Dass said of just about everything. I took it to include a poem kept waiting for all these years.”

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June 6, 2024

Roberto Ascalon

THE FIRE THIS TIME,

or How Come Some Brown
Boys Get Blazed Right
Before Class and Other
Questions Without Marks

how much damn broke
does it take to want to
burn just before class
lung green with chaos
 
how many times the
police come to the door
way past late, your auntie
face forlorn and flashing
 
in the turning blue, how
much knuckle in a boy
fist gotta break cheek till
body want to go numb
 
how much brave you
gotta front, pay forward
like a hard stare, like a
work muscle jaw
 
how many legal papers
say stay or go, right or
nothing, home or jail
love or palm skin
 
how many words
or promises did dad
mom and god knows
who else have to crush
 
so that you spit out
your eyes and slouch
like a demon, daring
me to call out your
 
name, as if it had
power anyway, as if
your own name, when
you strangle it out
 
your throat spill god
stuff, god, like a broke
egg, baby born into
fire, how come fire
 
put you to bed instead
of sweet hands, good
hands, why they put bad
hands, why bad hands
 
why the fire this time
god, why, we ain’t done
nothing, nothing yet
nothing yet and nothing
 
wrong, except the babies
are on fire, on fire, babies
burning by the stairs
before school begins

from Rattle #42, Winter 2013
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

__________

Roberto Ascalon: “I’ve taught a poetry class in this one school for the last eight years. It’s been fantastic. But hard sometimes—it’s a credit retrieval school—the last ditch for kids who’ve been expelled for being angry or being sad or being high or for fighting or cursing out a teacher or not speaking English well enough or scratching fuck you on the bathroom mirror or being pregnant or skipping school for weeks—conditions and actions that often haunt the poor and the black and the brown. With lots of love, freedom, encouragement and a safe space, I find most kids want desperately to read their work out loud. But recently I had this one boy, who, by his very presence, prevented others from reading their poetry. Class fizzled when he was in the room. He’d talk brazenly on the phone during class or slouch deep in his chair and make offhandedly cruel comments under his breath. His swagger and arrogance conveyed total disrespect—all with this amazing smile and high cheek bones. Infuriatingly, he could have been a leader if he’d wanted to—but instead chose to laugh at other folks when they read. One day I had enough. I stepped to him, suited up in manly-man aggression, kicked him out. After he left the room, to my deep shock and surprise, the other youth called me out and argued with me. They said I wasn’t being right. They said that he needed the class as much, even more, than they did. They saw how unfair it was—all of it. So, I let him back in the next day. There was an uneasy détente. The other kids eventually read their poems. He wrote a handful of lines that year, maybe ten or twelve. A win. I wrote this poem for him—and for the other youth who wanted him back in the room. For Miss Diane and Lasheera and Romeo and Rica. For all of the brown boys that get denied by people like me. For James Baldwin’s nephew.”

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June 5, 2024

Laurie Uttich

MY 88-YEAR-OLD MOTHER-IN-LAW DECIDES TO MAKE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

and I want to say, oh, Rose, why? but there’s no way to pass the prime
rib and pretend the words You’ll be dead soon enough aren’t standing
behind her, waiting to be said. Instead, I say, Maybe we strive for more
pleasure this year instead and she nods, but her dead husband walks in
 
and a wave of grief floods the floors. We wade awhile in all she’s lost—
so many streams of her joy drained dry—and then I rise and slice
the rum cake I made that morning. I cut through the glaze of sugar
and pecans and present it on a plate that still bears the prints of my mother
 
who gave them to me before she died. I center it, sprinkle it with cocoa,
and bless it with cream I whipped by hand. I slide silver from the drawer
and polish it on a clean cloth and I set it in front of her like a sacrifice
to something I’m not brave enough to name. My mother-in-law smiles:
 
as she aged, she’s learned to recognize love when it appears on another
woman’s wedding china. She places the cake on her tongue and 20 years
fall away. We sit in the exhale and we breathe in all we were born to delight
in and then the moment passes and she is on to sleep cycles and squeezing
 
back into a size 12 and catching up with Ancestory.com. She makes a list
of all she didn’t achieve last year and asks me if I think she’ll live to see
her granddaughter marry. I don’t say, Who knows if any of us will? but days
have passed and I keep thinking about pleasure and how it comes when you
 
call it. A red cardinal studies the birdfeeder outside my window and watches
over the brown one while she lifts her beak to the seeds. The sun streaks
the sky and the white plume of a plane heads toward the west. My goddaughter
holds a newborn a thousand miles away and her baby’s scent wanders into
 
my living room. I settle into the soft skin of her neck and drink her in. Later,
I’ll study my husband’s shoulders and measure their width with the same
appreciation I did on a dance floor over 35 years ago. Look, I know we’re all
dying and some of us are already dead. But there is a book by my bed, a dog
 
who considers me her own, and there is rum and cake and words that wait
within. Tomorrow, I’ll walk by the river and the water will be brown
and the snakes sleeping in the shade, but I’ll only see the way the sun blinks
between the trees and winks at the waves. I’ll think of my sons, but
 
I won’t wrap them in worry. I’ll only see the great gift they are, the men
they are on their way to becoming. I’ll let everything I love—everything
I will ever love—settle on my own narrow shoulders and I’ll hold it out
to you, Reader of Poems, on a plate from my mother’s cabinet. I’ll ask
 
you to study its face. You can see it, right? It’s there, in front of you,
scratched but not cracked. It could have broken a thousand times
in 60 years, but still it survives, shines. It’s too obvious of a metaphor
—I know that—but I don’t know how to call Pleasure by its first name
 
and not fall to my knees when it answers. I’m one of those who bleed.
The world’s suffering is my own. (I know you’re the same.) But I can’t
stop thinking about how much the world needs poetry and pleasure
and everything that wavers in between and I don’t know much about
 
resolutions or all the ways we can thrive (or hide), but I want to pull
you into my kitchen, place a plate next to a fork, and tell you the secret
to rum cake is 5 eggs and vanilla pudding and Bacardi Dark and when
you leave for the night and step out into the black where the Florida
 
frogs speak in a language older than ours; I want you to match their
pitch with your own.
 

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024

__________

Laurie Uttich: “My poetry tends to be full of fury or grief. It stumbles into a room, throws an emotion on the floor, and slams the door on the way out. I revel in the release of my Inner Poet who is so different than the person I walk around as every day. She shows her teeth and she doesn’t spend a millisecond worried about what anyone thinks (even you). But one of the men I write with on Fridays at a Florida prison often calls me a contradiction and chides me for my ‘sad stories’ while he writes his own poems about joy. This year, I decided to try and do the same.” (web)

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June 4, 2024

Suzanne Lummis & Ron Koertge

PICNIC

Henry James said he loved the words summer afternoon.
Only suicidal snowmen think of a summer afternoon.
 
And, only shady women throw out the line, Babe,
my Stroke of Midnight wants your Summer Afternoon.
 
No wonder the moon sulks and broods. It’s an astronomical
body, not a kitchen light left on one summer afternoon!
 
Astronomical it is, and affecting, that moon.
It’s got me plunging toward a rhyme: summer afternoon.
 
No influential figure, not love or unlove. Not even
a shabby mini-mart. Nothing to mar a summer afternoon. 
 
Oh Nothing, with your No-Thing-ness—get lost, Nada! 
Nothing can despoil this summer afternoon. 
 
Tedium before and boredom after. In between, “Maybe”
and an urgent “Please” take up a summer afternoon. 
 
But what can they defend against? Back to Nothing.
Bombs have fallen on summer afternoons.
 
The sight of a mountaineer’s ice ax buried in a rest stop
picnic table revives an ordinary summer afternoon.
 
What ruins every outdoor meal? Ants, especially giant
ants from outer space, some calm summer afternoon.
 

from Prompt Poem of the Month
May 2024

__________

Prompt: Find a partner and write a collaborative poem in some kind of form.

Note from the series editor, Katie Dozier: “Ghazals have always struck me as a literary picnic—a checkerboard blanket brimming with many different dishes composed of unique couplets. This modified, collaborative ghazal, with its ‘No-Thing-ness’ whimsicality served up alongside more serious stanzas, unpacks a memorable conversation for us all under the summer afternoon sun.”

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June 3, 2024

Dean Marshall Tuck

PARKING METER

If a slot machine is a one-armed bandit,
what does that make you? A cyclopean
troll? I don’t think it will catch on.
Maybe there’s nothing poetic about you.
A friend’s mother died the other day,
and it occurred to me at the service—
I’m embarrassed to admit so late into my forties—
that time is the greatest commodity, maybe
the only one that matters. Time is money,
people say, but is the inverse true?
I started thinking about the ways
we buy time on this earth, and you
were the first one I thought of. 
 
But there are other ways: jukeboxes, payphones—
coins for time with voices. Concerts, movies,
theme park tickets, hotel stays, prostitutes—
dollars for time in places we’d rather be, 
with people we’d rather see. Rent money,
the light bill—an exchange for a makeshift home
and delayed darkness. Is food fundamentally
just a purchase of more time in our own bodies? 
 
After the funeral, I stopped downtown. 
I found you still with a little time left, 
someone’s wasted minutes. I fed coin after coin 
into the slot, watching the countdown increase, 
buying more time, each quarter, less a guarantee 
against a ticket or tow, but rather, a promise 
to my car: “There’s no way I’m going to die 
before I come back for you.” I dropped another
quarter and relaxed, assured I would return
in fewer than 53 minutes, and soon enough,
head across town, maybe for a sandwich,
leaving you standing there with the rows
of your brothers, each one with their steady
internal ticking, little defused time bombs
that never explode, silently counting down
whatever’s left.
 

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024

__________

Dean Marshall Tuck: “Don’t you sort of miss dropping coins into payphones and parking meters and jukeboxes? I was thinking about this, and the sounds the coins made falling down their slots, and I suppose that’s what began my poem. Then things took a turn. It’s hard not to see mortality in everything. I did not expect to get there while contemplating the parking meter, but here we are.”

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