“Nuclear Family Warfare” by Jane Noel Dabate

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2016: Editor’s Choice


Painting by Alexandra de Kempf
Image: “Family Matters” by Alexandra de Kempf. “Nuclear Family Warfare” was written by Jane Noel Dabate for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2016, and selected by Timothy Green as the Editor’s Choice winner.

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Jane Noel Dabate


The women in my family
paint their lips red
in a school teacher’s correcting pen.
My mother’s lips circled brightest.
She thinks like a garden does,
one plagued by men
with machines in their palms.
She taught me how to be a lady;
to correct myself,
to keep my body succulent and sweet.
To surrender at the hands
of pointed fingers.

My father folds his hands and
shakes the speakers of his fists.
He thinks like a machine does,
seven days a week,
seven numbers a thought.
He grows from a small stack of flawed books
as though a book could be anything else.
As though the frosted metal of his machine
could do anything besides kill my mother
and freeze her flowers.

My sister
goes to sleep and wakes up
by the ocean.
She rises to meet seashells
and falls into beach blanket make-believe.
Blackout frames sit on the top of her nose
to drown the screams
beneath shadowy seawater.

Our mouths hang open
and unresolved.

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2016
Editor’s Choice Winner


Comment from the editor on this selection: “There’s so much going on in this collage by Alexandra de Kempf that it’s easy to miss some of the details. Part guide, part microscope, Jane Noel Dabate’s poem serves to focus and slow our attention. Though mostly descriptive, ‘Nuclear Family Warfare’ illuminates the image and adds to its impact with many unforgettable lines.”

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