September 8, 2022

Michael Mark

MY MOTHER’S FREEZER

Again, he climbs the three-step
step stool, pauses to catch his breath,
then folds his five-foot-four
inches over
 
then over and scooches
against the bumpy ice. Stabbing
back some with a screwdriver,
 
he tucks his bluish knees
and brown-socked feet, closes
himself in.
 
A sonogram of the freezer
would reveal a foil-covered cube
of potato kugel, Hanukah 1973
 
written in her hand, a Polaroid
she magic-markered on the back, Catskills,
Summer 1957, two scarves
 
her mother knitted, mummy-wrapped
in foggy cellophane and my dad
curled into a fetal position, the cold
freezing his tears.
 
This last part’s not true.
 
Of course his tears don’t freeze
in her freezer—which she’d swore, “not only
keeps everything as it was, it makes
them even younger”—they roll up
 
into his eyes, glaucoma and cataract-free
again, the years, months, days, clicking backwards
as he talks with her, shivering—touched
where she touched.
 

from Visiting Her in Queens Is More Enlightening than a Month in a Monastery in Tibet
2022 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

__________

Michael Mark: “I think of this collection as a family photo album. As my mother’s dementia progresses, each poem is at once a snapshot, a foreshadowing and a memory. And like memories, each is revealing, accurate, and blurry.​” (web)

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September 7, 2022

Erin Redfern

CROSSWALK

So what did I get from this boy I cared for 
as well as I could, and less than he deserved? I wanted 
to be wanted, which I thought meant loved. 
Full-grown at twelve, I’d been a freak towering over teachers, 
out-rebounding the boys I had crushes on. By nineteen 
I’d have nibbled praise from anyone’s cupped hands. 
 
But his praise! Bountiful, unabashed 
praise for a body shamed, a cherishing 
most white boys don’t learn. I guess we invested 
in our own kind of social security when we coupled
his Will Smith fade to my Meg Ryan blonde, 
which he might have sometimes used
 
as shorthand for “Don’t ask. I belong.” While I 
learned new ways to see dogs, pools, the states 
we had to drive through without stopping. 
That summer he took me to meet his mom, a teacher 
who raised her boys right. Could she tell 
how wild I was for his height, his strength 
 
that I never told anyone made me think
of the ’80s sportscaster Jimmy the Greek
and my dad repeating what he said,
that the most athletic players were Black, but they still needed 
a smart white quarterback. Shit. I love my dad. 
But he said it, I heard it, it’s in me. And nothing I knew 
 
or knew to reach for could help me hold 
that hateful memory alongside my boyfriend’s beauty—
his whip-smart word play, 
his open face and hands. I didn’t even always see him, 
the way the faces of those we love blur in close-up. 
Only his curling eyelashes stayed. And, after we graduated, 
 
his silky neck, the scent of it where I pressed my face, 
waking on the couch in his parents’ basement, 
imagining I’d do anything not to lose this
and young enough to think permanence was a goal I could set.
Though he was never more lost to me 
than my own self. At least, as much as I could, I paid attention. 
 
Once, in Chicago, I was ranting because a man 
slowed down in the crosswalk—I mean he stared at me 
behind the wheel of my F150 
and slowed down—and my boyfriend said don’t get salty, 
he’s just saying no white person can make him move, 
and I sat there and listened. I let that sink in.  
 

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022

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Erin Redfern: “‘I am a part of all that I have met; / Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades / For ever and for ever when I move.’ Or maybe all we’ve experienced is a sandstorm burying the very artifacts we need to find our way through. A poem is a flag tied to a stake marking a buried clue.” (web)

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September 6, 2022

Amy Miller

A LULLABY

Sleep now. The city
you were building in your head,
its shouting and conveyances,
its strikers and unhelpful signs,
its cops with their stern citations,
rest. Rest the piteous call
from your sister and the words
you boiled in the pot
all day.
Somewhere
deer fatten in a sudden
thaw. A lake floats hundreds
of Russians in bathing suits.
And your dreams—no one can take
those wild paintings
and unbelievable music,
or your lashes dropping
their feathers, or the factory
of your own lungs,
quietly working into the night.

from Rattle #46, Winter 2014

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Amy Miller: “I love a lot of things: a dense tower of Blue Lake pole beans in August, that shoulder season when we hear both frogs and crickets, pretty much every dog I’ve ever met, racquetball and playing fiddle. But that Big Bang moment that happens when I’m writing a poem, when suddenly something exists that wasn’t there before … that’s a different kind of thrill and addiction. And like that lover you can’t get out of your system, its maddening unpredictability only makes it more desirable.” (web)

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September 5, 2022

Kathryn Paulson

COAL SMOKE

Through an open window
You spy a coal colored dog
Dreaming
Curled up on a plain rug
Smoke billows from the chimney
Silvery clouds floating in the sky
 
Silvery windows frame
Coal smoke floating in the sky
The plain dog curled up by the chimney
An open rug billows
Through clouds and dreams
Like a spy
 
A spy opens a window
And curls up a coal colored rug
The plain chimney floats clouds
Through the dog’s dreams
Smoke billows
Silvery sky
 
The plain clouds curl through a coal colored sky
The window and chimney opened
The silver dog spies
Dreams float, billowing
On a rug of smoke
 

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022

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Kathryn Paulson: “I grew up in a tiny town in Wisconsin. Was poetry ever in my life plan? Nope, but neither was my traumatic brain injury. I fell on black ice in December of 2016 and fractured my skull and had a subarachnoid brain bleed. My life changed. Not every aspect, but enough. I have dealt with a myriad of issues that I wouldn’t want to hand to my worst enemy. But I have also gained some amazing things that I wouldn’t trade for ‘my old brain’ … one of those things is BBIG (Blugold Brain Injury Group) and the people associated with it. They have become some of my biggest cheerleaders. Having cheerleaders in your life is vital. These people have my back and don’t judge me on my bad brain days, and celebrate with me on my good brain days. The facilitator, Dr. Jerry Hoepner, has also introduced me to many new experiences that help me in my daily life, that help develop my coping skills, and that enrich me. One of those experiences was meeting Brendan Constantine, the Los Angeles-based poet. Jerry put together a couple Zoom meetings for us to ‘explore’ poetry. I don’t know what made me go; I have never been a writer. Brendan has taken our little brain injury poetry group under his wing and encouraged all of us to fly. I consider myself a creative being, but struggle with feelings of adequacy. I tend to think I’m not quite good enough for recognition, but I continue to find ways to let my creativity fly. Poetry has become one of those things to me. I have only been writing for about five months. I honestly don’t have a huge amount of time or brain power to dedicate to it. But under Brendan’s watchful eye, all of us in the group have blossomed. ‘Coal Smoke’ was done based on a challenge presented to me based on Richard Shelton’s poem, ‘From a Room.’”

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September 4, 2022

Kate MacQueen

MORNINGSTAR

Many people call these the dog days. In North Carolina we have our own names for the seasons and we call this one Hell’s Front Porch. Hot and humid August can make a dog inclined to hide under the porch. But that’s not why these are called dog days. The real story is that this is the time of year when Sirius, the Dog Star, first rises with the sun and is then the brightest star in the morning sky. Imagine the dogs with their backs up on an August morning, a little boy held in his grandmother’s embrace, the heat quickly rising, and Lucifer watching from the front porch.
 
that patch of dirt
where everything dies
Hiroshima Day
 

from Poets Respond
September 4th, 2022

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Kate MacQueen: “Things have a way of heating up in August in the Northern Hemisphere. This week it was the Washington Post noting that ‘The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, Zaporizhzhia, lies in southeastern Ukraine. It has been held by Russian forces since March, but amplified fighting over recent weeks has led to an unprecedented fear of a nuclear catastrophe coinciding with a brutal war.’ I guess the fear of ‘a nuclear catastrophe coinciding with a brutal war’ could be described as unprecedented since few people knew they needed to fear such a thing until 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, when a bombardier from North Carolina dropped the first atomic bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, from a plane named for the pilot’s grandmother, Enola Gay, on Hiroshima. History doesn’t repeat itself, exactly, but it does provide inspiration in ways that really should be anticipated.”

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August 31, 2022

Alexandra Umlas

THE DELUXE EDITION

This morning’s stories include a bald eagle
about to board a Southwest plane, his handler
 
taking him through the TSA checkpoint
in North Carolina, him flexing his wings, as if to say
 
look what I can do. I can fly and I can fly
Some things still surprise us, this Eagle’s flight,
 
how delicious my breakfast tastes today, green
olives stuffed with almonds and fresh-striped
 
figs, their skins filled with August-ripeness,
and Fagles’ translation of Homer’s The Iliad open
 
to page 265, Achilles, always dying, and also always
living, speaking (again), two fates bear me on
 
to the day of death. One, a journey home
with no glory. Another, a journey away from life
 
but with everlasting glory—Oh the choices
we must make in any life! And I wonder
 
what Homer would have to say about an eagle
on a plane, the pages he might have filled today
 
with wings being winged in an aluminum miracle,
everything so different and everything the same,
 
how we still get from one place to the next
or don’t, how an eagle is even now an eagle
 
and an omen that tells us there is always something
new to see—open your wings and look—
 

from Poets Respond
August 31, 2022

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Alexandra Umlas: “I’m grateful to books and to the authors of books, who show us that we are not alone in our vacillation between delight and despair—and that delight often wins! Or, if it doesn’t win, it at least surprises us into momentary joy. I found myself delighted (and perplexed) by the idea of this Eagle on a plane, who is now also on a page, which is its own kind of journey.” (web)

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August 30, 2022

Blueprint of a Dream by Jaundré van Breda, mostly blue photograph of boys jumping from an old pier into a mountain lake

Image: “Blueprint of a Dream” by Jaundré van Breda. “Driving in the Rain” was written by Christopher Shipman for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, July 2022, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

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Christopher Shipman

DRIVING IN THE RAIN

Fun fact: during a thunderstorm
more raindrops fall than there are people
in the world. You can look it up.
I’ll wait. Go ahead. But I won’t bother.
My eight-year-old daughter—
everything she says deserves to be believed.
Besides, I’m driving. It’s all true
anyway. Oz is over the rainbow. Just listen
to the tautology of water. Just look
at the summertime street—how it stretches
its torrid tongue beneath us.
A ghostly heat up ahead flails infinite arms.
We watch the rain fall, offering
platitudes in torrents. She says Blue Bird
(our Prius) can handle it. I know
the small human in back who says it
can handle it. The way she takes in the sky
over Benjamin Parkway—I’d
call it a bruise and be done with it. She uses
the opportunity to remind me that
girls see more shades of color than boys.
Now she insists it’s her favorite
shade of purple. This sky the same she used
for a surreal sketch of her mama’s face
before we left the house. Now
she dangles a bracelet made with a friend—
late birthday present. The purple
meretricious gems. The fake feather barely
hanging on even with the windows up.
And just like that, she grows
taciturn, silent as the drenched blur of trees
scrolling by. I try not to, but I wonder
if she sees in her reflection
a semblance of how fractured we all end up.
How momentarily whole. How we
spread ourselves thin as we go. Raindrops
down a windowpane in a movie
about grief, we’re reshaped—smudged over.
Each of us a palimpsest with a pulse.
At the risk of sentiment, I’ll say nothing
is meretricious. Nothing is fake.
It’s all true. Inside every face a palatial sky.
Go ahead. You can look it up.
I’ll wait beneath the rain of platitudes.
 

from Ekphrastic Challenge
July 2022, Editor’s Choice

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Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “Ekphrastic poems are often the most impressive when they manage to both clearly be inspired by the source artwork and also stretch the image far into a surprising direction. Christopher Shipman does that here, with a gorgeous poem full of memorable lines and more twists and turns than I can count. I didn’t see a face behind rain-soaked glass, but now I do.”

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