August 5, 2022

Shawn R. Jones

SOPRANO FROM THE JUNIOR CHOIR AT THE PROTEST

Her larynx is raw from chanting. 
Every diphthong and syllable aflame. 
Each vowel broken. She cannot sing, 
 
We Shall Overcome. That was 
her grandmother’s song. And she 
is not her grandmother. 
 
So forgive her for wanting 
the police precinct destroyed. 
Forgive her for cheering 
 
as patrol cars scream between 
flames. Forgive her for looting 
the Smoke Shop in the alley 
 
on James Street. Forgive her 
for listening to Floyd cry, 
“Momma” four hundred times 
 
on her cell phone as she fills 
a bong with kerosene. 
Forgive her as she sticks a rag 
 
in its petite mouth and turns 
the soft pink cloth into wick. 
Forgive her. Forgive her 
 
as she leans back, 
steps forward, shifts 
her full body weight, 
 
twists her torso, 
drives her elbow forward, 
and releases the bong— 
 
a torched bird 
with variegated wings.
 

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022

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Shawn Jones: “My poetry tells a story of survival as an ongoing journey—rather than destination.” (web)

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August 1, 2022

Alexis V. Jackson

WHAT WE CARRY OFF THE SEA: ZONG SURVIVOR’S CHILD TAKES A BATH

after Wang Ping’s “Things We Carry on the Sea”

It was Sesame Street,
Ernie particularly,
who taught me how to covet
the company of a floating vessel–
his, duckling shaped and filled with air;
mine, always a ship-like boat;
both always smiling and squeaking.
 
Splish splash I was taking a bath,
Ernie and I would sing—
Bing-bang, Elmo saw the whole gang
a song about embarrassment,
a song about being stuck in the water
after invasion, while the unwelcome
party while we are too naked and too
surprised and too out-armed and then
we join them.
A-splishin’ and a-splashin’
 
On wash days, when
I was allowed to soap soak my body and hair,
you could catch me trying to float in the tub—
trying to be a life raft for the Barbies
lying in a row on my tummy. Tug
Boat would watch from the soap dish
and the pink- and green-haired trolls would take
audience next to the spigot as I sank
to the bottom—nappy and knotted—a splash,
small-bodied and black.
 
How long can a child at sea,
hold her breath? or float? or try
to float? Without a bright rubber boat,
without the company of others
co-hoping to reach a friendly shore,
how long does she splish and splash
before she acquiesces?
 
We was a-movin’ and a-grovin’
We was a-rollin’ and a-strollin’
Why, even here, must all the dolls be Black?
And the language be Black?
It is 1995. Do any still have to jump
and sink?
 
A-splishin’ and a-splashin’
 
How long does a body
hold memory of a body?
 
How often does a body reenact
someone else’s memory?
 
How many songs and sounds tangle
us in something like home
where we have reason
to greet the sated water with nothing
to covet.
 

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022

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Alexis V. Jackson: “Song and scent, for me, are the strongest connections to memory. My mother taught me how to remember things with song and verse; so, I’m conditioned to connect hymns and rap verses to blood memory and lived experiences. This poem is about what we see M. NourbeSe Philip ‘exaqua[s]’ in Zong, what Philip and Ping invited me to do with language and memory, what my mother has conditioned me to do, what conversations with water about their memory looks like.” (web)

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July 31, 2022

Deron Eckert

WHAT WILL BE LEFT

What will be left
of this drowned town
when the rain stops
and the river lies low?
Before the storms,
we wanted more,
but now, we would settle
for what we had.
It was enough
that yesterday,
we were wrong to think
there was nothing
left to lose.
 
What will be left
of this drowned town
when the land that slid
is pushed away?
Within the mounds
of clay and broken trees
is what they call debris,
but that is you and me.
Let there be enough
that tomorrow,
we may be wrong to think
there is nothing
left to lose.
 
What will be left
of this drowned town
when those we loved
are found?
The silence may worry,
but when it breaks,
the word may come.
Please, let there be enough
that today,
we are wrong to think
there is nothing
left to lose.
 

from Poets Respond
July 31, 2022

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Deron Eckert: “‘What Will Be Left’ is in response to today’s historic flooding in eastern Kentucky, an area that has already lost so much, but as the storms have shown, still has much left to lose. There is no way to know this early how many people, homes, and businesses have been lost.” (web)

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July 28, 2022

Kennedy Lake by M-A Murphy, mostly blue photograph of boys jumping from an old pier into a mountain lake

Image: “Kennedy Lake” by M-A Murphy. “Poem with a Cloud and Frank Ocean Lyrics” was written by José Felipe Ozuna for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, June 2022, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

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José Felipe Ozuna

POEM WITH CLOUD AND FRANK OCEAN LYRICS

August 2016 and the sky and lake bleed
into each other. I’ve spent the weekend
trying to download Blond on my phone
 
with shoddy WiFi at my friend’s cabin,
where I take my shirt off outside for
the first time in years and we use nets
 
to try to catch minnows shooting through
the water like scaled bullets. I don’t remember
catching anything. Or showering. I know it
 
can’t be true but in my head the sky was lower
back then, close enough to touch. If I had
reached my hand out I could’ve stolen a cloud
 
and crushed it in my palm small enough to fit in my pocket,
so I would always have that sky with me. By the end of the trip
my arms will be darker and my cheeks rosy, something I didn’t
 
know could happen to skin like mine. In the car ride home
I don’t cry when Frank sings we’ll never be those kids again.
I doubt I really heard it. I don’t know how to swim, but that summer
 
when my friends jump in the lake so do I, and I aim where I can
see the bottom so I don’t sink too far. So I can come up for air.
The sky isn’t pink and white. But it’s blue. And it’s there.
 

from Ekphrastic Challenge
June 2022, Editor’s Choice

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Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “The poems were especially good this month—perhaps because the artwork itself provokes such strong memories—but I thought José’s poem did the best job of capturing the true complexity of nostalgia and the human predicament of being conscious creatures caught in the river of time. We’ll never return to the lakes of our youth, or experience the same great album again for the first time. To love something is to lose it, a fact that remains as happy as it is sad. And it’s there.”

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July 27, 2022

Emily Ruth Hazel

OUT THERE

Most days, online dating feels like another
kid’s birthday party—like getting lost
at Fun World, waiting to cash in
our cupful of hard-won tickets
only to learn we’re six hundred short of
anything with batteries included.
Wearing our candy necklaces,
biting off the chalky disappointments one
by one, burning our last quarters
on a chance to win the cutest teddy bear.
If only we could master the joystick, if only
the toy machine’s awkward claw were made for
holding something worth its weight.
The plush teddy dangles
then tumbles back to the mountain
of prizes that will never belong to us.
 
Yet here we are, flashing our teeth
and other marketable, socially acceptable
parts of us before a parade of perfect
strangers, crushing on glimmers of people
who may not exist. How will they rate
our potential on a scale of fling to ring?
How will they see us with or without
our glasses? Will they swipe away
self-professed nerds fluent in sarcasm,
Netflix junkies who only speak Emoji,
women more at home in hiking boots
than we’ll ever be in heels?
The fact that we don’t cook
but love to eat and expect to be fed
could tip the scale. Whether we look like
we were born to play with babies
or whether we confess we don’t have a passion
for collecting miniature versions of ourselves,
the dreamboat might pull away without us.
 
Who knew there’d be such an abundance
of reasons to pass? We translate the shrug
in sloppy grammar, they’re too cool to smile
and we can’t read their sunglassed eyes
in their driver’s seat selfies,
their collar chain says even their shirt
needs to be attached to something.
 
Even if they are impressed by us
jumping off a cliff in Greece
or shaking Hillary Clinton’s hand or cruising
in a Ferrari as loud as our lipstick,
and we are seduced by them crooning
over a guitar’s curves, doing pull-ups shirtless
on scaffolding, or sporting a stethoscope
as if they’re eager to listen to our hearts,
we might still leave the chat room
blowing bubbles of good wishes
over our shoulders after they admit
they’re mean to their fairy companions
in Dungeons & Dragons.
Or they may ghost us when they realize
they’re not interested in complicated stories.
 
The only way to find out is to let ourselves
be found. So we wait for the arcade game
to light up again. We polish our profiles,
build bridges out of air, put our best
question forward. When Maybe calls,
we answer. We do things we never
thought we would. We borrow a pair
of bowling shoes. We troll the Yelp reviews
for vegan restaurants. We practice
singing into shampoo bottles
to save ourselves from being immortalized
in the Karaoke Hall of Shame.
We hit the freeway in our big-ass Silverados,
our soft-spoken Prii, our adventurous
Kia Souls that have never been touched
by a vacuum. We venture beyond the mirage
till we are Out There in the desert,
where the most unlikely living things
can bloom in wild ways.
 
We don’t know whose life depends on
us showing up. But someday theirs
will be tangled up with ours and we’ll wake up to
the sunlight sliding through the blinds,
our cellphones sleeping face down
on the far side of the room because who needs
to check check check who’s next
when messy and strange as it is,
love is in here breathing beside us?
 

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022

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Emily Ruth Hazel: “Once, after an arts showcase, a man confessed to me, ‘When I heard that the next performer was a poet, my eyes rolled back in my head.’ Then he told me he’d been won over by my opening poem about being delayed at an airport. Whenever I share my work, I think of people like him who will stumble into poetry and receive something they need—a moment of human connection, understanding, humor, hope, or healing—because my words were there to welcome them. I write for the people hovering in the doorway, those who don’t yet know if they want to be in the room, as well as for the eager listeners in the front row who’ve already experienced how nourishing and delicious poetry can be.” (web)

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July 26, 2022

Anna M. Evans

FEELING COMPASSION FOR OTHERS

after Molly Peacock

Feeling compassion for others is the right
way to feel. It’s one way we can prove
to friends we’ve finally grown up, when it might
be tempting–human, even–to lord it above
someone instead. At twenty when I stole
a boy my best friend had adored for months
I was quite insufferable. I told
her she needed a hobby. That’s how to punch
a girl when she’s down. I think I would do better
now, but really, would I? When you’ve won
something intangible, you never get a
ribbon, only the pleasure of seeing the wan
face, and hearing the loser mourn the loss.
I suppose I’m trying to say that I don’t blame you:
to hear the mitigating facts could cost
just what it costs to write this and not name you.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007

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Anna M. Evans: “I’m not lying when I call my blog ‘Dreaming in Iambic Pentameter’ either. However, I always write my defenses of formalist poems in free verse. I just want my readers to be moved by my poems, and that isn’t a quality guaranteed by meter any more than it is by a good line break.” (web)

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July 24, 2022

Abby E. Murray

FUNNY HOW

When some Americans hear
about a man-made calamity
 
unfolding in Britain, it takes
a hot minute to remember
 
there is no such thing as
a country that is simultaneously
 
one sovereign nation
and your sophic mother:
 
older than you and, at one time,
so powerful you didn’t realize
 
she was human. For example,
on the morning after
 
Boris Johnson’s hair
became Prime Minister,
 
you opened the newspaper
like it was your front door
 
and you’d just heard
shave & a haircut
 
knocked into it at 3 AM
only to find your mom there,
 
drunk, puking violently
into the potted fern.
 
Had it been anyone else—
a neighbor, a friend,
 
even a stranger—
you would have known
 
how to act right away,
but because it was who it was,
 
you stood and stared,
uncomprehending.
 
It took a full year of following
British government proceedings
 
to recognize the same
carousel music that plays
 
in the U.S. Capitol, a tune
we’ve egotistically grown to think
 
originated in the States,
another invention
 
of our founding fathers,
our long dead brothers
 
whose courage compelled us
to test whether farts are flammable,
 
whose bravery urged us
to rollerblade off the roof
 
of the garage as soon as
we were allowed to play
 
unsupervised. Even now,
on our shared and ferociously
 
warming planet,
a heat we continue to kindle
 
while knowing it will consume us all
surprises me by turning up
 
in London, where it is unanticipated,
brutal, and the seeming fault
 
of a belligerent sun,
as if the disappointed parent
 
of my country as I know it
was still somehow above
 
climate change until now,
until my child mind
 
perceived her here
on the front page of the Times,
 
unable to work or get out of bed
for anything other than water.
 
The first time I saw
my own mother sweat,
 
I marveled at how she still
smelled only of lotion
 
and Calvin Klein Eternity,
as usual, her glow unlike
 
the pubescent body odor
I seemed to carry just by waking up
 
and living. It wasn’t until
my thirties that I began to tell
 
myself—sometimes out loud—
that my mother was capable
 
of the same recklessness I was
because I needed to believe it
 
in order to know independence,
needed to say it
 
to that part of me who,
no matter how old she gets,
 
still just rolls her eyes,
slams the door in my face.
 

from Poets Respond
July 24, 2022

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Abby E. Murray: “I was talking to a friend the other night about how, whenever anything painful or sad happens on a national scale in Britain, there’s a part of me that is, for a fraction of a second, surprised—like I’ve grown to expect ineptitude and blatant disregard for humanity in the U.S., and seeing it in Britain is about as unsettling as seeing my mother drunk (which is, for the record, about as likely as me seeing the Queen herself show up at my house in the wee hours, blitzed). Even heat waves brought about by man-made climate change, which affect us all, are being spoken about as wholly unanticipated in Britain. So I’m kind of making fun of my sense of problematic surprise, even as I move to correct it.” (web)

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