April 10, 2022

Ayokunle Samuel Betiku

A RIVER OF SOUNDS

What is more opposite to music?
The silence … The dead silence.
—Volodymyr Zelensky

At the river, I teach my little sister the cadence of water.
Our steeped feet send reverberations across
Its bright and fluent body, spurring the dance of atoms,
Which leap into crests and dip into troughs
Like an electrocardiograph reading the music the heart makes.

The music the heart makes, the far-reaching sounds,
Encompassing the crest and trough, the elevation and depression,
As when the body erupts into a song at the height of bliss
And in the depth of grief, paeans and monodies depicting this.
Consider how songs are the body’s warming mechanism,
Like shivers in the wake of a flu, waves keeping the river in motion
Against the pressing frostiness of the world.

The pressing frostiness of the world is felt in a clinic in Bucha,
Where a girl lies suspended between here and the hereafter
By a gunshot wound—the encroaching gloom slowly lifting
In the swaddling warmth of a lullaby from her mother’s lips
And an electrocardiograph reading the steady rhythm of her heart.

The steady rhythm of her heart is what her mother holds onto,
Its music the promise of a river holding neither ruin
Nor the dead but the dance of waves over a vivid sky.
There, the little girl sings and fiddles again her beloved violin.
There, their guffaws gush out unrestrainedly,
Bright and fluent enough to drown the dead silence
Of mass graves clustered in the distance.

from Poets Respond
April 10, 2022

__________

Ayokunle Samuel Betiku: “Volodymyr Zelensky’s Grammys speech on ‘sound’ struck a chord.”

Rattle Logo

April 9, 2022

Tara Gorvine

FENG SHUI

According to the laws of Feng Shui,
a bed positioned to face the door
is most inauspicious, being the same direction
one is placed upon dying—feet pointed at the exit
to ease the deceased on their journey.

For years I refrained from folding my hands
across my chest as I drifted off to sleep,
wary of that ride down the river,
Ophelia feet first, flowers caught in her hair.

Why invite trouble? I thought,
like an old Jewish woman who spits at demons
and calls her grandchildren ugly
lest the greedy spirit world
be tempted to take them away.
Her knuckles are raw from knocking on wood.
Hills of salt rise behind her.

These days I allow myself the pose
of eternal rest. But it takes practice
to ignore the iron stand hung with heavy coats
that waits like a stranger dressed in black
just outside my door.

from Rattle #22, Winter 2004

__________

Tara Gorvine: “Even when my days are all very much alike—work, make dinner, pay the bills—if I write, then there’s always something new.”

Rattle Logo

April 8, 2022

Jessica Barlevi

UNBORN

The bright light, the feeling of slow motion,
the bare walls, the hospital gown undone,
the bleached sheets waiting, the next abortion,
beyond a window, the hard valley sun.
They entered, wheeled in what looked like a tank,
with tubes and hoses, the long dragging cord—
limbs thrashed, a needle, then the world was blank.
Child of mine, it’s time, take up your sword—
Today, I looked my daughter in the eye,
admired the summer on my son’s skin.
Then, alone, opened the windows, and cried.
All this, perhaps, is what you could have been.
Does it matter that I was sixteen, on meth?
Do you, reader, feel your own sacred breath?

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022

__________

Jessica Barlevi: “I write poetry because Emily Dickinson saved me. I was in an unhealthy marriage, home with three young children, and I was depressed. I used to write out lines of Dickinson’s poems on sticky notes and post them around the house. I looked at them every day, many times a day. Poetry is what got me through each day. I hope one day my poetry can save someone.” (web)

Rattle Logo

April 7, 2022

Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose

HER FATHER TALKS TO HER ABOUT SEX

If your right hand offends, chop it off,
throw it away. Better for you
to lose one part of yourself than
suffer your whole body to burn.

Throw it away. Better for you
to pluck out your eye. If you don’t
suffer, your whole body will burn.
Better to be blind. Better to starve.

Pluck out your eye. If you don’t,
think of Eve, naked and ashamed.
Better to be blind. Better to starve
than be exiled from your Father’s love.

Think of Eve, naked and ashamed.
Think of your runaway sister, forever
exiled from your father’s love.
Think of Delilah. Of Jezebel. Lot’s wife.

Think of your runaway sister, forever.
Think of those girls, opening their legs.
Think of Delilah. Of Jezebel. Lot’s wife.
Cut off your tongue. Cut out your heart.

Think of those girls, opening their legs.
Suffer. Your whole body burns.
Cut off your tongue. Cut out your heart.
Throw it away. Better for you.

from Imago, Dei
2021 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

__________

Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose: “I grew up in the Church, and by that I mean in a fundamentalist, evangelical home where we spent Sunday dinners debating things like the meaning of the Greek word ‘Baptismo,’ whether it meant you had to be fully immersed or whether a sprinkling was sufficient to keep you from the gates of hell. Because Jesus was ‘the word,’ and because I spent so much of my youth analyzing the ‘good word,’ it’s fitting that I wound up pursuing a degree in English and becoming a writer. Ironically, the close-reading skills the church taught me was what ultimately undid my faith. Thank God.​” (web)

Rattle Logo

April 6, 2022

Norma Bernstock

WHAT I REMEMBER ABOUT THAT DRESS

When a cousin asked me to be her bridesmaid, 
I shopped for my dress at Bergdorf’s on Fifth Avenue
because Ronni said, Do it for a goof
her favorite expression that summer.
We mostly shopped in stores like Alexander’s 
and Klein’s as our immigrant parents did.

That summer Ronni and I worked as office temps
earning money for that year’s college fees.
Lunchtimes we’d browse the high-end shops 
and fantasize a life that matched.
We put on airs inviting the perfumed 
and proper sales ladies to wait on us.
A dark pink A-line dress caught my eye.
Unlined and cotton, affordable mother agreed 
when I called from the payphone booth.

Three weeks later, on a rainy weekday,
we arranged to meet for the fitting.
As I scanned the first floor displays,
I spotted my mother by the UP escalator in her galoshes,
the knot of her plastic rain scarf pushing against her chin,
a thermos peeking out of a cloth shopping bag.

Another daughter would have greeted her with a smile,
thanked her for leaving work early, 
not corrected her mispronounced English. 
Another daughter would have bought a dress closer to home.

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tribute to Librarians

__________

Norma Bernstock: “I became a school librarian after teaching middle school for eight years and mostly loved those days when I would take my students to the library and get them excited about all the new books. I worked in various school libraries for 26 years of my 34-year career in public education and knew it was time to switch careers when I’d make the students wait in the hall until I sat at my computer and typed in the poem I’d been composing in my head on the way to school!”

Rattle Logo

April 5, 2022

Jocko Benoit

THE ACTION STAR UNSCRIPTED

for Bruce Willis

You might think all that is left
for the action star with aphasia
is the syntax of car crashes, punctuated
by explosions. In his movies, he crossed
cities, countries, space and time,
but the gaps between letters are now
terrifyingly vast. People mistake
his stoic silences for anxious pauses.
But he can read his family by how
they move and how far away/close they are.
He can read the front pages of newspapers
which are mostly ads with pictures.
He can turn down the volume
of the world and translate eyebrows
into their pleas and diatribes minus
the lies words sell themselves into
just to be heard. He can apprehend
a skyline filled with aspirational,
virile buildings corseted with walls.
He is not a mirror fogger. He knows
philosophers’ language has been shaped
by their lovers. Where he had quips,
his eyes and hands reach out. He spends
a little more time watching murmurations
of starlings—those seemingly unscripted
split-second shapes he is sure
are telling him something.

from Poets Respond
April 5, 2022

__________

Jocko Benoit: “I’ve been a fan of Bruce Willis ever since his Moonlighting days. For a guy people say is a star but not an actor, he has managed to be in several very good movies. Rather than take a downbeat view of his aphasia diagnosis, I wanted to imagine a near future where he would discover all the other ‘languages’ that he can still comprehend.” (web)

Rattle Logo

April 4, 2022

Porsha Monique Allen

A PRAYER

after Francisco X. Alarcón

I want a god 
at my disposal

a god who sits
at a nearby diner 
drinking coffee 
while counting
the people walking by. 

a clumsy god
a cruel god 
a cowardly god 

a god who
has to ask
us for forgiveness.
a god who 
doesn’t know
our name
before asking. 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022

__________

Porsha Monique Allen: “Growing up in church I always wondered what it would be like if God were imperfect. So when I came across Francisco X. Alarcón’s poem, I saw it as a chance to explore the possibility of an imperfect God. I loved the idea of the roles being reversed. What if God looked to us for mercy? What if God wasn’t all-knowing? How would that influence the way we see God?” (web)

Rattle Logo