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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September 7, 2023

Emily Montgomery


for Chris

I wanted to save something beautiful for you.
The last three jewels of glistening pomegranate
balanced in the palm of my hand before I ate them.
The morning birdsong in the lemon tree after you left for work,
the memory of last night’s rain still written on the lawn.
Or earlier, the haunting roundness of the moon
over the canyon just before dawn when I couldn’t sleep,
standing at the window, looking back at you, your body
floating in the watery moonlight of our sheets.
I mean something really beautiful, my love.
The stillness in the house after the washing machine
ceased to hum. The last line from a slender book of poems,
a hardback from the library barely worn, repeated aloud for you,
its bitter sweetness still lingering on my tongue.
Or the way the baby slept so deeply while I read,
burying himself in the secret scent of his favorite blanket.
One arm thrown across that woolen teddy my mother gave us
in those final weeks of waiting before his birth.
The other hand open wide, fingers outstretched in a dancer’s
graceful, expectant pose. I wanted to save all of this for you.
But I couldn’t. It didn’t last. It never does.
That brief moment of grace when the ordinary shines so exquisitely.
At the end of the day you will return to us, as you always do,
and we will both be tired, empty, distracted, spent.
Everything more chaotic, more fragile, than when you left.

from Rattle #43, Spring 2014
Tribute to Love Poems


Emily Montgomery died of cancer December 3rd, 2012, at the age of 34. She is deeply missed by her husband Chris Wakeham; her son, Miles; her daughter, Eloise, born eleven weeks early due to Emily’s illness; her mother; and her many, many friends. A romantic at heart, Emily captured the fleeting beauty and poignancy of daily life in her poetry.

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September 6, 2023

Bruce Weigl


I’m watching out the window the cat stalk 
the robin pulling up worms don’t say a 
word so I must be complicit when 
you fire into the dark trees when you 
fire round after round into the dark trees
without knowing who hides there until we stop

from Rattle #80, Summer 2023


Bruce Weigl: “If I could choose one poem of mine that illustrates the way the war never truly leaves you, it would be this one. I wrote it to show that to the reader, that’s all.”

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