February 15, 2024

Jessica Moll


Our game’s a cross between A Chorus Line
and Fame. Rehearsals, here in our backyard.
Pretend the lawn’s the stage. The tutu’s mine,
but I let David pick a leotard.
I’m ten, he’s five, he’s used to all my rules.
He gets to be a girl, but has to choose
a neutral name like “Chris.” Summer fog rolls
in. We swirl our glitter scarves to music
in our heads. He’s got it down, the girl
pose: hips, hands. He’s not a boy. He won’t play
out front, racing Big Wheels. Instead, he twirls
barefoot with me. But what about the place
my fingers found, underneath my clothes?
The grass is cold. Plié. And point your toes.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
Tribute to the Sonnet


Jessica Moll: “Since I just wrote a sonnet yesterday, today I’d like to rest. My fingers ache from tapping syllables against the desk. I haven’t slept—the loud iambic tick’s a clock inside my head. I hate the task I give myself, of cramming my mind’s sprawl into the structure of a formal poem. I think the next time that a sonnet calls, I won’t answer. I’ll pretend I’m not home. But watch, tomorrow I’ll be riding down a pitted Oakland street, pedaling hard to get to work on time, and as I spin, I’ll feel the meter in my pulse and start to think in rhyme. You’ve had this kind of lover—as soon as you break up, you’re back together.”

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February 14, 2024

Dusty Bryndal


I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
One month later, my son was hit
and killed by a late model, blue Ford F150 truck.
My former therapist said I was being struck
by the perfect storm.
You are in the middle of the perfect storm.
Whatever the fuck that meant.
It’s a scary feeling to learn you have cancer.
That goes without saying.
Thinking about it took up a lot of my mental energy—
there was a lot of fear and worry, and so many unknowns.
Then my son died and of course the cancer took a back seat.
At that point my feelings about cancer warped
and turned to anger. I thought it was
the stupid cancer that killed my son.
He was determined to go out and skate that day—
the day before my surgery. The day he died.
His friends told me this.
That he needed to get out on his board that day.
For a long time I chose not to—was determined not to—
write about it. The cancer, I mean. I guess subconsciously
I was trying to obliterate ever even having it.
You’ll find very little evidence
of my having cancer
in my journals.
I never posted on social media.
I never wrote about how terrifying the whole process
was, or about how sometimes I would stand transfixed,
staring at the huge glass etched sign outside the white brick building
on the corner, in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, that read:
“Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.”
Cancer Center. I’d stand there, simply frozen, taking in those words.
I didn’t write about how appointments
overtook my life. The exhaustion of meeting with so many doctors.
The breast surgeon oncologist, the radiologist,
my general oncologist. The geneticist.
I didn’t write about all of the waiting. The agonizing waiting.
There was a health food store called Health Nuts:
I would stop in after every appointment to get a shot
of wheatgrass juice, and wonder how many people
from the cancer center two blocks down
had stepped in to get a wheatgrass shot.
I never wrote about how scared
I was of passing this on to my daughter.
Would she have to get her ovaries removed?
Her breasts?
Would I?
It all depended on genetic testing
that took two agonizing weeks to get results.
I remember the genetic counselor, her name was Julia.
It almost seemed like she was the type of person
who enjoyed handing out scary shit to people.
She told me how my type of cancer could jump
from breast to breast.
That it could possibly turn up in the other breast
before all was said and done.
She said that if I had a certain gene,
the cancer could spread to my stomach.
I asked her what I would do then?
You can’t remove my stomach.
I swear there was a gleam in her eye
when she responded: Oh, yes we can.
We can remove your stomach
and give you a manufactured one.
I remember going home on that Friday night
after meeting with her. I had had plans to do something,
but canceled. My husband was working late, so I sat alone
on the couch until the sun set and the house got dark,
tired and scared—crying it out before
I could pull myself up to make some dinner.
This was before Judah died. I was terrified
that I could pass it on to both children.
When I spoke this fear to my doctor, I could barely
choke out the words. But he understood through my sobs
and hand gestures that I was asking
the question: Will I pass this on?
I never wrote about the stage my cancer
had reached, 2B. The classification had to do with the size
of the tumor and the fact that it had moved further
into my breast from its original nesting point.
You won’t find any evidence of how the doctors
took me into a small conference room
and had me decide which treatment option
I wanted to take—how they showed me twenty years’ worth
of research to help me make my decision.
Did I want to do a lumpectomy?
It would preserve most of the breast,
but require radiation treatment.
Or, did I want to remove the breast completely,
and possibly not have to do any radiation?
Still I really wouldn’t even know that until they removed
my sentinel nodes during surgery.
I just wanted someone to tell me what to do.
I never wrote about the surgeon:
the very kind, caring, and good-at-her-job surgeon
with her long blonde hair and gentle hands
who was determined to leave my mangled breast
as pretty as possible, as she removed more and more
breast tissue, trying to get clean margins.
She had to get my permission to practice
a certain type of stitch that would
leave less scarring.
Judah was gone at this point
and I could not convey to her enough
how much I didn’t care.
There were student doctors at the cancer center
who took me into yet another small conference room
as my surgeon stood vigil
and asked if they could use my tumor for research.
I numbly signed the papers.
Yes, please use my tumor for science.
My kid is dead. I hate everything.
I never wrote about how I learned to visualize
my cancer as a black disk in my mind’s eye—
to be burned up by a white light.
I would meditate and form the black disc
in my mind and imagine a fire-like light,
like the surface of the sun,
slowly making its way over the disc, enveloping it.
I visualized the cancer retreating like this, every time
the worry threatened to overtake me. I used this method
while awaiting the results of an oncotype score—
the number that tells the doctors how aggressive
a tumor is, and what the likelihood of the cancer
returning would be, and whether I would need chemotherapy.
I used this light method again after the surgery
that removed my sentinel node and a few others
to find out if my cancer had spread.
Turns out, the cancer was only just beginning to spread.
I had micrometastasis, and hopefully, they said,
they had caught all of the cancerous nodes.
Again, the waiting. The waiting.
I never wrote about the integrative specialist
who discussed nutrition with me, and all the things
I needed to cut out of my diet now that I was trying
to remain cancer free.
Avoid gluten, dairy, sugar, white rice, white flour,
and alcohol, especially hard liquor.
She asked me how I would replace butter in my diet.
I looked at her like she was crazy.
I’m southern, I said. So that’s gonna be a no.
I was joking and partially relented to using
Earth Balance and coconut oil. But still.
I didn’t write about the radiation center
and the nine tiny tattoo dots
that framed the area around my left breast
just below my collar bone and down
to the top of my ribs,
made so that the radiation tech
would know exactly
where to direct the machine.
I had to learn how to do deep inspiration breath holds
so that I could hold my breath properly during treatment.
They needed my lungs to inflate and push my heart
away from my chest wall so as to decrease the possibility of
radiation damage to my heart.
I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and left the house
by 5:45 to make a 7:00 a.m. radiation appointment
in Manhattan.
I’d take the F train to Lex Ave and 63rd Street,
close to an hour from home. Some days I’d walk
in the freezing rain or snow, in the still dark morning.
All the while, mourning my son’s death.
All the while thinking: Judah, Judah, Judah.
I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.
By week two, I had what looked like a sunburn
and I was feeling fatigued after each treatment.
I needed to get ten hours of sleep each night
to feel normal the next day. My New Yorker
walking pace had slowed to the point where I had to tell friends
to slow down because I couldn’t keep up.
The radiation oncologist, a tall,
good looking man in a perfectly cut suit and tie,
never told me that I could have what looked
like third degree burns by the time
I was done with my five day “boost”
nearing the end of my treatment.
The boost radiation tech
panicked after my third dose,
and sent me to the burn unit.
There was a burn unit?
Yes, a whole unit dedicated to the burns
that one could incur during radiation. On my last day,
after ringing the bell for making it through,
my breast was so red and raw the tech took
me straight to the unit where a nurse
set me up with bandages, wraps, and silvadene.
My treatment was complete right at the beginning of spring break.
I had plans to fly down to Tennessee, and I kept them.
Little did I know that the radiation would continue
to cook my breast.
By the time I got there, my entire left breast
and the surrounding area was blistered and on fire.
A two-inch circumference around where my nipple
used to be was a giant, blistery burn.
There were burns under my breast and in my armpit.
Eventually my skin sloughed off and there were
open burn sores where the blistered areas had popped.
I was on The Farm with my granddaughter
and lifting her up to put her in a swing
on the newly built playground in the woods,
I could feel my skin ripping beneath the bandages.
What is wrong with me? I asked myself,
I should be home in my apartment on my couch resting.
I didn’t know it was going to be so bad.
Later that evening, I cried in the bathroom
with Judah’s grandmother Mary, as she helped me bandage my burns.
I watched her reflection through the bathroom mirror,
her kind eyes wide as she cried,
Oh Dusty, over and over. Oh Dusty!
I didn’t write how deflated the radiologist
looked after walking into the small exam room,
a little cocky as he sat down and leaned back
in his chair and stretched his feet out,
so confident as I met with him one year after treatment:
This is a time to celebrate, one year cancer free!
What’s to celebrate? I said. My kid is dead.

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Dusty Bryndal: “I have written poetry all my life, but began building confidence as a writer and poet when my friend would make me read my poems out loud in her cozy, art-filled living room. I have since found a writing community who taught me that it is OK to write about the raw, ragged details of losing a child and that people want to read about sad things. For the last five years, writing poetry has helped shape my grief and my healing as I navigate the waters of my son’s tragic ending.” (web)

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February 13, 2024

Bruce Taylor


Pol Pot liked a good laugh.
Mussolini got the trains to run on time.
Hitler wept at the opera.

Miro hated green beans;
Picasso beets.
Chagall both beets and beans.

Dickens slept facing north.
Longfellow was the first
American to have indoor plumbing.

Abraham Lincoln had no middle name.
Caesar was a pretty good swimmer.
Mao was an assistant librarian.

Churchill washed his own socks.
Bell never phoned his mother.
Edison was afraid of the dark.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012


Bruce Taylor: “Found one of these ‘facts’ just cruising the WWW, spent the morning looking for more and ended up with two pages. Let the whole mess sit for a while, then as Rodin said, I ‘knocked away anything’ that wasn’t poem. They are all ‘true’ except one; I’ve forgotten which.” (web)

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February 12, 2024

Roberta Beary


My husband likes to say that love is blind,
and little flaws are meant to be forgot.
This morning while washing out my thong
I checked his phone for texts, all is not fine
since I read them. Killing comes to mind.
The photos on his phone are steamy hot,
I didn’t recognize my best friend Charlotte,
all dolled up in black lace, the sex store kind.
My therapist would say forgive, move on
and I try my best but it’s not easy
although slicing up his boxers helped a bit
as did forwarding his boss those dick pix
from my husband’s phone. Love might be blind
to little flaws but not the cheating bastard kind.

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Roberta Beary: “Age 15, I stumble upon a tattered anthology called The Book of Living Verse. It becomes my talisman. Saving my life again and again. In my forties, as one version of my life ends, my mantra is—Write Every Day, No Matter What Catastrophe. Twenty years on, I don’t know if I write to save others or myself. But I know the why doesn’t matter.” (web)

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February 11, 2024

Maryann Corbett


a meditation on the current Facebook meme

Those were the days we had amazing hair.
And bodies. And ambitions. Chutzpah, too.
“Look on our manes, ye mighty, and despair!”
we cry, smirking disdain like Baudelaire
from yearbook-picture ranks and files. We grew
it lush, that long-ago amazing hair,
while choruses wailed Gimme down to there
hair! Though in our hippie hearts we knew
we’d have to tame it someday soon, despair
spared us. In shoulder pads, Dynasty flair,
the Farrah Fawcett shag, the Rachel do,
we offered up our still-abundant hair
to workdays. To quotidian wear and tear,
crimpers and curling irons, styling goo.
And then one day the mirror sighed: Despair.
Are these our offspring, whose inventions blare
from TikTok posts in floof and curlicue,
strange new explosions of amazing hair
half-shaved, half rainbow striped? (Try not to stare,
though they return your gawk, peering straight through
your brow lines, fashion failures, gray despair …)
Who were we? Do we remember? Do we care,
you with your naked pate, I with my two-
toned thatch? Is time the low road to despair?
Look at us, though: we had amazing hair.

from Poets Respond
February 11, 2024


Maryann Corbett: “Although this ‘event’ has not been the subject of any story in the mainstream media, most of us have seen it happening: on Facebook, people are posting pictures of themselves at age 21. We can’t seem to resist it. I decided to write a poem instead.” (web)

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February 10, 2024

C. Wade Bentley


The morning they saw the body in the river
on the way to school was also the day Jessica
said how she’d known all along that Seth
was gay and she was perfectly fine with it
and Kaylie said well me too but if you knew
why didn’t you say something before we went out
for two months but just before Jessica could answer
was when Jared said what the hell? and pointed
down along the banks of the river where half hidden
in the grass was what they would soon know was the naked
body of a young woman maybe a few years older
than they were and where for a still and silent minute
they just looked at the way her hair had woven
itself into the weeds the way her head would nudge
gently against the shore and then retreat
how the little ripples in this quiet section of water
would splash onto her right hip all purple and grey
shiny and taut with a look on her face
and her wide eyes that said nothing at all
that said I have no opinion I will have nothing to say
on that matter and it’s no use waiting for it you will
tell the police your story now and play it up big
for your mates at school later but you won’t hear it
from me that story that love story that fantasy
I had hoped to tell had begun to tell has now moved
to mid-stream and will be out to sea sooner or later
where old couples who are even now walking
along the shore will pause from time to time
their faces into the wind, listening.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013


C. Wade Bentley: “There are three things I can count on to make me happy: playing with my grandsons, hiking in the mountains, and writing poetry. Even when the end result of my poetic effort is crap—as it often is—I am never quite so happy as when lost and wallowing in the mud of a possible poem, trying to write my way out. And when the alchemy actually works, that’s a bonus. That’s magic.” (web)

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February 9, 2024

Lisa Bass


after C.K. Williams

We were afraid to jinx it, so when my daughter emerged
from her dark bedroom for the first time in what felt like months
and came to the table with her soft face caked in cosmetics,
we all stilled our gazes, made certain not to react,
except for her youngest sister, who’d been scarfing
a breakfast burrito, but now gasped then grimaced
and gestured with a burrito-holding hand toward desperate
layers of foundation, liquid cat-eye already cracking,
and my daughter’s face, hovering over her empty chair,
started to crumple until she stopped herself and instead
closed her eyes, then gently and with a focused intensity,
ran her fingertips across one overly contour-powdered cheekbone
and then the other, the way an astronaut, before releasing herself
from the confining safety of a pressurized airlock, must check
the seals on her unwieldy but necessary-for-survival space suit.

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Lisa Bass: “I write poems for the thrill and comfort of finding out what I think and feel.” (web)

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