September 14, 2023

Julia Clare Tillinghast


I dreamed my son was joining the army
We were driving him there in a flood
My mother-in-law and her daughters
Were in the car with us crying

I take a yellow packet of fake sugar
That says it’s made from real sugar
From the cupboard and think about gratitude
How sad I am when I wake up

And I have run out of fake sugar
How now when it’s here
I just take
And I don’t really give a fuck

There is a bad side to this kind of exercise in gratitude
Where you hear a story where you know it’s a fact
That someone brought a machine gun into a school
And shot a group of kindergarteners

And you put down your work
And you get in your car
And you drive to a school
To hold your six-year-old son
And feel how alive he is

There is truth in that gesture
There is gratitude
But it is not a good thing to every day
Think about children dying

My teacher says there is a romance
Between aspects of our body
A couple who are deeply in love
But never see each other
She goes into the apartment
And can smell
That stuff he puts in his hair after he washes it
A water glass with his kiss-place on it

A kiss so quiet now
As to be invisible

She touches everything
Plays his record
Takes a nap where his body was then leaves

The second her silhouette has vanished
The man comes home
He can feel that she’s been there

This is the human self
Desire, ambition, caution, boredom,
A bell always swinging from east
To west, the sound of the heart

How hard it is to live inside the big picture
Hard maybe impossible

We have answers but somehow not enough space in the brain
To hold them all at once

All at once which is how we really are
Alive and dead

So children’s hearts are immortal
Because we need them to be

Every moment they beat
To keep the children running

Because they are children,
And are dying
Because we cannot let them die, and we do

from Rattle #41, Fall 2013
Tribute to Single Parent Poets


Julia Clare Tillinghast: “Becoming a single parent is, for some, freely chosen, and undoubtedly for others, wholly determined by circumstance. However, for me and I believe for many, many single parents, it is a strange combination of choice and no choice. That is, we choose to bear a child or to separate from a partner because we must—because of a deeper demand or calling—for our physical or emotional health, because of a just-knowing deep down what is right for ourselves or our children. I believe this is similar to the choice/no choice that calls a person to be a poet or an artist of any kind. Parenthood, especially single parenthood, often forces a crisis of selfhood. Most of the things that facilitate a well-developed sense of self become scarce, very suddenly and for a long time. Poetry, on the other hand, which thank God can be written quickly, while children are sleeping (as was my poem, ‘Bells’), is one of life’s great teachers of self. Because it mandates super-heroic honesty, it can open great caverns of space—of deep truth, of moral and emotional complexity, and of undomesticated freedom—in very short periods of time. I cannot imagine being a sane parent without it.” (web)

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September 13, 2023

Arthur Russell


When you are old and I am dead,
keep this rent-producing property,
and please, collect the rents.
Go out, if you must,
in your house slippers
with pink fur on the instep
and your shepherd, Gaia, on a leash;
mutter at the bus stop
that stuff about your mother;
pick up empty bottles from the street,
and do without combing your hair,
but, please, Sarah, stomp up the stairs
on the first of the month so they hear you coming,
shave-and-a-haircut knock and call out Landlord
with your eye against the peephole.
Don’t trust Grudin the plumber—
he’ll sell you your own toilet—
but Harold, the attorney, is reliable,
and, Sylvia, at Citibank, is good for munis,
but don’t buy an annuity from her.
So much has gone wrong
in the kitchen and the crutches
and Elliott with his asthma,
and the physical miss between us,
and I am so bitter that
the books in the back bedroom are strangers to me now.
Remember the Kandinsky,
that skinny book of Kandinsky prints?
It’s in the back bedroom,
in the shelves under the window.
Now I’m only Goldberg, the landlord with crutches,
and you are Goldberg-the-landlord-with-crutches’s wife.
When you die, Sarah,
Russell, the guy
who owns the car wash next door,
will buy this building from your estate,
and then he’ll send his son, that pretentious prick,
to clean out our apartment, and he will
smoke a cigarette in our back bedroom
and look out through the accordion gates
down Church Avenue towards Boro Park,
where we first met outside the candy store
when you asked me to buy you a cigarette:
two cents for a loosie, and it came with a match.
He’ll find the Kandinsky book,
sit on the bookcase, smoke his cigarette,
look out our window, read the introduction,
admire the pictures, and keep it for a souvenir
of how he suffered working for his father,
or as some kind of perverted proof
that he’s superior to all the mercantile idiots
like his father and me, who worked for what we have.
He’ll keep the Kandinsky on his bookshelves
when he goes to school in Syracuse;
keep it in his apartments in Brighton Beach,
Park Slope, Greenwich Village, Chelsea;
keep it when he gives up his stupid dreams
of becoming an artiste—he never had talent—
to become a lawyer, get married, move to Jersey,
have a kid and bookshelves, bookshelves everywhere,
twenty, thirty years boxing the same books,
college books, grad-school books, his wife’s mysteries,
until, one day, after his wife leaves him,
he’ll remember you, Sarah, and your scruffy shepherd,
and me, with my two amputated feet
lost in a trolley car accident,
swinging on polio crutches from one property to the next,
shave-and-a-haircut knocking, calling out Landlord,
and he’ll reimagine us as icons
of the fashionable style and aching loss
he likes to think he understands,
the way that what you wanted as a kid
can be shunted into tedious commerce,
and he’ll go down to his basement
and pull out the Kandinsky book,
and see how the show was mounted in May of 1945
just months after Kandinsky himself had died,
and he’ll picture us, Sarah,
when we were young and hip,
how we went up to Harlem
to see Lucky Roberts play stride piano,
how we went to see Kandinsky
at the Museum of Non-Objective Art
before it was called the Guggenheim,
when we were in love, before the trolley,
before Elliott and his asthma made me a bitter puss,
buying that book on the last day of the show,
which was such a big deal for you—
you said, Please, Elias, please let’s get the book,
in my ear you said it, your lips on my ear
so it hummed in my head,
and what would later be your stiff, gray hair
was beautiful brown, and down to your shoulders,
in waves I compared to Barbara Stanwyck’s,
and you said, No, I don’t look at all like her,
but you did.

from At the Car Wash
2023 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Arthur Russell: “I thought I could escape my father and his car wash in Brooklyn, run away to Manhattan and succeed as an actor or as a writer and never have to reckon, as an adult, with his cruel opinions of people and the world, but I fell back into his orbit and worked closely with him for many years, and when I did escape, it was only through the door that led to law school, the profession he had chosen for all three of his children, possibly because he had dropped out of law school himself. At the Car Wash is a book of poems written over the last eight years, poems that I continue writing beyond the work between these covers, dredging, sorting, reordering and sometimes celebrating, but always reckoning, almost forty years on, with the reckoning that made me.”

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September 12, 2023

Maria Mazziotti Gillan


I didn’t learn geometry, except for the shortest distance
Between two points is a straight line. The rest was a blur
Through which I stumbled, confused and uncertain,
My mind tuning out when poor bald-headed Mr. McGinn
Tried to explain geometry to all the Alpha class
Math students who caught on right away.
Mr. McGinn was going to fail me that first semester.
I walked up to his desk, held out my report card,
The marks all written in neat black fountain-pen ink,
And his head snapped up in shock. On my report card
My marks, 95, 100, 95, 100, 100, 100. Is this your
report card? he asked, and I saw his pen hesitate
While he thought it over. Slowly, he wrote in a 75.
I went back to my desk, knowing I didn’t deserve to pass,
But knowing too that nothing would make me learn geometry,
Not Mr. McGinn with his big, shiny head, not the pity
In his blue eyes when he looked at me. He never called on me
Again. I did the homework each night, struggling to understand,
And for the first time, I knew what it was like for those kids
Who always had trouble in school. I was an Alpha kid.
We were the brightest kids in the school. Our classes were held
On the third floor, a symbol that we deserved the top.
How humiliating, then to watch the other Alpha kids learn
All those lines and angles without effort. I sat, still as a beaten dog,
Tears trembling in my eyes, while I tried to wrap my mind
Around theorems but always failed.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001


Maria Mazziotti Gillan: “Poetry is my passion—writing it and sharing it with others through my own books, setting up readings for other poets, editing a magazine and anthologies, and organizing prizes. My mother always said, ‘The more I gave away, the more I had to give,’ referring to food, and I have tried to do the same thing with poetry.” (web)

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September 11, 2023

John L. Stanizzi


Bacon Academy
Colchester, CT
October 31st, 2001


Shortly after 9/11,
a boy who had been stealing pick-up trucks
from a local dealership
and hiding them in the woods
so he could sell them later,
decided to fashion a fake bomb
and place it on the loading dock
outside the cafeteria
on Halloween morning.

We, of course, were all still
emotionally threadbare
and sent into a frazzle.

The first order of the morning
was to stop the buses
before they got into the parking lot,
and not let the kids into the school.

As each top-heavy yellow clunker
pulled its plume of blue smoke into the drive,
we stopped it and tried to explain
what was going on,
without freaking out the vampires,
witches, monsters, and ghosts,
12 buses,
each filled with high school kids
all being something else for the day.

We sent the buses to the elementary school,
where all 800 ghouls
would hang out in the tiny gym
until the danger had passed.

Take a moment here to imagine that.



I thought of my own youth—
different time, same fear—
the old days of “duck and cover,”
air raid horn baying at the spring sky,
and all of us either balled up under our desks,
or standing, boy girl boy girl
against the cool, cool
painted cinder block walls
in the shadowy hallways of St. Mary’s,
the perfume of lilacs
in the breeze that breathed there,

or before me, in England,
the shelters in underground tubes,
railway arches, subways,
and my Auntie Elsie,
staring in dread at the ceiling
in the shelter in her cellar.

And later,
after the Russians did their bomb,
and Yuri Gagarin swirled around in our sky,
General Foods and General Mills
sold dried war rations,
and the nuclear protection suit was a hot item.

Wall Streeters even claimed
that the bomb shelter business
would gross billions in the coming years,
if there were any.
And every day
the radio sizzled warnings
that a shoddy, homemade shelter
would get you broiled “to a crisp”
or squeezed “like grapefruit,”
as in American neighborhoods
people built “wine cellars,”
or else the contractors worked
under cover of night.

I cried into our couch
for 14 days straight in 1962,

and I didn’t even really know why
beyond the fact that all the adults
seemed quiet and scared,
and I understood the word annihilation,
and saw, over and over again,
the documentary where the house
gets blown away sideways
by a speeding cloud of nuclear winter.

But the bomb never fell,
even though everyone,
including me,
kept fear in their hearts,
and spent years
practicing for the end,



and it’s the same now.

When the kids returned to school
later that morning,
we tried to resume a
typical Halloween
in a typical American high school,
the kids dressed to kill,
the sugar-high higher
because they were back on familiar ground.
But the party didn’t last long.

Soon a voice filled with urgency
squawked over the perpetual loudspeaker
that we needed to immediately
go into the “S-plan.”

Ignore all fire alarms and bells.

Students in the hallway
should run to the nearest classroom.

Teachers lock your classroom door.
Do not let ANYONE in.

If students ask to be let in,
do not let them in.
Direct them to the office.
Do not let them in.

Cover the windows
with the black paper
that you’ve put aside
for this occasion.

Huddle all your students
into the corner,
away from the windows and doors.

Do not use the school phone
or your cell phone.

Stay there until you receive instructions.

And we did. For two hours,
me and the bum,
the Ninja Turtle,
the Queen of Hearts,
fear in the eyes behind the masks,
fear in the tears of the ballerina.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009


John L. Stanizzi: “It occurred to me that generations upon generations have been ‘practicing’ in one way or another for some terrible ‘thing.’ We have been rehearsing so that we will know just what to do when the unthinkable happens. This is the myth around which my poem swirls.” (website)

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September 10, 2023

Kelly Grace Thomas


Summer never ends
without taking. The basil gone
to seed, wildfires swallow
the coast. The morning after
Jimmy Buffett dies, my father
says, Long live the music.
It’s 6 a.m., and I’m crying
at the coffee maker. Again.
The last days of the summer
have already taken my mother.
We sang Floridays at sunset
to send her off. I can still see: before
the cancer, before California,
after the bankruptcy took everything
but the boat. We sailed south.
Wind strumming the sails.
Jimmy on the speakers, looking
for better days, blue skies
and ultraviolet rays. My mother
leaning against the hull, two
small children and a future
too heavy to float. There
isn’t ocean, or family, without
Jimmy. His watery twang. Even after
the record ends, there is still music.
A sea of stingless salt.
A mother singing.

from Poets Respond
September 10, 2023


Kelly Grace Thomas: “Jimmy Buffett meant so much to so many, especially those who loved the water (and a good time). I’m blessed to come from a family of sailors and spent my childhood sailing around Florida, singing to Jimmy’s songs. I cannot recall a memory of the ocean where Jimmy Buffett’s words were not with me. He died Labor Day weekend, the same weekend my mother died two years earlier. Both loved summer and the freedom of saltwater. It seems like neither wanted to see it end. This poem pay tribute to how mothers and music and the sea hold us. The title of this poem is taken from the Jimmy Buffett song, ‘A Pirate Looks at Forty.’” (web)

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September 9, 2023

Elizabeth Dozier Moshman (age 5)


and I look at the sky
and tree branches.
The sun was smiling
but I fell down. I saw
the sky again.

from 2023 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Elizabeth Dozier Moshman: “I write poems because it feels like it is a miracle.”

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September 8, 2023

Carson Wolfe


My mother named me Carmen after the opera. 
More exotic than Sarah or Stacey, 
the other white girls jealous of my Latin gift. 
I’m not sure how old I was when I learned 
Carmen was a prostitute, bewitching boys 
in her flamenco dress, red as the apple Eve split 
with her ungovernable mouth. But it all made sense 
how Carmen’s gypsy ghost had followed me 
from room to room singing habanera 
since I was ten, when the first man made an epitaph 
of my body. In high school, she gave blowjob 
tips in the bathroom, carved the toilet stall 
with our namesake. L’amour l’amour
she taught me to love, tossing her rose 
to the boot of Don Jose, the same way I threw 
my skin suit into the chair of a tortured tattooist, 
for him to brand me a whore for looking anywhere 
but the floor the year he claimed me his. 
In Bizet’s ending, Carmen tries to leave Don, 
so he stabs her in the stomach and she bleeds out 
to the song of him pleading her name. 
In Muscato’s ending, Carmen kills Don 
in self-defense, infuriating an audience 
who came to applaud the death of a woman 
on stage. But why? Since you started reading this poem, 
another has been killed in her own home.
In my ending, I sew up the thigh split in her red dress, 
a red flag to the first time I clung to porcelain, retching 
between sobs for daring to check my phone. I unpick bone 
from a corset borrowed from her wardrobe without asking, 
line up the fragments, shape a fossil of a woman 
with my face on. In my ending, I shave her hair so  short, 
the only thing left to twirl, her middle finger—fuck you
In my ending, I bind her tits, asphyxiate ribs. 
I turn that bitch blue. In my ending, I unglue 
letters M and E from the curse of her name. 
Sign, S, O. Carson. In my ending, 
I kill her myself.

from Rattle #80, Summer 2023


Carson Wolfe: “Growing up Carmen in the north of England was unusual. On my mother’s mantel, a figurine of my namesake seduced the room, her dress pulled high up her ceramic thigh, a shrine to hyper-feminine sexuality and power. In Los Angeles, I’d travelled far enough to admire this power from a place that no longer housed me; when I saw a road sign that said Carson, exit here, I did.” (web)

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