May 23, 2023

Bill Christophersen



When the toddler disappeared (the septic tank’s
countersunk manhole cover not quite centered
and so become a revolving door), the May
sun was drying the grass of the bed-and-breakfast’s
manicured front lawn. A gardener
was coaxing a power mower up the property’s
street-side incline, one hand on the throttle,
the other on the driving wheel’s black dish.

When the father disappeared (down the same hole,
self-preservation trumped by something else
more limbic still, some gut-level imperative
or sense that hell had got him by the balls,
no matter how he played it), the mother, alone
and shaking, screamed with her whole body.
The gardener jammed the stick in park and hove
his lumbering, sweating self from the metal seat.

Then the mother disappeared (belayed
by the gardener’s sausage fingers round her ankles,
arms flailing the stinking darkness; flailing
and groping, the acrid stench suffocating
as her terror of the epiphany that life,
into which we bring these ones we love,
can snatch them by the toe and eat them whole;
can leach their little hides, do what we will).

Then the child reappeared (hauled up bodily,
the mother, arms extended like a midwife’s,
seizing it in midair from the father,
who, plunging deep, had gone to work, feeling
past turds till hand touched skull, then tugged
the curled-up infant from the pissy muck
and raised it above his head, a living trophy―
delivered to its mother, then babe and mom delivered

by the puffing gardener, whose yells of “Help! Baby!”
brought a passing mom-and-stroller, hence clean
water, disinfectant wipes, cell phone and the steady
voice required to summon 911).
Below, the father, treading bilious sludge,
barked knuckles on cement, then struck a rung―
egress from that twilight zone of filth;
chimney to pure light, sun-drenched salvation.

And so the father reappeared (climbing
out of deeper shit than I or anyone
I know has ever been encompassed by).
One doesn’t think, they say, at times like this;
one reacts. One thinks all sorts of things: How deep?
Well? Cesspool? Caustic chemicals? Will I
land on him? Break his back? My back? Is he
dead already? Am I committing suicide?

The ambulance arrived in a minute-thirty.
Son and father had stomachs pumped, got meds,
caught colds, got better. All three wake up screaming
more often than most of us. The parents shower
way more than they need to. The two-year-old
climbs the walls at the mention of bath time but
otherwise is doing fine. Turns out babies
hold their breath instinctively under water.



One wants the tale to end there, and perhaps
it does, a centerpiece of family lore, a
miracle of love, bravery, a special
dispensation all three share going forward.
But perhaps the enormity of the episode,
like a dark star, warps the space around it,
and the debt of love incurred toward the father
smothers the wife, and later the child, in guilt.

Perhaps the father, a dozen or more years later,
watching his teenage son do reckless things,
thinks, “What right’s he got to pull this kind
of shit on me?” Or, seething at the wife’s
obiter dicta and bickering retorts,
thinks, “Why was it up to me to take the plunge?
Was my life more expendable than yours?”
Perhaps the boy, unable at last to abide

the horror of that day, its happy ending
notwithstanding, loses the knack for trust,
without which nothing much is ever ventured,
fought for, wrestled with, maintained in spite
of obstacles? Perhaps no foothold ever
fully persuades; no morning sun on green
lawn but signifies some nightmare’s mise-
en-scène; no darkness seems negotiable.



A miracle is deceptive. Isolated,
it can make all history seem foreordained,
as if the jeweled part stands for the whole
bloody mess, that far less scintillating
prospect. There’s the chance, of course, that life’s
a latticework, a series of intersecting
miracles or miracle plays whose characters
appear/disappear within the larger structure,

a glimpse of which we’re occasionally afforded:
no clockwork universe but one ably directed
by the playwright himself, who, understandably
perhaps, bends over backward to retain
his privacy, anonymity, invisibility,
though peering, now and then, from a wing to nod
or appearing, like Alfred Hitchcock, in a cameo―
as grandfather, gardener, deus ex machina.

A tempting proposition, this invisible
script, this hidden teleology
in which each of us plays an unwitting part.
But over and against it is the hole―
unspeakable; mephitic; defiling;
predatory, one almost wants to say;
lying there beneath resplendent grass
on which young couples and their babies play.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013


Bill Christophersen: “‘Crossing the Bar’ and ‘Ozymandias’ floored me in ninth grade, and hearing Bill Zavatsky and Gregory Orr read when I was in college helped me realize poems weren’t made by gray-bearded deities. When I turned 23, the country band I was playing in dissolved, the girl I was seeing walked, and I was alone in eastern Long Island with winter coming on. It was write or start drinking, and I’m not a drinking man.”

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November 21, 2021

Tamara Kreutz


When migrants die at sea, he gets them home.
—Nicholas Casey and Leire Ariz Sarasketa

I washed to shore without my name.
It had drifted away, while I floated for weeks
off the coast of Tarifa.

I was zipped in a bag, hefted into a hearse
and driven past pines and sunflower fields
to be shoved in a freezer

where I shivered for months beside others like me.
Remember! Remember! Imploring ourselves
to recall who we were.

Who we are now: bodies in waiting with eyes
eaten by fish, fingers wrapped up in kelp,
seafoam laced in our hair.

Frost sprouts from our noses,
feathers our lashes, our lips. We wait here for him—
Martín Zamora, the body collector

for those who don’t make it to Spain alive, the mortician
who knows when we wash up on beaches
we each have a history and names suspended beyond

reach. He will come to find us, embalm us, to sprinkle
our bodies with herbs, and shroud us in green
sheets, as a local imam taught him to do.

“I get the feeling,” Martín whispers
to our empty ears, “The future will see us as monsters
for letting you die this way.”

He will search out our past
through clues in clothing draped on the bones
of our shoulders and backs.

Martín sends our clothes across the sea
back to our homes, where he lays them out in market
squares, like museum exhibits

of the dead—one purple canvas shoe, an orange jersey
with a Nike swoosh, men’s stonewashed blue
jeans, size thirty-six, a gold plated heart

necklace engraved with a lover’s name—believing
someone will pass by and remember
a familiar shirt or gift. And there now

a mother weeps her daughters’ name
into an empty dress, a wife caresses the jacket
that once held the man she loved.

A father rocks a pair of trainers,
remembering when the feet that wore them
were barely larger than his thumb.

My sister grasps gray overalls, stained with oil
from the auto shop where I worked, and my name returns
to me, alights on my body, gives back memory of life.

I am not an Unknown to be thrown in a grave with the nameless.
I am twenty-seven years old, a mechanic from Tangier.
I am Achraf Ameer—

I remember, remember. Remember.

from Poets Respond
November 21, 2021


Tamara Kreutz: “During my morning walks, I listen to The Daily podcast by The New York Times. Sometimes an episode is so moving, I have to stop and sit down on the curb to let my mind process the story. Last week, I learned about a man, Martín Zamora, a seemingly unremarkable man, a mortician in southern Spain who is quietly, all on his own, finding the identities of drowned migrants who wash up on the shoreline near his hometown. He deals in death as a profession but understands that the dead are not nameless. They have histories, homes, and families who love them. He brings loved ones’ closure and delivers bodies back home for burial. While thinking about Martín’s story and reading more about him, I wondered what the unknown dead might think of this man who advocates for them when no one else cares to, who gives their humanity back by finding their memories and names.” (web)

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March 11, 2022

Rayon Lennon


to the teenage black employee who followed me, a black man, in a grocery store

Imagine there’s no light
between us and all
we know is the darkness
that binds us while I decide
if I desire 2 percent or whole
milk. You trail 12 feet behind
as I push a cart of goods
like a baby. You’re a kid,
it seems, a boy of no more
than 19 buried in your cell,
looking once or twice
my way. Your white gray
manager nods oppression.
You don’t think to puncture
commands from high. You spin
time into money. Your work
reduced to studying people
like you and me to see
whether I’m worth more
than the overflowing
cart I struggle to steer.
I have known this earth
for 37 years. I know a few
many things, like everything
is connected, like slavery
to now. You follow me
like an overseer with spoiled
power. I pause at the Aunt
Jemima syrups which are bitter
with stereotypes. You follow
me to the self-checkout
counter, pretending to still
be lost in your cell. I scan
each item and pay for it
all with the sum I earn
as an in-home family
therapist empowering
kids your age to climb
above systems. I show
teeth and tell you to have
a warm week. You say you
were only doing your job. Yes,
I don’t say. The job of keeping
racism alive. The light butcher
shakes his caged dreads. Like us,
tanked lobsters battle each other
with taped claws.

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Rayon Lennon: “I was 13 the first time I was followed in a store. I had just moved from Jamaica to Hamden, Connecticut. The male employee followed me in the dollar store as I looked at items. For some reason, he thought I was there to steal. I didn’t understand it. I had saved up all my lunch money to buy a cheap fake gold chain with a Jamaican flag pendant. After 10 minutes, the man simply asked me to leave. I said I didn’t do anything wrong; I hadn’t stolen anything and didn’t intend to steal anything. He said he was tired of following me. I said I was tired of being followed. He called the police. The snow came before the police. I got on a city bus and saw the police entering the store as the bus moved off. I was 13. America showed me who it was then. It’s particularly disheartening to be 37 and still being followed in stores. It’s even more disheartening when the employee following me is a Black teenage employee (being directed by an oppressive boss). While workshopping this poem, a white member of the group said, ‘Forgive me for sounding ignorant, but why were they following you in the store? What did they think you were going to do?’ It’s such an easy answer. But I thought about it more. Yes. They followed me because they thought I would steal; but they followed me too to try to make me believe I don’t belong, to rob me of my sense of feeling at home in America. Racism is mostly about power—most people don’t want to root it out because they don’t want to lose power/privileges. The Black teen who followed me in the store was probably acting the way he did to share in that power. It’s unfortunate what people must do to survive in this country. I have been asked by managers to do tasks that run counter to my values; I always challenge these requests, but I have made poor decisions as well—decisions which disempowered me and others. A friend said I should have been nicer to the Black teenage employee in the poem. It’s a poem powered by frustration and rage. I didn’t want to take that away from the poem. It’s important that I hold everyone accountable, even an oppressed teen. It’s especially sad and harmful when oppressed people, knowingly and unknowingly, help to spread racist ideology. Awareness is key. I’m a nice guy who only gets angry in my poems. In some ways, I’m not so much angry at the teen as I am angry at a nation which could turn out a vaccine for Covid in a year, but can’t seem to find a social vaccine for racism, centuries later.” (web)

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May 8, 2021

Lowell Jaeger


The grown child rides in the backseat, only half-listens
as Mom and Pop bicker. Lapses into sizzle
of splash beneath them. His hometown lit for Christmas
blurs at the car window; he’s back
in that landscape he’d ached in more than half a life ago
where he wanted absolutely nothing
more than guts enough to run away.

And what was so terrible? They neither
beat him nor mistreated him more than most
kids are forbidden in front of their parents to be who they really are.
Funny how willful seldom get what they ask for. He’d asked
his parents (hadn’t he?) over and over in the absence
of his emotions, the ghost of good behavior—gulping his liver
and onions with tall glasses of whole milk—
swallowing the unspoken prayer at the table

that Mom and Dad quit the squabble, stuff it
like he’d learned he had to. A solid couple
dozen years later nothing’s changed
and everything’s different: same old man at the wheel
and old lady crabbing beside him. They’ve shrunk
to rodent-size, wrinkled and gray, eyes wide
with magnified terror of the nearsighted. Hardly
worth whatever anger he’d ever held for them.
And somehow closer now, everyone.

Mom and Pop squall in a dialect needing both mouths
to mix the words right, while the son sits like a stone at his post,
listening, but not. Mumbling lines they expect
of his visits year by year. And smiling to recall
the song he invented that night, hidden
in the closet of the practice room, a brick wall
between himself and the high school band’s Yuletide concert;
his parents sleepy in the blindness beyond stage lights,
applauding what they assumed they could hear.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006


Lowell Jaeger: “Before I learned to read, I’d hide in the closet with a flashlight and my older brother’s school books. I’d copy the books, word for word, into a wide-ruled tablet. I knew the syllables were saying things I hadn’t discovered yet. To this day, I feel the same about language. I hand-write drafts of my poems painstakingly, to puzzle out what’s still unknown.” (web)

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March 16, 2022

Mary Meadows


While escaping Hillbilly Days in Eastern Kentucky
I learn “tandem jump,” and, years later, “Shibboleth”

We sit at the fold-out tables in a gray room at the airport
on the hill, where the coal mine barons store their private jets
and fly to places that aren’t “locked”
And they       tell us to watch a video about the buckles
on our suits, how to pop our ears while falling
and lift our legs high enough
              so our butts
sandpaper the ground.
                     Don’t land       on your feet,
but if you do, try to walk it out. It’s best
to ass-
       bump it.
And this       salty blond surfer-looking dude
chews a toothpick, then eyes us down—
(like he’s picking a puppy
       at the pound).
And he        slaps the table with the palm of his hand;
Why the heck—(he smirks)—
why the heck would someone who’s sane
of a perfectly good 
And when we               look at each other—Dude
screams back,               ’Cause,               you fools,
you left the dang door 
And we laugh, and he laughs 
              from his gut,
                        then assigns me to this thin
               and I’m not sure 
                         he’s strong enough to hold me up.
I’ve gained a few pounds 
              and this jumpsuit’s too tight.
So I        try to breathe and smile
at the same time.
And with his hands, he tugs
buckles on my back        
              and near that 
              between my legs. 
And there’s Aunt               Betty, again,
and her finger tick tocks       in front of me,
like we’re swimming at the Breaks and she says I can’t
swing out
       on that rope.
              And I realize I’m twenty-five
and I’ve never been this close to a black person before,
and I think back to grade school and high school 
and—No.        There were none.
In college,       they were the ones
on               ball teams,
but they weren’t 
              in my classes.
Then, I bend over to tie my shoe, and there’s Amy— 
who was        half my age       when she lived next door to my sister
in that trailer park when I was in the fifth 
       or sixth grade.
So, now, I’m at a picnic table—book open—and, we just learned
in school how old Abe
And I know 
happened to them,
but they never               really              explained it. 
And I know they have this other
                            skin, I think,
              from this other
place,               and I know they were beaten and sold,
but I don’t know
And Amy is so cute with her hair
back              like that,       and that sunny smile
and little butterfly 
But she       wants to play, and she’s jumping
on my back and she pulls me 
       from my seat.
And I’m on the ground and she screams,
       jumping up and down above me.
I stand up and sit back down,
and she’s        pecking my shoulders,
       my shirt.
And I just want to do a good job on this test
I’m studying for, so I’m writing all the dates of things
       that happened.
And she won’t stop tug-
                     hugging my neck.
Her finger slips and she scratches 
              my skin.       —And it just
What? Do you 
think I’m a slave,
              or something?
And her face
       —its light—
melts like 
       sun bows to night
on the west side
of the mountain.
And when I see my shoes on the floor in this room,
I remember I never saw her after that because she
And—for a second—I’m that stringy-headed cow,
again, who’s smacked in the head like a dog
while being told You’re mangy.
And I swallow the muck
       and look up—              And that guy
who touched me              tells me I’m Good to go, Girl,
then points to the door where the plane waits
to take
       us up. 
And I feel it resist              that thrust
from the earth.               Then I feel the lift
that starts in my stomach,        then belches in waves
to my brain. 
              And after a while, he tethers me 
       to his body
and I am a key               on a ring
attached to a wire line              that stretches
across the tops of our heads.
              And I look around for the others,
but they’re not there, and I        don’t want to go,
but I feel his legs behind my thighs,
                            push-walking my left,
then my right,              to the door—wide open— 
where wind is cussing
              and I want to say, No
       But it throws a fist       at me, and he says, 
Are you ready? And I want to say Hell        yeah!
or something even better,
                     but all I can muster is Okay
And then this hurricane
              shoves me—and the plane and time
and everything is        gone,
and it’s just cold sky and different shades of green
and their open ’chutes—
                     Plucked petals.
                     From a cup.
And I’m looking through a glass at a painting—Oh my
God!—And then I’m a rock that dives off the edge 
of some        waterfall,
watching everything that splattered
                  I came.
And I keep saying Ohmy       God! And I keep telling myself, This is
And I wonder what God would say of my jumping 
like this. 
       Would I be 
              the fool
or the wiser?
       And a man in a yellow suit with a camera buzzes out
in front of me. Gives me a thumbs up; stretches his mouth wide,
into a smile.
              But I can’t—
                     can’t move my arms or legs
because the wind is fierce 
and it feels like I’m falling, and that push 
is the hand that holds me up—And I don’t want to
He smiles and spreads his arms like wings
and I try to do that, and then I perk up my thumbs.
       But I can’t feel my wrists 
anymore and I don’t know
if I’m              breathing.
Then, there’s this yank, and, now,
I know
       I’m alive, 
and I look down,
       and the painting has leaves and trees
                                   with long brown
       and I see a road where ants drive toy cars
and move sand                            on sidewalks.
And this guy on my back is steering in circles, 
       and I am 
              the hawk.
I lower my beak to watch rabbits, and they dunk 
under bushes, 
                  I am
       the moth.
And they get bigger and closer, and I become
       a thunderstorm
that screams              in the distance,
then sneaks up and pounds
                     on the porch—
until I can’t feel God anymore, but I really want to
because I’m near the base of this drop
and I’m sure it’s full of rocks
and I know I’m gonna hit—
And the trees that were once 
smaller than me
       stretch until they tower
over grass; 
       and I can’t stop watching them reach
for        what I came from,
                     until I bump my rump
       and shake my head and blink
my eyes.
       And this       guy on my back,
who’s, now,              by my side;
reaches over and throws me a high five,
                                   so I
       and put my feet on the ground
to stand up—
       And something 
                      in me
                                    is wailing— 
                     So I
       step back to smile—       And,
       for a second,              it’s like
       we’re alone,              making love,
       and we speak              with our eyes—
       So I wrap him up       like he’s part 
       of my                      breathing.
And when the           others       come,
I step back and fold up his eyes
and I stuff them down—
                            in my pocket,
And he        and I—         we
hold out our hands to show them how not
nervous        we are—       And I—
And I look, again, at this        Black Guy by my side
and I—
I am the ant.
       That fell. 
From a leaf. 

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Mary Meadows: “I can’t go back and change what I said to ‘Amy’ when we were kids, but I hope it brings her solace to know that there’s a part of me that’s hated myself ever since. I think of her sometimes and I worry that this memory haunts her like it haunts me. I hope it doesn’t. I hope she was too young to remember it. And, if not, I hope it was the only time in her life that she ever had to deal with something like that. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I wish I could go back and fix it, but I can’t.”

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September 10, 2020

Martin Vest


At first he looked nice lying in the hearth.
On the end of a torch he kept Frankenstein away.
He lit the streets on a dark walk from a seedy bar.
When you wanted to dance he danced.
When you wanted to sleep
he was a lamp that wouldn’t shut off.
He seethed and roiled in his body of tongues,
climbing the walls like a madman …
He flickered and snapped.
He grew to a roar.
Alarms went off, sirens sounded,
the throat of his upturned flask
chanting go, go, go,
like a flammable cheerleader,
but you stayed …
His smoke clung to your skirts
and coated the dishes
as he tumbled from room to room
screaming more, more
You remember the night that you met him.
There had been others to choose from—
the drowning man who sat next to you
groping at your blouse as he sunk
to the bottom of his whiskey and soda—
the rain-maker with cold gray eyes
who stared into the melancholy
of his gin and lime.
But Man-on-Fire never stopped grinning,
Man-on-Fire with his twenty shots of everything,
with his flash-paper sleights
fueling the crackle of their own applause—
And you, parched wind,
whistling like a spoke, like a runaway train,
howling in your body
for a keyhole of quick escape,
for a fast way through the wall—
What would you want with water?

fromRattle #28, Winter 2007
2008 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor Winner


Martin Vest: “If my house were haunted, I would toss buckets of flour into the places where a ghost might hide. Eventually, the flour would find its mark, and the ghost would be given a form. When I write, I often begin with only a sense that something is there—a presence of some kind. I start throwing words around. With a little luck, they hit their subject and a poem appears. I’m always shocked by what they look like.”

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December 12, 2020

Paul Zarzyski


Richard Hugo, from Degrees Gray in Philipsburg

It takes more than gasoline and gumption
to get you to Zortman—more
than whimsy or a wild inkling
to rekindle history. It takes a primal prairie
need, a kinship with Old Man Winter, with Napi
hunkering in sunless gulches, a longing
for short Fourth of July parades, the bestkept-
secret-café with a waitress
who commutes 50 miles from Malta—
big city with its 5 p.m. rush
minute, she quips. Pavement—purt-near
all the way to the corrugated last
half mile into work—
through herd after mule deer herd,
excites her. What can anyone say in words
that Charles M. Russell has not
narrated in paint. Little Rockies, Larb Hills,
predator versus prey versus wind
still give this Indian-cowboy
landscape its animation.
Your eggs
jiggling over-easy, hashbrowns crisp,
roughcut slabs of real ham,
one pancake seat-cushioned over its own plate
(whole wheat toast sold out last month
to hot-shot fire crews), are all grilled
just right. The coffee, vintage-grind,
is brewed with water so mineralthick,
it’s panned first,
then filtered. Same goes for the décor—
local art collaged with faded Russell prints
above faux-brick wainscoting.
the 11 a.m. lull all to yourselves—
you are, for once, simply where you need
to be. Do not ponder why. Do not
ask the waitress what brought her here
from Seattle. The wall clock is not
locked in neutral. Thus, you better be
willing to revel in this living limbo,
this muffling of drumroll death. Muse
over your food. Ruminate,
while chewing, on each tooth’s name—
incisor, canine, bicuspid, molar—
salute the taste buds, bitter to sweet,
as you clean your plate, pony up,
inch your way out of town
with a groan—heartstrings taut
as lariats stretched to whatever rogue
lodestar pulled you into this
still-shot of Montana past, grass
ropes strained to their organic max,
aching to hold for only so long.

For Dick

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008
Tribute to Cowboy & Western Poetry

Paul Zarzyski: “Moving from the midwest to Missoula, MT, in 1973 to study with Richard Hugo proved my poetic catalyst for the past 35 years. Buckin’ horses and buckin’ verses pulled equally as parallel passions from the mid-’70s to the early ’90s and provided entrée to the Cowboy Poetry Renaissance or, in my case, Rodeo Poetry. Thanks to The Western Folklife Center in Elko, NV, to the diverse, enthusiastic audiences they’ve enticed for 25 consecutive annual Gatherings, I make my living, my life, as a wordsmith filled with awe and honor over this remarkable artistic Star Trek-esque journey out into The Musical Universe, The Ol’ Cowpoke Cosmos.” (web)

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