March 22, 2018

Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2018: Artist’s Choice


Nine Lives by Jeff Doleman

Image: “Nine Lives” by Jeff Doleman. “Cobalt Blue” was written by Christine Michel for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2018, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Christine Michel


He comes galloping to a stop.
Just three feet in front of me,
wanting me to prove that I am,
in fact, loyal as ever. So of course
I pick him up, soft fur clinging
to my jacket from the static of
leather seats.

They were a packaged set. Car
and cat. The day I first parked
the cobalt and baby blue beauty,
he was huddled on my stoop, rain
soaking matted fur to the bone.
Sometimes you just can’t turn down
what Fate has in store for you.

And now, years later, he’s proud.
Long tail fanning in the spring
morning, eyes narrowed tracking
something too small for me to see.
So, I wipe my forehead with my
sleeve and continue rubbing the
wax in. I wonder if he listens for the

purr of the engine, or watches for
the blue that stands out within
his world of grey.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
February 2018, Artist’s Choice

[download audio]


Comment from the artist, Jeff Doleman: “We were a dog family until my father found a kitten curled up in a flower bed outside his office. My parents have since fostered countless stray cats. I took this photograph during a walk with my father around his hometown in rural Oregon. Coincidentally, many poems responding to the image featured a paternal theme. Although the narrator of ‘Cobalt Blue’ could be anyone, I visualize my father, fixing his 1956 Ford Thunderbird while one of his cats lounges nearby. The poem uses simple, honest language to depict the mysterious, compassionate bonds that often form between people and other species. It stood out to me for its balanced perspective and its quiet sensitivity.”

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March 21, 2018

Mike White


A man in a world
all his own is singing
the alphabet song
slowly to calm his son
who as we all turn

to look is also a man
moving his spellbound
tongue to retell
one by one each loved
and loving sound

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017


Mike White: “The first poet I ever saw give a reading was the Canadian poet, Al Purdy in Toronto. I was about 25. He was quite famous as poets go, but I didn’t know it yet. As he repeatedly cleared his throat to begin, I couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed for him, that he was still writing poems at his advanced age. Well, I’ve forgotten most things from that time in my life, but I haven’t forgotten that reading.”

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March 20, 2018

Robert James Berry


Always a slow maelstrom of dirt
Smothers our town.
Over the tonsured heads of the hills
Clouds promise nothing
But white glare
And gigantic silence.

Here I have my dry yard of acacia trees to inherit,
And my vanishing language to dream in.
This is my place to hang the familiar flags of religion

To walk ragged, unsanitary streets at evening,
Where pavement cooking pots, rubbish mounds
Are the national dress.

The litter of generations
Is clogged in the slack brown throat of our river.
At night I can smell its strays
Wiry, restless like their fleas,
Sniff the fishermen’s poles, nets
Distracted in shadow.

Ragged men stir on the bank.
Slender as herons,
Only they can recall
The old glamour of tumbling water.

When the moon’s peasant manners
Fall upon the famine of the other bank,
The squatters’ irrepressible shanties
Locked in their secret architecture of shame and poverty,

I know these homes, these families, shall melt into the river
With the wet season coming.
All our lives pivot above such precarious mud.

Taste the sound of thunder in the asphalt sky
And rain, that shall wash away
Our refuse, our ashes.

from Rattle #13, Summer 2000


Robert James Berry: “Born in the U.K. in 1960, I currently live and work in Selangor, West Malaysia.” (web)

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March 19, 2018

George Swede



of an

old tree
if not

at least

from their

on the

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017

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George Swede: “I seem to have had an archetypal background for becoming a poet—a birth in Europe at the start of WWII; the loss of my biological father at the age of three; on the run with my mother and stepfather from the Nazis until the end of the war; the move to North America at the age of seven; the death of my step-dad at the age of ten; a lot of time spent alone. Naturally, I wanted to make some sense of all this and found that the best way was via the language of poetry.” (web)

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March 18, 2018

Jill Talbot


Do you still believe it’s intelligent life we ought to avoid?

This is a silent poem. Every letter
is silent, every word is silent, every
line is silent, every stanza is silent.
Even the stanza breaks are silent.

Are poets as useless as philosophers?

This is a silent painting. Since you
don’t know what you could be missing,
you don’t know what you could see.
That’s what silence is.

Do black holes take library books?

Maybe they’ve taken all of the noise
from the silent letters. Maybe they’ve
taken the library books. Maybe they’ve
taken heaven from atheists.

Are atheists afraid of the dark?

This is a poem for people afraid of
the light, afraid of the silence of the dark.
Fairy tales were made to terrify, not

If a robot asks me out, do I say yes?

In the future there may be silent
roosters, and nobody will know
what they’re missing.

A silent man seems attractive,
in the meantime.

If the elephant in the room dies, do you have a funeral?

This is not a protest poem. It’s just
an image. It’s just the silence that
occurs between neurons firing,
putting what was upside-down
right-side up. You can only protest
death once it’s already in the room,
taking up all the silent space.

If we meet in heaven will you avoid me? Will you declare it all a bad dream or a good dream? Will we drink rum and coke or virtue?

Happily ever after was only
a mutation.

Will you take a look at my theory of nothing?

That’s okay, it was the silence
I was after.

from Poets Respond
March 18, 2018

[download audio]


Jill Talbot: “This is a response to the death of Stephen Hawking. I found much of what he had to say outside of his research interesting. His fear of intelligent robots and aliens, his demand that he not appear drunk on The Simpsons … but mainly the notion that heaven is a ‘fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.’ Hawking has also been critical of philosophers. I wondered where the arts appeared in all of this. If science offers Ativan and writers offer stories, I choose the latter. It is in death that we often turn to art, religion, and philosophy—not necessarily for comfort, but perhaps for something human. Nevertheless, Hawking was certainly an inspiring figure for scientists and non-scientists alike.” (web)

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March 17, 2018

James Crosse (age 13)


This is a rhyming poem
I don’t know how to rhyme
So this will take some time
I still don’t know how to rhyme

This is a rhyming poem
This is pretty hard
Like cleaning up the yard
I still don’t know how to rhyme

This is a rhyming poem
I think I’ve almost got it
It’s almost like I bought it
But I still don’t know how to rhyme

This is a rhyming poem
I think I’ve got it now
So now I’ll take a bow
For this is a rhyming poem

from 2018 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

James Crosse: “I like to write poetry because it comes more naturally to me than writing a story.”

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March 16, 2018

Lolita Stewart-White


for President Barack Obama

baby please don’t go
if you do who will be pleased
by our cornrows
the way they swoop down
our black swan necks

we want you back darlin’
your grace and ease
are so damn pleasing

baby please don’t go
and we’ll do up our dos
with doo wop
rock kinky locks
and knotted crowns
just for you

please, please, please

honey please
don’t go
oh, oh
we love you so
your smooth talk
not a crease in your tone

baby you’re our bridge of light
between mourning and morning
you wring the blues
from our walking shoes

please, please, please

bear witness Barry
listen to our pleas
cradle us once again

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017

[download audio]


Lolita Stewart-White: “This poem is after James Brown’s famous song, ‘Please, Please, Please’ where the Godfather of Soul begs a woman to please come home. I was listening to it one night and thinking about President Obama. How I wish we could serenade and beckon him back to the White House.”

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