November 4, 2021

Gil Arzola


Old Mexican Soto was born with a gift for staying poor. At the end of every day he would be two hundred feet behind me in the mint fields where we worked with thirty others pulling weeds. It was 1965 and weeding was a job for Mexicans and hillbillies who arrived every morning in a discarded school bus that was too old for hauling the hopes of schoolchildren but capable enough to take us from field to endless field. Mexican women wearing straw hats gossiped—young men whose youth still covered them like the sweat on their backs—dreamt. Every morning, as if no bird could begin it’s singing, as if no sun would rise without us, we began together. When the clouds were still low and when the sun had just begun to melt the dew, we grabbed our hoes and picked a row as silently as sinners choosing a pew. Minding our chores and minding our own business, we dispatched the weeds and volunteers like unwelcomed guests. Always beginning together, by ten o’clock Old Mexican Soto was only a shadow behind me. When I turned, he was something brown against the green mint, and his hair was as black as the dirt between rows. Sometimes he’d stand and pull a red handkerchief from his back pocket, and with great ceremony he’d wipe his brow like he was erasing mistakes from a chalkboard. The handkerchief the only part of him colored bright. The rest was brown and shades of that. Soto was round like a barrel, his brown skin worn like old leather, his chin coming to a point at the bottom of his long face. That’s all I remember. Two hundred feet behind me Old Mexican Soto was still in the fields when I left. Born with a gift for staying poor and dreaming of payday Fridays, cold beer and quitting time, he stayed.

from The Death of a Migrant Worker
2021 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Gil Arzola: “The Death of a Migrant Worker is a gift and monument of words to my parents. It is a way of saying ‘these people passed through this way’ and here’s what they did.”

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October 7, 2021

Gil Arzola


Where the bushes are now a house once was.
See there—where branches are twisted together like skinny
arms hugging air? You’d think it was one thing instead of two
until you look closer and follow to its roots.
Right there—where the branches
are highest there was a window and
a boy looking out.

My life is passing. The snow melts.
In another day it will become water and disappear
into the ground.
Over there—across the field you can count
one, two, maybe three trees I used to climb.
Walk there—
And you can ask each blade of grass on the way
to tell you my name.

from The Death of a Migrant Worker
2021 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Gil Arzola: “The Death of a Migrant Worker is a gift and monument of words to my parents. It is a way of saying ‘these people passed through this way’ and here’s what they did.”

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April 24, 2021

Gretchen Steele Pratt


for my sister

I let you do the talking,
knew it was your
blonde hair blanched white with saltwater

They pulled to
the crab-grassed shoulders of Corn Neck Road

You did the talking,
invented places
for them to take us. I saw my face

In the rearview mirrors
a hanging crystal hurt
my eyes. A station wagon

Its mats caked
with horseshit, warm cans of beer
for us to hold between our knees

The matches
that wouldn’t light in the wind
of a backseat. The minivan doors

Slid open babies opened
their eyes fell back to sleep
in the air-conditioned sunlight.

Surfboards knocked me
in the temples
bandanas tied around the boys’ necks.

I don’t remember any music
Just your
Who sings this? your calm elbow

Out the window
and pickup trucks with
full cans of gas to sit on. The doors opened

And there were dreadlocks
dripping held together
with a rubber band and Who sings this? and

An old woman
with buckets of seaweed
crawling with baby crabs or

The voice of a teenage boy
too thin
I live in an abandoned barn

Or a gutted van
white plastic kitchen chairs for
us to sit on and doors dented by deer.

Your calm elbow.
A hatchback in the parking lot of Mosquito Beach
slap of water

Against the hulls
an old sunset your tan shoulders
lift from the driver’s window turn

Give me the okay
to get in
and what could you sound like?

There was a fever of car doors
opening and slamming all over
the island that summer, everything

Out the window blowing by in
the white light
of our going. Who sings this?

fromRattle #28, Winter 2007
2007 Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention


Gretchen Steele Pratt: “When I first started writing poems, I read a letter (in a book) that I believe was from James Wright to Richard Hugo—I can’t be sure because I have never been able to find the letter again. The letter was written while Wright was on vacation and he describes a particularly beautiful night to Hugo. It is implied that the night was too beautiful for Wright to ever write a poem about and so he was giving the details to Hugo in case he could use them. I will always remember how Wright graciously offered up these details to his friend—he said, ‘Here are some fragments of my hammer that broke against a wall of jewels.’ Although I have never been able to locate the letter, this quote has remained at the forefront of my mind and always reminds me why I love writing poems.” (website)

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April 17, 2021

Debra Marquart


And so you came to realize that a married man
is like a drowning victim, when you find him

drenched, adrift and unhappy in the vast ocean
of his marriage. And you are always the first

to spot him, a floating speck on the horizon,
flapping his arms for rescue, desperate mouth

ringing an o above the rolling crests and waves.
You on the high dry deck of the cruise ship

in your espadrilles and crisp white shorts,
aren’t you the beacon, aren’t you the life preserver.

And when you jump into the sea salt foam,
if only for a refreshing swim, you understand

that he will seize upon you, strong buoyant
swimmer that you are, grab your shoulders,

pull your head under with his weight, so dense
in the water. And down among the reefs

and coral, with your new copper-coin eyes,
you will see then how he rides on the shoulders

of his water-breathing sea horse wife,
and his mermaid mistresses, those water nymph

former lovers, and whole tag-team pyramid
of three-breasted women who have tried

over the years to save him. Even then,
next time, when you see another one

go under, does it give you pause,
does it stop you from jumping in—

no, not once, not ever.

–from Rattle #28, Winter 2007


Debra Marquart: “I’ve been a rebellious farmer’s daughter, a traveling rock musician, a tombstone saleswoman, an accountant, and, more recently, a professor of English at Iowa State University.”

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April 7, 2021

Alison Townsend


At sunset the russet oak turns into a lamp.
Each polished leaf glows amber, lit by sun.
As a child, I raked leaves with my mother each fall.
We burned small pyres, their flames the color of loss.

Each polished leaf glows amber, lit by sun.
I could not know my mother would die young.
We burned small pyres, their flames the color of loss.
I stand here watching, older now than she ever was.

I could not know my mother would die young.
The tree is a galleon, its sails coppered by light.
I stand here watching, older now than she ever was.
I raked leaves into rooms and houses as a girl.

The tree is a galleon, its sails coppered by light.
I’ll always be a daughter, part of her body’s bright map.
I raked leaves into rooms and houses as a girl.
Death is a lit tree, its amber walls falling in pieces.

I’ll always be a daughter, part of her body’s bright map.
As a child, I raked leaves with my mother each fall.
Death is a lit tree, its amber walls falling in pieces.
At sunset the russet oak turns into a lamp.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner


Alison Townsend: “I wrote this poem in a fabulous online class called ‘The Language of Color’ with California poet and essayist Elizabeth Brennan. During the course, we worked our way through the entire color spectrum. The poem emerged when we were contemplating orange. I live in the country, on four acres of prairie and oak savanna. The huge tree outside my study window, a constant companion, was my starting point. When my mother (who died when I was a child) entered the poem and each line presented itself as an end-stopped sentence, I saw a possibility for using form. I turned to the pantoum, which I love for its slow mystery, back-and-forth movement, and non-linear narrative. It’s a ruminative form and a melancholy one—exactly what I needed to evoke the on-going presence of the past in the present, and the way even great loss can be illuminated by beauty. The tree, the autumn season, my mother’s spirit, the color orange, and the form all combined magically to make the poem possible. Poetry is a calling for me; moments like these are the reason I write.”


2020 Rattle Poetry Prize winner Alison Townsend was the guest on Rattlecast #79! Click here to watch …

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April 5, 2021

Alexis Rotella


Tibetan prayer flags
flap in the wind
no one to talk to

Why Tower Air? I ask as my husband packs a suitcase to get ready to attend his mother’s funeral.

Because it’s a bargain, he says.

Wouldn’t you rather fly a major carrier? 

I pull a card from my Tarot deck. Out of the 78 possibilities, it’s the Tower that shows up. Flames shoot from the top of a crumbling brick tower while a couple with shock imprinted on their faces falls through the air, crowns flying. There’s no soft landing in sight.

I plead with my husband to book with another airline, but he says he’ll be fine. I shouldn’t put such faith in divination.
As I entertain a couple of acquaintances, the phone rings. My husband’s voice sounds far away. 

dusk signals the jasmine to release its scent

I’m at Kennedy. We had to make an emergency landing. While flames shot from the engine, the pilot told us to put our heads in our laps and brace for impact. The silence was so thick, no one could make a sound. I took my wallet from my jacket, placed it in the seat pocket facing me, just in case my body couldn’t be identified. And then I saw a newspaper headline which seemed so vivid and real—son dies in plane crash after attending mother’s funeral. It was the most bizarre experience. I thought my life was over, that I’d never see you again. When we got off the plane, some people actually kissed the ground. Everyone is shaken including the pilot’s wife. It was her husband’s last flight before retirement.

While my guests stuff themselves on tacos and guacamole, I try to regain composure. Don’t sweat the small stuff, they tell me. Get over it. Move on. Come eat.

I want to throw them both out but instead I bite my tongue until it aches. I count the minutes until they’re out of my space.

the cat brings home a screech owl

I sense disappointment in my brother-in-law’s voice. Had there been a fatal accident, he’d inherit all of the mother’s estate. I so need to vent, but my next-door neighbor, who caught a blip about it on the news, is nonchalant.

During break in qi gong class, my husband tries to tell a classmate about the incident, but the instructor glares at him as if to say, keep your sad stories to yourself.

The taste 
of loneliness
evening meal

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Alexis Rotella: “My husband and I were living in Los Gatos, California, a few months when he flew a low-budget airline back east to attend his mother’s funeral. The reaction of dinner guests, a neighbor, my brother-in-law and qi gong teacher taught us how a near tragedy can bring unexpected reactions from others as well as an education in human nature.” (web)

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April 2, 2021

Austen Leah Rose




I swam into the center of a dark star, the farthest point 
from every other point, 


the place 


where people become shapes along the shore, where a mother 
becomes the idea 


of a mother, and a sister becomes the idea of a sister.


Here, everything is its opposite: trees, buildings, snow, Thursday, music, 
boredom, regret.


Dear husband, I have been writing you letters, then erasing them, 
then sending blank pages in the mail
as if to prove you really are 


to a ghost. I swear


yesterday I dipped my hand in a pool of emptiness
and dragged up a dead dove. Do you realize what cruelty I’m capable of


when you leave me alone like this? Dear husband


I am thinking of a house with yellow curtains in a town that no one visits,
and where it always rains, a child 


tying his shoelaces at the bottom
of a staircase.


Not this wind that knocks the power lines down.


Dear husband


yesterday, I unzipped the translucent skin of my tent to watch the mountains 
glow pink somewhere 
in Arizona. I swear 


I saw a spark 
ignite between two mirrors that faced each other in a field,


a silver necklace caught in the bare branches of a tree. 

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Austen Leah Rose: “Rilke wrote a lot of letters, especially to his wife, Clara. He had to, because he was always running away from her, isolating himself in windswept castles perched on rocks by the sea. I suppose he required a certain amount of distance in order to feel intimacy. In one letter, he describes an ideal relationship: ‘I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.’” (web)

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