January 20, 2022

Ekphrastic Challenge, December 2021: Artist’s Choice

 

Nature People #8 by Bruce McClain, pencil drawing of a man's portrait drawing himself from leaves

Image: “Nature People #8” by Bruce McClain. “Last Reach” was written by Wendell Smith for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, December 2021, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

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Wendell Smith

LAST REACH

When I was 31 I wrote,
“If I am a leaf upon a bough
may the wind be strong that takes me down
that I may have a long and giddy dance
before I reach the ground.”

Now, that I’m almost 80,
I know, “No if about it,”
and yearn for perfect stillness
in bright Autumn sun
that warms ones core as coals
in a cast iron parlor stove
will warm the body on a January night,
so when I yield to gravity,
I will sail down the air with ease
to berth in a bed of other leaves.

Lately I’ve come to hope that berth
will be against the southern,
weathered wall of an abandoned barn
where I can rest roasty on bright days
protected from the chill winds
that come as the season bends
around the solstice
and one by one like leaves
we lose our friends.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
December 2021, Artist’s Choice

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Comment from the artist, Bruce McClain: “I selected this poem, ‘Last Reach,’ because it illustrates in word what I render in pencil, the process of life and death. ‘If I am a leaf on a bough,’ ‘and the long and giddy dance before I reach the ground’ capture, in a subtle way, what my art represents, the lessons learned and the wisdom gained through the ups and downs as life unfurls. This illustration is the first in a series of fifty which will appear in my forthcoming book, Elder Leaf.”

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December 30, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2021: Editor’s Choice

 

Easy Like Sunday Morning Shannon Jackson, photograph of light coming into a bedroom through sheer curtains

Image: “Easy Like Sunday Morning” by Shannon Jackson. “Study Abroad” was written by Cassie Burkhardt for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2021, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

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Cassie Burkhardt

STUDY ABROAD

His name was Francesco and he was the first boy who ever made me a coffee
the morning after.
I say boy, but he was a million years older than me, wore a suit and worked at a bank in Paris.
I say morning, but it was 2 p.m.
and we had been rolling around in the sheets, windows wide open
for hours and hours, in and out of half-sleep, and is it Sunday?
Hair a blonde rumple, pillows gasping for air,
underwear slingshot across the room.
This is love, I thought.
I was twenty.
He was the first boy I didn’t want to forget instantly the next day, no need to slink off
into the terrible sunlight leaking mascara, no,
he made me a coffee,
an actual coffee, a café au lait,
with the bialetti on the stove,
poured it into a bowl as big as my head
or what was inside me holding its breath.
Pour toi, ma belle.
This is what adults do, I thought,
as I tented my fingers around the warm bowl.
I tried to sip it gingerly, make it last, but
it’s hard not to gulp what’s good.
We took another tumble into the bedroom, grabbing and melting into each other’s bodies,
whispering secrets in two languages: j’ai envie de toi, te voglio bene.
It was the first time sex was pleasure, and I wasn’t about to hold back.
I am alive, I thought,
and went home wearing his t-shirt, which smelled exactly like clouds
and vibrated like a cello on top of me, which Francesco also played
beautifully, I should add here.
He picked me up on his motorcycle whenever we went out
and I have no memory of anywhere we went
because my arms were around his waist and my brain got lost in the
roundabouts, my hair a streak of blonde against woolen coats,
the gray November sky, Paris, my heart,
a pigeon taking flight out of an alley,
buildings illuminated, a blaring siren, the Seine.
On va chez moi? Oui, on y va.
And we were back in the sheets,
his hands cupped around my ass.
I am a woman, I thought,
a desirous, covetous being:
toes, breasts, hip bones, curve of spine on cotton …
I divided him in half with my tongue, a slow line from hip bones to lips
before I undressed him completely and then we switched.
He could taste the hunger in me, could tell I was one wick
and a handful of matches on the inside.
He fed the fire.
He fed it motorcycles, sex
and coffee.
This lasted for exactly two months
until I could tell something had worn off. Quelque chose a disparu.
He wasn’t answering my calls, suddenly very busy. I stared into my Nokia for days.
Finally, I panicked, cut class, showed up at his place in the afternoon unannounced,
knocking furiously at the door.
The room stopped, bows midair.
I had interrupted their string quartet rehearsal, my high heels and halter-top-desperation
oozing all over the salle de séjour like octopus ink.
I am a fool, I thought,
and excused myself to the bedroom,
stared out the big beautiful window at the foot of his bed,
watched the curtains take deep breaths.
Eventually, he came in and sat down quietly beside me
like how you might at church, a funeral.
He handed me a coffee. He didn’t have one.
I smoothed the sheets, held the warm bowl to my chest.
The curtains, caught in midair, were clinging to the wind.
Don’t say anything, I whispered. Please.
Let’s just sit here for a moment and look out the window.
Let’s just look out the window
and watch the curtains float a little longer.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
November 2021, Editor’s Choice

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Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “Among the many excellent poems submitted this month, ‘Study Abroad’ stood out for its pure storytelling. It’s a portal to another place, and remains thoroughly engrossing no matter how many times I read it. Only a poem is capable of working that magic in three minutes.”

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December 23, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2021: Artist’s Choice

 

Easy Like Sunday Morning Shannon Jackson, photograph of light coming into a bedroom through sheer curtains

Image: “Easy Like Sunday Morning” by Shannon Jackson. “This Room” was written by Devon Balwit for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, November 2021, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

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Devon Balwit

THIS ROOM

He asks to make love, and because he asks, I do,
though my aging desire has turned instead to

the bedside table, to the London Review
of Books, to the now sexier pursuit

of end rhymes and long walks through
leaf-blaze. I’d never thought it true

that the fathomless lust of thirty-two
could silt and still. Now, I must brew

it up if I want it. It’s not you,
I hasten to tell him, unclewing

his anxiety and letting the breeze undo
it. How much earnest whispering this room

has witnessed—plans to make new
life, plans to help failing parents move

to their last dependency, rue
at lost chances, the shy wooing

of new ones—this, too,
what lovers do between the sheets. The view

from the window doesn’t get old, the moon,
and morning peeking in, the bed imbued

with both solemnity and mirth, the glue
that binds us, like two ancient, tangled yews.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
November 2021, Artist’s Choice

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Comment from the artist, Shannon Jackson: “It was both thrilling and fascinating, and felt a great privilege indeed, to read through the poems inspired by my photograph. Each one impacted me for different reasons, but I chose ‘This Room’ for its personal resonance. Photography is most often a strictly felt experience for me—and usually what moves me to click the shutter is seeing, or feeling, something extraordinary in a seemingly ordinary moment. I felt this poem did much the same for me. Using the simple imagery and moments of a life, as well as the narrator’s personal confessions and musings, the poet speaks to the kind of love that is perhaps only possible at a certain age and stage of life, but which, given such duration, contains a multitude of layers and complexities. It left me pondering the extraordinariness in what might seem an otherwise ordinary love and life together.”

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November 30, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2021: Editor’s Choice

 

Family by Gouri Prakash, photograph of ducks swimming in opposite directions

Image: “Family” by Gouri Prakash. “On Getting Your Ducks in a Row” was written by Matthew King for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2021, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

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Matthew King

ON GETTING YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW

You’ll have to figure out what counts as ducks,
to start. It’s not as easy as you’d think:
our schemes of things are always in a flux;
the borders of our kinds expand and shrink.
Once satisfied you’ve got your ducks defined,
you’ll make your head hurt trying to decide
how best they’d be arranged—should they be lined
up bill to tail, or maybe side by side?
And if you get them set, next thing you know,
they’ll find their feet and waddle all around,
before, parading to the pond below,
they plop, one by one, from the slippery ground.
Birds will go where their brains will have them go.
Maybe let them get themselves in a row.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2021, Editor’s Choice

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Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “Matthew King is a talented nature photographer himself (check out the galleries on his website), which might have given him an advantage in getting inside the minds of these ducks. Either way, this sonnet is delightful, which is something few poems manage. I almost feel like a duck myself as they plop into that pond one by one.”

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November 18, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2021: Artist’s Choice

 

Family by Gouri Prakash, photograph of ducks swimming in opposite directions

Image: “Family” by Gouri Prakash. “Grief” was written by Susan Carroll Jewell for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2021, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

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Susan Carroll Jewell

GRIEF

She lands with the others, but now has turned away
without ruffling this pond. Each feather carries its own

reflection, wings tucked, tails up, self-involved,
unaware that she is drifting clumsy and tired

into a marshy space. You watch, guessing at the patterns
beneath the surface, how legs rhythmically punch webs

through water, the complicated currents she cannot navigate.
Her hollow bones fill with heaviness. The others move on.

She drifts away in the open, abandoned like the egg
that never hatched, the unfamiliar commonplace of loss.

You want to tell her that nothing lasts forever, show her
the brilliant colors of this day, but a blind eye cannot see

even if it tries. You want to believe in science, that simple
observation can affect what happens, that your attention

can make a difference, alter her direction. If this were true,
we could clear the heavy air. We are so small on this tiny pond.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
October 2021, Artist’s Choice

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Comment from the artist, Gouri Prakash: “As I read the poems, I felt like I was looking through a kaleidoscope of perspectives. No two poems had the same idea or interpretation. In line, ‘Grief’ is a poem that reminds me of a different situation or a new context every time I read it. The central idea of how another’s grief can be so palpable that it leads to one’s own feelings of hopelessness at being unable to serve as a source of respite, is gracefully renditioned. The last line, ‘We are so small on this tiny pond,’ underlines the sense of despair that pervades our tightly-knit worlds.”

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October 28, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021: Editor’s Choice

 

The Blood in the Veins by Rachel Slotnick, painting of Maya Angelou with a river flowing through her and hearts

Image: “The Blood in the Veins” by Rachel Slotnick. “Like Dust” was written by Ian Opolski for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]

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Ian Opolski

LIKE DUST

There you are. Were you lost
In the blue reaches of what could be?
It is no small thing to be one
Little person in our many-colored
Cosmos. Seedling, a high destiny
Awaits you. Now you are down
In the dust, sighing skyward for hope
Of a savior. But what is dust
But an opportunity? Wrap yourself
In it. It’s time to grow. There is no earth
That will not nourish. There are no stones
Too dry that you cannot draw water.
Make lights to rival the sky’s. How
Else will you wreath your head in blooms?
A true queen will crown herself. Worm,
Wriggle in the dark. What is the dark
Except creation’s cradle? Build wings there.
It’s time you flew. But you knew
That already. That head full of dreams
Dreams on, until all its whorls and veins
Build a heart. That’s the most important
Part. The art is in the arteries. Get
The blood flowing. Go, give that heart
Away. It never belonged to you
Anyway. This is a universe full of
Seeds, after all. It’s your turn to do
Some tending. The making of it
All cannot be done by one pair of hands.
So what do you think you’re doing,
Shaking off all that dust? You are
Meant to use it. Take these sorrowful
Threads and weave a brighter dress.
Meet each murmuring morning
With trumpets of yes, yes, yes.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2021, Editor’s Choice

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Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “Rachel Slotnick’s painting captures Maya Angelou’s spirit with beauty and creativity, and this poem does the same. It reads to me like self-talk—a motivational interior monologue in which the speaker tries to imagine the advice Maya might give in the face of difficulty. Given the current mood of the world, the uplifting message of this ekphrastic pairing is especially appreciated. Comments from the author aren’t necessary or part of the selection process, but I thought Ian’s note was worth sharing, too, so I’m including that below.”

Comment from the author, Ian Opolski: “I teach high school English to students who are mostly indifferent to literature. I usually manage to sneak a Maya Angelou poem in each year, regardless of what’s in the prescribed curriculum. She always connects, particularly when the students can watch a video of her perform. I particularly like to teach ‘Still I Rise,’ where she confronts a difficult history with joy, never losing faith in the future or in herself. She seems to have a celestial wisdom and confidence that is both enviable and aspirational. I think Rachel Slotnick’s mural captures that same feeling, with Angelou against a field of stars, flowers and hearts emerging from her being. I see Dr. Angelou here as both creator and nurturer. I hope that I have honored that same optimistic spirit in this poem.”

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October 21, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021: Artist’s Choice

 

The Blood in the Veins by Rachel Slotnick, painting of Maya Angelou with a river flowing through her and hearts

Image: “The Blood in the Veins” by Rachel Slotnick. “Revelations” was written by Sean Wang for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]

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Sean Wang

REVELATIONS

When she left she was already shadow,
the jet black smudge of history
blurred by the cataracts of 93 years
(or 95, my father said people lied
to immigration, when a year could mean a lifetime
lost). She had a joy
burning through paper skin and bamboo bones like a lantern.
Her cold hands covered in brown spots like an overripe banana.

She was fixed to her bed
by a pair of bad legs and a crinkled back.
Some nights her favourite operas and fried noodles
would only gather the flutter of an eye
and she would recede back, back into some past
purring in her head like the tumble of a washing machine.
It would get quieter, just the ticking of the fan
spinning above, time whirring through air.
She woke/slept, a dusk of days.
The last 5 years flickered train-like,
the sleek pulses of blinkers,
a throbbing twilight of fireflies.
Her train had left, and I stood waiting
at the station, the track gaping through the ground
swallowed by the wall, a denture-less mouth.

But I remember when
the room was bouncing with pitchy singing,
the kitchen burning with spices and bossy orders,
and you, the voice and echo.

I believe, in those days where you would stare
at the ceiling, the glazed eye of a fish in ice,
you were seeing
some slice of heaven spread before you,
the pocket of sky you wait in.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2021, Artist’s Choice

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Comment from the artist, Rachel Slotnick: “After reading ‘Revelations,’ I couldn’t shake its spell. It peers through the eyes of the dying in a way that confronts the limitations of living. Here on earth, we look up at the stars and long for there to be a heaven. This poem speaks to the loneliness too many of us have known in the hospice room. It pinpoints the ache of outliving someone, of being left behind, and being tasked with remembering.”

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