May 16, 2024

George Bilgere


I find an old air gun
and a can of ammo
down in the basement
in a cardboard moving box,
along with some other stuff,
flotsam from previous lives.
A teenager, a long-expired
me, used it to polish off
tins cans in the backyard,
and once a bright, golden
oriole, shot in mid-song,
blowing a hole through me
as it fell. Holding a pistol
is like shaking hands
with death. What the hell,
let’s see if the damn thing
still works. In the same box,
a volume of poetry, slim,
but not slim enough,
by a poet I never liked—
all smoke and mirrors—
a poet utterly, brutally
forgotten, although a blurb
on the back still calls his book
“an astonishing debut.”
I prop it against the wall,
pump, load, cock, and Blam
goes the gun as it hasn’t
in half-a-century. I inspect
the astonishing debut.
The pellet, as it happens,
made it farther than I ever did,
stopping on page sixty-two,
just deep enough to dimple,
not tear, a sonnet on the guy’s
divorce, how his wife ran off
with his best friend, how terrible
the betrayal, how deep his grief.
How losing her tore out his soul.
And now this.

from Cheap Motels of My Youth
2023 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


George Bilgere: “When I was eight years old my parents got divorced. My mother packed her three kids into an old Chevy station wagon and drove us from St. Louis to Riverside, California, looking for a fresh start. She had visited there when she was an Army nurse stationed in LA during the war and fell in love with the place. That cross-country car trip, full of cheap diners, cheap hotels, and desperation, changed my life. I fell in love with the vastness and beauty, the glamor and tawdriness, of America. I’ve travelled all over the country since then, on that ancient and deeply American quest, the search for home.” (web)

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May 15, 2024

Jane Hirshfield


Take a square, a circle.
Flip it over, ask it to rotate: its face stays the same.
An isosceles triangle
doesn’t choose which of its sides.
A blinking light
declares the whole night its far-off mountain.
A person, tilted a single degree,
knows their life altered.
Ever after, knows themselves guest in their own house.
Sometimes you see rain first, sometimes you hear it.
Wind doesn’t come from all directions at once.
But anywhere rain is, that place is wet.
Wetness: knowledge of pelt, of hide, of skin.
Dear, ungovernable, shivering.

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024


Jane Hirshfield: “I first wrote a poem and subtitled it ‘an assay,’ in 2002. I thought it was a one-time event. That poem needed, I felt, some explanation for its unusual gait, its mode of thinking by almost prose-like propositions. I came to the term through both the assaying machines of science, which disassemble a substance into its component parts, and the French essayer, the sense of an experimental ‘try’ that lies also behind the word for ‘essay,’ a form that thinks its way through its subject in often-meandering but still measured and measuring ways … ‘Wetness: An Assay’ is a loose embodiment of this form I’ve worked in for what’s now been over twenty years—but the poem gained something for me when I tried on this title. Its stanzas do feel to me a series of small tries. It wants to discover something about what it is to be an abstraction, what it is to be a perceived and perceiving light in the large dark, and finally what it is to be a person: susceptible to shifting and unpredictable experience, vulnerable to everything around us, sometimes soaked through to the skin—and finding that soaked state beloved.”

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May 14, 2024

Craig van Rooyen


is a group bike ride involving guys in tight pants
and floppy hats with feathers, I tell my daughter.
They play flutes and lutes and flageolets
and recite poetry while they pedal.

She asked—shyly passing a note in her 2nd grade script.
I didn’t misspell anything. Plus what am I supposed to say
about training bras and tampons—still years away?
OK, for reals, I say, lying next to her in the dark:

There’s a whole frickin’ peloton of these guys.
They decorate their bicycles with cowslips, primrose,
foxglove flowers. They ride (no hands) into town
with the breeze on a warm summer evening.

And the frogs and crickets go quiet just to listen
to them tell knock knock jokes. They ride in circles
around the Mission square, long hair blowing back.
There will be time enough for the rest. To tell her the part

about how they stop their bikes and pull out
their horns. There will be time for her to hear the music—
how they play the sound of summer—the heat of it,
the ice-cream sundae smell of it; how they play

sun on wild rye, barefoot prints in the key of oak tree
shade—how they play it lazy like a shallow creek
on Mississippi mud; how they play it quick
like a lizard tongue or thumping like a dog’s tail.

There will be time for her to hear them play it loud
like the Fourth of July then gentle like a mama duck.
And when the sun is down and the bats come out—
specks in a darkening glass—she will hear them play

“We’ve Got All The Time in The World,” and know
that they are lying—lying in their floppy hats,
lying in their funny pants, lying with every last breath
they let out of those beautiful sad horns.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Craig van Rooyen: “One of my biggest faults is avoiding hard conversations. Among other things, writing poetry is a way to trick myself into saying things I would not otherwise say and knowing things I would not otherwise know.”

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May 13, 2024

Rasma Haidri


I think I heard a joke one time
about a woman who ironed her sheets.
This was in America, the Midwest
in case that explains why it was
funny. I didn’t laugh. Never ironed
a thing in my life, hardly ever
washed a sheet, and when I did
they came from the washer flat,
nearly folded, material wrinkle-free,
some kind of plastic I guess.
That was in that other life,
the one that ended the day I
visited your apartment, suddenly
craving to place my bare foot
on your bare calf, while you sat
in a cat-scratch chair, stitching
a bedsheet for your godson, some kind of
anti-embroidery, a Norwegian craft
involving removing threads
from cloth. I didn’t lift my foot
to touch your leg. I had a husband
and you were a woman
I only sort of knew from choir,
but around the room your fresh
laundry hung on racks, impossible
sweetness drugging my senses,
so when you stepped out, I acted,
no forethought or plan, no inkling
of the consequences, I lifted a pair
of your underpants to my nose,
inhaling the shocking premonition
of today—eighteen years on—
the sweet laundered scent in our bedroom
as I slip between cotton sheets
you have ironed so smooth and crisp.

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024


Rasma Haidri: “My poems are like snapshots, a moment in freeze-frame that shows the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. I never forgot the moment when I shocked myself by picking her underwear off the drying rack, but I didn’t think to write about it in my collection of poems that covers the trials and triumphs of that year we fell in love. I think all never-forgotten moments are poems in the waiting. I try to stay alert and notice when a memory is ready to tell me, in a poem, the reason it sticks. This memory is from the year we met, but its significance is for the 25-year anniversary book of love poems.” (web)

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May 12, 2024

Dante Di Stefano


To think that I was once a germ of light
in the belly of another being,
and that this fact is unremarkable
in the vast plod of human existence,
renders me heavy with the headiness
of so much unsaying, and to reflect
on the fact that it’s difficult to praise,
in a single sentence sonnet, the guise
of that first miraculous animal
the new animal of my own body
was once tethered to by a cord of
meat and need, and how by snipping this tie
a deeper chord sounded from the organ
of my own mouth, my first sacred wailing,
and how the world splits open every time
a son tries to tell his mother simply:
thank you for this one strange and shining life.

from Poets Respond
May 12, 2024


Dante Di Stefano: “My mother is an exceptional woman, who has done more for me than anyone. And yet, for some reason, I find it difficult to write poems for her. This poem started as an attempt to write a single sentence sonnet like Frost’s ‘The Silken Tent,’ only for my mom. Hopefully, it gets at some of the unbounded gratitude I feel for her and have a hard time articulating on the page and in every day life. Also, I hope it expresses my profound reverence for all mothers, and my gratitude to my wife for being such a great mother to our two children.”

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May 11, 2024

Chloe Ortiz (age 14)


I tell her 
the rye truth.
We sit in the morning,
dew the soil staining.
She cocks her head, 
I can tell she is listening.
Her small eyes 
fill with tilled earth. 
When I leave,
she pecks the ground,

from 2014 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Chloe Ortiz: “I like to write poetry because when I read a good poem, it makes me feel good and I smile. I would like to make other people feel good too.”

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May 10, 2024

Nancy Miller Gomez


When I was five my brother convinced me
to perform mouth to mouth on a catfish
floating belly up in the scum that gathered
in the lake behind our house. He said I had the power
to bring it back, though it was my choice.
I followed his directions, leaned over the dock,
pressed my lips against the stiff ridge of its mouth
(while keeping its bloated body submerged
beneath the oily sheen) and began to breathe in
and out as I opened and closed the bony folds
of its gills. At first, my brother held my ankles, to steady me
so I wouldn’t fall off the dock. I kept breathing
in through my nose­—­sting of creosote and pond rot—
and out through my mouth—a soft exhale of prayer.
You already know I did not bring the fish back to life,
though it wasn’t for lack of trying. I kept breathing
into that dark opening long after my brother said to quit,
long after he got bored and wandered off,
and the setting sun bathed the brackish water in gold.
I kept breathing in and out, long after the night cooled,
and the stars rose, and my mother found me asleep
on the dock, her voice calling me back from that place,
where the fish turned its rapturous eyes away from the moon,
and dove back to its sanctuary of darkness.

from Rattle #83, Spring 2024


Nancy Miller Gomez: “My childhood home was on a small lake in Kansas. I spent many happy hours there fishing with my brother. But I was terrified of the catfish. They looked like nightmares dredged up from a bad dream with their slimy, mottled skin, wide-set, gelatinous eyes, mouths open and groping and all those tentacle-like whiskers. I don’t know if my brother ever convinced me I could bring a dead thing back to life. Perhaps I have mis-remembered it. But ‘Resurrection’ is an attempt to capture my child-desire to believe in myself.” (web)

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