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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November 3, 2021

Srinivas Mandavilli

RAIN

We lay together on a charpoy, the thrum on asbestos roofs ending all days. The downpour cantillates like Sanskrit chanting we had heard at Kamakhya temple, the one in the drenched valley of leechee and guava trees. As we gathered by Dikhow’s shore, the river gravid with mud, branches and massive trunks flowed with a ferocity towards a cantilever bridge. Brahmaputra becomes a sea every monsoon, never settling, inundating all the elephant grass which our mahout carefully holds back on our rides. Today we wander into another summer on Lakshman Jhula where the Ganges turns green, tourists run to small motels to escape the drizzle. Some things do not change—the small delight of sitting on a railway platform savoring chana dal fritters by wet train tracks with steaming cardamom tea in clay cups. There is a storm expected, already the smell of rain mouses its way in like the time you cried after your mother’s passing, the sky was splayed by Indra’s bow. There was so much dampness the night your water broke, as we ran from the laundromat with a newspaper over our heads, the car’s floor mats also soaked from a leaking heater core. And this is how I know you, on an outrigger listening to a whale song in a drizzle, breeze coursing on your face, not joyless but not joyous for anything and in its swells  

flood waters pour in 
a thought that the world might change 
once or not at all

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets

__________

Srinivas Mandavilli: “My first experience of writing poetry in English was during high school years in India and for that I will forever be indebted to Sr. Helen Mary, an English teacher in a small dusty town in Western India. Several years later, in the U.S., I found myself returning to writing and many poems seem to stem from memories of childhood spent with family, or around food and travel. Such memories seem to emerge from revisiting India as an adult and a tourist, but also from the distance created by living in the U.S.”

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November 2, 2021

Tishani Doshi

JEFF BEZOS GOES TO SPACE AND BECOMES A BHAKTI POET

“I! I! A terrible thing.
Run from it if you can.”
—Kabir

We must believe Jeff bows down
in all that darkness. That his transformation
occurs the way a new star burns out
of the cloudy egg that has sheltered it.
For so long, they have been trying to tell
him, Journey within, in order to slay
your inner deer. The city of your body
is your own green garden. Like all men
who believe they have the right to go on
forever, Jeff thought the word emperor
came from empyrean. He wanted
to get there first. He had never experienced
the discomfort of being a guest too long
in someone’s home. What Jeff saw,
he beheld and owned. From above
he sees there will never be enough time.
We can only survive by closing the gaps—
these globs of dust around us, the whole
cosmic past—an inferno, still simmering
out there on the horizon. Waves rise
through his body, and he gets it now,
he really gets it. The body is as boundless
as the universe. Every window inside him
opens. Look how our planet gleams
like the bud of a rare blue lotus—oh!
It’s why bliss is always described
as a kind of burning. We begin and end
with fire. Jeff, listen, if you can.
It’s not too late. We are aglow,
and the future is coming for us.

from Poets Respond
November 2, 2021

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Tishani Doshi: “Jeff Bezos announced this week that his commercial space station venture ‘Orbital Reef’ will offer among other things an ‘optimal location for film-making in microgravity’ as well as a space hotel. According to this article, ‘The station will have large Earth-facing windows so that space tourists can take in the beauty of our planet and experience the thrill of weightlessness in complete comfort …’ The Bhakti poets knew a thing or two about connecting with the cosmos without actually relocating there, so I suppose this poem is wishful thinking.” (web)

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November 1, 2021

Pankaj Khemka

TRAFFIC STOP

The officer asked, Do you know why 
I pulled you over? So I tried to explain about the correlation 
between an unhappy childhood and the need 

to pull, about how Elon Musk invented Teslas 
because we’re all characters 
in Grand Theft Auto, about needing to outrun 

my future, but he wanted to see my license and registration
so I pointed at his chest with my gold finger (in the shape of a gun)
showed him the Valentine’s cards stuffed in my glovebox

handed him a snapshot of my border collie at the beach   
because a badge needs a quota like a chew toy 
needs a puppy, but he asked me to step 

out of the car, put the world in a backwards spell, 
touch my eyes with my nose 
closed, so I put on my blue 

shoes, walked heel to toe,
cartwheeled for the crowd, asked 
if he could share his body-

cam video on my wall, which is to say I promised 
to donate a kidney for the Policeman’s Ball, which is to say I signed 
his autograph book

and as he rolled away, the radio played, 
there will be an answer, let it be, let it be.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets

__________

Pankaj Khemka: “I was originally born in Nagpur. After my family emigrated to the United States, I became a physician, specializing in infectious diseases. My cultural influences, both Eastern and Western, color my poetry in the way I see first-world problems from a more holistic perspective.”

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October 31, 2021

Henry Crawford

AS WE WERE SAYING GOODNIGHT

someone noticed a television left on
in one of the rooms so a couple of guys
headed upstairs and it was reassuring
to know it was under control but noises
kept coming down the hallways and the
floors began groaning with the feet of
searching people turning on lights
and looking into rooms and sometimes
shouting “I’ve got it!” which some people
believed while others stayed more skeptical
patting the walls and opening doors
like the young woman who discovered
a bathtub she couldn’t stop overflowing
or the lawyer who came upon a stove
with lit burners and an oven leaking gas
and they twisted the knobs right and left
to no effect as the air got thicker with the
smell of distant smoke even as we climbed
to higher flights where we stumbled upon
a floor of mousetraps so dense you couldn’t
breathe without setting them off so we stood
frozen together and I bid goodnight to Jim
and Martha Winkler who were lost in thought
as they considered the situation under the
remorseful gaze of a wall-mounted moose
as one by one the lights went dark and the glint
dimmed in the glass eye of a stuffed monkey
as the moon escaped the only window.

from Poets Respond
October 31, 2021

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Henry Crawford: “This weekend being the opening of the Glasgow Climate Change Conference as well as Halloween, I wrote a poem about the chaos surrounding climate change using the metaphor of a haunted house.” (web)

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October 30, 2021

Dahee Joy Kang (age 15)

MY NAME

When I was a baby, my name meant
a dedication to God
Dahee meaning Jesus’ joy
it meant life
it meant another black-haired baby
in a sea full of black-haired babies
in a country 3/4 surrounded by sea
강다희
Kang Dahee
It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

When I was three, my name meant
unfamiliar letters
on a strange laminated green card
in a foreign country
“Joy,” they decided
my name would be Dahee Joy Kang
it meant a quick handing off of the card
from the hands of a bored government worker
to the trembling hands of my parents
and a call for “next!”
welcome to America

When I was in second grade, my name meant
a sudden realization:
that I was different from others
it meant a childish wish for sameness
it meant drawing pictures of girls
with blonde hair
and blue eyes
and paper white skin
scrawling different names on my own paper
with the desperation of an eight-year old wanting to fit in

When I was in fifth grade, my name meant
nervous excitement on our trip to Korea
it meant finally feeling like I belonged
amongst all these people who looked just like me …
and then suddenly realising that I don’t
belong, that is
it meant that
I was too “Dahee” to belong in America
and too “Joy” to belong in Korea
but when I came back
my name meant crying for a week straight anyway
because I missed being able to get lost
in a crowd of people with the same skin as mine

When I was in sixth grade, my name meant
trying to make myself as American as possible
begging my mom to stop packing me kimchi
joking about my small eyes and good grades
it meant laughing
when a white boy told me that my green card
meant my opinion didn’t matter
it meant clenching my teeth
as TSA agents assumed I couldn’t speak English
it meant watching the Independence Day fireworks with tears
because I wasn’t American enough to celebrate

Now that I’m a sophomore, my name means
myself
it means two independence days
it means my ancestors survived
which means so can I
it means I build a meaning for my own names
so that it can mean something new
for every person I meet
Dahee Joy Kang

It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

from 2021 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

__________

Why do you like to write poetry?

Dahee Joy Kang: “When I was younger, the first book that I ever read by myself was Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Now, although I have moved past Dr. Seuss, poetry has become one of my favorite forms of expression.”

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October 29, 2021

Kuhu Joshi

THE VALLEY OF HEADSTONES

I am Hindu. They’ll likely burn me
and my ashes will float on a river

unless they are heavy enough to sink.

I still have balm for my feet and arms, separate,
and one for my lips.

When I was diagnosed, the doctor said
my spine would twist and curve
till I stopped growing.

When Nanaji broke his skull on the road
the doctor said he would breathe
till he didn’t.

In Lauterbrunnen, I saw my name
on an empty headstone

in the valley where mountains
met each other. Steep mountains,
growing straight up the earth. 

There were many headstones.
Fog was moving in, its shadow
on some of the headstones, while the others
were white and sunny.

My brother’s hair was curling from the moisture.
We saw flowers—red and pink Swiss blooms.

My brother took a photo of me.

In the background, a family 
sitting at the picnic table.

The boy eating a bar of cheese,
the girl making rings in the grass
with her pink skirt. The mother 
tearing bread, the father 
calling the girl back.

Nothing felt wrong—we all belonged.

My brother took out two pears from his knapsack, waiting
for the family to finish
so we could take their table.

Mum and Dad would have waited too.
It wouldn’t be right to sit on the grass
beside the headstones.

My body did not want to be burnt. 

But there were no other sounds,
only the quiet the people made

under the earth, the family
chewing cheese and bread,

and us, waiting.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets

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Kuhu Joshi: “My palette is large and multitudinous; it stretches in every direction, like Krishna’s mouth.”(web)

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