April 10, 2023

Denise Garvey

CONSTANCY

My grandfather knew how to share
iron and leather with a horse
sweat turning the earth, the fertile smell
the plodding, the slow prayer.
Knew the seed he planted
back bending the long field.
A man that would listen to the Clare match
swathed in sweet pipe smoke
the fob watch checked by the Angelus.
 
Granny had a coat made for herself
from the fine worsted bolt that made his suit.
Carefully pinned a pearl in her soft green hat
as he pinned a rose on his lapel and
clasped the silver head of his walking cane.
The one before was shot to just silver in his hand:
Bloody Sunday, Croke Park, the Black and Tans.
 
He saw Wild Bill Cody in London 
with his stagecoach, saddled a Model T himself,
drove tillage laneways of sugar beet for 
The Great Southern and Western Railways.
In the war, he parked the car on blocks
saved the tyres, like seeds.
He was stern to his sons
who smoked Woodbines in goods carriages,
fell asleep, woke in the darkness of wild Kerry,
trudged to a mountainside nugget of light
traced relatives, hospitality
and a safe train home.
 
I saw my grandfather, old,
to a very young girl
pull my granny closer,
kiss her on the lips
and I knew constancy.
I saw granny smile remembering 
his intention to give up courtship for Lent
abandoned, with his bicycle, in the bursting spring.
The home they built is beautiful, substantial to this day,
nestled at the Crossroads in Clonlara,
paid for, by both, working to the bone.
 
She had six living children, and like me, lost one.
I didn’t know then how the loneliness would be
the crying, bereft mysteriously, of the unknown.
Granny, in the dying pain, 
took the cross from the kitchen wall
wrapped it in tissue, stuffed it in an envelope
wrote on it my name, closed the drawer.
 
My grandfather fished trout
cleared the Glen for a playground of sky blue,
taught me the habits of the trees, showed me foxgloves 
guarding rabbit burrows. Talked of ferrets.
Put glory from his garden in vases
and in the end, climbed up the valley
into the meadow of the evening sun.
 
This is the constancy on which I stood naked
in the bath, faced the tirade of my husband’s torment
claimed, for the first married time, my own space.
Waited for the fist to smash through my face.
 

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023
Tribute to Irish Poets

__________

Denise Garvey: “I live in the West of Ireland and run a study centre for students of all ages and abilities. Severely hearing impaired since birth, my childhood world was mainly lived in books and poetry has become an important means of self-reflection and self-expression. Born in Ireland and Irish back to the Norman invasion at least, I am interested in how the traditions of our country, previously so rooted in the extended family, support us, or sometimes undermine us, in our commitment to living full and powerful lives.”

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February 15, 2024

Rattle is proud to announce the winner of the 2023 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers’ Choice Award:

Dusty Bryndal
Brooklyn, New York
for
No Evidence

 
The 2023 Readers’ Choice Award was selected from among the Rattle Poetry Prize finalists by subscriber vote. Only those with active subscriptions including issue #82 were eligible. In another close race between the top four poems, “No Evidence” earned 18.8% of the votes and the $5,000 award.

Here is what some of those readers had to say about the winner:

The repetition used throughout by the speaker saying she never wrote about these heavy emotions, thoughts, or life altering experiences before really places so much more meaning into this poem. The speaker has been bottling this up for so long and we are allowed into her mind, if only for a while, yet I am left feeling like I know her personally and now carry the weight of her loss. This poem didn’t feel like the speaker getting diagnosed with cancer was the center of the poem. The takeaway for me was that life goes on even after losing someone you can’t imagine living without and how awful it can be to be the one that gets to live.
—Cassandra Manzolillo

The struggle is so evident in this poem, the way she braids the two huge struggles in her life together and apart, her use of lineation, stanza breaks, and white space to shape her experiences in this poem. The final couplet summing it all up!
—Dell Lemmon

Her poem was beautiful. It was a brilliant look into the dual experiences of grief and having cancer. Everyone’s worst nightmares—losing a child and having cancer—happened to her all at once, and we can really feel the pain.
—Tatiana Raudales

The journey of the poem is poignant. You understand the double loss this woman underwent and the strength she showed in the face of adversity. The emotions are felt clearly by the reader and the story of the poet is heartfelt. As a survivor of a life-threatening illness, I found the poem to be deeply relatable.
—Wendy Van Camp

Dusty’s poem resonated with me. I recently moved back to my home province to help my elderly newly-widowed mother. She suffered a cardiac event a few months ago and it has been a revolving door of doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, lab tests, ecgs, pet scans, and angiograms. What struck me most about this poem is how Dusty sprinkles it with descriptions about the agony of waiting, waiting, and waiting some more for results, consultations, appointments, and the inevitable massive event that may make all the waiting moot. How she persisted with treatment in the face of the worst experience a parent can endure, made my heart ache but also made me dig my heels in with her to carry on—like the way I used to press on the non-existent brake pedal on the passenger side of the car while teaching my son to drive. I will think of this poem during the next 7 weeks of appointments with my Mom.
—Angelle McDougall

Yesterday, I had my annual mammogram. Within an hour of returning home, I received an email with the results: no cancer detected. Also, I have a son. His life is upside down and his heart has been broken by his wife going off the rails after 20 years and three beautiful children, but he is alive. For that I am so thankful. I do not think Dusty’s heart will be much mended by her poem winning, but I cannot not vote for her poem. She writes masterfully, puts her reader right there beside her heart. And winning may give her a nanosecond of joy. Her grieving heart deserves that and so much more.
—Maggie Westvold

Because her kid is fucking dead,
And it hurt like it was mine.
—Breonne Stiglitz

Read “No Evidence” online right now. To read all of the finalist poems, pick up a copy of Rattle #82, or read them one at a time this month as daily poems at Rattle.com.

Dusty Bryndal was the winner, but this year’s voters as divided as ever, 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 sense of that, here is a small sample of what our subscribers said about the other finalists:
 

On River Adams’ “A Lesson in Meetaphor”:

I don’t have much patience with writing about writing or poetry about poetry. This poem is an exception. That might be because all language is metaphor, standing in for the thing itself, so this exploration is more foundational. While exploring what does and doesn’t work as a metaphor, it bent my mind a little, then, then quietly left the room, taking my breath with it.
—Karen Berry

A poet who understands that form and syntax strengthen poetry. River Adams’ use of couplets and alternating short and long sentences adds nuance and energy not only to her strong opening metaphor, but to the whole idea of the impact metaphorical imagery has on so many subjects. Her form compliments and impacts the very imagery she so successfully evokes.
—Yvonne Logan

 

On Lisa Bass’s “Makeup”:

Such a tender, detailed poem I love the way it builds and builds. I have a granddaughter who went through that phase; now the focus is on piercings and nail gels. Poem really conveys both the insecurity of the girl, the shock of the shock of the mom and sister.
—Linda Lancione

I loved how tension-filled the poem is throughout, and your immediate connection not only to the mother, but the daughter as well. I love that we don’t need to know why the daughter has been in her room. The imagery of a young woman hiding behind makeup and the comparison to a space suit needed for survival is stunning. I found myself returning to it several times.
—Tammy Greenwood

 

On Roberta Beary’s “Sonnet #1: My Way”:

Any poem that rhymes “steamy hot” and “Charlotte” does it for me!
—Jim Feeney

There is so much going on in this poem! The tension of living with a troubled teen and the sense of being afraid to “jinx it” is captured perfectly. The long lines and absence of end punctuation—until the literal end of the poem—support the tone of tension and caution. Then, to use the symbolism of the makeup and dare to add the astronaut metaphor is just plain powerful. Bravo.
—Nancy Nott

 

On Isabella DeSendi’s “Elegy for Tío Lazaro”:

She turned a man’s whole life into a piece of art—and she impactfully highlighted the larger story of the inequity and injustice toward immigrants in this system who have struggled their whole lives to keep up. I especially love the way she writes about how he could fix broken things (it’s why god gave us hands) and her beautiful use of our constellations of deaths. Finally, it’s the kind of poem that offers up more gifts every time we read it.
—Valentina Gnup

As always, I can find reasons to choose each of the poems, but after several re-readings, I’m voting for “Elegy for Tio Lazaro.” I think it’s a wonderful example of making the personal universal; most of us have suffered (even if not so drastically) at the cold hands of bureaucracy, and the comment offered here on the shameful indifference to the undocumented is all the more powerful for not being polemical. The portrait of the uncle is tender without sentimentality and angry without self-pity. I also admire the clarity of the language and power of the images—”the animal of his thin, brown body lassoed // to an oxygen tank” and “The tip of the letter, still sticking out // of my mom’s black purse like a cigarette / already flickering gone.” The last one is especially good, returning readers as it does to the cigarettes smoked on the sly at the beginning.
—Lynne Knight

 

On Diana Goetsch’s “Motel Surrender”:

It’s the one that’s stayed freshest in my mind this winter, that juxtaposition between the coldest season and the inevitability of burning.
—Thomas Mixon

I love the music of that poem so much—the rhyme and alliteration, the humor and the Shakespearean finality of the final line.
—Katy Stanton

 

On Meredith Mason’s “Use Your Words”:

I finally settled on “Use Your Words,” precisely because of the sensitivity and restraint with which the poet and mother chose the casual but powerful words spoken by her son, herself, and any parent and child facing unwanted separation. Congratulations to Meredith Mason on this subtle moment so finely, gracefully caught in unassuming language!
—Rhina P. Espaillat

This was a tough call as I loved all these poems—however, this one cut me to the core. As a divorced mom of two, I feel the “long-gone” in this poem acutely. The sonnet form is a perfect reflection of the speaker’s attempt to rationalize and order her and her son’s emotions/situation while lending a sing-song quality to the poem. The slight breakdown of structure and punctuation that occurs in stanza 3 builds to the volta—the maple’s hands are empty, just like the mother’s. The closing couplet is the speaker’s last attempt to reconcile her feelings while acknowledging that this is a distance that she will never fully escape or overcome. I want to weep when I read this, but I feel less alone as a result of this meditation. Bravo!
—Sara Smith

 

On Amy Miller’s “Umbrella”:

It says more in fewer words, creates a vivid metaphor, uses dialog, risks sentimentality by employing a sleeping baby and proves that an honest use of language can turn the most mundane, borderline cliche moment into something bigger than itself.
—Rasma Haidri

My vote for the 2024 Readers’ Choice Award goes to Amy Miller’s deceptively simple “Umbrella.” There is a lot of trauma and injustice going on in the world right now and profound poems written about them, but I found that this poem gifted me a much-needed rest. It is almost as if the poem itself served as an umbrella for the readers, shielding them “raindrops exploding.” The poems that get published today seldom focus on beauty and innocence, preference going to the poems that shout or emote. I like the quietness of this poem, the whispered observation of such mundane things as the “little double Oks” of a child’s hands. The poem causes me to pause and reflect. Even when I walk away from this poem, I think about it because the imagery and language are simple but beautifully told.
—Andre Le Mont Wilson

 

On Jacob K. Robinson’s “The Pool”:

I am not a boy, I am not from Texas, and I don’t like to swim, but this poem reaches me in an emotional place of aching and haunting familiarity. I chose this poem from the place where it lingered and stirred up waves of feelings, the place where the best poems land in me when they fall from out of the blue. Like this one. Thank you.
—Michelle Ballou

There is an individual voice present: the poem sounds like no other; and the feel for reality is different from any other poem I’ve read. The imagery is fresh and striking. The line lengths and line breaks support the poem’s meaning beautifully. I like the way the poem becomes far-reaching in its implications during the second half, and that speaks to the attention to structure Robinson shows. The way the poem’s ending words echo the beginning demonstrates impressive organization. Also, the ending of the poem is moving, in an understated way, in keeping with the poem’s voice. It also highlights the work’s psychological and philosophical depth.
—Austin Alexis

 

On Tim Seibles’ “Ants”:

Seibles has written the best ant poem since Robert Frost’s “Departmental,” and like Frost’s wry exploration of human mortality through the lens of the family Formidicae, Seibles’s poem explores the intricate colonies of bittersweet desire that constitute our life-journeys. I love this poem, and how it keeps on walking through me, long after I’ve put it down.
—Dante Di Stefano

The poem starts with something small, an ant, and takes us on a big journey although it’s only a walk down a street in the speaker’s memory, a street that’s no longer familiar, and nothing is familiar anymore, “even my own country.” Like the ant, what can we do but keep walking. That is deep and true in these difficult times. I love the simile, “the city like a black leather jacket.” I love the ant on the dashboard and then the ant returns later on in the poem, this time on the basketball court where the speaker wishes he could believe “what that ant believed with those fancy sneaks flashing all around.” The language is clear and magical. All the turns in the poem bring a surprise. The voice is real. I want to follow wherever it takes me. It took me to a real place of feeling, and that feeling is universal.
—Susan Browne

December 4, 2022

Andrew Posner

BLANK

Blank sheets of white paper were a symbol of defiance over the weekend as Chinese protesters braved likely prosecution to openly oppose the government’s policy of zero tolerance for COVID and public dissent.
—Newsweek

I stare blankly at the page, wanting to fill
it with meaning. In Xinjiang, 7,000 miles
 
away, a morning sun, reflecting off the
glasses of early risers, the windshields
 
of commuters, is so bright as to redact
last night’s graffiti: Down with Xi. The
 
people, smiling the wry smile of the
long-aggrieved, hold up blank pages
 
and say nothing, while everywhere censors,
police, apparatchiks, always listening, watching,
 
fill page after page with names, addresses, offenses:
Zhāng Wěi disrespected the Party, Lǐ Nà seeks to
 
sabotage the social order. In Los Angeles, I am
busy besmirching the page, smearing it with ink
 
as though covering the purest snow in de-icing salt.
The snow melts down to mud. Poetry reduces to
 
a mush of guttural sounds, incomprehensible
to the moment. Heaving a sigh, I make a double
 
espresso, add a splash of cream and sugar, savor
each peaceful sip. Outside, a hawk, saying nothing,
 
carries off a rabbit in its talons. Is this the natural
order of things? For once I hear the tearing of flesh,
 
see the sky turn blood-red. No one will apprehend me
here, cup in hand, crumpled paper on the floor, blank
 
visage belying the seeds of treason. But were they to try,
which treason would I admit? And which would I deny?
 

from Poets Respond
December 4, 2022

__________

Andrew Posner: “I’m watching the ‘Blank-Paper Protests’ in China from the comfort of my home, wondering how I would react were I living under such an authoritarian regime. Then again, the authoritarian streak in America is ever-looming; so perhaps the question of my response to such circumstances is not so moot.” (web)

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November 24, 2023

Joshua Mensch

AN ACT OF SABOTAGE

Because I was young and heretical
(I wanted to be a radical) I spiked 
trees to save them. This, I was told, 
was the right thing to do: each tree 
found with a spike ruins the forest 
around it. It wasn’t true, of course. 
The lumberjack’s logic (practical) 
is to find the spike, cut beneath it. 
But being young and eager to see 
myself in the act of saving trees, 
I whacked nails into bark at my height 
and felt very militant and right. 
Years later, I met a man with a missing 
thumb (half of one hand was gone) 
and still being young, I asked him 
what had happened. I was cutting wood
he told me. A nail in a log wrecked 
the chain off the saw and whipped 
his hand clean through—so now 
he rides a mower for the church.  
Though it was many years before 
and somewhere else, I felt ashamed: 
a man’s life (possibly) for a tree 
that would be cut down anyway.
What dumb advice! I remembered
the man who had given it to me:
mid-thirties, moustached, with wrap-
around sunglasses and a sleeveless T,
holding a paddle (he was a river guide,
we were in a rubber raft) who leaned in
to whisper the name of his group
(Earth First! but don’t tell anyone)
and offer useful tips for conspiring: 
sugar in gas tanks destroy engines,
loosened lug nuts topple trucks,
flames ruin wood raped from the earth.
And, of course, spiking trees:
an effective means to defend against
the enemy. I sat before the enemy,
ashamed, and told him what I’d done
years before. He told me not
to worry—I’d botched the job,
and anyway, the nail he hit was one 
he’d put there himself and then forgotten,
but chainsaws are smarter now,
so deaths and injuries are rare, 
though he agreed that I was right
to feel like an asshole. There are
better ways to save the earth, he said.
There was a shadow on the field
from a cloud that had grown heavy
while we were talking, and were it not
for the wind it might have rained.
I could hear the cries of the gulls
from the sea beyond the hill,
and the bell of a church began to ring.
Later that night my father made
a fire in a ring of stones.
Flames tongued out of the wood
like sea anemones searching for food.
We had chosen nature, the quiet
burning of expired stars
in a place without a roof, where
the rushing of the surf was our radio.
To keep warm, we burned wood
and talked about the future,
which seemed far away, theoretical,
and entered into a new conspiracy,
a dream in which we were happy
and our existence felt justified
and good, because we were moral
people, and the trees forgave us
our sins, because they understood.
 

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023

__________

Joshua Mensch: “Like many people, I’m anxious about the current state of the world, and climate change ranks high among my worries. It’s not a new concern, though. Scientists have been predicting doom since I was born. As a child, I was diligent about picking up litter, turning off lights, not wasting food, and by the time I was a teenager, I had become somewhat radical in my outlook. I believed sabotage and eco-terrorism were a viable path to saving the planet. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that such acts do little to change the policies and behaviors of governments and corporations, but can cause dramatic, personal harm to the individuals who work in targeted industries. So, what response makes sense, then? As an individual there’s not much I can do; my political and consumer power is limited. And yet, as an individual, I still consume a tremendous amount of resources. My climate footprint is huge. Imagine taking a tank’s worth of gas and lighting it on fire in your backyard. It would feel like such an unbearable crime, all that pollution. And yet, for years I’ve done just that, filling my car up once a week and then sending it into the sky, which I need to do to earn a living and go about my life. So my quandary remains unresolved. This poem, which is based on true events—I met these people, they really existed—is an attempt to work through that, though the realization the poem enacts took longer in real life, and in many ways, is still something I struggle with.” (web)

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October 8, 2023

Jaime Jacques

ON WEDNESDAYS MY FATHER AND I EAT AT MASALA DELIGHT

and it smells like nag champa and vinadaloo.
Our waitress, fresh from Kerala,
wants to be a nurse, smiles
when I say I’ll write her a good review.
I have seen the documentaries—
eight students to one room.
The failure of both governments
stands before me, exhausted,
with an extra serving of raita.
 
In 1966 my father arrived from Bombay.
Growing up, we were surrounded
by Murphys and McDougalls,
and one terrible Indian restaurant,
where the owner knew us by name.
Now, with gratitude,
we are spoiled for choices.
 
My father says he never suffered
despite his strange accent and nervous stutter.
I still remember his oversized suits
Sunday nights at Swiss Chalet for supper
wouldn’t let the waitress load her tray
until we finished all the food on our plates.
 
These Sikh separatists, what they don’t understand
is that when you come to Canada you become a Canuck!
he says while serving himself biryani.
Leave what you are fighting for behind.
Forget about where you came from.
Focus on where you are.
 
My father says he never suffered—
fell in love with blonde hair and double doubles,
named me after Jaime Sommers.
Now eighty years old, his hand shakes
as he lifts a glass of water to his lips.
Stutter gone, the lilt in his voice still sticks.
These days he talks more about his childhood:
his sisters, scattered around heaven and earth,
how they loved to dance, eat cashews,
kulfi and fruit from the bimbli tree.
Make sure it has some heat, he still says
every time he orders curry.
 
His eyes light up when he tells the waitress
he was one of the first ones here:
23, all arms and legs, no winter clothes.
You should have seen him, my mother says—
thrifted sweaters and a little
space heater to get him through.
 
My father says he never suffered
and I pretend it’s true.
 

from Poets Respond
October 8, 2023

__________

Jaime Jacques: “I live in Nova Scotia, a part of Canada where people of color have historically been marginalized and treated poorly. In recent years we have had a massive influx of Indian students, without the infrastructure in place to support them when they arrive. At the same time relations between India and Canada have plummeted in recent weeks as our prime minister has asserted that a Sikh separatist was murdered by the Indian government on Canadian soil. With all this in the news I couldn’t help but start to reflect on my father’s experience living here when he was young. Despite his determination to assimilate, I can see how India imprinted him. It’s critical to have freedom of movement, but immigration also seems to create an internal split that is never reconciled, a lifetime of longing and nostalgia.”

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February 2, 2022

Jasmine Ledesma

CATACLYSM

My youngest brother takes the garbage out with both hands. 
His face is full of acne ripe enough to pluck. 
He could burst at any moment. I miss him all the time but especially 
when he is right in front of me. 
We haven’t left the house in four days. 
This virus is dancing, my dad says over the phone. 
I count the syllables until he hangs up. Then, I sit in the 
frilly backyard with the other dogs and stare at the 
sky’s timid girl face, the same one I used to wear. 
Years ago, a man’s hand was like light against my face 
which I thought made me the deer. 
When I turned nineteen, I figured out I had eleven months to die. 
But I keep coming back. A red ant avoids crawling onto my hand. 
The wind whistles. When my sister was my age, she slurped 
iced coffee and never insisted on being heard. 
Last month, I got paid two hundred dollars to write about her death. 
The neon alphabet that lives in my mouth never lets me down. 
A fallen tree knows it has fallen even if nobody else does. 
It is a vision of self-respect. I watch a distant plane fly across 
the horizon like a pair of scissors. My hair lifts behind me like a flag. 
I live in so many different places and each one hurts. 

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

Jasmine Ledesma: “I wrote this poem at the height of the pandemic last spring while sleeping on the floor in my mother’s house. Everything was bad news all of the time. As a result, I wanted to celebrate and inspect resilience as an all-powerful force. It is hard to be alive. Impossible, sometimes. But it is also when we decide to push forward in our depths that we are living most earnestly and most poetically. This poem is a relic of that realization.” (web)

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May 23, 2023

Bill Christophersen

HOLE

I

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.

 

II

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.

 

III

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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