September 18, 2023

John Colasacco


Jesus wasn’t going to make it, Jim kept coughing and crying
on the floor next to the blue crib, the longest hair
on the backs of the girls—none of it came back, a moth came back,
in the noise it wasn’t possible, the garden
wouldn’t turn around and show its face, it wouldn’t open, yes the black
and white story lady music teacher tells about a phantom, I listened to it,
I found out you could die with your eyes open, I went with E.
and D. upstairs and we played die with your eyes open
in the room with the sandpaper door like doctors
flying, flying around, one having more sadness than the other, one listening
close, and I needed to blink, but I was dead, so I tried to squint and I saw
a knuckle in a black tree branch, I saw my uncle saying it’s diseased
I saw my marker drawing of a snake, a brontosaurus,
and a t-shirt, and
a glowing in the dark; one had her wrist
over my eyes saying yes
this happens, how it can happen, and whether
it actually happens we answered in part, we were starting
to improvise and the bathing suits
had lives of their own with water in them under water. There was the week
my uncle took both pairs of scissors away
and didn’t tell me where they were; I found out about the insides
of my eye, and what was in there; I didn’t want to do it, but
I wanted to do it, and I said so, but I shouldn’t have said so,
and I tried to draw the knuckle but it came out nothing,
I was mad, the basement was on a slant, we put gasoline
in a coffee can, we kept playing but I blinked, it was fine, I explained
again the point of the game, I forced
them, I had a little sale. Some pretzels
and a deck of cards, it’s not called a brontosaurus
anymore and then some daisies died in my hand
when I picked them for this picture, this blue one,
with Jim, in a wagon. The fruit trees
would sting you outside the woods would sting you.
I fell into a log full of hornets and died.
I fell into a plastic swimming pool and died.
I had to cough. I forced it. It was Tourette’s. I wasn’t born. My uncle
was following me like gasoline in a coffee can, rows of snakes moved
in the garden and I caught one and killed it and my shoe sunk halfway
down like a thought, the garden stung you,
the basement was on a slant.
I had my own hatchet. My uncle
had a hatchet. The moon came out, they tore the kneelers
out of St. Edward’s and chopped them up for money, we chopped
branches off the branches, we chopped stakes
for the vines to climb and ate all winter, some lighters died, the for sale sign
was gone, my uncle said Who you like in the Preakness, when we were Italian
and the girls knew what I knew, my eyes were going; I blinked
at Jim and he came back, we took out two pairs of scissors, I found
out about scissors and water, my uncle swung a bucket of water
over his head and said Centrifugal force.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008


John Colasacco: “I want to thank my teachers Michael and Chris for helping me with this poem. It started as an exercise; I was basically listing as many distant memories as I could, especially memories that seemed mostly visual. While I was making the list I became aware of a frustration I have with my memory, and with list-making. After that the poem’s movement started to jive more closely with my frustration, and it seemed to become its own thing.”

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September 17, 2023

Alejandro Escudé


It’s not a lion,
The sun over the Serengeti,
And the rifle has not saved the free world.
The criminal is caught, yes.
But do you recall the human pyramids
In Abu Ghraib?
The shelter of the human of world
Is the human world.
One can’t slice morality like a birthday cake,
A piece for each officer.
Dogs to the front, like Egyptian statues,
Their lean snouts,
Having sniffed him out in the forests of Pennsylvania.
I mean the fugitive
Shot a mother in cold blood.
But every single photograph is a bloody act.
They belie the intrigue of the moment.
Ghosts sometimes appear at the edge of them.
Some from the Civil War,
Bearded, from both North and South.
This September, I thought of the World Trade planes.
The video of the first jet gutting the north tower
Like a long, silver fish.
This murderer stood as the photo was taken
Restrained by a trooper in fatigues.
The first shot of him caught
More like a war photo, in heavy brush.
Though he was no Che Guevara in Bolivia
Waiting for his swift sentence.
Later he stands as if dead. Suicide-like.
While an officer, uniform-dressed, holds the phone up
Like a proud father at prom.
There’s no name for a dehumanizing act
Despite the human animal that stands
Wrecked among a cadre of heroes.
He is a mangy possum,
A rat, a worm sliced in half.
Arrested. Cut. Self-mutilated. Bruised.
One can hear the dogs’ nails
Clicking on the concrete
When it’s quiet enough for the snap.

from Poets Respond
September 17, 2023


Alejandro Escudé: “It’s difficult to say what prompted this poem. I think it was a gross and immoral miscalculation to take a group photo with this escaped convict. I think it made me ponder about the phenomenon of group photos in general. How there’s usually an ulterior motive for the photo and for the subsequent posting of that photo.” (web)

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September 16, 2023

Hyunsoo Nam (age 14)


after Philip Levine

My father would come home from a construction site in Busan
and limp down the hallway to his room. I could hear the bed sigh,
his sandals resting against the wooden floor. “You can take them,”
he’d say. Through the mirror that settled on his table, his wrinkled
face was shaped with bleached white hair and pitted nose and he
would be lingering in that position long after noon only to wake up
to find me gone. Ten years would pass before I’d remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each son has a father who
disappeared when he dreamed, and dreamed when he rose to face
this life, and that together they were only one person clutching each
other’s hands and gazing at each other’s eyes that always hovered,
hands blemished and bruised, a mouth that stuttered, asking, “Do you
think I can carry on?” All day at the Seomyeon Gongsajang my father
stacked bricks and cement while sunlight lashed at him,
and the manager howled at his workers for doing work so slow.
In the 70s in the district of Seomyeon, buildings and skyscrapers started
to conquer the grassland that had sprawled all over the town. The city grew.
The grass became buildings. Giwajib became apartments. The homeless
wandered and the city bloomed with neon lights, the cars and trucks hissing.
I give you back 1971 and the years afterwards. Give me back the swollen
face with the pitted nose, the bleached white hair. Give me back my father,
exhausted, smiling in his blue Dodgers cap and leather jacket.

from 2023 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Hyunsoo Nam: “I am heavily influenced by the surrounding environment, including my school, my neighbors, and my family. I like to write poetry because I think it is the most effective way to express my thoughts and memories of other people. I also enjoy the fact that I can interconnect my theme to global issues from news and the internet.”

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September 15, 2023

Corey Mesler


We who have chuckled aloud
during the making of children,
ought to reform.
—Marvin Bell

The hurricane which is new-life
came to live with us, I guess
it’s been about four years ago.
It knocked us around a bit.
It turned one of us inside out,
the other into a Gordian knot.
The medicine we needed we kept
by the bedside, the bed where
we conceived our child. The
nostrum is love of course, just
like in any fairy tale, in any
fairy tale where the winds still
whistle through the woods
dark as the future, dark as the cave
from which we pulled her, squalling.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001


Corey Mesler: “With my wife, I own one of the country’s oldest and best independent bookstores, Burks Book Store in Memphis, TN. For the past few years I’ve been working in prose and poetry with dangerous mixtures of whimsy, bent mythology, and personal spirituality, cobbling together book-length manuscripts about the multi-varied world around me.”

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September 14, 2023

Julia Clare Tillinghast


I dreamed my son was joining the army
We were driving him there in a flood
My mother-in-law and her daughters
Were in the car with us crying

I take a yellow packet of fake sugar
That says it’s made from real sugar
From the cupboard and think about gratitude
How sad I am when I wake up

And I have run out of fake sugar
How now when it’s here
I just take
And I don’t really give a fuck

There is a bad side to this kind of exercise in gratitude
Where you hear a story where you know it’s a fact
That someone brought a machine gun into a school
And shot a group of kindergarteners

And you put down your work
And you get in your car
And you drive to a school
To hold your six-year-old son
And feel how alive he is

There is truth in that gesture
There is gratitude
But it is not a good thing to every day
Think about children dying

My teacher says there is a romance
Between aspects of our body
A couple who are deeply in love
But never see each other
She goes into the apartment
And can smell
That stuff he puts in his hair after he washes it
A water glass with his kiss-place on it

A kiss so quiet now
As to be invisible

She touches everything
Plays his record
Takes a nap where his body was then leaves

The second her silhouette has vanished
The man comes home
He can feel that she’s been there

This is the human self
Desire, ambition, caution, boredom,
A bell always swinging from east
To west, the sound of the heart

How hard it is to live inside the big picture
Hard maybe impossible

We have answers but somehow not enough space in the brain
To hold them all at once

All at once which is how we really are
Alive and dead

So children’s hearts are immortal
Because we need them to be

Every moment they beat
To keep the children running

Because they are children,
And are dying
Because we cannot let them die, and we do

from Rattle #41, Fall 2013
Tribute to Single Parent Poets


Julia Clare Tillinghast: “Becoming a single parent is, for some, freely chosen, and undoubtedly for others, wholly determined by circumstance. However, for me and I believe for many, many single parents, it is a strange combination of choice and no choice. That is, we choose to bear a child or to separate from a partner because we must—because of a deeper demand or calling—for our physical or emotional health, because of a just-knowing deep down what is right for ourselves or our children. I believe this is similar to the choice/no choice that calls a person to be a poet or an artist of any kind. Parenthood, especially single parenthood, often forces a crisis of selfhood. Most of the things that facilitate a well-developed sense of self become scarce, very suddenly and for a long time. Poetry, on the other hand, which thank God can be written quickly, while children are sleeping (as was my poem, ‘Bells’), is one of life’s great teachers of self. Because it mandates super-heroic honesty, it can open great caverns of space—of deep truth, of moral and emotional complexity, and of undomesticated freedom—in very short periods of time. I cannot imagine being a sane parent without it.” (web)

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September 13, 2023

Arthur Russell


When you are old and I am dead,
keep this rent-producing property,
and please, collect the rents.
Go out, if you must,
in your house slippers
with pink fur on the instep
and your shepherd, Gaia, on a leash;
mutter at the bus stop
that stuff about your mother;
pick up empty bottles from the street,
and do without combing your hair,
but, please, Sarah, stomp up the stairs
on the first of the month so they hear you coming,
shave-and-a-haircut knock and call out Landlord
with your eye against the peephole.
Don’t trust Grudin the plumber—
he’ll sell you your own toilet—
but Harold, the attorney, is reliable,
and, Sylvia, at Citibank, is good for munis,
but don’t buy an annuity from her.
So much has gone wrong
in the kitchen and the crutches
and Elliott with his asthma,
and the physical miss between us,
and I am so bitter that
the books in the back bedroom are strangers to me now.
Remember the Kandinsky,
that skinny book of Kandinsky prints?
It’s in the back bedroom,
in the shelves under the window.
Now I’m only Goldberg, the landlord with crutches,
and you are Goldberg-the-landlord-with-crutches’s wife.
When you die, Sarah,
Russell, the guy
who owns the car wash next door,
will buy this building from your estate,
and then he’ll send his son, that pretentious prick,
to clean out our apartment, and he will
smoke a cigarette in our back bedroom
and look out through the accordion gates
down Church Avenue towards Boro Park,
where we first met outside the candy store
when you asked me to buy you a cigarette:
two cents for a loosie, and it came with a match.
He’ll find the Kandinsky book,
sit on the bookcase, smoke his cigarette,
look out our window, read the introduction,
admire the pictures, and keep it for a souvenir
of how he suffered working for his father,
or as some kind of perverted proof
that he’s superior to all the mercantile idiots
like his father and me, who worked for what we have.
He’ll keep the Kandinsky on his bookshelves
when he goes to school in Syracuse;
keep it in his apartments in Brighton Beach,
Park Slope, Greenwich Village, Chelsea;
keep it when he gives up his stupid dreams
of becoming an artiste—he never had talent—
to become a lawyer, get married, move to Jersey,
have a kid and bookshelves, bookshelves everywhere,
twenty, thirty years boxing the same books,
college books, grad-school books, his wife’s mysteries,
until, one day, after his wife leaves him,
he’ll remember you, Sarah, and your scruffy shepherd,
and me, with my two amputated feet
lost in a trolley car accident,
swinging on polio crutches from one property to the next,
shave-and-a-haircut knocking, calling out Landlord,
and he’ll reimagine us as icons
of the fashionable style and aching loss
he likes to think he understands,
the way that what you wanted as a kid
can be shunted into tedious commerce,
and he’ll go down to his basement
and pull out the Kandinsky book,
and see how the show was mounted in May of 1945
just months after Kandinsky himself had died,
and he’ll picture us, Sarah,
when we were young and hip,
how we went up to Harlem
to see Lucky Roberts play stride piano,
how we went to see Kandinsky
at the Museum of Non-Objective Art
before it was called the Guggenheim,
when we were in love, before the trolley,
before Elliott and his asthma made me a bitter puss,
buying that book on the last day of the show,
which was such a big deal for you—
you said, Please, Elias, please let’s get the book,
in my ear you said it, your lips on my ear
so it hummed in my head,
and what would later be your stiff, gray hair
was beautiful brown, and down to your shoulders,
in waves I compared to Barbara Stanwyck’s,
and you said, No, I don’t look at all like her,
but you did.

from At the Car Wash
2023 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Arthur Russell: “I thought I could escape my father and his car wash in Brooklyn, run away to Manhattan and succeed as an actor or as a writer and never have to reckon, as an adult, with his cruel opinions of people and the world, but I fell back into his orbit and worked closely with him for many years, and when I did escape, it was only through the door that led to law school, the profession he had chosen for all three of his children, possibly because he had dropped out of law school himself. At the Car Wash is a book of poems written over the last eight years, poems that I continue writing beyond the work between these covers, dredging, sorting, reordering and sometimes celebrating, but always reckoning, almost forty years on, with the reckoning that made me.”

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September 12, 2023

Maria Mazziotti Gillan


I didn’t learn geometry, except for the shortest distance
Between two points is a straight line. The rest was a blur
Through which I stumbled, confused and uncertain,
My mind tuning out when poor bald-headed Mr. McGinn
Tried to explain geometry to all the Alpha class
Math students who caught on right away.
Mr. McGinn was going to fail me that first semester.
I walked up to his desk, held out my report card,
The marks all written in neat black fountain-pen ink,
And his head snapped up in shock. On my report card
My marks, 95, 100, 95, 100, 100, 100. Is this your
report card? he asked, and I saw his pen hesitate
While he thought it over. Slowly, he wrote in a 75.
I went back to my desk, knowing I didn’t deserve to pass,
But knowing too that nothing would make me learn geometry,
Not Mr. McGinn with his big, shiny head, not the pity
In his blue eyes when he looked at me. He never called on me
Again. I did the homework each night, struggling to understand,
And for the first time, I knew what it was like for those kids
Who always had trouble in school. I was an Alpha kid.
We were the brightest kids in the school. Our classes were held
On the third floor, a symbol that we deserved the top.
How humiliating, then to watch the other Alpha kids learn
All those lines and angles without effort. I sat, still as a beaten dog,
Tears trembling in my eyes, while I tried to wrap my mind
Around theorems but always failed.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001


Maria Mazziotti Gillan: “Poetry is my passion—writing it and sharing it with others through my own books, setting up readings for other poets, editing a magazine and anthologies, and organizing prizes. My mother always said, ‘The more I gave away, the more I had to give,’ referring to food, and I have tried to do the same thing with poetry.” (web)

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