September 9, 2021

Amit Majmudar

THE MIGRATION DIARY OF HALA ALMASI

Fish would have eaten my eyes
if my eyes didn’t look
so much like fish eggs. Little black
dots suspended in jelly. My ovaries
are clumps of fish eggs. I will lay them
one by one in foreign toilets: Little red
drops between my thighs, curling
like ink in the water,
like smoke from your mouth.

*

Don’t ask me what it was like. I have no
similes for you. “But you’re a poet,
Hala.” No. I am like
a poet. I think a lot about what I have
lost. I wrap my head and hair
like I am still bleeding
from the ears. The face
it frames is not the face
I had back home. This face is just my likeness.
And that is where the similarity ends.

*

I have left a language
in the mirror over a cracked sink
in Kabul. That is why
left to right reads write I everything
in my head. Call it mirror writing,
like da Vinci’s notebooks: Women’s
beautiful severed heads floating
free among siege machines,
tanks, a giant crossbow … I was launched
by a crusader catapult
over the wall of your city. My head
with my tongue missing. My tongue
with my tongue missing. My tongue
missing my tongue.

*

Apocalypse means
unveiling, means
stripping away, down,
bare. What does it mean when the white
man trying to enter me
in a database asks
Sweetie, aren’t you hot
under all that
cloth?

*

The man on the bus who said
what he said did not see me. He saw
my average of 4.2 offspring. I am
a pomegranate refugee, a dirty bomb
full of placentas and human
shrapnel, a mama fly baggy
with maggots. I have imagined dying
continuously for the past
4.2 years, so it’s sweet of his
hatred to imagine so much life
for me, in me. I don’t know
whether to pat his hand
and tell him I like women
or point at the place where I
hunger and whisper Quintuplets.

*

First it was “Only a husband
will make you happy, Hala.” Now:
“Only a baby will make you
happy, Hala.” I will be happy only
if my body
sleeves another body. Ideally
a male one. If I fled in the heat
back home, I can flee
in the snow out here. In this new
country, I want new
blessings. May the icicles
in your mouth turn into
fingers. May the shudder
in your legs turn into
a daughter.

*

I rub my nose in old book smells
all day until 5 p.m., working
along each row of blossoms,
a systematic hummingbird.
Sometimes I’ll read one slowly
in a cushiony green chair and not
a single bomb taps me
on the shoulder
to inform me it’s time to leave
the country,
to close my life like a book,
like a whole library
shuttering its eyes,
left behind
for someone else to burn.

*

I have one friendship
that’s survived. One surviving
friend, I should say.
My husband worries
the internet will corrupt me.
If you write me about my poems, friend,
just know
it may be weeks before I tiptoe
back to this account.
The risk is not corruption,
it’s corrosion. All this rain
beats the wife
out of me. My bronze
skin bruises blue,
oxidizes green. One day
I swear the rust will
lock my legs shut.

*

Faith means defending
with your fists and teeth
a name, a scarf, a particular way
of bowing to the ground.
And then neglecting them
after the mob moves on.
Switching your focus
to cinnamon pecans
or a pot of basil.
The faith whose child I am
is a child in my care. There are your toys,
God: Amuse yourself,
Mommy’s busy. My child,
my oppositional
defiant child
demanding I oppose
and defy. Not
particularly wanted, really.
But no less mine for that.

*

The woman undergoes
the marriage. The woman goes under
the man’s last name. The woman goes under
the man. The woman undergoes
the parting of her seas so the man
with the staff can enter
her promised land. The woman undergoes
the miscarriage. The woman undergoes
the man’s war. The men say they promised
the women nothing. The country
goes under. The men put
the women on a raft and say:
Go. So we go. Some across, some
under.

from Poets Respond
September 9, 2021

__________

Amit Majmudar: “A refugee crisis of our own making, a botched war and evacuation, thousands of people endangered: This poem strives to get beyond the abstraction of nameless Afghans leaving for somewhere from somewhere, and follows one specific individual as she navigates her new world.” (web)

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September 8, 2021

Bill Glose

SECOND OPINION

Jackhammering woodpeckers search bark
for insects or sap; yellow-sleeved arms
of forsythia wave hello; a girl in pink shorts 
and pigtails chalks her driveway, 
a curious tongue peeking out the corner
of her mouth—each wonder noticed 
and reveled over on the long drive 
to the second doctor’s office.

We’ve dreamed this white-smocked sage 
will decry the first, sifting scans and charts,
shaking an error free from silt. He’ll point to it 
like I am doing now to the hummingbird
hovering impossibly at a feeder, 
lapping from a silver spout of nectar.

Not that we’ll remember it later, 
slouching up front steps, crossing
the living room and falling on the couch,
dogs with dire eyes lying beside us, 
the smell of something sour in the air,
and me, suddenly quiet, weight 
of every word like rocks on my tongue. 

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021

__________

Bill Glose: “After serving in combat in the Middle East, I returned home with a lot of guilt and anger bottled up inside. Poetry provided catharsis, allowing me to explore my feelings and try making sense of the world’s senselessness without needing to rip someone’s head off. When my girlfriend was diagnosed with lung cancer, poetry gave me a haven to reveal my inner thoughts and fears during the dread-filled months that followed.” (web)

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September 7, 2021

Meredith Mason

WAVE MAN

The bill sailed through the Senate and House… effectively banning most abortions in the state.
—Austin American-Statesman, May 19, 2021

Today I held my son’s hand as we waded into the lake,
strong wind kicking up waves on the shallow water.

“I’m Wave Man,” he said, karate-chopping the swell,
as the foam hit his face and made him sputter,

and I tugged him up so he wouldn’t go under.
Farther out, my talented cousin

was doing something called kite-boarding—
back and forth he traced graceful arcs

across the surface, while high above,
a taut red sail held the wind and pulled him on.

Some say care comes easy to a mother—
go ahead and take it like air.

Tonight, I smoked one cigarette
on the porch of the place I’m house-sitting,

inhaling once like my lungs
are my lungs.

from Poets Respond
September 7, 2021

__________

Meredith Mason: “I started writing this poem in May, when Texas passed its near-total ban on abortion, and I finished it this week, as those laws are taking effect.”

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September 6, 2021

Wyn Cooper

SMOKE

1
 
The lens that zooms in’s
out of focus, no discernable
shapes, just shades of colors
that waver and pulse

until an image is half-disclosed,
then revolved in its frame,
then revealed:

a beating heart
suspended in smoke. 

 

2

What red rivers run there,
what canyons do they carve,
what dark stone’s exposed
when the blood stops flowing?

 

3

Focus
my first teacher told me. 
Focus

 

4

My father? He only hit me twice.    
He knew—I knew—I deserved more.

He was helpless to change me,
though not as helpless as when
he was younger, when he was hit harder.

 

5

They put a stent in his arm on his sixty-sixth birthday, dark tunnel through which to wash toxins from blood. He told me to touch the stent, which was warm and felt like it had its own pulse. “It’s my pussy,” he said. 

 

6

He grew tired of blood
going in and out.
He grew tired of everything.

Without the machine,
his body would fill with poison.
He would drown in himself.

 

7

“Light this for me, buddy,” 
he said the last day,
handing me an Old Gold,
the cheap brand he’d smoked
since the Depression.

I could hear the morphine screaming
in his veins, could feel it in my own.
I focused on our blood.
I lit his cigarette.

His smoke curled up to the ceiling
of what had been my bedroom.
Then it was gone.

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021

__________

Wyn Cooper: “I never pick a subject and set out to write a poem about it, but I had written so many embarrassingly bad poems about my father over the years that I finally made an exception. Rather than write a straight narrative or lyric or prose poem, I was able to combine the three by dividing it into sections. My father couldn’t be understood by viewing him from a single perspective, so it seemed appropriate that the poem shouldn’t attempt to do that either.” (web)

Wyn Cooper was the guest on Rattlecast #98! Watch it here …

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September 5, 2021

Jennifer Reeser

A HOMELESS TRAVELING STATESMAN

You near and wave the wan evacuees
enough to get them back to Jackson Square
with bellies full of bagels and cream cheese.
The sweat-soaked husband can’t return your stare,
their compact packed to bursting with the most
his wife and kids were able to finagle
before the hurricane could hit the coast.
But gas is choice as gold, and that cheese bagel
is higher than when you and I were stranded
in similar surroundings. We just hope
his damage doesn’t match what we were handed.
The hardest part is how we watch him mope,
and pass the bland, non-Cajun styrofoam
container through her window, heading home.

from Poets Respond
September 5, 2021

__________

Jennifer Reeser: “Having lived through emergency evacuations, I know that worse than feeling trapped in your circumstances with few ways out, is feeling trapped in your circumstances, with no way out at all. Here is one account of my experience from the outside, looking in.” (web)

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September 3, 2021

Susan Browne

STRAWBERRY

When I got my period, there wasn’t any sweetness 
in sitting on the toilet waiting for my mother 

to return from the store with the white rowboat 
I’d have to wear between my legs once a month 

for the next 38 years. It was summer, the strawberries 
ripe in the backyard where my father was sweeping the patio, 

walking over to the bathroom window to say, “Okay in there?”
“Uh-huh,” I said, shuddering in embarrassment

& lying, but who told the raw sodden biological truth?
My mother, my father, my older sister, at least one of them

might have let me in on the devastation of menstruation.
I mean, I’d heard of it like I’d heard of death—

a vague rumor or something that happened  
to anyone other than me. I wasn’t even sure yet

if I wanted to be a girl. Being female was a truth
I couldn’t escape, but that didn’t keep me from trying. 

I left the baby dolls my aunts & grandmothers gave me 
in the dirt while I tore around the neighborhood

with Carl & Doug, riding bikes with our shirts off & throwing 
Swiss Army knives at each other’s feet, seeing how close we could get. 

I disliked curlers & cooking & sewing & women 
in movies looking stupid as drool, crying when some douche 

gave them a diamond ring in a glass of champagne with a strawberry in it.
I hated strawberries. Everybody making a big deal about how good 

they tasted when I thought they were way too sugary & sticky 
& the seeds got stuck in your teeth

& now they reminded me of my period, a word I couldn’t stand,
why the hell blood dripping out of a body  

was called a punctuation mark. Oh yeah, it was something about time 
& here I was at the beginning of this cycle that would ruin every season, 

including my favorite. How could I go swimming, wear a bathing suit
was all I could think about as my mother arrived & helped me strap on 

the contraption of doom. She, to my great relief, did not say anything 
as horrifying as you’re a woman now. I would have stabbed her 

with my Swiss Army knife. She tip-toed away as I sat in my bedroom,
my insides cramping like I’d swallowed a pitchfork, the sun blaring 

in the window & blowing strawberries at me. A few years later, I was allowed
to use a tampon, but no one told me how that worked, so I jammed it in 

with the cardboard still on & hobbled out of the bathroom, my legs bowed.
When I asked my sister & her friend why it didn’t fit, they laughed so hard,

rolling around on the floor. Another soggy kind of hell while I tried 
to get it out & they left for the beach.  

When they returned, eating strawberry Frosty cones, I was reading a novel 
& recovering from PTSD. I’m lying about the cones, but let’s say 

I took a taste anyway. I’d met a boy at a dance that summer.
It was like a line drawn in blood on the grass & I slid into another world.

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021

__________

Susan Browne: “I’ve been in love with poetry since I was twelve when my next door neighbor gave me a book of poems, Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis. Archy is a cockroach and a free verse poet. Mehitabel is a cat in her ninth life with many stories to tell. Archy has to throw himself headfirst onto each typewriter key in order to write. I was inspired! Poetry is my way of being in the world. I don’t know any other way.” (web)

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