January 13, 2023

Anna M. Evans


for DF … and Wisconsin

I. Green Lake


Even the clouds look different, more defined.
The lake is silver, ripples flash like teal
minnows before the bow; the wake, behind
is jubilantly frothy. This is real.
You tell me stories of your lake-life youth.
They’re tinged with silver too and glow with joy.
The small boat’s engine counters: this is truth.
You tell me how you met your man, a boy
who made you laugh at parties. This is breath.
A light wind makes a halo of your hair.
I feel at ease with, although far from death,
And take a deep gulp in of summer air
to ask the question that this day makes clear:
would I be you if I had grown up here?



II. Interstate 41


Would I be you if I had grown up here—
this land of cloistered dairy cows and lakes,
straight roads that narrow till they disappear,
skirted by fields of corn? For argument’s sake,
the answer’s no, but maybe it’s a yes.
Aren’t we all products of our circumstances?
My English parents did, I must confess,
endow me with a decent set of chances
then add a lust to see and know and do
more than they did, which hurled me overseas,
led me to the place where I met you
and brought me to your state. This notion frees
me of the envy, loosens up the guilt.
Each of us owns the hard-won world she’s built.



III. Oshkosh I


Each of us owns the hard-won world she’s built.
Your house a twisted mirror of my own—
slate-surfaced tables, lots of wood, no gilt—
not perfect, but in every sense a home.
You have a tomcat who prowls countertops,
a dog who rests her muzzle on my knee.
We sit on your deck in tee shirts, shorts, flip flops.
I marvel at how much you are like me.
Except …
… out here, you always watch Fox News
and like Oshkosh, your vote is ruby red
while I’m a sworn-in member of the blues.
I quiet the stubborn voice inside my head
that says we can’t be friends. I will not hear,
won’t be constrained behind a wall of fear.



IV. Lake Butte des Morts


I won’t be constrained behind a wall of fear
and yet the rope is slithering from my grip.
You yell at your husband, but he doesn’t hear.
Keen to impress, I hold on till I slip.
Baptized in the shallow water of the lake,
I scramble up, reborn. We shake with laughter.
Whatever this friendship is, it isn’t fake.
I shed my sodden clothes, know each time after
that wearing them will summon up this day
and how my accent, too, began to slide
into the drawn-out O, the Wisconsin A.
I’m holding on now, in it for the ride.
The boat speeds from the boat launch and its silt.
I shape my mouth—my new Midwestern lilt.



V. Dockside Tavern


I shape my mouth around the Midwest lilt,
self-conscious in a bikini at the bar—
my clothes too wet to wear since I got spilled—
and order lunch to go. We’re heading far
across the lake to somewhere you call Stretches.
I have no data I can use to draw
comparisons. My overcharged brain sketches
and then discards ideas. When we unmoor
I try to relax, and suddenly I do,
my tense muscles uncoiling like a rope.
The sun casts blessings from a sky so blue
all apprehension vanishes in hope
a body can surrender like a voice.
Remember that contentment is a choice.



VI. Oshkosh II


Remember that contentment’s about choices.
The day before, we’d sat upon your bed
and shared our girlhood secrets in low voices,
a frank and warm exchange, which somehow led
to how the Supreme Court had undone Roe.
You didn’t want your state to be that way,
but when I tried to tell you how to show
your disapproval, you went on to say
you couldn’t vote for Democrats—not ever—
because we’re evil, arm around my shoulder.
I let it hurt, but couldn’t let it sever
the bonds we share or turn our friendship colder.
You cannot understand what you don’t see.
I have no way to make you think like me.



VII. Lake Winnebago I


I have no way to make you think like me,
but just for now, we’re visibly in sync,
sitting up front like sisters, knee to knee.
Your husband, steering, throws us a fond wink
then opens up the throttle to full force,
and now the boat is bouncing through the wake
of one in front as he sets a direct course
to our destination. This is a vast lake
to me, accustomed to the Jersey shore.
This body of water somehow dwarfs the ocean,
lacking the waves that find a sandy floor.
I am so thrilled to yield to the motion,
the motor thrumming like an inner voice 
in a rhythm that insists we all rejoice.



VIII. Stretches I


In a rhythm that insists we all rejoice
the boat converges on our destination.
I look around. It’s as if, with one voice
Oshkosh’s boat-owning population
has named this sandbar as the place to meet—
pontoons and motor cruisers, large and small
are roped in lines together, like a fleet
of sailing partygoers. Your friends call
and we tie up then anchor next to them.
Men stand in waist-deep water, beers in hand,
and women lounge on swim decks. You say, Come!
and help me lower myself onto the sand.
The opaque water’s warmer than the sea.
You’re showing me your life. It’s heavenly.



IX. Dublin’s


You’re showing me your life. It’s heavenly,
like how we visited the Irish bar
where your son cooks. You were so proud of me—
your friend, the poet—as if I were a star.
They asked me for a haiku, which I wrote
and after that, my glass was always full.
Why should it matter to me how you vote?
An afternoon with you is never dull.
It was a relief, not to have to think,
to sing the lyrics to an Irish song,
pull the tabs off lottery cards, and drink,
forget the ways the country’s going wrong,
put any hint of conflict out of mind,
surrender to the moment and be kind.



X. Fox River Brewery


Surrender to the moment and be kind,
which means that when you’re hungry you should eat
and tip well. I was in the frame of mind
to wear a sundress, something loose and sweet,
so we went home, got changed, and did our hair,
then found a table outside by the dock,
took pictures perched upon a huge lawn chair
and watched the sunset. The relentless clock
had never been so silent. Was it the band?
The lively music somehow soothed my soul.
Or was it that a day could be unplanned
and still be perfect? I felt peaceful, whole.
Of course, the salmon tacos were sublime.
It was a day outside of rules and time.



XI. Oshkosh III


It was a day outside of rules and time.
We swayed into your house, a little drunk,
and then we called as one, partners in crime
for eighties music—indie rock, not punk,
and danced barefoot and wild like maniacs—
Blondie, The Smiths, Aha, Kate Bush, The Cure
and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”
while belting out the words we knew. I’m sure
your husband thought that we were both insane
but still played barkeep, audience, DJ
until our energy began to wane
and then we put our teenage years away
amazed how much our music tastes aligned.
You were the friend I’d always longed to find.



XII. Stretches II


You are the friend I always longed to find.
We need sunscreen, you say, then spray it on
my skin, tan lines already well-defined.
I slide back in the water, but you yawn
and tell me that you’re going to take a nap.
I dunk myself then swim around the boats,
a slow and lazy breaststroke. Every lap
your husband checks I’m still okay….Your votes
seem so incongruous, as if a song
I loved turned out to have satanic meaning—
how can I feel so comfortable, belong
with people whose beliefs are so right-leaning?
You break the structure of my paradigm.
Except for this one dissonance, we rhyme.



XIII. Lake Winnebago II


Except for that one dissonance, we rhyme. 
On the way back, your husband stops the boat
in the middle of the lake, because it’s time
to watch the sun go down. We bob and float
as the sky turns pink, painted with copper streaks
reflecting in the lake as burnished gold.
I haven’t felt this calm inside for weeks.
The beauty of it makes me feel less old
and that all things are possible. I didn’t know
how much I’d love Wisconsin till I came,
how hard it would be then to let it go,
and that, back home, I’d never be the same,
shaken forever from complacency,
because you are so like, yet unlike me. 



XIV. New Jersey


Because you are so like, yet unlike me
I’ve gifted you an audiobook I heard
on motherhood and choice. It’s not a plea
for change, but if there’s power in a word
maybe these ones will have some pull on you.
I’ve never thought the world was black and white,
so why accept it must be red and blue?
I’ve changed my desktop image to the lake
at sunset so I never will forget
the harmony. I think for both our sake
we always should be friends. I’m in your debt
because you and Wisconsin made me see
there’s hope for this sweet land of liberty.





Would I be you if I had grown up here?
Each of us owns the hard-won world she’s built,
won’t be constrained behind a wall of fear.
I tried to shape my mouth around the lilt,
remember that contentment is a choice,
and I’d no way to make you think like me.
In a rhythm that insisted I rejoice
you showed me how you live. It’s heavenly—
surrender to the moment and be kind.
And all these days were outside rules and time.
You are the friend I’d always longed to find.
Except for one big dissonance, we rhyme.
Is there—because you’re like, yet unlike me—
some hope for this sweet land of liberty?

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022


Anna M. Evans: “Recent polls suggest that about two thirds of Democrats do not have Republican friends. Bucking this trend, I spent five summer days in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, visiting a woman I first met outside of both our home states, and it was blissful, even though our political views are complete opposites. Poetry can be used to explore such large, complex subjects, and because form needs to match content, this subject called for a heroic crown of sonnets. I have been advised that some people on my side of the aisle may object to the congeniality of my poem, and that is, of course, part of the point.” (web)

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January 12, 2023

CooXooEii Black


five years and you forgot
the excitement of being on a mountain.
early morning, before the hunt, blurred hours
between night and day. the crickets chilled
in silence. sheep ridge lay in front of you.
you forgot the sensation of waiting on the sun.
when its light-blue floods over the mountain
and mixes with the dark, everything seems
to ask for the lead.
for the first time, you drove your own truck
with your uncle in the passenger seat. you remember
your first gun shot, elk drop,
sip of beer, fish caught, and war-whoop.
your uncle present for all.
a small moment, sure, to be driving him
but you’re proving your coming of age.
he’s told you about your dad.
said he’s a cool dude. that they text from time to time.
he told you about cali and you can’t imagine
your uncle in the city. you can’t imagine
being with anyone on the mountain except this man
who used to parachute into smoke for a living.
those mountains are ruthless to the clueless.
you ask your uncle how he learned his way
around them. you asked and you asked and you asked.
he said be prepared to see anything.
so from that moment forward you fixed your eyes
onto the barely warming sky, your family,
your people, younger siblings,
your reservation, and every figure
that has become a father, and you wait
for the coming miracles.

from The Morning You Saw a Train of Stars Streaking Across the Sky


CooXooEii Black: “I’ve always been interested in emotionally compelling stories, whether it was music, movies, or tv. I constantly got into trouble in elementary school for telling stories, singing songs, and acting. Then in high school, I watched a spoken word video, and for the first time, I found a medium that incorporated everything I love to do. So I put a few images down on a page, and I haven’t stopped since. Because it was God who gave me the ability to write, I daily return it to Him as a form of worship.” (web)

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January 11, 2023

Kwame Dawes


The silent prophetess sleeps well at night,
for the pleasures of knowing are a kind
of peace. While one is bleeding bloody,
and an unfurled crowd turns into
a stream of blood, empty shells,
the graffiti of disaster, the plague
of bouquets and solemn regrets,
the prophetess is prepared for sorrow.
She has wept loudly in her cloister,
her fingers pulling at her unruly hair,
her face purged of all paint.
She is, she says to the burning city,
like a woman in love with an
unreachable heart. She carries
the sweetness of her pain deep,
and her body surrenders even as
it sorrows; so each night she
lays her head down, she sleeps
the deep untroubled sleep of knowing.

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022


Kwame Dawes: “There seems to be a connection between being a consumer of music, literature, and so forth, and being a creator of it. For me, those two things seem to coincide. The mindset of the writer I can trace back to the mindset of wanting to control the narrative of my life, which never otherwise felt like something I could control.” (web)

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January 10, 2023

Charles Simic


The way the light and shadow
Go on with their tug-of-war
While the night busies itself
Behind our backs

To catch us by surprise
With a single burnt matchstick
Left in someone’s hand,
Who forgot why he lit it,

Unless it was for children
To find their way
Through weedy gardens
And narrow back alleys

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002


Charles Simic: “When you read a nice poem, somebody else’s poem, you become attuned to the words on the page. The language seems so rich, so beautiful, imagination making connections. You do need the reader as a collaborator. There could be other experiences beyond that of course. There might be some thoughts, some ideas emerging out of that, but I think the most basic fundamental thing is to give the reader something pleasurable.”

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January 9, 2023

Brendan Constantine


I’ve been traveling so long
I forget what country this is. I can read all the signs 
in the hotel, but it’s not enough. It could be Ireland, 
or Heaven, or Mars. A black dog sits next to me 
with a white bib, wary, curious. I ask the concierge, 
“Is this a member of your staff?” “Ay,” he says, 
“A stray. Showed up days ago.” I finish checking in, 
drag a bunch of America to my room, take a nap.  
Later, when I step out for a walk, I find the dog 
waiting in the hall. “Days Ago,” I say aloud. 
“Your name is Days Ago.” 


He follows me to a park 
across the street, not quite at my side, but with me. 
I speak to him in a full voice, ask questions, give him 
time to answer, and interpret his silence. No one 
pays much attention, though a policeman tracks me 
for a moment. Likely because I’ve used the word 
“terrorism” a few times, loud enough to be heard 
across the fish pond. 


Days Ago, like all dogs, 
can’t talk or is choosing his moment. He withholds 
any opinion on terror, foreign or domestic. When 
I mention poetry, he yawns. Yeah, tell me about it. 
We find a bench and claim it. “You’ve done this before,” 
I say. It gets a smile. He does that donut thing his kind 
are so good at—cats, too—where they can lie on one side 
and still be sitting up. I naturally start stroking his neck 
and shoulders.


 “Did’ya hear about Mars?” I ask. 
“Once again, they think they found life but aren’t sure. 
Apparently, it’s harder to spot than anyone guessed.” 
His fur is so black, it hardly shines. I lose my hand in it. 
He’s tracking the policeman now. I’m thinking about 
space, how astronomers say almost a third of it is made
of something called Dark Matter, mass that swallows
light. Or drinks it. Or, I think now, loses light in its coat. 
“You know, Days Ago, 
                whenever they don’t find life
on other planets, I can’t help but think it means they 
also can’t find death. So far as we know, there’s no 
death anywhere on Mars. None on the moon, for that 
matter. A few people have died in space. But how 
do we know they didn’t bring death with them? 
They were people after all.” Days Ago is looking 
at me, right into my eyes. He clears his throat.

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022


Brendan Constantine: “I have to say, I get a lot of inspiration from just going out and pretending I’ve never been to this planet before. It’s a great way to remember just how absurd, strange, beautiful, and unlikely everything is around you. If I can stay in that childish frame of mind, in that place of possibility where you watch somebody get into an elevator, the doors close, then open again and five people come out and it occurs to you ‘That’s where you go to become five people!’ Or you cut your hair and more grows out and you cut your hair and more grows out and you deduce, ‘The human head must be packed with hair.’ If I can practice daily astonishment, I find that I’m a little more pleasant, patient, and forgiving. You never know what you’re going to hear outside your window. Sometimes it brings a whole world with it.” (web)

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January 8, 2023

T.R. Poulson


tale of a UPS Teamster

I, too, have flown Southwest. Scrambled
for my window seat, bedraggled
by long lines like herds of cattle.
Loved to travel. Loved to travel—
to watch storm clouds unwind in blue
beyond the winglet. Never knew
the truth beneath those cow reviews.
But now I do. But now I do
the math. I work for stockholders
who’ve never done my job. Bolder
men and women open folders.
Numbers smolder. Numbers smolder
facts. And I am one. Storms snarl flights
and labor. I, too, labor. Fight
to tell my story. Overnight
last week, I tried. Last week I tried
to make sense of numbers. My truck’s,
573992, gold-stuck
on her fender. Mine, on paychecks.
She, an object. She’s an object
I love. The ones who make money
plotted to replace her with one
that’s bigger. Clumsier. Their plan
twisted in lines. Twisted in lines
on maps—they’ve never seen my roads
that wind narrow among redwoods
and slopes. Late one night, as fog flowed
in dark, I slowed. In dark, I slowed
to let a car pass, its lights soft-
haloed. Blind in beauty, I stopped
close to the edge. The damp-blurred drop
among limbs, lost. Among limbs, lost
to lists, my truck held me safe. Sure.
The car slipped by, so close its mirror
whiskered my bumper. Disappeared
in mist. In fear. In mist, I fear
what might happen in another
truck, less nimble. Made for other
terrain. My center manager
chose to save her. Chose to save her
from the flatbed trailer assigned
to take her. 992 is mine
for now. The last of her design.

from Poets Respond
January 8, 2023


T.R. Poulson: “I am a union member, and I can relate to this article. Behind every business meltdown are workers who have tried to warn their companies what can happen when only short-term profits influence decisions. The form is a monotetra.”

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January 7, 2023

Robert A. Ayres


If you give a government trapper
a roadkill armadillo,
he’s likely to take it home.

And if he takes it home,
and his wife’s not there,
he’ll take it in the kitchen,
stick it in her spaghetti pot—
tail sticking out the top—
fill the pot with water,
turn the burner on,
and cook it till it’s squishy.

And if he cooks it till it’s squishy,
and his wife’s not back,
he’ll scoop the innards from the shell
into her Osterizer blender,
add a little glycerin,
and push “Puree.”

And if she’s still not back,
he’ll spoon dollops of pâté
into tiny Tupperware containers,
and stash them in her deep freeze
until he needs it for bait.

But if his wife comes home,
that’s that.

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


Robert A. Ayres: “On the ranch, I hear lots of great stories. If I’m quick enough, I sometimes snatch a poem right out of the air, the way a second baseman nabs a line drive—that nifty SMACK! against his mitt. Other days, I take the bits and pieces home in my pocket to see what I can make of them.”

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