July 3, 2019

Rayon Lennon

RED BRICK TOWN

I roll to Ohio
To find my sister
Who exists
In a red brick town
As flat as her affect.
In the condo, her three
Kids pool around her. I wave
To them as the stranger
I am. They don’t wave
Back, two teenage
Girls, one tall as Naomi
Campbell, the other
About half white; and one
Boy who is in love
With breaking the law. “Nice
To see you,” I say. “I’m sorry,”
Sis says. “What
Do you want?”
I say, “To see you.”
She sends the kids
Out to spend time
With water guns
Or their boyfriends.
“Sit down,” she says.
I don’t. The blue leather
Couch looms
Ominous as the hurricane
Heart of the Caribbean
Sea. “I hear
You’re a therapist,”
She begins. I nod.
“And you’re a nurse,”
I say. She’s in a light
Bluish outfit. “Did you
Figure out that
You’re gay yet?” she smiles.
“Don’t be childish,”
I let out. She says,
“You won’t find
Pity here.”
The carpet looks
Like an overused golf
Course. I pray her therapist
Told her she’s borderline.
She grins. The heat in the living
Room inches toward
Insufferable. “Life’s not
Been easy,” I say
Now. “We got here
The hard way. We are
Barrel children, after all.”
She nods. She looks
Like depression. I remember
Her constantly trying
To die as a kid
In Jamaica, threatening
To run out in front
Of a truck or jumping
Off the stone wall
Into the speeding brown
Sludge of the gully during
A storm. All after dad
Left us for America.
Her face is brittle
From too many slaps
And punches from
Men who loved her.
She’s fatter after
Too many babies
And too much greasy
Food. Scars from a recent
House fire litter her arms
And legs. Here stands
The damaged gal
Who used to pummel
Me until my nose streamed
Red. The sun
Wants to burn through
A window. “I remember
The first time
You called me
A whore,” she says.
“I was 12. You were 7.”
It was after church
On a Sunday in front
Of our old house
In Jamaica. “It made
Me want to die.
My own brother
Calling me trash.
I know I hurt you
Too. I hit you
For no reason.
I let you fall off
The bed and knock
Your head on the concrete
Floor. I couldn’t
Catch you. We couldn’t
Afford a crib. And mom’s
Bed was too high.
You were always
Smart but never
Quite right. I’m
Sorry. You could’ve
Been a supernova
Genius. I myself
Wasn’t the same after
Dad left.” Cars scream
In the distance. “It’s okay.
You’re a queen,
Sis,” I insist. She says,
“Thanks. But don’t
Lie. I’m sick
Too. I couldn’t stop
That freak older
Boy from fucking
With you under a bridge
When you were too
Young to know what
Was going on.”
The kids do sound
Like a war outside.
I say, “You didn’t
Know until I told
You afterwards,
And while you closed
The windows for
The oncoming
Rain, you cried.
That meant a lot
To me.” I hug her for
Perhaps the first
Time and say, “I love
You.” She stops
Breathing, and her
Body steels up.
“You don’t mean
That,” she says. “I
Love you,” I say
Again as the kids
Push open the door.

from Rattle #63, Spring 2019

__________

Rayon Lennon: “My work operates in that magical gray area between poetry and fiction. For this poem, I wanted to dramatize a number of the reasons behind the recent outrage over children being separated from their parents at the border. In the news, the focus has been placed on children and how being separated from their families adversely affects them—while their parents hunt for the American dream. You don’t have to pick a side on this issue to empathize with the children. This poem widens the scope on the issue—by exploring what happens generally when parents leave their children behind to pursue the American dream. My father left Jamaica when I was born to work on apple farms in Connecticut. His departure decimated the family. He overstayed his visa and did not return to Jamaica for several years (he returned briefly after becoming a U.S. resident; he and my mother eventually divorced because of the long separation). I was six and my sister was around eleven years old when our father left for good. She changed the day he left and has never been the same. My relationship with her suffered because of this. This poem—an imagined journey to see my sister—attempts to address and repair the harm done. I think I’ve only hugged my sister once. It was the day after my wedding. It still shocks me how shocked she was when I pulled her in for a long hug. It made me sad then to think about all the love that didn’t exist between us.” (web)

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October 18, 2019

Catherine Pond

STAR SIGNS

Luna sits on the bed, taller than last summer, tan legs
dangling over the edge. You’re a Scorpion, like me,
she says, when I tell her my birthday. That’s right,
I say. At school in Oaxaca, she has a nemesis
named Oasis, pronounced Oh-ah-sees. She tells me
about it, bouncing up and down on the worn mattress.
Before they were enemies, she says, they were
best friends. Maybe you’ll be friends again one day,
I suggest, but she shakes her head. I don’t think so.
She tells me about her other friends, Sofia, Lucia.
I’m popular, Luna explains, and with a flush I remember
what those first loves felt like: all the girls I knew
by heart and wanted so badly to impress.
The pair of black patent leather sneakers
my mother bought me, which squeaked when I walked
and which I was too shy to wear until one day
I got up the nerve, and Kelsey Tucker, the most popular
girl in fifth grade, said, Cool sneakers, and suddenly I was in.
By middle school it was all over. I was too nerdy,
too desperate for attention from my teachers.
My mother bought my clothes one size too big
so I would always be comfortable, and when
I ran into my old friends in the bathroom,
sucking in their stomachs to get their pants
zipped up all the way, I was embarrassed.
I still wore jeans from Limited Too that sagged
in the butt, and t-shirts that announced all the tourist
destinations my father had taken us the previous summer:
Niagara Falls! said one. Luray Caverns! said another.
The other girls didn’t wear t-shirts anymore.
They wore halters so you could see their bras.
They liked being looked at. Didn’t they know boys
would hurt them, I wondered. Didn’t they know
that boys thought awful thoughts. I knew it
without being told, and wore big sweaters
so they wouldn’t look at my chest. Luna kicks at the bed.
Are you listening? she says, and I tune back in
to a story about a beach trip with her friends,
and the boys she hates. When I mention
my own boyfriend her face twists and her blue eyes
go steely. Who is he? she asks, barely veiling
her jealousy. You’d like him, I say, but it’s clear
she’s already made up her mind. I’ll be thirteen
in November, she says, eager to change the subject.
Maybe you can come for my birthday party.
I imagine boarding a plane, cruising south over
sun-drenched hills, red flowers dotting the valley.
Luna in a blue dress. That would be nice, I say.
Through the window behind her, the lake glimmers.
Rows of apple trees on the opposite shore
glow in the light. I don’t ask her
if she remembers the move to Mexico,
the day her mother boarded the plane and flew her
away from her father. In the few months each summer
he has custody, I don’t blame him for trying to win her
over, giving her the biggest bedroom
in the house, building her a pool in the middle
of the orchard, buying her whatever she wants.
Though her eyes are set wide in her face,
and mine are close together, though she is small
for twelve, and I was tall, we look alike.
We have the same broad nose and blue eyes,
as if we were burned by the same star
when we were born. I take a photo of her
standing in the bedroom with the pink wallpaper.
The lake ripples like a silver backdrop,
the kind they drape behind you for a school photo.
Later, we play Scrabble against “the adults.”
She and I are a team, and when we lose
she flips the board and storms out of the room.
Who does that remind you of, my father says,
and laughs. I find her by the water, sulking,
and in an attempt to cheer her up, find myself
making promises I know I can’t keep.
I’ll come visit for your birthday, I say.
I’ll write you every month. But when I fly back
to Los Angeles, I forget to write. Life tumbles in.
It’s September when the earthquake hits Oaxaca.
My phone buzzes in the silent room, my heart jolts
when I see the headline. Biggest earthquake
in a century, it says. I text everyone I can think of,
then move through my apartment as if I’m the one
darkness has settled down on, waiting to hear
that Luna is safe. An hour passes. Then another.
What is it like, I wonder, when that first bolt
breaks loose off the coast? What does she think
when the Earth doesn’t stop, but keeps buckling
beneath her, and she wakes inside the full force
of that rift, so sudden, so deep, and does she know,
though she is only a day older, how from then on
everything will be different.

from Rattle #64, Summer 2019

__________

Catherine Pond: “Scorpio is a water sign, and I wrote this poem for my cousin Jurni so she will remember that being ruled by water is ultimately a gift, though the depth of it can sometimes overwhelm you.” (web)

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July 31, 2019

Chris Anderson

MISREADING DARWIN

He lived not only his own life,
he lived also in the lives of others.
—Janet Browne,
Charles Darwin

I. Chemistry, the Cultural Approach

We didn’t have to do experiments, we just had to think about them,
and that’s my method still.
I don’t like specimens. I like shelving. Not collecting but collections.
The way Darwin said he abhorred the sea, every wave and slap,
the whole five years, but loved his tiny cabin beneath the poop deck,
with its nooks
and crannies and clever drawers, though of course
he was really out there, too, scrambling over rocks and skinning iguanas.
He could do it all: geology, zoology, botany.
Back home in County Kent he spent the mornings in his study
surrounded by his books and instruments.
He loved to write on foolscap. Sometimes a sentence. Sometimes a word.
He wasn’t an atheist. He was just very, very slow.
He was polite.
I am the vine, you are the branches, as Buzz Aldrin said from the moon,
after the Eagle landed.
But this was off-mic, of course. He was quoting Jesus.

 

II. Cartoon Eyes

Darwin wrote sitting on a chair
with a board spread across his lap.

He was always sending his children out
to collect beetles and report on the pigeons,
and he was always asking farmers
what they had seen and what they knew,
and shopkeepers, and the postman.

Anybody. He was interested.

I have a laptop, of course,
and so I often write in chairs.
Yesterday what I saw was a bushtit
fluttering in the ivy,
and when I went to investigate
I saw that it couldn’t fly anymore.
It was injured and hiding.

It looked right at me, blinking
the two black dots of its eyes,
and as it blinked
nothing else on its body moved.
It was otherwise still.

I think it knew me.
I think it knew it was dying.

 

III. Addendum to My First Poem about Darwin

When I say that Darwin wasn’t an atheist
I just mean that he seems like such a nice man.
He was shy. He was sad. He was flatulent—
that’s why he always excused himself after dinner.
He spent eight years studying barnacles,
everything about them, until he was the world’s expert
on barnacles, all the different kinds,
with all their hard shells and their soft, creamy bodies.
He loved to walk in his garden,
admiring the trees, but only at the appointed time.
His house was the ship and his wife
was the captain and he was the voyager,
alone with his thoughts every day, filling page after page.
The children told time by the creak of his door—
though they were always racing in, too,
stealing a rock or a feather, and he let them,
and sometimes he played with them or took them
in his arms and kissed them on the ears,
and when his little Annie died he so forgot himself
in a letter to a friend he called her a little angel.
An angel. He just couldn’t believe
she was gone. He just wasn’t thinking.

 

IV. On the Surface

Darwin married his cousin, Emma,
and later came to love her dearly.

I met Barb in the band—she played the drums
and I played the clarinet—
and I loved her from the start.

After their second child died, the youngest,
a boy, Darwin bought a billiard table.
He researched it thoroughly first
and bought the best, and he liked to play
as he was thinking,
banking shots off the soft, velvet edges.

My brother and I used to play pool
down at Gazebos, in a shadowy corner
beneath a big hanging light,
the felt a brilliant, emerald green,
but I never sat at the bar until a week
after Barb and I were married.

I’d just turned twenty-one and Dad
bought me a beer
and we sat and talked. It was surreal.
It just didn’t seem possible.
Everything was still on the surface.

 

V. My Mystery Bird

At Nestucca once I saw a Swainson’s Thrush sing,
but I had to live there first, for a month, in the alder above the bay.
It was chilly and damp in the morning, and I was very lonely,
but I had my little coffee pot, and my Post-it-Notes
flew like flags, and finally I saw it happening, early one evening,
lit by the sun, the way they tip back their heads
and let the song pour forth, their soft throats bubbling.
Now there’s this mystery bird in my neighbor’s yard across the street,
singing in the blackberries. It could be
a Black-throated Gray Warbler, or a Hermit Warbler, or even
a Townsend’s, but there’s no way to know unless I actually see it,
unless I can stand on the road and wait,
looking into the thorns, while the cars drive by and the world goes on,
and I do. Minutes at a time. I want to see this one, too.
The way my brother says he feels the wine slide down his throat
when he drinks from the cup at mass.
The way he says he can feel it: that warmth. That burning.

from Rattle #64, Summer 2019

__________

Chris Anderson: “I’ve been reading a lot lately about science and religion and about environmental theology, and that led me to Darwin and to this wonderful biography by Janet Browne. It’s so beautifully written, and Darwin comes out of it as such a fascinating English-country gentlemen. I found myself oddly identifying with him, even though—and then exactly because—I realized that in the poems I started to write, in this sequence, I was getting him wrong, sort of turning him into a believer when he wasn’t. That became the theme of the sequence. Darwin became a way for me to explore the border between science and religion in myself.” (web)

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July 6, 2018

Julie Price Pinkerton

ON THE PIER WHERE THE SIGN READS “NO INTENTIONAL SHARK CATCHING”

“Sharks 3 feet or under must be hand-lined and immediately released.
Sharks over 3 feet must immediately be released by cutting the line.”

No bullshit, you people.
Break the rules and get a fine of 500 bucks and 30 days in jail.

Here we are, all of us tourists, waiting for a table
at the pier restaurant, hanging around in lazy shorts
and sunburns and lumpy tote bags.
We can smell the end of our vacations in the briny air.
We dread going back to our boring lives of—

“They’ve got one!” someone shouts.
Two guys in their twenties are pulling it up
hand over hand, excitement pulsing from them
like mist from a Whole Foods vegetable sprayer.
Dozens of us go on red alert, rushing to the fray.
The little shark, a two-footer, whips its body—
a gray-white nothing-but-muscle missile—
back and forth with such formidable force

that the two captors strain all four biceps
to hold on hold on hold on jesus hold on
and try to work the awful hook from its mouth.
They jiggle it, twist it, tug it backward through
the wound they’ve caused. Pull pull pull pull.
They’re frantic but poised, like NICU docs
aching to get a preemie to breathe.

They hurry to their tackle box, flip it open,
grab some pliers, and sure enough,
we rubberneckers are right there with them,
moving from one side of the pier to the other
like Charlie Brown’s gang shuffling over
to decorate the dejected evergreen
with Snoopy’s store-bought sparkles.

We have become a conjoined blob, shapeless,
and also shameless, every last one of us.
I feel, all of a sudden, like an asshole.
I try to find a kindred spirit.
“Look at us,” I say. “We’re shark paparazzi.”
No one looks at me. No one laughs.
Gotta hold the cell phones steady
to capture this shark ourselves,
our own catch of the day.
It thwacks and snaps as though
the end of the entire angry galaxy
has been poured like gunpowder
into this enraged tube of fishbody.
It longs to unleash its sea-fury
on these two hook-wielding fuckers
and on all the paparazzi fuckers
who are saying things like
“Look at ’im fight!” and “Isn’t it weird
how it looks like he’s smiling?”

Yes. Smiling. Not the grimace of a child
pushed into a family’s holiday photo.
More like the grin of Beelzebub
or a parade queen runner-up,
picturing jolly retribution to come.

The hook will not budge.
The shark needs water.
They cut the line and toss it over
the side of the pier to the audience
below the surface: eels and horseshoe crabs,
miles of kelp, sand dollars piled up like poker chips.

The show is over. We’ll go eat dinner now,
scroll through our photos between bites
of today’s special, crab cakes, and maybe
order dessert before walking back to our
rented condo to pack our bags.
Tomorrow we’ll gas up the car
and head for home to face the smothering
list of things we came here to forget,
like the fact that we couldn’t really afford any
kind of vacation but our desperation won out.

I start to forgive the group of gawkers,
me included, for the bright burdens we carry
around our necks like neon pool noodles,
and for the great humiliating need
we sometimes have to see
a creature struggling
that isn’t us.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018

__________

Julie Price Pinkerton: “Traveling has always felt strange to me. When I was seven, my dad took our family on vacation to Washington, D.C., so we kids could learn more about the country he loved. He took us to meet our congressman, John Myers, and filled our week-long itinerary to the brim. Amid stunning monuments and museums, the thing I found most fascinating (aside from there being some new, otherworldly food in our hotel called honeydew) was that we encountered a taxi driver who smoked a cigar. I had never seen a cigar before. Five decades later, the small, unexpected parts of any trip are still like catnip to me. While at the beach last May with my husband, Scott, the shark scene in this poem unfolded in front of us. It’s a perfect example of what I’m drawn to most: numerous little chunks of strangeness pulling together like a pile of paper clips snapping onto a magnet. I could relate to every part of it. I was the crowd of nosy bystanders, the duo of fishermen, and the small creature minding its own business when it suddenly lands inside a snow globe of agony, looking for someone to rescue it.” (web)

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September 14, 2016

Nancy Miller Gomez

SUPERNOVA

My mother has died.
I have spent the day packing her things.
The Tiffany birds, the tiny Limoges boxes,
her favorite blue blouse. Now there is
nothing left but the vacant rooms
and the ache of her absence.
Jonah and I go outside to look at the sky.
Between the bowl of the Big Dipper
and the North Star a violent explosion
millions of years ago has just become
visible to astronomers on earth.
But we can’t see it with our naked eyes.
Even so, we lie on the lawn
and look up into a black pool
pinpricked by millions of needles of light.
I am floating face-down into emptiness
when the voice of my young son
fills the darkness. “Did you know
all the atoms in our bodies
were once inside a star?”
He leans his head against mine.
I breathe in earth and grass
and the cool, damp air.
My heart is too small
to hold this night.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016

[download audio]

__________

Nancy Miller Gomez: “Poetry helps me to make emotional sense of my life. Each poem is a struggle to clarify something I don’t yet understand. ‘Deadbeat’ came to me with the line, ‘you’re more romantic now that you’re dead.’ That line is no longer in the poem. What remains is the idea that we carry the ghosts of those we’ve loved both before and after they’ve died. ‘Supernova’ grapples with my experience of grief as something both tangible and immeasurable.”

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August 14, 2016

Jackleen Holton

OLYMPIA

The news has gone so far beyond absurd
that I can’t watch it anymore; the little boxes
with their talking heads all talking
about the same damn thing. So I switch
the channel again, let myself be mesmerized
by the swimmers with their exquisite butterfly
wings, the way their bodies undulate
through the water, rising open-mouthed,
as if in praise, then diving down, making it seem effortless.
And I’m reminded of Leni Riefenstahl’s film Olympia,
documenting the 1936 games in Berlin,
and how, as the movie progresses, the athletes, in shadowy
black and white, leave the stadium behind, turn
godlike, their sculpted bodies blossoming
like time-lapse flowers in the sky.
Yesterday, scrolling down my Facebook feed,
I read about a woman in Missouri who saw Donald Trump’s
likeness in a tub of butter, the way once-upon-a-time
somebody was always glimpsing the Virgin Mother
in everything. But there it was, the face
I see in every other post, bubbling up in the yellow
spread, bulbous mouth frozen mid-holler.
The swimmers in the individual medley form a graceful V
like a flock of soaring geese, the pool morphing into
Riefenstahl’s majestic sky. I have a friend who can see
the spirit animal in everyone. For her, every trip
to the grocery store is a safari. But I understand it now,
watching these swimmers mount their blocks;
this one’s a gazelle, that one, a panther.
Leni Riefenstahl loved Hilter. Her beautiful films
were the glorious Aryan face of his regime.
And before the ceremonies began, her camera lingered
on him, his right arm raised to a surging sea of outstretched arms.
Though the mood is festive, her chiaroscuro
montage takes on the somber tones of history.
But today, I love the swimmers for what our animal bodies can do
when the spirit wants it enough. I lean forward as the one
in the middle lane closes in on the world record line.
Someone strung up a confederate flag at a Trump rally
yesterday, which, I told my husband is exactly what I would do
if I were a protester: I’d disguise myself as an asshat,
hoist it up and wait for the cameras.
But of course that wasn’t a joke, either.
Riefenstahl disavowed the Nazis after the war,
but I wonder if her love lived on in some secret bunker
of her heart where she only dreamed in black and white.
Another record is broken, a new medalist stands
on the platform. I can’t help it, my eyes well up.
The lady in Missouri says she thought for a moment
about putting her tub of butter on eBay
to see what she could fetch for it, but in the end
she just wanted buttered toast, so she dipped a knife
in, and handily scraped away the apparition
of that little, angry face.

Poets Respond
August 14, 2016

[download audio]

__________

Jackleen Holton: “The Trump campaign imploded this week, although it has been headed in that direction for some time, and although the media continues to milk the sideshow for ratings. If there is any symbolic meaning to the butter sighting, it may be, as Jan Castellano, the woman who found the contorted face looking back at her from a tub of Earth Balance said, she hoped his campaign ‘melts away like butter.’ But that can’t happen if we continue to give this candidate our attention and energy. Meanwhile, the Olympic games provided a welcome, sometimes inspiring distraction. While the precise nature of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s relationship with Adolph Hitler was not known, she did praise him effusively in a letter she wrote during the war, and she benefited greatly from the Nazi regime in a way that only a few individuals can with such a system in place.” (website)

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October 27, 2015

Erin Noteboom

CURIE IN LOVE

If a radioactive substance is placed in the dark in the vicinity of the closed eye or of the temple, a sensation of light fills the eye.
—Marie Curie, doctoral dissertation, 1903

The sensation of light
is light. There is no way for her to know it.
She is so young and so in love, marrying
an equal, choosing for her gown a navy dress
suitable for use in laboratories. Hand in hand
they slip through the university courtyard—
Pierre and Marie Curie, in the world before the war.
One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night,
she wrote. To perceive on all sides
the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles
and capsules of our work. That light
marbles and embarnacles them both,
turns their fingers strange and fibrous.
Soon enough he cannot rise from bed.
It was really a lovely sight and always new to us.
She loses twenty pounds. Two pregnancies.
There is no way for her to know that her light
will soon paint gunsights and the dials of watches.
That it is ticking through her body, his body,
faster than time. What she has understood
is astonishing enough: the atom, active.
It is as if marbles were found to be breathing out.
As if stones were found to speak.
Sick and stumbling, Pierre is struck
by a cart of military equipage. He passes untouched
under the hooves of six horses. Untouched
between the front wheels, between the turns
of chance and miracle, before six tons
and the back wheel open his skull
and kill him instantly.
Thus closes the deterministic world.
Your coffin was closed and I could see you no more.
I put my head against it.
From the cold contact something like a calm
or intuition came to me.
She does not record him speaking.
That light. She had no way of knowing
it was ionizing radiation, entering the eye,
lighting the eye gel the way a cooling pool is lit
around a great reactor. Her hair was thick then,
and thickly piled. Her fingers smooth.
Her thighs like marble. She closes her eyes
and raises the vial.

from Rattle #49, Fall 2015
Tribute to Scientists

__________

Erin Noteboom: “I started university with a burning desire to study both poetry and physics. Sadly they make you pick, and I picked physics on the grounds that teaching myself about eigenvectors was kind of a tall order. I got all the way to a doctoral program before I realized I was wrong—it’s in poetry that I find my most startling equations. I write poetry and children’s fiction now, and work as a science writer.” (web)

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