January 16, 2022

Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco

TRANSPLANT

I guess the nice way
to think about it is to say

the pig was tissue paper,
packed around the

heart. It’s best to make
it all seem

clean. In the picture, the men pulled

the whole red heart out through a hole
in a green drape: underneath—

what we don’t talk about, the soft hurt tender
pink—and held above—

the heart alone, like glitter stars. Nothing

distasteful. It could be a Valentine, if you
like that. You stole

my heart.

Of course a pig’s not tissue
paper.

Of course we have to
make decisions.

from Poets Respond
January 16, 2022

__________

Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco: “I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been really fascinated by the pig heart transplant story this week. It manages to be at once inspiring, terrifying, unsettling, and hopeful all at once, and new information keeps being reported. I think what I wanted to explore here was how complicated the whole issue is—there are so many layers, and I feel like many of these layers clash with our general desire to simplify everything into the most palatable version of itself. I’ve seen several photos included in news reports, but the one that stuck with me was the one with the heart over the drape—outside of either the pig or the recipient—waiting for its next life.”

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January 15, 2022

David Dodd Lee

SUMMER WITH A DUNE BREAKING OVER IT

Salmon, I learned later they were called, the fish
that bump up a river to spawn.
All night long they’d swim in and out of the huge console
that sat like a monument
in our living room in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. I fished
with a handline, looking down through the open top.
Who knows how I knew what to do, or if I’m even remembering
it right. I remember the white of the line cutting a slow path
through the dark, reflective water. I remember the plangent
trill of crickets. Nothing moved.
The hole in our living room floor led to a canyon full of clear water and stars
shining from the center of the earth.
The fish, black-backed and swimming in pairs, would nose my bait,
but never bite, while others, mailed silver and pink,
swam or flew—it wasn’t clear which—through the house,
left trails of bubbles in their wakes.
When I looked outside I could see fish swimming
through the tops of the leafless trees in the lamplit yards,
careening around cars parked for the night and the trunks of the elms
that then lined the streets in that town.

Sometimes I close my eyes
and listen to the wind maul Lake Michigan.
The sand, if you let it, will form a ramp against
your body, the wind driving it over you.
I’m such a small space of time, my body is,
under the crest of a dune …
I still remember the boys.
Their hair drifts in the water and their half-open eyes are beautiful,
the color of the moon, or the wedge of an apple,
or like the light shining
off the curve of a Chinook salmon
coming to the surface ten feet from the boat.
And now spring pokes lime-green shoots through the boys’ ribs,
and the woman moving beneath me
begins to groan like a swing set made out of wood.

There is a town in the south
where as a boy I played in the drive-in that was like a desert
of broken down cars and hot weeds,
steel posts wearing headsets the wind cried through.
Sometimes I’d sit in the field
behind the barbed wire fence and watch X-rated movies
and listen to the car horns and the muffled
words of the actors, indecipherable.

All night long the giant men and women
move their hands over each other
while I sleep. The man combs his massive fingers
through the woman’s hair and they both lie down out of sight.
The woman’s white dress flutters.
It blows down a slope
and settles on top of a flat slow river.
Later a helicopter chops holes in the paper clouds.
All the while the armored fish chase one another
around my bedroom, swimming in and out of the windows,
down the hall and into the kitchen
where they begin to bang against the hanging pots and pans,
threatening to wake up my parents.

While the man unbuttons the woman’s blouse
he watches the clouds
sail through her eyes. She smells his warm breath
that is like the sea blown inland. Later the man dreams he is in bed
with a glass sphere full of snow and a migrating V of plastic geese
only he can hear honking. He looks out the window at a duplicate formation
like an arrow pointing north. It is late spring.
The woman beside him is sleeping in a full-length wedding gown.
Now he remembers
the noisy parade of cars
trailing streamers and cans and huge, hook-lipped fish.

When a Chinook salmon swims through a lake under a full moon
on a summer evening, it is looking for the mouth of its river.
A hundred human children have just been conceived.
A bubble, like a dream, rises to a woman’s lips, and pops.

It’s daylight. The line sags in my hand.
Can anyone tell me what’s really down there?

The horizon looked like smoke
from all the blowing rain, and the chimneys, like dead periscopes,
stood unblinking above the freshly mown lawns.

Once—I must have been about five—I remember
pedaling by a cat. It was dead in the road.
He was singing, or dreaming. His paws were still paws,
soft with pads. I thought death looked lonely.
I thought the cat might get up and walk, like a boy, looking for a warm place to sleep.
At night I moved my feet inside the only still place
I couldn’t see.
I shined the light under the covers. My bed lit up like an aquarium.
It was always a relief, but sometimes I’d have to lie on top of the blankets
with the airborne fish,
who were just coming awake,
the warm currents like the arms of a mother
when she is moving through a dream in which she has carried you home.
Only once there she begins making love to a man
whose face is as smooth and as long as a piece of driftwood,
his arms pinning her legs.
There is laughter coming from the drive-in.
Close-up of a roller skate.
A woman touches an ice cube with her giant finger.

The screen of the drive-in looms over the neighborhood
I lived in whether it does now or not, replaced by a strip-mall,
the woman’s long arms
still drifting like leaves through a field
over the man’s back
(all of it overseen by the priest with the long dreadlocks), groans of love reverberating
through the trunks of the cottonwoods, the moon shining like a flying
fish against the cloak
of an almost navy blue sky.
And I’ve been watching that moon ever since, the way it follows the world,
probing the lilt of the gently blowing drapes,
the way its light pours like paint down the slopes of the dunes,
the way it hangs over the blue lawns surrounding Woods Lake,
where I now live,
a shimmering print reflected on water, soft as a kiss in the dark
of the nearby woods. All of this I can still see from where I sleep—
the double moons, and the fish underneath
(who on occasion I’ve seen cross Oakland Drive),
as well as the bodies they touch,
a couple undressed for a midnight swim. Somebody flashes their headlights,
somebody honks a car horn. The lovers shield their eyes, surprised, and look out at the world.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001

__________

David Dodd Lee: “I do whatever it takes to make a buck—pet sit, teach, paint houses, write television criticism and erotica. I am the publisher of Half Moon Bay poetry chapbooks, and associate editor of New Issues Press, for which I get paid zip. I was homeless for two years after receiving an MFA in 1993.”

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January 14, 2022

George Bilgere

CALL OF THE FOX

The summer we rented the cottage in the woods
we would waken in the middle of the night
to the mating call of the foxes, 

which sounds like one of my freshmen
barfing up hot dogs and Wild Turkey
after his first frat party, a sound
that makes you want to puke yourself
out of sympathy or sheer disgust
with the whole situation, 

how the imperatives of desire
drive us into the dark woods,
sick with the incandescent
loneliness of the flesh.

However, after listening for a while, 
my wife remarked
that it was actually kind of funny, 

as if nature, usually so careful 
about beauty, about getting it just right, 
had for once screwed up, 
and created something even
Mary Oliver couldn’t get behind. 

And then we thought, 
well, since we’re up anyway,
and there’s nothing else to do …

Which is why my wife
is my wife.

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

George Bilgere: “We had a pretty lousy spring. A disaster of a spring. The season of new life became a time of strange and frightening death. But when summer finally arrived I felt it was time for a change. Maybe it’s a cliché, but I felt it was time for something life-affirming. And for me that’s always been poetry. Like pretty much everyone else my family and I stayed put this summer, and I spent the long weeks and months reading and writing. I realized once again that in difficult times poetry can sustain me. I read Neruda. I read Rilke. I read my dear friend who has passed away, Tony Hoagland. Dorianne Laux and Barbara Crooker. Set against the backdrop of the pandemic, the poems I read burned with a strange new life. Instead of the immensity of the tragedy dwarfing poetry, it infused it with a tremendous new vitality for me. It kept me going.” (web)

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January 13, 2022

Vandana Khanna

ECHO

I cannot make it lovely,
this story of my father: his body
raw under the lights like a skinned

almond, surrounded by sandalwood,
pickled carrots, and the hush of
rice settling in a bag.

I can’t help it, I need metaphors:
his body curls like the curve of a cheek,
a knife lies beside him, done with its work.

This story in metaphors. Not simply:
You lie on the floor. You’ve been cut
by two men you don’t know. They wanted

money and you were too slow, didn’t understand.
But rather: bruises braid his skin, the bitter black
of leaves, eyes red as the swollen sting

of chili powder. Why do I write into the past?
He smells only sweat, sickened blood seeping,
nothing familiar—not black and red pepper pinched

into the air, not the jasmine of his mother’s
kitchen. Nothing—until his breath is like a tea
bag twisted, pressed into the cup of the room.

But it’s not an Indian grocery, it is a shabby
downtown hotel, the kind that lock their doors
at ten, have security guards to stop the prostitutes

from coming in, from warming themselves
in the lobby. The kind where hallways echo
of accents. The phone is off the hook.

Not, why do I write about the past?” but, what story
must I tell? You lie there dreaming, but I’m
not sure, dreaming of your childhood in Lahore:

the city escaping the finite lines of a map, erased
by riots, civil war. You remember the hot nights,
chattering birds—how the world was never silent then.

You tell me over and over but I can’t write it:
the same story, but I know we are leaving
things out. Embellishing. What they must

have said, the words, harsh like Bengali, you never
tell, the first cut and then the next, how you fell
like a sack of mangoes into a heavy tumble.

You have left the spaces empty for me to add
in colors, the smells, to translate to English.
To translate into the present, into beautiful.

I nearly forgot what I wanted.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001

__________

Vandana Khanna: “I began writing when I was nine and have continued to write as a way to re-live, re-member, and re-vision life. I received my MFA in poetry from the University of Nebraska, where I came to love corn fields, donuts, and walks through cemeteries. Currently, I live in Los Angeles—a place where I can pretend that, outside my window, the freeway sounds like an ocean.”

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January 12, 2022

Roberta Beary

SIX HAIKU

 

broken vein
of a heart-shaped leaf 
memorial bench
 
 
 
across the great divide heron and i
 
 
 
hospital lab
an unknown cluster
of paper cranes
 
 
 
monsoon over
moss covers mother’s 
maiden name
 
 
 
season of light
the soldier hands me
a folded flag
 
 
 
bedtime cocoa 
i unfriend the ghost
of christmas past

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

Roberta Beary: “I live in the west of Ireland where I am the longtime haibun editor for Modern Haiku. I recently collaborated on ‘One Breath: Reluctant Engagement Project,’ which pairs my haiku with artwork by families of people with disabilities.” (web)

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January 11, 2022

Zebulon Huset

THE MOON IS COVERED IN RABBITS AND TRASH

“This time it really is goodnight. There are still many questions I would like answers to, but I’m the rabbit that has seen the most stars. The Moon has prepared a long dream for me, I don’t know what it will be like—will I be a Mars explorer, or be sent back to Earth?”
—YUTU Moon Rover

For weeks we had an intriguing mystery:
a perfect cube popping over the horizon
of the moon. A moon hut, they called it,
they, not being nerds aka scientists, but
the cool kids publishing their words on
websites world-round. And we all knew
it was click-bait. It was wishful thinking,
not even propaganda like a waving flag
where there’s no wind (but there actually
is the reverberations of a pole jostled as it
was propped up by a man in a bulky suit).
We knew, knew it was just a rock (spoiler—
it was), but that didn’t stop us from clicking
and providing sweet, sweet ad revenue
(and, our personal browsing history via
cookies embedded in our computers).

Our super secret spy on the moon was
YUTU-2, younger brother of the original
‘Jade Rabbit’ rover YUTU—social media
sensation and part-time Chinese moon rover
that enthralled us with its cute messages
which were totally not just an advertising
agency putting an adorable face on its
usually bland scientific announcements
until we were unknowingly hooked and
then heartbroken when it finally faltered
and we marveled as the star-gazing bunny
gave us a tear-filled goodbye. Its successor
spied the ‘hut’ and again enthralled us all.

Now, no one posited it was one of the six
lunar modules NASA landed or crashed
and left on the moon’s surface, those
monuments (trash) were well-plotted,
and in some cases, surrounded by bags
of frozen urine and feces and packaging
too costly to retrieve from the moon.
Not to mention all of the machinery that
died or was abandoned like the aforementioned
Jade Rabbit. So when the Second Jade Rabbit
slow-rolled its way closer to the ‘hut’ it was,
surprise, surprise) a rock. Oblong, not quite round,
and not even enormous, just big enough to blip
the lip of a crater enough for the low resolution
camera to pixelate it. It was also dubbed Jade Rabbit
because, why not. We have enough unnamed rocks.

from Poets Respond
January 11, 2022

__________

Zebulon Huset: “I’ve long been taken with the story of the original Jade Rabbit Rover, so when the new one found a ‘hut’ which turned out to be a rock that they named Jade Rabbit as well, I had a hard time not writing a poem about the rabbits on the moon.” (web)

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January 10, 2022

Melissa Balmain

ON LOOKING AT AN MRI CROSS-SECTION

actual photo below

Inside my head, I learn, a horseshoe crab
stares heavenward with jumbo-olive eyes
(the pitted kind), each in an ice cream cone
webbed like a goose’s foot. Between them flies
bright looping wire. 
And past each ice cream cone, a marbled slab
of glossy, skinless chicken-off-the-bone
spreads like a wing. Behind the meat and flab?
A gown for those who like their skirts outsize
and half on fire.

So this is it: from fruit to flaming dress
hums every memory I’ve kept since birth—
each love and hate, each lesson I’ve been taught
and not ejected,
each town, cafe, or weedy patch of earth,
each brilliant scheme or idiotic thought.
In other words, it’s just the sort of mess
I’d have expected.

eBalmainBrain

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

Melissa Balmain: “After the shock of peering inside my skull, my need to write felt almost medical. Finding words for what I’d seen, and a poetic form to suit it, somehow helped me cope with the bizarreness of it all. As for the fact that the freaky object in the photo wrote the poem? Or that the ‘I’ that realized this fact is also the freaky object? I’m still wrapping my freaky object around both of those.” (web)

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