November 4, 2021

Gil Arzola

SOTO

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

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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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September 2, 2021

Gil Arzola

THE DEATH OF A MIGRANT WORKER

My father died in the bathtub, his head
banging against the stainless-steel handles.
The blood from his head—useless now—poured out,
slow as thick soup.

It was no concern of his.
His life had ended before any of that.

The blood, he didn’t need anymore, was the only thing moving; the rest of him—
arms that had worked a thousand fields,
held his babies and hauled buckets of coal for the stove.
His hands calloused, that had tried to mend unfixable things,
and one leg crooked from a break
that never healed right …
all of it motionless now.
Dead before he hit anything.

My father died in mid-air like a bird
shot out of the sky, like a hawk circling then
disappearing beyond a horizon, falling—
somewhere out of my reach.

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

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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.”

 

Gil Arzola is the guest on Rattlecast 109. Join us live at 8pm EDT …

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May 4, 2021

Jesse Bertron

TELEPHONE CREW

Because the trees outside my mother’s cabin
were so thick, the way she got the telephone
was for an archer to come with the crew

of diggers who set the high poles, and climb
and shoot an arrow tied to high-gauge fishing line
above the trees, and use that line to string the cable

to her house. It was the archer who came back,
later that night, heaving his whole body at her door,
saying, come on, let me in. And she said no.

Once my mother rolled her eyes
at Allen Ginsberg from the front row
of his classroom at Naropa.

Once my mother was surprised
by a copperhead in the outhouse
when she was pregnant with my sister

so she took up a hoe
and cut the snake in half
and then she did what she came in there for.

She had a .22, and bullets, and an oil lamp
and a cabin that was wired for a phone.
And she could hear the archer walk around the house.

Like many women who survived until her age
my mother has a history
which gives her trouble with her memory.

And someday in the next five years,
if I want to see my mother, I’ll no longer be allowed
to be her son. I will stand at her door knocking

as a man. I never had to be a stranger,
when I was with my mother. I won’t be allowed
to be a stranger then.

from A Plumber’s Guide to Light
2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

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Jesse Bertron: “A Plumber’s Guide to Light is a love letter to the building trades and to the people who work them. This book is populated by people who think they will be saved by work and by those who know they won’t. It looks at the fragile seam that runs between the job site and the home, about the ways that family and work bleed into one another.” (web)

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April 13, 2021

Jesse Bertron

A PLUMBER’S GUIDE TO LIGHT

Top out is the best phase
of new construction plumbing
if light is what you’re after.
If light is what you’re after, look:

a forest of deciduous blond studs.
There’s open air where windows go, plus
in top out, you’re uncoiling rolls of PEX
into the attic and back down, so your face

is always tilted toward the sky.
The worst for light: set out. Which is mostly
what I do. And let me tell you.
When I’m wedged beneath

a vanity, some windowless hall bath,
my back arched to give the golden nuts
of tailpieces turn after turn until they squeak
against their gaskets, I am dreaming about light.

I am dreaming of a cup of coffee in my hand
loading up outside the warehouse, 7 a.m.,
light clocking in over the toll road
past the chain link fence.

It’s out of fashion, now, to talk about the dawn.
It’s kind of something you just see and whap
your lover or whoever on the thigh, and just be quiet
and be satisfied: the dawn.

But on the jobsite radio, there’s ballads
about loving the person you have married
or about how your work is difficult but yours—
none of it music I would choose!—

and when I’m wedged beneath a vanity, sawzalling
a ventpipe that some roofer has pissed into
so stale urine sprays onto my cheeks,
I like to stop and listen to that music.

Not because I like to hear things said in great detail
whose beauty should be obvious in brief.
But it comforts me. And I don’t shit on comfort
for not being something more.

from A Plumber’s Guide to Light
2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

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Jesse Bertron: “A Plumber’s Guide to Light is a love letter to the building trades and to the people who work them. This book is populated by people who think they will be saved by work and by those who know they won’t. It looks at the fragile seam that runs between the job site and the home, about the ways that family and work bleed into one another.” (web)

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February 4, 2021

Tom C. Hunley

PETS

I tell my wife I dreamed we got a dog.
A big dog, big responsibility.
Apartments wouldn’t let us move in with
the dog, and hotels wouldn’t let us stay.
The dog made giant messes, tore apart
our furniture. Now what was that about?
You dreamed about our daughter, my wife said.
I don’t know why I hadn’t seen that. When
we got her, she’d already grown, but now
she’s not just some big dog, she’s Marmaduke
or Clifford knocking our fence over with
a sneeze and making massive messes, piles
of poop, then showing us those puppy eyes,
and sure, the foster system’s like the pound:
the lucky ones get homes. The rest, at age
eighteen, might just as well be put to sleep.

Another time, my wife complained that our
cat, Sarah, lies around the house and frowns
at vittles that we set in front of her,
and Sarah scratched my wife because she’d tried
to give her Kitty Prozac that the vet
prescribed, then settled in my wife’s lap like
those claws had not just dug into her neck.
(We bought the cat for our autistic son
who feeds her, loves her, tries to pet her, but
she hides beneath our bed until he leaves.)
Aha! I said. You say our cat just naps
all day, lies with her head in your lap while
you stroke her, then resists attempts to make
her healthy, happy? Darling, don’t you see?
The ready claws? The landing on all fours
despite a fall that most could not survive?

from Adjusting to the Lights
2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

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Tom C. Hunley: “I started writing poetry at age eighteen after reading ‘In the Desert’ by Stephen Crane. I have now devoted more than 30 years to a study of the delicious bitterness of my heart.” (web)

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January 14, 2021

Tom C. Hunley

CRASHING

“Crashes are preventable. Accidents are not.”
—State Traffic School Instructor

During Hurricane Mo I eyed the sand
thinking I’d find sea shells and sand dollars there
once the sea stopped churning. Thinking I could
collect them for my daughter. Then I remembered
she was in the water and couldn’t swim.
That when I waded in after her, she pushed
me away, said she loved Hurricane Mo.
Then I remembered: Mo is her boyfriend.
Wanted by cops. Wanted by my daughter.

Then I realized I’d finally fallen asleep,
that this was a dream about my daughter
and her coked-out boyfriend. So I drove home.
It got so dark I couldn’t see. I felt a crash,
heard a siren.
Then I realized I was still
asleep, dreaming about my daughter,
about the creep who squeezes through
our doggy door to tiptoe into her room,
and about traffic school, which I had
to attend this morning because I ran a red light.

Writing this poem during traffic school, pretending
to take notes, I realize my wife and I
are the red lights our daughter cruises through,
that she’s still learning to navigate these roads,
that there’s a Mo at every intersection, gearing up
to hit on her, hit her head-on,
that poems are seashells carried to us by the tides,
that it takes more than waking up
to make a nightmare end.

from Adjusting to the Lights
2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

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Tom C. Hunley: “I started writing poetry at age eighteen after reading ‘In the Desert’ by Stephen Crane. I have now devoted more than 30 years to a study of the delicious bitterness of my heart.” (web)

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December 3, 2020

Tom C. Hunley

I NEVER PUSHED MY DAUGHTER

in a stroller through the park.
I never got lost in a trance
as the trees seemed to listen as she

tried out sounds in hopes
of inventing words

for the warm feeling
of a full belly, a pink blanket

and for the first time
a song rocking her

to sleep. Instead I read
an online profile that said

she loved pets and purple
and singing and acting and
had hurts that I would have

to enter, scars like ravenous
mouths I couldn’t escape

if I got close to her like
entering a haunted house
with ghosts in it who

don’t mind being dead but
want me to feel what they felt.

I never held her on my shoulders
up to the monkey bars
giggling, faux afraid of falling.

No, I got her after fire
got her, burned everything
she knew. I could see it

in her eyes. I felt like paper,
like if I touched her it would
torch me, but I told her

this would go away and come back
like traces of lightning bugs
growing fainter and more distant.

I watched Instant Family with her
over and over but only after

she had lived through scenes
she wasn’t old enough
to see in movies.

I never tossed her
into the air, laughing,
sure I’d catch her

and if we played tag
a rolling boulder was it
and it wanted to flatten us

and if we played
hide-and-go-seek
we each hid in the darkness

inside of ourselves, neither
of us sure we’d ever
find our way out.

from Adjusting to the Lights
2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

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Tom C. Hunley: “I started writing poetry at age eighteen after reading ‘In the Desert’ by Stephen Crane. I have now devoted more than 30 years to a study of the delicious bitterness of my heart.” (web)

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