November 17, 2022

Courtney Kampa


Gregory had a mole below his left eye
and sometimes kids in our 5th grade class 
would tease him, saying he had chocolate 
on his face. I was the girl who knew it 
was his left eye and not his right. Who listened 
in secret to Oldies 100—music like Baby Love by the Supremes 
and knew every Patsy Cline song by heart. Gregory 
didn’t backpack pocket blades to school like Richard 
or look up girls’ skirts beneath the monkey bars 
the way Kenny did, whose mom let him watch 
all the Late Night TV he wanted. He was nothing 
like Vinny who’d steal the grape juice box 
off your desk when you weren’t looking.
And he didn’t mock William, whose dad worked hard
for a gasoline company—gasoline has the word gas
in it, which all the cool kids thought 
was pretty funny; really classic. Gregory had immaculate 
Ticonderoga erasers and he made my knee-socks droop 
and he made my weak bony ankles 
weaker. At recess before summer a soft piece of sidewalk 
tar was thrown at my feet and I looked up 
and there he was, skipping backwards, a rocket wanting 
me to chase him. Mrs. Rivers led him off to suggest 
alternative ways of procuring
female attention and in those awful green uniform pants
he looked back at me and winked—which is not 
something the average 5th grader does
to another 5th grader. Three weeks later his winking face was fed
into the teeth of a triple car wreck. Eleven years 
and I’m still mouthing the triple syllables 
of his name. Not because he needs me to
but because I have no alternative way of procuring 
his attention. At school I quit talking, Colin inches 
from my face taunting SAY-SOME-THING
but I didn’t, so now I will say something, I will say 
that I cried at our class talent show, watching Gregory’s mom 
out in the audience, shirt mis-buttoned, camera readied,
looking for him, and seeing him
nowhere. I will say that with Gregory gone there was no one 
to stop the boys from snapping 
Stephen’s stutter like a twig across their knees. I’ll say ours 
was a misfit purity. That after art he gave me 
his scissors and I swapped 
him mine, both blades aimed forward, looking at each other 
like we’d just done something 
dangerous. Handles inked with initials 
in handwriting not his, marked the way mothers mark us carefully
when we walk into the world. I’ll say that I still 
have them. Gregory, ask me to name a thing 
as indestructibly beautiful as you, and I cannot. Time disfigures 
those who breathe and those of us who no longer can
but none of that has touched you. Not the cruelty 
of children. Not the gravel and glass
that pushed their way into your green 
restless legs. Not the ugliness of an ambulance
come too late. Not the small grass square 
that mothers and quilts you. Not even the skid marks 
below your brother’s eyes, tire treads 
red across his chest. Love is nothing
if not what takes its time. It takes sweet 
time and it took tar but was taken 
by tar and it’s taken eleven years of not trusting 
the pitch of my voice or the shamed 
insufficiency of what I have 
to say—that at your service I got no further 
than taking a holy card from the altar boy; picture 
of an angel as dark-haired as you: an angel I’d soon shred 
to ribbons, my hand around those handles for the first
and only time. Gregory, think of me 
in St. Joe’s parking lot in July in a sweaty cotton skirt. 
Think of my confession to that angel, in his headband 
of light, how much I liked 
him too. Hoping you had stopped a moment 
in the beatific beating of your wings; in the now-familiar strumming 
of that strange, beseeching harp.

from Rattle #42, Winter 2013
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Courtney Kampa: “I wrote ‘Baby Love’ four years ago while attending the University of Virginia.” (web)

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June 29, 2022

Nicelle Davis


The article in Happy was:
“Feast your eyes on the world’s top 8 sexiest
plants.” More words to form the headline than
plants listed. Too bad for the two Blooms
that shortened the 10 count, or weren’t there enough
sex pots at all? I’m in a Zoom writing workshop again.
Nearly a year since I’ve checked these boxes; those
faces were my friends. Are my friends? Tense times.
We should have muted our mics for the thirty-minute
free write, but one never does. I can hear her starting
the engine, speaking her poem, seeing how she runs.
We are all women in here. There? I never learned how
to spell minute, have to look it up every time, always
keeping track of the dancing. That’s the difference
a few letters make. The poet is coughing. I wonder if
it is rude to see if she is dying, or rude to not see?
Funny the things we look at. Readers have every right
to be frustrated—I mean, where did this pronoun
come from? Why wait until the middle of the poem
to announce You? You, the you I’m talking to. Who’s
to say this is the middle? This poem might die next
or go on another four pages. This is how I write
these days. In Zoom, with women and an unforeseeable
number of pages. The Zoom poet is speaking again,
the word bone is all that really sticks. Her voice is revving.
Who says “how she runs?” Why is it always a her? First
thing my mother ever taught me was how to run in heels
with my keys between my fingers. I told you about that
when we were out for drunken pie in Chicago. AWP.
Who will remember that? Who will remember bookfairs
and celebrity? The other female interns, young, lurched
through the streets like skinny t-rexes. How do you
pluralize Rex? You would have made a better editor
than a publicist. Your advice about a career in poetry,
find a honey pot. I’d just turned down my city judge
who offered me a house back and full custody of my
son. I remind the judge of his mother who committed
suicide. The judge still checks on me to see if I’ve done
the same. I never sold myself. Perhaps that’s why in
the thick of quarantine, I feel more than lonely—I am
worthless. Or worth less. I’m getting older. 42 this
October. I had a dream about you last night. You
hugged me and when I pulled back you hugged
me again. It’s been five years since I met you in New
York, gave you a handkerchief cross-stitched with my
blood—a stranger’s tooth bought in a second-hand
store. Here is how Chicago went down. You knew
brushing turned me on, so invited me to your room.
We lathered and spit together. You’re a bleeder. You
should floss more and go to the dentist often. It’s ok
to be clean. It’s taken me years to learn that. I thought
I’d marry you, but I slept with one of the catalogue authors
instead. Same night as the brushing. You thought I was
making a choice. A bad one. I thought you should take
your pollen advice and stick it up your ass. Who thinks
of shit like that? Words that seem to go on forever. Idioms.
They’re just too easy. Did you know, unlike animals or
humans, plants self-replicate, that is, under the right
circumstances they live forever. I was always too dirty
for you but that didn’t make a dream of forgiveness any
less sweet, Honey Pot. I just gave you that nickname.
In this poem. Yes, this is a poem. If anyone were to read
this, I’d want them to know I love you. Maybe one day
they’ll tell you about it? A good story is rooted in gossip.
A good poem is just a mask. How might you edit Happy’s
title? In case you forgot, it goes, “Feast your eyes on
the world’s top 8 sexiest plants.” The other two. Well.
They never happened.

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022


Nicelle Davis: “During quarantine, I discovered YouTube and the world of plant influencers. At first, I watched with morbid curiosity. People spend more on a house plant than my car-home-salary combined. Eventually, I found myself lulled by the motions of things getting watered. Now I’m the proud owner of over 200 common house plants. They filled the emptiness of 200+ in-person students, family, friends, poets, strangers. My plants helped me recognize an impulse to care and gave me an outlet to verb love. I once was a girl who just let things die—but no more. I’m a convert to fertilizers, aerated soil mixes, and watering schedules. My creative team has made its own YouTube channel called Plants, Painting, and Poetry.” (web)

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December 19, 2022

Cindy Veach


When I begged my parents 
to let me go on the Mousetrap ride
I didn’t know 
that at each and every hairpin turn 
half my car would hang
for what seemed minutes in mid-air
before jerking right 
or left then back 
to a too short straight away 
before the next turn 
and the next
why did I tell them I loved it
on that holiday when my father 
forgot the Nikon 
its rolls and rolls of 35mm film
all our vacation photos
on the hook of a stall door 
in a London men’s room
when we were in the Tube 
hurtling toward Heathrow
he lost his temper yelled at us 
why did I think it was my fault
I picked that coaster ride
to show my parents
that their pre-teen daughter
could go it alone
dizzy with shame
I spotted them 
far below on trusted ground
clung to their faces 
why did I keep it to myself
when we stayed that night
at the highway motel
room doors open to the outdoors 
and I was helping 
carry our stuff board games piled
to my chin
and lost my way
picked the wrong door
pushed with my foot 
and walked in  
on a naked couple limbs entwined
the woman looked right at me
all those game boxes in my arms
Chutes and Ladders Candy Land Life 
each sharp edge marking 
the tender insides of my forearms 
my father left us standing there in the London Tube
six kids my mother her massive canvas bag 
of passports snacks tickets
she looked right at me
pulled the white sheet over their tangled legs 
I could not turn away
I’d never seen my parents touch
I gripped that Mousetrap’s safety bar
he caught the next train back 
to that stop that men’s room 
the camera gone
I saw I saw I saw
they were grown ups
as beautiful as statues in museums
I still blame myself

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022


Cindy Veach: “I believe that memories choose us and not the other way around. This poem braids together three memories that refused to leave me alone. I felt intense guilt and shame about each one of these memories and, true to the poem’s title, never shared them with anyone.” (web)

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January 21, 2023

Heather Bell


The photos taken from helicopters are really
quite beautiful: the weird orange waves, the way
it bends back like a spinal cord. It isn’t that I
am not sympathetic to the ocean, but it
touches the tips of birds, taking them from
naked to casket. I have always been attracted

to power in that way: fortressing my house
with brick fences and mines. The abusive
burn victims as boyfriends. Building a garden
all spring, only to maniacally cover it in poison
at the season’s end.

I wonder how the oil sounds when it speaks.
Perhaps quiet as a star. Perhaps sad as a
Wurlitzer. Perhaps it just wants to go home,
moans and cries for its mother. Maybe it is

not what it seems: its dark marigold is
its way of saying don’t leave me because
of who I am. And animals are dying and
the algae has crumbled up in the shape
and color of human blood. I find, within all the
salvage and darkness, that it has fingers.

I touch them lightly like I would
touch the skeleton of a person that I
once loved, frightened and hoping
this one doesn’t belong to me, but
it does.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011


Heather Bell: “It’s not that current events were ever something I wanted to dwell on, but I got to thinking about all the news articles out there with their sad lines and accusatory photos and I just wanted to stop all of it, right there. Is it wrong to see a deadly thing as beautiful? Maybe that was my point all along—poetry is like that: a news article gone awry that you and only you can rewrite to help someone get through it all, stop crying, begin taking his or her child to the grocery store again and just, in general, wake up.” (web)

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September 11, 2021

Kevin Gu (age 15)


The first time I dipped my toes in the Yangtze my mother
told me the story of Qu Yuan, a great poet
who drowned himself
along the branching twines of the river.
I laughed at her, split-grinned,
and submerged my legs anyway.
Later that night, I dreamt
of jasmine rice and zongzi.

Indigo means immensity. Mother cooked 麻婆豆腐 (Mapo Tofu) for me
when the winters were still long—the middle
stages of twilight at 5 PM. The rusty heater pumped
rivulets of smoky air,
scent lingering in my lungs like yinghua syrup.
Her calloused fingertips kneaded
my fleshy face while the rest of the world was quiet,
only us alone in the house.

Mouth gaping under the light-year skies. Taste
the moon’s perspiration, it tells me. It grips me.
They all want something,
the Yangtze said to me that day.
Mother stroked my burnt hair,
blackened soot on the thin skin of my undereyes.
Find yourself in the infinite
or it will drive you under
the currents.

The silky black felt frozen between my toes,
Chang Jiang was its other name. Mother told me
it meant long river. Long falling, long gone.
Fish nipped on peach-frosted skin as inward legs
held the weight of the horizon. The listless sky spun around
two axes, one centered above me another piercing
my side, asymmetric, indigo split like gears
grinding flaked sugar stars. My chest trembled,
eyes closed at the sight of the undertow.

Why did Qu Yuan drown himself?

The Yangtze answered, over
and over and over:

He yearned for the sky
and found the next closest thing.

from 2021 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Kevin Gu: “I write because the emotions that bottle up within me are too intricate to describe in a linear way. Poetry, specifically, helps me express my stories like the rolling of waves and the uncontrolled flow of water—infinite. Sometimes my writing is purely based on one experience and one emotion, and other times it’s an outlet for me to spread important messages that I believe in.”

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March 1, 2023

Kaitlin Reynolds


After the blizzard, my husband drives
out to the cemetery to check on his mother. 
He calls it Just Driving Around to See What’s What 
and neither of us talk about the winding road 
he takes that eventually turns west, past the old 
peanut mill, to the quiet part of town made 
even quieter, knee-deep in that singular hush of snow.
We pass the gates as casually as two people
come for a welfare check on the dead can be.
We don’t even get out of the car, don’t even 
turn down the small beaten path that leads to her 
headstone, nestled under the old juniper.
I look one way while he looks the other,
because it would break the illusion of our almost-
aimless drive; because he’s committed as I am 
to our parts (Curious Townsperson 1 & 2); 
because it’s a bone-deep kind of right to give him 
this moment alone, let him feel the ache and 
bewilderment of a heart still yo-yoed by love—
so the other end of the string is a powdered stone. 
What does that matter? What has that ever mattered?
She was always, always cold, he tells me. 
Middle of summer, August heatwave—
didn’t matter. Her room was a sauna. 
He rolls his eyes, smiles, and the visit is over. 
We drive past the gates, take turns watching 
the juniper sink in the rearview mirror. 
He takes my hand and pretends to see a bird. 
I lace our fingers, pretend to see it too.

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Kaitlin Reynolds: “I feel this need to commit as much as I can to written memory—because moments are the most precious things I’ll ever possess, and because the mind is a poor steward. I want better for them than a few decades of aimless floating around in my skull, waiting to erode into oblivion. Even if I’m the only one who ever knows: they happened, and I felt them, and they mattered. And everything deserves somewhere to go.”

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February 15, 2022

Rattle is proud to announce the winner of the 2021 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers’ Choice Award:

Erin Murphy
Altoona, Pennsylvania
“The Internet of Things”

The 2021 Readers’ Choice Award was selected from among the Rattle Poetry Prize finalists by subscriber vote. Only those with active subscriptions including issue #74 were eligible. In the closest vote since the tie in 2017, “The Internet of Things” earned 16.4% of the votes and the $5,000 award, edging out Rayon Lennon and Susan Browne, who earned 13.9% each. Here is what some of those readers had to say about the winner:

A little like the Winter 2018 cover of Rattle, Erin Murphy’s “The Internet of Things” has the spare geometry of the bare branches of a sapling in a snowfall where a robin, all red feathers, orangey beak, and black mask, perches, waiting for that glance, understanding that will connect two worlds and for a moment, just as long as that glance lasts, let them be one. The subtitle defines the word, but what is “The Internet”—or anything? The spare sequence of doublets leads in sets of keys, key changes, rips on a piano, to “the grief”—”Oh—the grief. The brief / ecstatic flight of things.” And what could have been—and was—isolation becomes connection, even union with those last four words.
—Steve Lautermilch

Because I keep coming back to it. Because each time I read it, it surprises me. Because each time I read it I am showered with a cascade of startling, baffling, and beautiful sensations. Because, finally, the grief given to flight.
—Julie Naslund

Too many poems are autobiographical, and blatantly so. Murphy uses a series of crisp visual images, contrast and duality in this contemplation of connectedness, and ends with sudden severance in a heartfelt outburst of grief. It is a finely crafted work, not at all self-indulgent. The author Charles Dickens spoke of good art hiding the art behind the art. Murphy’s work does that. In her simple and focused images she tells a whole story, placed in the framework of universal contrasts.
—Anita Jawary

I love the abundance of short i sounds that echo things—hill, silt, moonlit, pitter-patter, clipped, skin, stippled. Love the way it says so much with, seemingly, so little. That filtering down to the fundamentals that is so challenging to achieve in a poem is beautifully done here. Given the title and focus on this poem’s investigation, it’s particularly poignant that the shared humanity brought out in the list of things is so very much in contrast to the things on the internet of things. I admire this poem.
—Christine Poreba

“The Internet of Things” is not clever, overwritten, or self-conscious. It does not score political points or tell us how we’re supposed to feel. Every time I read its pure, unhindered truth, it grounds me and brings me such peace, reminding me of what is most important in poetry. My body, my heart recognize the truth inherent in this poem without even having to try. I keep rereading “The Internet of Things” just to experience the afterglow that grounds me in what it really means to be human.
—Elizabeth Potter

I like its brevity, and its playful seriousness.
—Charles Harper Webb

I love the musicality and specificity that jumps out in a list poem of “things.” There is a an exhilaration that builds to the sudden turn to grief at the end—then quickly turns back to wonder. Beautiful!
—Holly York

I tried to judge the poems for imagery, language, feelings realized as I read each; just the overall mastery of the craft, even looking at appearance on the page. My final choice has much to do with an envy long harbored–the gift some have in being able to pull so much meaning and emotion out of so few words! Erin Murphy’s poem is masterful in its brevity. Beautiful in its imagery. Heart-wrenching in her finely honed word selection. I tried to choose a favorite phrase to include here. No can do. It’s freaking full of favorite THINGS.
—Maggie Westvold

To read “The Internet of Things” and all of the other finalist poems, pick up a copy of Rattle #74, or wait until the April, when those poems start appearing online at

Erin Murphy was the winner, but this year’s voters were divided, as they always are—each of the remaining poems received between 6% and 12% of the vote, and all of the finalists had their own enthusiastic supporters. Every year, it’s an interesting and informative experience reading the commentary. To provide a taste of that, here is a small sample of what our subscribers said about the other finalists:

On Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose’s “After My Teenager Tries to Kill Herself …”:

I kept on coming back to this one like a zombie to spongy brains. I was moved by the narrator’s honesty, powerlessness, and love. (Life is hard, almost-death is harder, but the living dead, well …)
—Jonathan Greenhause

Every parent can relate to the nightmare Elizabeth unfolds for us in her poem, even if we have not personally dealt with that circumstance. It’s the fear captured with depth, and precision; the juxtaposition of the nightmare and the reality. There is some measure of absurdity also, with the “jumping Taco Bell’s counter / rummaging for chips and salsa” that is relatable in the way that no matter what we do as parents, things can still go horribly wrong. She brings it home beautifully by marrying the two disparate scenes and pinpointing her/our willingness to lie just to let our children have the last chip. It’s like a punch to the gut. Bravo Elizabeth!
—Shyla Shehan


On Heather Bell’s “This Is How I Make My Money”:

Her poem operates on multiple levels at the same time. It sounds cliche, but I laughed and cried while reading it. Actually, I laughed a lot more than I cried, which I needed. After reading and re-reading this poem, I discovered more of Bell’s work, and I’m thoroughly impressed.
—Charles B. Snoad

The blend of bare confession and hyper imagination, the unspeakable desperation and hysterical laughter, the way this poem runs a million miles away screaming with its teeth on fire while slumped, barely able to sigh in front of the camera. That’s why.
—Michael Mark


On Susan Browne’s “Do You Have Children?”:

The question is like the chainsaw “that just won’t quit.” The wish in the last stanza is so honestly and simply expressed that it seems to hush the rude noise of the insensitive questioner.
—Lee Robinson

I like how the speaker has just been asked that question, and already we’ve got a chainsaw going off behind her. You feel that it’s actually her annoyance. That paired with shouting and hot asphalt, I really thought the poem would end in anger or bitterness. I thought it might get sarcastic when she describes the quilt with the lambs on it. But no. As a pleasant surprise for the reader, she flips the entire mood of the poem on its head with the very last line, which got me.
—T. J. McGuire


On Rayon Lennon’s “Follow Me”:

The poem’s imagery is vivid and unusual, but never contrived or overplayed. I learned something new, without feeling taught. Evoking caged lobsters battling with taped claws as a metaphor for two Black men’s ongoing struggles with class and race? That is something only great poetry can do.
—Nancy Romines Walters

This poem gives me everything I yearn for when reading poetry—stunning language, visceral feeling, and the gut punch of a reality I can relate to a little bit better having read the poem. As a BIPOC woman, I have been on the receiving end of racism in many forms. Yet I have not lived in the skin of a black man. This poem transports me into that experience, while also beautifully elucidating broader aspects of systemic racism in America. An amazing balance of personal and social commentary, brilliantly written. Bravo.
—R.B. Simon


On Dayna Hodge Lynch’s “Black Boys as Fireflies”:

This poem is clearly written and yet metaphorical. It’s powerful because it’s very real. The writer watched it unfold. It’s power is that it’s the story of thousands of young, black men. After the death of George Floyd, we can all understand it. It’s a call to a deeper justice, to reset the balance between young, black men and the police. Dayna has captured a moment in time that we all thought about last year. Her brother’s been stopped by the police. She and his mother can see him. He’s complying with the officers, but will he come home tonight? They watch the lights of police cars flashing like fireflies. Young black men are an endangered species.
—Fred Pierre

I grew up in the south, I’ve felt that, “the air between God’s palms.” The humidity can be stifling. I could imagine as a mother looking on powerless at her son. That’s so painful. Her succinctness is perfection. This will always need to be read, and read again!
—Elizabeth Puckett


On Mary Meadows’s “White Privilege Skydives with Black Guy in Appalachia”:

I enjoyed that the author kept me engaged for 7 1/2 pages of poem that spilled broadly over those pages telling a story that is adventurous, emotional, sexy, relatable, racial and always human. From the title to the concluding period, she kept me going.
—Frank Beltrano

Brave, skillful, and leaping—leaping in so many ways—literally and poetically, in time, space, imagery, and realization. You know, it looked like a long poem, but didn’t feel long at all, not a wasted word (and this is coming from someone who rarely likes anything more than a page or two). But Mary’s poem lifted me off my feet. I also loved her line and word placement. I was easily and willingly along for the ride (and the jump!). It accomplished so much. I was very impressed and moved.
—Tom O’Donnell


On L. Renée’s “Exodus: Gilliam Coal Camp, West Virginia, 1949”:

I love the authentic use of regional dialect and what the mother says to try to keep her child from leaving, and her heartbreak when it happens. A searing story told in the form of a poem, epic.
—Susan Marsh

I love how the personal, universal, historical are so seamlessly woven, and how the pacing and flow of the words wrap powerful, restrained emotion around the story they tell. The lines and verses plod with such somber weight and resignation, so much always-the-same, so much repressed fear, so much mother Mary, while Junior Mary is off to the side, almost out of view, a kite pulling at the end of a tangled line, trying to get lift. The ending feels sudden, like a big gust of wind, only it’s Big Mary’s heart that is cut loose to soar. Threw my heart in my throat.
—Daelene King


On Zella Rivas’s “Purgatorio”:

This poem read like a transcript of my own arguments, my own conflicts, my own fears. I struggle to get down, get out, get past the myths, the lies, the misunderstandings still roiling within me from my childhood six decades ago. This pain, this power, this bravado and toughness are real.
—Francis Hicks

When I first read the finalists, I thought it would be impossible to choose one over the others because they’re so different and each one has so much to recommend it. So I read them again and felt the same way. I wasn’t surprised to read that so far in the voting, it’s pretty much even. But when I reread the poems just now, I realized why “Purgatorio” is the one that stayed with me—and both thrilled and chilled me (again) when I got to the end. I think it’s a brilliant self-portrait and an almost eerily accurate rendering of the battle that the self constantly wages with itself. What I love about the poem is that it shows the battle without oversimplifying it or undercutting its gravity by offering a resolution. We know there really isn’t any resolution other than death. But the poem doesn’t condescend to us by spelling out what we already knew. What we didn’t know is how a poet’s imagination could transform that struggle into art.
—Lynne Knight


On Richard Westheimer’s “My Father Transformed by Dying”:

Westheimer’s poem resonated with me because of its economy of words. The aching recognition of grief as parents grow old and approach death … “no room to move but away” is powerful. How do we reconcile the interior spark of the vibrant (if stern) parent of our childhood with the silent, distant galaxy where that spark has drifted? What do we need for understanding?
—Gurupreet K. Khalsa

My choice is “My Father Transformed by Dying,” for several reasons. It’s the most direct and humanly communicative of the lot, eager to be understood; it has more substance than fireworks; it has the taut, live skin of a sonnet, even without rhyme or perfect meter, and that skin contains it wholly, cleanly, with perfect details conveyed in quick metaphors, without any extra packaging material. The only other poem among them that I almost chose is “The Internet of Things,” which has the same slender economy despite a haunting, musical use of repetition. It’s essentially a love letter to reality, composed–as thought is–of imagery conveyed in sentence fragments: not skin this time, but bones.
—Rhina P. Espaillat