October 21, 2021

Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021: Artist’s Choice

 

The Blood in the Veins by Rachel Slotnick, painting of Maya Angelou with a river flowing through her and hearts

Image: “The Blood in the Veins” by Rachel Slotnick. “Revelations” was written by Sean Wang for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2021, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]

__________

Sean Wang

REVELATIONS

When she left she was already shadow,
the jet black smudge of history
blurred by the cataracts of 93 years
(or 95, my father said people lied
to immigration, when a year could mean a lifetime
lost). She had a joy
burning through paper skin and bamboo bones like a lantern.
Her cold hands covered in brown spots like an overripe banana.

She was fixed to her bed
by a pair of bad legs and a crinkled back.
Some nights her favourite operas and fried noodles
would only gather the flutter of an eye
and she would recede back, back into some past
purring in her head like the tumble of a washing machine.
It would get quieter, just the ticking of the fan
spinning above, time whirring through air.
She woke/slept, a dusk of days.
The last 5 years flickered train-like,
the sleek pulses of blinkers,
a throbbing twilight of fireflies.
Her train had left, and I stood waiting
at the station, the track gaping through the ground
swallowed by the wall, a denture-less mouth.

But I remember when
the room was bouncing with pitchy singing,
the kitchen burning with spices and bossy orders,
and you, the voice and echo.

I believe, in those days where you would stare
at the ceiling, the glazed eye of a fish in ice,
you were seeing
some slice of heaven spread before you,
the pocket of sky you wait in.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2021, Artist’s Choice

__________

Comment from the artist, Rachel Slotnick: “After reading ‘Revelations,’ I couldn’t shake its spell. It peers through the eyes of the dying in a way that confronts the limitations of living. Here on earth, we look up at the stars and long for there to be a heaven. This poem speaks to the loneliness too many of us have known in the hospice room. It pinpoints the ache of outliving someone, of being left behind, and being tasked with remembering.”

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October 20, 2021

Amlanjyoti Goswami

A NEW BAPU

Would take to Twitter like fish to water
But grow out of it
And use it as a protest tool.
Once in a while, he would take breaks with vows of silence.
He would use the extra time
To sort out, ends and means
The broken strings.
He would be wise to know 
Greed remains greed and power is now
Like electricity, everywhere,
From the clerk to the high heavens.
He would look for a place to start— 
And it would be with himself.
Cleaning the toilet on a weekday, 
Making plants grow with bare hands. 
Not using a sensor to figure it out.
He would be wary of AI, robots, anything that takes the mind away.
They take the soul out, he would say.
But he would take to planes more easily, for the utility.
He would still write letters, with a fountain pen
And send postcards, to children.
He would recycle paper and look inside, for answers. 
He would be worried about
Climate change.
He would pass the street and you wouldn’t even know.
He would travel incognito. 

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets

__________

Amlanjyoti Goswami: “India pervades my experiences and poetry. This is about living, breathing, and thinking deeply about things around me. Where I come from and where I am going. Traditions, histories, ways of seeing, hearing, and knowing. I draw upon rich traditions of Indian aesthetic in my work and am not afraid to cross borders. This is about the neem tree as much as the new Mercedes on the street, busy with street vendors selling you dim sums. There is an aesthetic in all this I wouldn’t find in New York or London. Layers more than strict lines. A lot of colour.”

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October 19, 2021

Marc Alan Di Martino

SESTINA FOR THE FALLING AUTUMN LIGHT

Time strangles anything it strains to hold,
tangles the whistle of a passing train
into refracted pitches, a refrain
as Now recedes in squall. Tally the gold
dust on the telescope, polish the trick
mirror. Your image flickers like a wick.

Your image flickers like a candle’s wick
in time’s dense mirror. What you cannot hold
is all there is. Arrive, depart. The train
warps through the station’s prism, its refrain
refracted coordinates. Fade to gold:
the sun goes down like a child’s magic trick.

The sun goes down like a child’s magic trick
trapped in the squall of a departing train
to Nowheresville. This backbeat’s crack refrain
refracts the scene in its mad mirror’s gold
pitch dark at rainbow’s edge, its flaming wick
a fire no individual can hope to hold.

A fire no individual can hope to hold
awaits at rainbow’s edge: a trigger, a wick
unravelling time. Strike chorus, refrain,
backbeat, tempo, music—the faded gold
of thought, our consciousness’ greatest trick,
clacking along indeterminately. Train

clacking along indeterminately, train
with no conductor, accumulate refrain
of themes, associate music—stick, wick
and flame bound up together by some trick,
evolutionary sleight-of-hand. Hold
me, stroll with me through all this falling gold.

Stroll with me through all this falling gold
no human eye could ever hope to hold.
The trees are candles, incandescent. Wick
by wick, performing nature’s magic trick,
their glitter wanes faster than any train,
drains to the dregs its annual refrain.

The brilliance of the wick is in its gold.
Time’s hat trick is to never miss your train.
Find one small hand to hold. Chorus, refrain.

from Poets Respond
October 19, 2021

__________

Marc Alan Di Martino: “Every October I begin to miss the fall colors of the mid-Atlantic region where I grew up. We don’t get them quite the same way where I live now. After a weird superheated summer, it looks like the fall colors have suddenly snapped back. Who knows how much longer we will get to witness their glory?” (web)

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October 18, 2021

Tishani Doshi

THE COMEBACK OF SPEEDOS

I’ll keep this brief. I remember the shock of Mr. G’s tiger-striped trunks 
at the Madras Gymkhana Club. Nothing to conceal, everything to 
declare, like a Mills & Boon hero. Shiver of ball and sack, acres
of hairy scrub. We could not imagine such freedom for
ourselves. To slice through chlorinated depths
with a little basket of dim sum on display.
We were girls. To open our legs
was treason. We held
our breath.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets

__________

Tishani Doshi (from the conversation in this issue): “There’s something marvelous about the conciseness and smallness of poems. I love that they are small and yet very big, and that you can spend time with one poem and it can expand so much in you. There’s something about the distillation of the form that is allowed to say things in a way that we can’t do with other arts. There’s something mysterious about it. Nobody is able to define exactly what a poem is; nobody’s able to say what makes a poem good or not—these are still questions that are out for debate, and, in a way, I think they’re meaningless. If a poem touches you or moves you, it has the possibility of transformation, and I’m really interested in that. Of course, novels can do that, and dance is capable of those transformative moments, but a poem for me also reaches back to a tradition of orality, the spoken word, of putting something into existence just by speaking it, by naming it. There’s something ancient in that. There’s something powerful about incantation. I’m less interested in breaking down a poem than in the sense of a poem just washing over you and changing you somehow.” (web)

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October 17, 2021

Tanner Stening

THIS COVERING OF BLUE

And suddenly you’re through the blue!
William Shatner exclaimed after disembarking the space capsule,
not as Captain Kirk, but as himself, a demure 90-year-old man,
billionaire to his left, CNN camera positioned to his right,
leveraged to capture the intimate moment:
Shatner, head in hands, sobbing between bursts of inspired testimony
about what it was like to bob briefly above the planet
in Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket.
There was no need for metaphor this time.
What you see is black, he said. Is that death?
If so, he’d spent years rehearsing how to swim in its waters,
climb through its fabric into other dimensions.
Captain Kirk had died three times, twice assured by alternate realities.
Did Shatner mean that the infinite blackness was more than inhospitable;
that, in fact, it was self-negating?
Hours later, the newspapers said the brief, eleven-minute climb
to the edge of space rendered the celebrated actor “speechless.”
Yet his speechlessness was made entirely of speech.
The vulnerability of everything … this sheet, this blanket,
he said, hands quivering, this covering of blue that we have around us.
The other crew members doused themselves in champagne,
frolicked and took pictures, while Shatner
doddered with the weight of his own interiority.
When he spoke, he spoke neither to Bezos nor the row of cameras.
Our own fragility was what was so moving, and how isn’t it?
To be thrust back out at what’s thrust in us,
spilling from utterance and gesture as they come to mean
what they cannot by themselves.
There was no need for metaphor,
and yet metaphor is what became of Shatner,
his feet firmly on the ground, in this singular life.
I hope I never recover from this, he said.
Oh Bill, we never do.

from Poets Respond
October 17, 2021

__________

Tanner Stening: “Say what you will about William Shatner’s venture into space, but the event was pregnant with meaning. News articles described his testimony as poetic. It was more than that: it was worthy of poetry.” (web)

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October 16, 2021

Ivy Hoffman (age 15)

ONLY DAYS BEFORE LEAVING FOR COLLEGE, I NOTE THE EXISTENCE OF MY BROTHER

I.

My brother sits in the corner
With his papers all around,
And he is drawing.

He does not listen
To our conversations.
You will only see his foot tap,
Sometimes, when we play Wings,

And then you will know
He is real.

Sometimes I think
He is drawing me,
Though he tries to throw me off,
He never looks up
From his paper,

But when I smile, I see him,
Though he shields his face
With his knees, smile.

He never speaks to me.
Before I go to bed, I pray
That God will bless my brother
With speech.

When I dance in the living room,
My face looking up at the ceiling fan,
And no further, with my arms
Spread wide, my legs kicking
Sporadically and wonderfully,

My brother draws, and taps his foot,
And I know he’s dancing with me,
In his own way, he is pushing music
From the tip of his charcoal pencil.

 

II.

And now I am venturing out
Into the beautiful and terrifying world,
No longer will I be safe
Within these strong brick walls,
I will only have myself.

And my brother will remain here,
He does not know the bright colors
Of the universe, he will only know
The musty darkness of his charcoal.

Color is a funny thing, I have a
Memory that is not my own,
And it is devoid of color:

My mother, screaming.
I remember later, long after she
Brought me into this world
With glorious triumph, a warrior,

Someone told me
That blood in black and white
Is chocolate sauce—the same
Consistency, the same darkness.

Bone on bone, limbs reaching,
Life: my father sitting in the
Waiting room, he does not
Know me yet, he does not

Think of me at all,
Only mother, only
Brother.

Life devoid of color,
It is not my memory.

It is not mine to bear.

I was chosen,
Or he was chosen,
God did something
Right or wrong,
God did something.

 

III.

I do not know what he draws.
Like a dream, I approach
And my brother retreats
Into his corner.

His eyes are green or blue,
I think, they are not dark
And sad like mine, they are
Bright and blameless,

He is uncomplaining.

God did not gift my brother
With speech, he was not
Blessed with life,
Only something like it:

Continuance, habit,
A steady pattern.

I cannot see his face,
It is always behind his knees,
But I know him.

Like I know myself,
As the only thing I am sure of,
My brother’s drawings are beautiful,
My brother’s voice, I know,
Is beautiful,

My brother, often unobserved,
A shadow in the corner,
Is beautiful.

from 2021 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

__________

Why do you like to write poetry?

Ivy Hoffman: “I don’t think there is one answer to why I like to write poetry. In the beginning, I would read poetry to my family and I would wish it was my own. Then, it became a sort of therapy for me. Sometimes I wrote because something was frustrating me and I just needed to work through it. I still find that I discover something new about myself with everything I write, which is the coolest thing, but at this point, I also feel like I am writing simply because it has become such a part of me. It’s just like breathing—if you hold your breath for long enough, eventually your body will kick in and start to breathe again. I feel that if I tried to stop writing, after a few days my fingertips would find a keyboard again and before I knew it I would be writing. If you asked me why I love my parents, or my sister, or my cat, I could give you a bunch of things that I love about them, but at the end of the day, those are just traits. I love them because I love them. The same thing goes for poetry. I love it because, well, I do.”

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October 15, 2021

Tishani Doshi

ROTTEN GRIEF

This morning I misread Tantrism for Tourism and it’s been downhill 
ever since. Elephants are dying in the Okavango Delta and no one 
knows why. A man I love crumples into himself on a railway 
platform away from home. My sister calls to tell me about 
her aged cat, who keeps collapsing, then rising to roam
the house in wobbly confusion. It is all falling, falling.
A poet on the internet talks about a Jewish legend,
where we are given tears in compensation for
death. I would cry about the perfectness of it
except I’m incapable. My ophthalmologist   
has made a diagnosis of dry eye so I
must buy my tears in a pharmacy.
I think of what this is doing to
all the rotten grief inside me—
unable to create salt bathing
pools to fire up my wounds,
this body powered by 
breath, dragging its
legs through 
the vast 
summers
that have 
lost their will to 
transform me. All 
the unknowing we 
must accept and fold
like silk pocket-hankies
pressed against our chests. 
The theory of spanda in 
Tantra advises you to live 
within the heart. I’m a tourist 
here, so bear with me, but imagine 
a universe vibrated into being. All things 
made and unmade by a host of small movements, 
my favourite being matsyodari —throb of fish when 
out of water. Just the word throb, you understand, hints 
at longing, but also distress, and suddenly, language opens. 
All the etymologies I used to think were useless in the arena 
of bereavement are echoing over the great plains of beige carpet, 
saying, We interrupt your weeping to tell you the world is real, rejoice!
The elephants in the Okavango are keeling over like ships. No one 
can say why. A die-off sounds worryingly like a bake-off but 
without the final prize. At night I squeeze drops into my
eyes, whispering the magic words, Replenish, ducts, 
replenish. If you play elephants the voices of their
dead, they’ll go mad for days, searching for 
their beloveds. To fall is never an action 
in slow motion. The snap of elastic 
in your pants, going going gone
Belief caving in like a bridge. 
My heart, your heart, the 
elephants’—here’s a 
crazy thought—
what if they’re
dying of
grief?

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021
Tribute to Indian Poets

__________

Tishani Doshi (from the conversation in this issue): “There’s something marvelous about the conciseness and smallness of poems. I love that they are small and yet very big, and that you can spend time with one poem and it can expand so much in you. There’s something about the distillation of the form that is allowed to say things in a way that we can’t do with other arts. There’s something mysterious about it. Nobody is able to define exactly what a poem is; nobody’s able to say what makes a poem good or not—these are still questions that are out for debate, and, in a way, I think they’re meaningless. If a poem touches you or moves you, it has the possibility of transformation, and I’m really interested in that. Of course, novels can do that, and dance is capable of those transformative moments, but a poem for me also reaches back to a tradition of orality, the spoken word, of putting something into existence just by speaking it, by naming it. There’s something ancient in that. There’s something powerful about incantation. I’m less interested in breaking down a poem than in the sense of a poem just washing over you and changing you somehow.” (web)

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