February 25, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2021: Editor’s Choice


Bucket by Danny Mask, a bucket full of water with ripple rings

Image: “Bucket” by Danny Mask. “Bound for Glory” was written by Melissa McKinstry for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2021, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

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Melissa McKinstry


Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.
Impress them upon your children.
–Deuteronomy 6: 6-7

Another Saturday. Johnny Cash chugs This train is bound for glory
from the old Philco in the tack room. Kittens in the sack bound for the river.

Dogs bound against chains, wanting what’s mewling in the sack.
Rhode Island Reds done laying are caged—yellow eyes wild,

they growl and peck the wire in the truck bed next to the kittens.
The sky is a week-old bruise over it all. At the auction barn,

someone’s bound to bid low for chicken dinner. One of us kids
will ride with Dad, fiddle the radio knob on the old Chevy,

watch when he chucks the kittens into the Green River.
And we’ll come home—empty cage, sack gone, oats and a bale of alfalfa

in the truck bed for the pony. Our barn coats smell like motor oil
and petrichor. Mom’s already ordered a new box of chicks

from Sears Roebuck. The postmaster will call in a few weeks
to tell her she’s got a package making a racket. We’ll have a heat lamp ready.

As clouds lower over the corral, we’ll sit on the top rail, kick small boots
against the fence, and watch Clarence Mallory’s step van open its maw

to swallow the pigs who squeal at what’s coming. Each will hang
to bleed from the hook, eyes leaking out the mystery. Bound to ritual,

Mom and Dad have shown us how to put faith in something unseen.
Now Chinook winds cross the plateau, Mt. Rainier darkens.

Buckets of rain water soak blood into the dirt, and I latch the barn door
for the night. We wash for dinner, hold hands for grace.

God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
January 2021, Editor’s Choice


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “Some of the most powerful ekphrastic poems use the artwork like Proust’s ‘madeleine moment,’ pulling us deep inside an involuntary memory. In ‘Bound for Glory,’ the details are so precise and vivid, it quickly feels like our memory, too, leaving us transported and transformed. Importantly, the meaning of the memory is left unsaid, allowing the reader to feel its weight.”

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September 17, 2020

Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2020: Artist’s Choice


Painting of armless Roman statue and a blue bowl on a pedestal

Image: “Blue Bowl” by Liz Magee. “Mantra” was written by Michael Harty for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, August 2020, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

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Michael Harty


for Leonard Cohen, 1934–2016

A crack in everything, he told us—that’s
how light gets in. And yes, he always knew
that this included him. The sharps and flats
of life—he savored them and suffered through
them, shaped them to an art that calls the name
of every listener. The light that found
his inner world was like a healing flame:
revealing, not destroying, always bound
to show his truth. Lost loves, mistakes, regrets,
despair and fear, but hope as well, and praise,
and generosity, and tenderness—
all deeply shared, with ordinary grace.
A cracked bowl gathers light, a cracked bell rings,
and even facing night, a cracked voice sings.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
August 2020, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Liz Magee: “This is the poem that I would like to have written, and the more I read it the better it sounds. I am biased toward short, direct poems that I do not have to work too hard to understand and which yet manage to set up a painting in themselves. If I did not know Leonard Cohen, I would know him from this poem. It suits the sonnet form so well, the rhymes are not intrusive, and the final couplet gave me a bit of a shiver! There were poems that looked more closely at the painting, but I liked the focusing on the small detail of the crack in the bowl and giving it a whole new meaning that I did not intend.”

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February 18, 2020

Jackleen Holton


sprung up on the right side of my neck
so I went to the doctor, who patted around
the mass, told me it was probably nothing, a cluster
of pissed-off cells, a mini-revolt.
I started to say the word I feared.
No, he said, probably not that, but we’ll run some tests.
Just as I thought, he told me after the needle biopsy,
the CT scan, just a minor populist bloc.
In fact, it looks smaller than before.
Go home, rest. Then we’ll do another scan.
And after that, because it had begun to throb,
a little fist just under my jugular vein,
I said I think it wants to do me in, but he shook
his head, and then he cut me, pulled out the bloody
lump and sewed me back up. I went numb.
He told me I might not feel anything
for about a year. I tried to speak but my voice
came out like a weak wind.
After they biopsied it, he called to say
that it was after all the thing I’d feared,
and that there were surely more pockets
of fascist cells. He said we have to go into battle,
we’ll use this agent we found in the war.
I said I had to think about it. He said don’t think too long.
I went home and cried until a sleep like death
came and covered me, and a god I didn’t know
if I believed in held me in her arms
and whispered you have to love it,
but I knew I already did because it had broken me
open, sent my roots down, it gathered my friends
around me, and we wove a shawl
of prayers. And I said Jesus, and she nodded
even though that’s not her full name. And I said America,
that’s what I call my body sometimes,
we have to love ourself now, we can’t go back
again, we must use this to grow into something
so much greater than we’ve ever been.

from Poets Respond
February 16, 2020


Jackleen Holton: “John Dean said to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal: ‘We have a cancer within—close to the presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily. It’s compounding.’ In the week following Trump’s acquittal by senate Republicans, it is more apparent than ever that the cancer on this presidency has compounded and continues to spread throughout our republic.”

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