February 19, 2024

Diana Goetsch

MOTEL SURRENDER

Lovers come best together when they come
undone, empty-handed, rendered dumb,
come down to their last card, a turning
way past desperation and cleaner burning.
They show up in the doorways of motels,
sights for sore eyes in sunken orbitals,
solemn as animals, far from all thought
of anything that can be learned or taught.
Lovers show up best after they’ve used
up their excuses, returning bruised
in a cold season, in a darkening room,
in threadbare clothes absent of perfume,
and even these will soon go up in flames
along with their bones, their dreams, their names.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Diana Goetsch: “I began writing poetry at four or five a.m. on the NYC subway after nights spent shooting pool. I was wasting my life. Then phrases, lines came to me. They weren’t lines of Whitman or Yeats or Eliot, so I figured they must be mine. They cycled through my head as I walked my Brooklyn neighborhood among a million sleeping people, feeling like I was treading the afterlife. Once home, I jotted the lines in a notebook, added some more, and started playing with them. That was 30 years ago.” (web)

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February 18, 2024

Alixa Brobbey

COCOA GHAZAL

Metaphor: my skin and my hair taste like cocoa.
Real life: grandparents kiss under trees heavy with cocoa.
 
As girls, we’d creak down the steep Dutch stairs,
return with mugs bursting with creamy hot cocoa.
 
Before the tasting date, I drench my skin
in pale butter squeezed from fatty crushed cocoa.
 
We tour the factory and learn in each room
how sweetness is squeezed from bitter beaned cocoa.
 
I think of the videos on my screen: scythed
children harvest but have never tasted rich cocoa.
 
When we moved home, everything sat strange on our
tongues. Took months to adjust to the new, brittle cocoa.
 
In another life, our family tree hugs the equator.
So, I learn to harvest pulpy raw cocoa.
 
In this life: the air conditioned room. Spirited
debates about abstract supply chains of cocoa.
 

from Poets Respond
February 18, 2024

__________

Alixa Brobbey: “There is currently a cocoa shortage. I cannot think of chocolate, or Valentine’s Day, without thinking about child labor in my father’s homeland, Ghana.” (web)

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February 17, 2024

Julie Bruck

LOVE TO BUT

Our very important neighbor’s
fused to his new Cingular headset:
Now he can talk and walk.
Blah-blah-blah goes Mr. de Broff.
This makes it hard to hear
even the packs of feral dogs
howling all night, or the cats
doing what they do in our dark
fog-bound city gardens.
The world needs its chemistry
checked, that’s for sure.
The poisoned river is high,
fast at this time of year.
Fences between houses are down,
and we all like our boundaries.
Pharmacies? Closed.
All essential services, shut.
Time to fetch my daughter
from a birthday party which
ended in 1963, but she runs late.
Sometimes, I have to pry her
from the door-jamb, carry
her to the car like a small,
warm totem pole with sneakers.
A yellow Hummer slipped
through a crack in our street
on Tuesday: not seen nor
heard from since, despite
the crowd of looky-lu’s,
still milling around out there.
Love to. But these are
strange times. I could
expire before I meet
you at the gate. Yessir.
Love to. Toothache.
Can’t.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011
Tribute to Canadian Poets

_________

Julie Bruck: “To decline, to refuse, dig in one’s heels, to resist like a small dog its leash—I find that gesture so alluring, such a sweet, guilty pleasure. Writing ‘Love to But’ also furnished an opportunity to complain (another underrated pastime) about a neighbor who considers mobile phone use a public harangue even as the world ends. Doh! I guess Mr. de B. and the speaker of this poem aren’t so different.”

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February 16, 2024

Isabella DeSendi

ELEGY FOR TÍO LAZARO

Because he was already dying, he figured
there was no harm in huffing through 2 or 3 cigarettes
 
in the early morning before my mother would wake—
the animal of his thin, brown body lassoed
 
to an oxygen tank. Because he didn’t have papers
we had to drive two hours to retrieve the tank
 
from a discount store in Ocala
where my mom had to pay
 
out of pocket for air that would be filtered
from a rocket-ship shaped canister
 
into a tiny tube three times the size of a vein
directly into the soggy, plastic bags of my tio’s
 
stalling lungs just so he could drink cafecitos
& play crossword puzzles or the lottery
 
while we sat around in the kitchen
wondering how long we could keep him alive.
 
My mom was elbow deep in dishwater
when the letter came
 
denying our appeal for his citizenship.
No, he could not get Medicare.
 
Yes, he would have to go back after living
50 years in this country. This country,
 
where, at 20, he learned to fix engines
in chop shops and likened himself
 
to a surgeon—saying any man with purpose could fix
any broken thing if he simply tried hard enough.
 
Entiendes sobrina? It’s why God gave us hands.
Sometimes, I like to imagine him in the garage
 
surrounded by brutal heat and moonlight,
the broken chair under him barely keeping
 
itself together while he held metal chunks
in his hands like a heart, wondering where
 
it all went wrong, believing enough screws
could put it all back. Of course, this was after he fell
 
in love with a woman in Kentucky,
dreamt of being a local politician
 
and with that same American sense of disillusion,
grandeur—discovered heroin: the god he’d worship
 
until he felt nothingness, & after nothingness
the dull edge of sobriety, the death of his American wife
 
which meant the death of food stamps, which meant the death
of a life that allowed him to lay on the roof of his car
 
while he smoked Marlboros and recited constellations:
Andromeda, Aquilus, Ursa major, Ursa minor
 
which made him feel just as smart as the white men
he swept for. Aren’t our lives just simple constellations
 
made up of many deaths? Yes, someone in an office
in a building in this country decided no, he could not
 
get medical care. No, he could not stay.
Two nights later, Lazaro woke from a dream
 
screaming aliens were coming to get him.
That their ship was hovering over the house.
 
The light so bright he couldn’t see my mom’s hands
as she helped him back to bed. The next night he died.
 
Milky Way: one answer on yesterday’s crossword puzzle.
You can’t tell me the dying don’t know
 
when their time is coming.
The tip of the letter, still sticking out
 
of my mom’s black purse like a cigarette
already flickering gone.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Isabella DeSendi: “I wrote this poem after telling two of my poet friends the story of my tio’s death, including his vision of being abducted by aliens just days after we’d received the news about his deportation. My mom was still trying to figure out how to fight the government’s decision, how to break the news. My friends and I were huddled in a small circle during the intermission of a reading when I decided to share the story with them. One friend, Cat, turned to me and said, ‘Bella, this is a poem.’ She was right. This piece is an elegy for my tio, but it’s also a lamentation for immigrants in this country—and ultimately a song of praise for my mother, whose strength, generosity, and capacity for enduring I am constantly in awe of.” (web)

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February 15, 2024

Jessica Moll

COSTUME

Our game’s a cross between A Chorus Line
and Fame. Rehearsals, here in our backyard.
Pretend the lawn’s the stage. The tutu’s mine,
but I let David pick a leotard.
I’m ten, he’s five, he’s used to all my rules.
He gets to be a girl, but has to choose
a neutral name like “Chris.” Summer fog rolls
in. We swirl our glitter scarves to music
in our heads. He’s got it down, the girl
pose: hips, hands. He’s not a boy. He won’t play
out front, racing Big Wheels. Instead, he twirls
barefoot with me. But what about the place
my fingers found, underneath my clothes?
The grass is cold. Plié. And point your toes.
 

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
Tribute to the Sonnet

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Jessica Moll: “Since I just wrote a sonnet yesterday, today I’d like to rest. My fingers ache from tapping syllables against the desk. I haven’t slept—the loud iambic tick’s a clock inside my head. I hate the task I give myself, of cramming my mind’s sprawl into the structure of a formal poem. I think the next time that a sonnet calls, I won’t answer. I’ll pretend I’m not home. But watch, tomorrow I’ll be riding down a pitted Oakland street, pedaling hard to get to work on time, and as I spin, I’ll feel the meter in my pulse and start to think in rhyme. You’ve had this kind of lover—as soon as you break up, you’re back together.”

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February 14, 2024

Dusty Bryndal

NO EVIDENCE

I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
One month later, my son was hit
and killed by a late model, blue Ford F150 truck.
 
My former therapist said I was being struck
by the perfect storm.
You are in the middle of the perfect storm.
Whatever the fuck that meant.
 
It’s a scary feeling to learn you have cancer.
That goes without saying.
 
Thinking about it took up a lot of my mental energy—
there was a lot of fear and worry, and so many unknowns.
 
Then my son died and of course the cancer took a back seat.
 
At that point my feelings about cancer warped
and turned to anger. I thought it was
the stupid cancer that killed my son.
 
He was determined to go out and skate that day—
the day before my surgery. The day he died.
 
His friends told me this.
That he needed to get out on his board that day.
 
For a long time I chose not to—was determined not to—
write about it. The cancer, I mean. I guess subconsciously
I was trying to obliterate ever even having it.
 
You’ll find very little evidence
of my having cancer
in my journals.
I never posted on social media.
 
I never wrote about how terrifying the whole process
was, or about how sometimes I would stand transfixed,
staring at the huge glass etched sign outside the white brick building
on the corner, in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, that read:
“Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.”
Cancer Center. I’d stand there, simply frozen, taking in those words.
 
I didn’t write about how appointments
overtook my life. The exhaustion of meeting with so many doctors.
The breast surgeon oncologist, the radiologist,
my general oncologist. The geneticist.
 
I didn’t write about all of the waiting. The agonizing waiting.
 
There was a health food store called Health Nuts:
I would stop in after every appointment to get a shot
of wheatgrass juice, and wonder how many people
from the cancer center two blocks down
had stepped in to get a wheatgrass shot.
 
I never wrote about how scared
I was of passing this on to my daughter.
Would she have to get her ovaries removed?
Her breasts?
 
Would I?
 
It all depended on genetic testing
that took two agonizing weeks to get results.
 
I remember the genetic counselor, her name was Julia.
It almost seemed like she was the type of person
who enjoyed handing out scary shit to people.
 
She told me how my type of cancer could jump
from breast to breast.
That it could possibly turn up in the other breast
before all was said and done.
 
She said that if I had a certain gene,
the cancer could spread to my stomach.
 
I asked her what I would do then?
 
You can’t remove my stomach.
 
I swear there was a gleam in her eye
when she responded: Oh, yes we can.
We can remove your stomach
and give you a manufactured one.
 
I remember going home on that Friday night
after meeting with her. I had had plans to do something,
but canceled. My husband was working late, so I sat alone
on the couch until the sun set and the house got dark,
tired and scared—crying it out before
I could pull myself up to make some dinner.
 
This was before Judah died. I was terrified
that I could pass it on to both children.
 
When I spoke this fear to my doctor, I could barely
choke out the words. But he understood through my sobs
and hand gestures that I was asking
the question: Will I pass this on?
 
I never wrote about the stage my cancer
had reached, 2B. The classification had to do with the size
of the tumor and the fact that it had moved further
into my breast from its original nesting point.
 
You won’t find any evidence of how the doctors
took me into a small conference room
and had me decide which treatment option
I wanted to take—how they showed me twenty years’ worth
of research to help me make my decision.
 
Did I want to do a lumpectomy?
It would preserve most of the breast,
but require radiation treatment.
 
Or, did I want to remove the breast completely,
and possibly not have to do any radiation?
Still I really wouldn’t even know that until they removed
my sentinel nodes during surgery.
 
I just wanted someone to tell me what to do.
 
I never wrote about the surgeon:
the very kind, caring, and good-at-her-job surgeon
with her long blonde hair and gentle hands
 
who was determined to leave my mangled breast
as pretty as possible, as she removed more and more
breast tissue, trying to get clean margins.
 
She had to get my permission to practice
a certain type of stitch that would
leave less scarring.
 
Judah was gone at this point
and I could not convey to her enough
how much I didn’t care.
 
There were student doctors at the cancer center
who took me into yet another small conference room
as my surgeon stood vigil
and asked if they could use my tumor for research.
 
I numbly signed the papers.
Yes, please use my tumor for science.
My kid is dead. I hate everything.
 
I never wrote about how I learned to visualize
my cancer as a black disk in my mind’s eye—
 
to be burned up by a white light.
I would meditate and form the black disc
in my mind and imagine a fire-like light,
 
like the surface of the sun,
slowly making its way over the disc, enveloping it.
 
I visualized the cancer retreating like this, every time
the worry threatened to overtake me. I used this method
while awaiting the results of an oncotype score—
 
the number that tells the doctors how aggressive
a tumor is, and what the likelihood of the cancer
returning would be, and whether I would need chemotherapy.
 
I used this light method again after the surgery
that removed my sentinel node and a few others
to find out if my cancer had spread.
 
Turns out, the cancer was only just beginning to spread.
I had micrometastasis, and hopefully, they said,
they had caught all of the cancerous nodes.
 
Again, the waiting. The waiting.
 
I never wrote about the integrative specialist
who discussed nutrition with me, and all the things
I needed to cut out of my diet now that I was trying
to remain cancer free.
 
Avoid gluten, dairy, sugar, white rice, white flour,
and alcohol, especially hard liquor.
 
She asked me how I would replace butter in my diet.
I looked at her like she was crazy.
I’m southern, I said. So that’s gonna be a no.
 
I was joking and partially relented to using
Earth Balance and coconut oil. But still.
 
I didn’t write about the radiation center
and the nine tiny tattoo dots
that framed the area around my left breast
just below my collar bone and down
 
to the top of my ribs,
made so that the radiation tech
would know exactly
where to direct the machine.
 
I had to learn how to do deep inspiration breath holds
so that I could hold my breath properly during treatment.
They needed my lungs to inflate and push my heart
away from my chest wall so as to decrease the possibility of
radiation damage to my heart.
 
I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and left the house
by 5:45 to make a 7:00 a.m. radiation appointment
in Manhattan.
 
I’d take the F train to Lex Ave and 63rd Street,
close to an hour from home. Some days I’d walk
in the freezing rain or snow, in the still dark morning.
 
All the while, mourning my son’s death.
All the while thinking: Judah, Judah, Judah.
I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.
 
By week two, I had what looked like a sunburn
and I was feeling fatigued after each treatment.
I needed to get ten hours of sleep each night
to feel normal the next day. My New Yorker
walking pace had slowed to the point where I had to tell friends
to slow down because I couldn’t keep up.
 
The radiation oncologist, a tall,
good looking man in a perfectly cut suit and tie,
never told me that I could have what looked
like third degree burns by the time
 
I was done with my five day “boost”
nearing the end of my treatment.
The boost radiation tech
panicked after my third dose,
and sent me to the burn unit.
 
There was a burn unit?
 
Yes, a whole unit dedicated to the burns
that one could incur during radiation. On my last day,
after ringing the bell for making it through,
my breast was so red and raw the tech took
me straight to the unit where a nurse
set me up with bandages, wraps, and silvadene.
 
My treatment was complete right at the beginning of spring break.
I had plans to fly down to Tennessee, and I kept them.
Little did I know that the radiation would continue
to cook my breast.
 
By the time I got there, my entire left breast
and the surrounding area was blistered and on fire.
A two-inch circumference around where my nipple
used to be was a giant, blistery burn.
There were burns under my breast and in my armpit.
 
Eventually my skin sloughed off and there were
open burn sores where the blistered areas had popped.
 
I was on The Farm with my granddaughter
and lifting her up to put her in a swing
on the newly built playground in the woods,
I could feel my skin ripping beneath the bandages.
 
What is wrong with me? I asked myself,
I should be home in my apartment on my couch resting.
I didn’t know it was going to be so bad.
 
Later that evening, I cried in the bathroom
with Judah’s grandmother Mary, as she helped me bandage my burns.
I watched her reflection through the bathroom mirror,
her kind eyes wide as she cried,
Oh Dusty, over and over. Oh Dusty!
 
I didn’t write how deflated the radiologist
looked after walking into the small exam room,
 
a little cocky as he sat down and leaned back
in his chair and stretched his feet out,
so confident as I met with him one year after treatment:
 
This is a time to celebrate, one year cancer free!
What’s to celebrate? I said. My kid is dead.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

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Dusty Bryndal: “I have written poetry all my life, but began building confidence as a writer and poet when my friend would make me read my poems out loud in her cozy, art-filled living room. I have since found a writing community who taught me that it is OK to write about the raw, ragged details of losing a child and that people want to read about sad things. For the last five years, writing poetry has helped shape my grief and my healing as I navigate the waters of my son’s tragic ending.” (web)

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February 13, 2024

Bruce Taylor

FAST FACTS ABOUT FAMOUS PEOPLE

Pol Pot liked a good laugh.
Mussolini got the trains to run on time.
Hitler wept at the opera.

Miro hated green beans;
Picasso beets.
Chagall both beets and beans.

Dickens slept facing north.
Longfellow was the first
American to have indoor plumbing.

Abraham Lincoln had no middle name.
Caesar was a pretty good swimmer.
Mao was an assistant librarian.

Churchill washed his own socks.
Bell never phoned his mother.
Edison was afraid of the dark.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012

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Bruce Taylor: “Found one of these ‘facts’ just cruising the WWW, spent the morning looking for more and ended up with two pages. Let the whole mess sit for a while, then as Rodin said, I ‘knocked away anything’ that wasn’t poem. They are all ‘true’ except one; I’ve forgotten which.” (web)

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