February 27, 2022

Rimas Uzgiris

MY COUNTRY’S WOUNDS

adapted and redacted from “Prison Chant” by Olena Herasymiuk, serving in a hospital battalion somewhere in Ukraine

He looks at me long.
A kind of longing.
He says

“The most important thing is love.”

He looks at me long.
Oh, his kind of longing.
He says

“The most important thing is
to love thine enemy.”

Who steals—
who even steals
your history
along with your land.

“So don’t shoot.”
He says,
“No.
Don’t shoot.”

He says,

“Just lay down your arms—
Slowly.
Just raise your white arms—
High.

Raise them up high
like a chalice, like a prayer,
and then you will know—

Yes—

As your blood sprinkles fire on the low ground,
you will know
the true taste of love.”

*

“And there will be no war.”
—Fire.

“And there will be no war.”

*

I open the window.
Fire flies in on the air.

I cross the square.
Fire fingers the stone.

I walk through the city
and hide like a mole in its holes.

And there it is, beside us—fire.
And here it is, inside us—fire.
I close my eyes and I can see—fire.

My faith, my honor—all fires.
My country’s memory—my bleeding wound.

Cauterize it—with fire.

And I will go on:

I walk through walls
I eat the air
I never stop

Never stop.
—Fire.

from Poets Respond
February 27, 2022

__________

Rimas Uzgiris: “I wanted to write a poem responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I could only think of Olena Hersymiuk’s long poem ‘Prison Chant’ (orig. Ukrainian) that I saw her perform in the Druskininkai Poetic Fall Festival 2021. I reread the English translation and the Lithuanian translation. I decided to take some pieces of the poem, rewrite them, making them into a short lyric fitting the present horrific invasion. The result is much too far removed to be a translation, but I believe it has a piece of the heart of Olena’s poem in it, like a piece of hot shrapnel. I tried to show it to her, but she is at the front lines in a hospital battalion.”

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February 26, 2022

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach

MIR IN UKRAINE

An erasure of “Address by the President of the Russian Federation,”
February 21, 2022, 22:35, The Kremlin, Moscow

                                                mir             in
                                                                  Ukraine

                        is

country
                                                                                                            and after
                                                                                                                        a few

words                         history

                                                                        entirely created
                                                                                                            by Russia
 

severing what is historical
                                                Nobody asked
                                                                        for                                                War

            longed
           
                                                                                                for
                                                            distance

 

                                                                                                found

                        sh ine

 

                                                                                                            Let me repeat

 
                                                                                                            its people
                                                                                                not       a mistake
                                                                                                        admit
them openly and honestly
                                                                                                                        Ukraine
                                                            fully
                                                                                                                                    Ukraine
            call
                                    Ukraine

Go            back to history                                    repeat
                                                                        it was impossible
 

 
                                                any                                                            future

 

 
                        instead
                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                    bodies

            wonder : why

                                                                                    remain

Despite                         injustice
 

Ukraine
                                                                                                declare
                        Ukraine                       
                                                                                                            repeat
                                                                                    Ukraine
            reach             Ukraine
                                                                                                gold
                                                                                                            rope                        
Never
Ukraine             open
                                                            Ukraine
                                                bin d                         this            dictator
                                                            striking                                                Ukraine
                                                                                               

Ukraine
                                                                        I would
                                                            men            d                        memory

generations            Ukraine
           

                        branches

            r                         i v             er s

                        wave

                        burned

But we know

                        Ukraine

                        split                        is
 

                                                water

                                                           
                                                                        air

                                    Black Sea
                        fracture
is
                                                            lack and lost
 

                                                                                    in tatters
Ukraine
            its
            root
carries on

                                                —listen carefully, please—

from Poets Respond
February 26, 2022

__________

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach: “Putin’s Feb 21nd speech rewrites history, questioning Ukrainian sovereignty and making false claims legitimizing its always having been a part of Russia. While this colonial narrative is not new, hearing it spoken in my mother tongue—Russian—while being myself born in Dnipro, Ukraine, and then reading and thinking through it in English, has carried a particular sting and anxiety in the days that followed. I coped by taking on an erasure of all 11-pages of his drivel in order to give back some of the agency and voice I felt were taken from my birthplace and its people in Putin’s twisted version of history and present moment. But today, thousands of miles away, safe behind a screen, as my birthplace is invaded, I have no words for the pain and paralysis I feel. I am holding my kin on this soil close and wishing those friends abroad on Ukrainian chernozem safety. War has begun, and I am terrified for what tomorrow will bring. I emigrated from Ukraine as a Jewish refugee when I was six years old, in 1993, two years after Ukraine declared her independence from the Soviet Union in a referendum supported by 93% of Ukraine’s citizens. While going through various political regimes, Ukraine has known sovereignty since 1991. I am aching at the threat of its loss. Aching for my birthplace. Her language and culture. Her identity. For her people—my people. For the mothers who first sent their kids to school wearing stickers identifying their blood type in the event of military catastrophe and are now sheltering from missile strikes in basements and subway stations. I am aching for what I cannot change, so the process of poetic erasure of a dictator’s language lets me reclaim some sense of power, for both myself and my reader, if only for a moment, if only in the lyric space of the page, to reach for mir-мир, the word for peace in both Russian and Ukrainian. Even though now, this reaching, this hope has been completely shattered.” (web)

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February 25, 2022

Chrys Tobey

LOVE POEM

My imaginary love and I have been together fifteen or sixteen years. 
We bought a house and we like to plant orange poppies and dance 

to George Michael with our dog, but we don’t have imaginary children. 
Each evening, he wraps his arm around my waist in bed and says, 

Do you feel full? I often don’t know whether he is referring to dinner or our life, 
but I say yes. I love the way my imaginary love traces his finger down 

my spine, which reminds me of my mother’s tickle backs, and I covet 
the spinach that gets stuck in his crooked front tooth. Sometimes my imaginary love 

and I laugh so hard, we fall to the floor. Sometimes I say, I am afraid and he responds, 
It will be okay. Sometimes he speaks with a New Jersey accent even though he is from 

Los Angeles. My imaginary love understands why I check the stove several times
before I leave the house, why I do the same with locks, why I sometimes threaten 

to leave. I’m pretty sure my imaginary love and I still imagine one another 
when we have sex. And even when we masturbate. My imaginary love reads Second Sex 

while I nap, as he rides his stationary bike. Unfortunately, I usually wake up 
to his ukulele. When my imaginary love is at work, he sends me the sweetest pictures of his 

penis. My imaginary love is trying to pay off my student loans. And then we 
are going to take a trip to Fiji and maybe Belize. My imaginary love cries 

when I tell him about my father. He makes lattes every morning before I get 
out of bed, and he often tells me about the time he started walking in a crowded crosswalk 

and farted. I think I am going to dedicate a book of poems to you, my imaginary love. 
At night, I nuzzle my head into your armpit and we sleep so sound, I think I am dead.

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

Chrys Tobey: “I write poetry because it makes me feel less alone.” (web)

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February 24, 2022

Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2022: Editor’s Choice

 

Dark Figures by Matthew King, photograph of a figure surrounded by gulls

Image: “Dark Figures” by Matthew King. “Why I Love that We’re Not Gods” was written by Sean Keck for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, January 2022, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)

__________

Sean Keck

WHY I LOVE THAT WE’RE NOT GODS

If we could live all time at once,
there’d be no room for words
in that total lack of silence.

The sky, grown thick with birds
trailing themselves like film frames,
would buckle and heave, spurred

along by wind and flames,
competing moons and stars,
bodies no longer named

on any legible charts.
Buried beneath thunder
of innumerable heart-

beats half off, under
the weight of too many
todays, we’d wander

nowhere and there. Any-
where you turned
there’d be a litany

of you and me, churned
into an us of each of us,
two we who learn

nothing because the cup
of our choices
is already filled up

with overflowing voices
of every grace and sin
we’d done or do. Noises

all about. The love we’re in,
in that total lack of silence,
won’t end but won’t begin.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
January 2022, Editor’s Choice

__________

Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “This mind-bending poem compresses time into a single point where our entire lives happen all at once in a silent, frozen time-lapse. It’s a fascinating interpretation of the photograph, worthy of several reads on its own, but the gorgeous musicality of the poem is what put it over the top for me. It’s a layered, memorable, and surprising response.”

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February 23, 2022

Miracle Thornton

IN THE KITCHEN

i tried to tell the women braiding my hair 
they weren’t doing it right by flinching.
they asked my age and i understood

through the overlapping thick of it
that they weren’t going to open their legs. 
neither one my mother, with the heat

of her thighs around my ears, parting 
so carefully i couldn’t feel pain
until bed. they alternate flipping

chicken and boiling water
for the ends. i wanted to warn
the women of my tender head,

my roots don’t dig so deep,
easier to discipline
wet with no grease.

down to the follicle
i can be washed limp and janed, 
another girl borrowing.

but i couldn’t be that girl
correcting their grip
ability to be delicate,

my every thought
in their fingers,
down my back.

as they lit my ends,
the baby clicked, reaching.
one of the women held

the lighter to his face,
flame dancing in his breath,
licking under his little nose

and curious mouth and

i know what this looks like:
my mother tried to tell me
to pay attention.

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

Miracle Thornton: “Since I was a little girl, my mother would do my hair in the living room with a movie on and my head in her lap. When I was around 15, her patience and devotion waned. She found these two African women on Facebook that would braid my hair for cheap. Since then, I’ve been teaching myself how to do my own hair. This poem is one of many that I’ve written in attempt to understand why and how I must learn and unlearn my body as it has been taught to me.”

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February 22, 2022

Tishani Doshi

MANAGEMENT CHANGES RULES ABOUT THE DRESS CODE

We are always stepping into the same river
expecting the water to feel nice. Management
decides what temperature to keep things.
Whether jeans will continue to be seductive
this season, whether kaftans will be banished
overnight. Management admits, the rules
can be confusing: Cover your breasts! Uncover
them! Jump into the fire! Desist! Management
is doing this to free us from oppression.
Elsewhere, management puts up signs in bars:
Bodycons and stilettos, welcome!

I like that long ago story of the exiled warriors
in the forest who make garlands of flowers
for one another. All that formidable male floral
talent. How one of the warriors is a monkey—
son of the sun, he of the beautiful neck. I can deal
with the passive aggressiveness of drawing
a circle of safety around a house and saying,
Feel free to cross over, but only for cute
animals! But to be swallowed by the earth
in a chastity test? I’d like that less.
What use is being pure if you’re dead?

Management can’t understand why
there’s such resistance to bring your dots
to the polka day, to pack away your hijab
day. They’ve sent in a parade to convince us.
Listen to the drums. It’s twirl your saffron
scarves day. The choreography’s a bit stilted
but they’ll soon deliver—rear lat spread, side chest,
bicep FLEX—like a tease of menacing strippers.
I can’t help thinking about those warrior brothers
in the forest. Tender men with bows and arrows.
What they’d make of this lone heroine—

daughter of community, deal of the day, raising
her fist in defiance. Are we really as far gone
as we think, or is the distance something
we imagine? Management needs new illusions
if we’re to keep faith in the narrowing rivers.
We’re no longer okay to be born in a box
and left in a field. Even the most docile of furrows
can develop a spleen. Management should know
there are vines in the forest that can strangle their hosts
with the tiniest bell-shaped flowers. That spring,
when it arrives, is bedecked with revolutions.

from Poets Respond
February 20, 2022

__________

Tishani Doshi: “This week I read how Muslim Indian women in the state of Karnataka were being denied entry to college because they were wearing hijabs. How they were being instructed to follow the university ‘dress code’ which previously seemed to have had no problem with the hijab. And I watched in awe, the video of one brave woman who stood up to a mob of right-wing Hindu hecklers. Meanwhile, in Surrey, UK, an upscale restaurant put out a dress code for female customers to wear sexy heels and bodycon dresses. In the midst of all this, I happened to see a beautiful folio from the Ramayana from the 1700s of the warrior Lakshmana picking elephant flowers to make a garland for Sugriva and even though a fair bit of that epic is about paternalistic protecting and control, I thought how tender. How far.” (web)

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February 21, 2022

Kerry Rutherford

SALAD SHRIMP

Sometimes my panties smell like the sea,
specifically like salad shrimp. The best 
small variety is fresh from Oregon,

but the larger Canadian salad shrimp, 
when you can get it, is fantastic!
So like I said, my panties—is it the 

primordial soup, that we all came 
from, dripping out a smidgen at a time,
reminding me that something ancient

wants out, wants to crawl on its front legs, 
dragging its fishtail behind it, looking left, 
then right, thinking: what the hell 

happened here? 

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

Kerry Rutherford: “One of my earliest memories was in a tree above a cranberry bog on the 20 acres surrounding my parents’ rented house, throwing balled-up Wonder dough to my dog, Pudgy. I was confident that when I grew up he would turn into a prince and we would marry, but that was only the first of many times my imagination betrayed me. He was killed by a car when I was 13 and almost immediately my hormones kicked in and I turned to my own species for comfort—and I turned to poetry in an attempt to process my complicated and confusing relationship with humans during my years of drifting around the planet, being a single mom for 20 years, and completing my MFA in creative writing in my 70s. Now gray-haired and slow moving, I still have a picture of Pudgy on my desk.”

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