November 26, 2023

Lexi Pelle


Like Christian kids,
hopped up on guilt
and hormones, looking
for a loophole—
the bat’s penis is too big,
a scientist says
in the article, and
the tip is heart-shaped.
What god
of ridiculousness
blew into his kazoo
to make this morning
of sensational
headlines and half
-burnt toast?
There’s laundry
to fold and
an appointment
to cancel. The dog
won’t stop licking
what doesn’t appear
to be a stain
from the blanket.
What’s the difference
between making
love and making
do. What does
bat foreplay look
like? How do you
ask for touch,
but not too much.

from Poets Respond
November 26, 2023


Lexi Pelle: “When I read the story about bats having non-penetrative sex in a church I knew it needed to be in a poem. It made me laugh, but also made me think about the lengths (pun intended) scientists will go to understand the world’s mysteries, which feels related to the process of writing poetry.” (web)

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November 24, 2023

Joshua Mensch


Because I was young and heretical
(I wanted to be a radical) I spiked 
trees to save them. This, I was told, 
was the right thing to do: each tree 
found with a spike ruins the forest 
around it. It wasn’t true, of course. 
The lumberjack’s logic (practical) 
is to find the spike, cut beneath it. 
But being young and eager to see 
myself in the act of saving trees, 
I whacked nails into bark at my height 
and felt very militant and right. 
Years later, I met a man with a missing 
thumb (half of one hand was gone) 
and still being young, I asked him 
what had happened. I was cutting wood
he told me. A nail in a log wrecked 
the chain off the saw and whipped 
his hand clean through—so now 
he rides a mower for the church.  
Though it was many years before 
and somewhere else, I felt ashamed: 
a man’s life (possibly) for a tree 
that would be cut down anyway.
What dumb advice! I remembered
the man who had given it to me:
mid-thirties, moustached, with wrap-
around sunglasses and a sleeveless T,
holding a paddle (he was a river guide,
we were in a rubber raft) who leaned in
to whisper the name of his group
(Earth First! but don’t tell anyone)
and offer useful tips for conspiring: 
sugar in gas tanks destroy engines,
loosened lug nuts topple trucks,
flames ruin wood raped from the earth.
And, of course, spiking trees:
an effective means to defend against
the enemy. I sat before the enemy,
ashamed, and told him what I’d done
years before. He told me not
to worry—I’d botched the job,
and anyway, the nail he hit was one 
he’d put there himself and then forgotten,
but chainsaws are smarter now,
so deaths and injuries are rare, 
though he agreed that I was right
to feel like an asshole. There are
better ways to save the earth, he said.
There was a shadow on the field
from a cloud that had grown heavy
while we were talking, and were it not
for the wind it might have rained.
I could hear the cries of the gulls
from the sea beyond the hill,
and the bell of a church began to ring.
Later that night my father made
a fire in a ring of stones.
Flames tongued out of the wood
like sea anemones searching for food.
We had chosen nature, the quiet
burning of expired stars
in a place without a roof, where
the rushing of the surf was our radio.
To keep warm, we burned wood
and talked about the future,
which seemed far away, theoretical,
and entered into a new conspiracy,
a dream in which we were happy
and our existence felt justified
and good, because we were moral
people, and the trees forgave us
our sins, because they understood.

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023


Joshua Mensch: “Like many people, I’m anxious about the current state of the world, and climate change ranks high among my worries. It’s not a new concern, though. Scientists have been predicting doom since I was born. As a child, I was diligent about picking up litter, turning off lights, not wasting food, and by the time I was a teenager, I had become somewhat radical in my outlook. I believed sabotage and eco-terrorism were a viable path to saving the planet. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that such acts do little to change the policies and behaviors of governments and corporations, but can cause dramatic, personal harm to the individuals who work in targeted industries. So, what response makes sense, then? As an individual there’s not much I can do; my political and consumer power is limited. And yet, as an individual, I still consume a tremendous amount of resources. My climate footprint is huge. Imagine taking a tank’s worth of gas and lighting it on fire in your backyard. It would feel like such an unbearable crime, all that pollution. And yet, for years I’ve done just that, filling my car up once a week and then sending it into the sky, which I need to do to earn a living and go about my life. So my quandary remains unresolved. This poem, which is based on true events—I met these people, they really existed—is an attempt to work through that, though the realization the poem enacts took longer in real life, and in many ways, is still something I struggle with.” (web)

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November 23, 2023

Shadowland by Arthur Lawrence, painting of shadowy bird-like figures flying toward a mountain or volcano

Image: “Shadowland” by Arthur Lawrence. “The Addiction Bird” was written by Agnes Hanying Ong for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2023, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Agnes Hanying Ong


In a dream
someone calling your name
from a far sea. A sign
from Allah. Says the book
of which, oriole, people.
To Allah, I pray everyday
that you will find the way and live
a life without the drink. It is
the only speaker of an
anguish, anguish of
idyllic geese. How do birds say good
bye to their chicks? When
the black birds came, they wore
colors of a rainbow and
the colors fell off on
everything. Live like a bird I keep
having this dream of
school shooting, no, it takes
place in a drugstore, where
the usual girl, who is there, says
Look, look, that guy is
coming. Do you hear gunshots. What’s
that? Flickering in the distance?
Wait, that’s gunfire. Okay, so
what now? Are we supposed to
run out? He is outside. So
should we run in? In this literal
drugstore rimmed with aisles
of bottles to be
walking, where you
might think this is holy
temple of genies, we are
running past: genies or, jinn
or jaan, sentenced
to life as numerous
drinks in bottles all full, same
place where I once witnessed a
bird die, having flown
into glass, less than a minute
ago. Here, we arrive at: an empty
room, which has a lock, on the
metal door. So we ought to
be safe here. Just lock the door, lock
the door. I lock the door, realizing
there is another room inside this room
which has no windows. The room is
walled with just cold, concrete
surprising in this town, like it is a miniature
medieval castle. It is like, nightly, we can
warm our hands here, stay low and close
to the ground, while setting a pile of
silverfish on fire and say: This is living. This is
peace, this is close, as close as,
as close as to
Allah any
one can ever be. Bullets of stale
-hard bread thrown upon window—
windowless, this is bird
on sugar water, this is twilight
dimmed in a flapping of wings, this is
bird scrambling for life, this is
Across swifts in the sky,
what kind of bird do you take us

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2023, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Arthur Lawrence: “This poem is chock-full of poetic imagery and delightful word play like ‘the usual girl, genies or, jinn or jann.’ The line spacing is purposeful and not stressed. The painting that I provided is somewhat nightmarish and surrealistic, qualities this poem elicits. The poem begs the question, what are we addicted to … guns, war, drugs, mindless violence, mindless adherence to doctrine? From the war in Gaza to the war in our schools, and on our streets, this is the nightmare our children and grandchildren live with every day. Just ask the young and they will tell you that you are too old to understand.”

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November 22, 2023

Conan Tan


You were my biggest mistake. In the yard,
our second son gave way to a shard
of glass and still, you did nothing. Kept mum.
Knife to air and he was taxing the sum
of his being and still, you let the night sky
slit his throat into a scarf a father’s eye
has to weep itself to sleep with. Tell me, how can
these hands wager a life without seeing the man
his boy would have become? The answer: they
have to. So you’re never coming home. So I’ll replay
the lost reel in my head, forgetting, if only for
a second, about the real loss ten years is still sore
from carrying—that grief is nothing but a debt
of shared skin I wish we had not lost its bet.

Prompt: “This poem was written in response to SingPoWriMo 2022’s Day 1 prompt. The prompt was titled ‘The Beginner’s Luck Prompt’ and asked writers to write a poem committing all the mistakes they made as a new poet. It also featured optional poem bonuses such as the #FortuneFavoursTheBoldBonus which asked writers to include end rhymes, the #YoureSoLuckyBonus which required writers to include a gambling reference, and the #InTheBeginningBonus which asked writers to make the poem an origin story of themselves as a poet. When I first started writing poems at 13, I loved sonnets and ended virtually every poem with an end rhyme. While my writing has changed since then, I wanted to have a good laugh and merge the style I write in now with the incessant rhyming and clichéd images my 13-year-old self used.”

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023
Tribute to Prompt Poems


Conan Tan: “Sometimes, I end up writing about the same theme, which makes poetry repetitive. Writing prompts are great because they provide me with a goal to write toward, but I’m able to filter the prompts through my lens and write something that I might not have written without the prompt. Some of my favourite prompts are form prompts because they expose me to the variety of different poetic forms there are, even the seemingly forgotten ones like the empat perkataan.”

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November 19, 2023

Francesca Moroney


Before you died, you promised me
a book of poetry. It was the day
we planted the maple. We sprawled
in the dirt beside our newest sapling.
You asked what I wanted for
my birthday. A pair of wooly socks?
Vial of sandalwood oil?
Tube of rose-scented cream?
I watched you smile, waiting
for me to decide. On the street
over your left shoulder, passing cars,
a dog and its human, pollen
painting everything green.
Perhaps some sonnets?
I grew warm, anticipating
thinly-veiled eroticism
oozing from each sestet. Oh!
Free verse! I declared, excited now,
wanting poems a bit subversive,
poems as unafraid as you and I,
poems loud enough to declare
our most basic desires: fuck, cum,
on your knees. What is it that I miss
the most? The feel of your mouth
moving over me while I
read Neruda to you beneath
the duvet? Or the way we loved
to lie beneath the trees?
In today’s fantasy, you have lived
long enough for us to lounge
again in the yard. You teach me
Cornus florida and Aesculu pavia.
We have already identified
Acer palmatum, with leaves
so red I sometimes tremble
in the presence of all that heat.
In today’s fantasy, we unwrap
the book you have given me,
and then we take the poems
to bed. We tear them
with our teeth. We suck
each stanza and caesura
until the poems glow
rich and red, as fierce
and fiery as the bloom
of Japanese maple.
In today’s fantasy, you and I
are the leaves blazing through
this late autumnal light,
moments before we fall.

from Poets Respond
November 19, 2023


Francesca Moroney: “Kenya’s plan to plant 100 million trees strikes me as an act of both great optimism and great mourning. The fact that our earth is in such dire need of replenishment merely underscores the extent of all that has been stripped from it. Sometimes it feels like that on a personal level, as well. No matter how much we plant, we will never find a way to compensate for all that has been lost. ” (web)

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November 18, 2023

Michael Meyerhofer


Poetry keeps wine and milk from spoiling
and has prevented countless deaths
since its invention in 1892. It works

by heating substances to just a bit
below the boiling point—not enough
to curdle but still hot enough to kill off

most of the bacteria that can hurt you.
Some health nuts blame poetry for disease,
saying a natural vocabulary is better,

though modern doctors disagree.
Other foods saved by poetry include juice,
syrup, vinegar, and canned foods.

Poetry was invented by Louis Pasteur
who lost three children to typhoid.
While working on a vaccine for rabies,

he once impressed onlookers
by extracting saliva from a crazed dog
without armoring his hands.

He also made a vaccine for anthrax
though some accuse him of plagiarism.
The poetry process involves lots

of pipes and vats and rapid cooling.
Poetry doesn’t seem all that complicated
to us, more like common sense,

but our ancestors didn’t have it
which is why so many of them died,
young and beautiful and always afraid.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012


Michael Meyerhofer: “The first time I read the poems in What the Living Do by Marie Howe, I was so blown away that I said something like ‘Holy shit…’ after pretty much every one. This was followed, naturally, by a desire to share those poems with everyone—and to try and pull off the same miracle, if humanly possible. There’s a lot to be said for making somebody so stunned (hopefully in a good way) by something as seemingly innocuous as writing that all they can do is raise their eyebrows and swear like a sailor.” (web)

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November 17, 2023

Lisa Stice


He’d work in the summer with steam
rising from new roads, climbing up 
and down from loaders and scrapers,
fixing whatever needed fixing then
he’d come home to us smelling of
oil with his arms dirty, clean up to his
t-shirt sleeves, and he’d wash with
green Lava soap in the utility sink,
gray water swirling down the drain—
his nightly ritual before dinner and
TV and sometimes he’d fall asleep
on the couch, his snores so loud we’d
have to nudge him to be able to hear
the sitcom, and he always went to bed
far earlier than us anyway because he
would be gone again before we woke.

Prompt: “From The Daily Poet by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano (Two Sylvias Press, 2013): April 13—‘In honor of Seamus Heaney’s birthday … write a poem about your native land … focus on details about … what your parents and/or grandparents did for a living.’”

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023
Tribute to Prompt Poems


Lisa Stice: “There are 365 prompts in The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano (Two Sylvias Press, 2013), and I have actually revisited the book several times, and so written two or three different poems per prompt. It’s a lot of fun!” (web)

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