September 19, 2022

Susan Vespoli


I’m the mother of the man 
living at the park off 57th Avenue,
a man who found religion and wants to pray 
with those he meets on the street,
those who buy five-dollar hits 
of fentanyl and contemplate suicide
like he once did. I’m the mother 
of a man who carries a bag 
of oranges from the 24-hour WinCo, 
where he walks to wash his face,
a man who sleeps upright on a cement bench 
beneath a ramada, eyes closed, head 
drooped forward. I’m the mother 
of a man I hear breathe in the backseat, 
nodded off next to his backpack
and jug of water as I look out 
the windshield at traffic lights, 
pigeons on lampposts, clouds—
but he’s not there; he’s back at the park, 
head bowed, peeling an orange 
at a concrete table in the shade.

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022


Susan Vespoli: “Every homeless person you pass on the street or in the park is someone’s beloved kid. One of them is mine.” (web)

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September 18, 2022

Lisa Muloma


On the drive home, Mom calls
and you resent her for doing it,
answer anyway. The joy
in her voice when you answer
on the first ring. She asks how
the day was, and you say no,
you first and she goes first,
says she’s been thinking about
the election, the way Aunty
and the intercessors prayed it in,
how Ruto is a professing evangelical,
charismatic, has a chapel
in his home, how the chief justice
of the Kenyan supreme court said
Ruto’s confirmation was an act
of God. Only God and your mother
prioritize you lately. Your friends
have entered their terminal
relationships, are retreating into
their homes, are adopting pets.
You think of that boy who does not
love you. He has replaced you
with another Kenyan girl from Philly.
In your new apartment, empty
of furniture, full of boxes
and shopping bags, you open your
phone, searching for food. The sushi
place has low ratings and expensive
food. You had tacos yesterday.
Salad is risky and also too expensive.
You settle on Taste of East Africa,
and on the phone you order nyama choma,
pronounce it correctly. And sukuma wiki.
Ugali. You imagine, on the other side
of the phone, a girl like you. Maybe
Ethiopian, maybe Kenyan or Tanzanian.
You’ll walk into the place and they’ll
recognize you by your forehead, your skin,
something about your ears. They’ll understand
why you don’t speak Swahili anymore,
load you with extra samosas, give you
their numbers, say come back anytime.
In the car, you put on afrobeats, feel
your heart lift a little. There are palm
trees in North Park. This is the California
everyone dreams of. Mom said the climate
in San Diego is as close to Kenya’s as it gets
without actually going home. At Taste
of East Africa, the cashier is a white woman
with a brown ponytail, the chef is a flustered
looking white man. You want to ask who
the hell started this restaurant. But a woman,
also white, arrives to pick up her order
and you don’t tip and leave quickly
and think of the most recent man who officially
doesn’t love you as of last week. The salesperson
at the wine shop smiles with his lips
only, and you look for wine from South Africa,
cringing at the Austrian colonizer wine,
the French and Italian and New Zealand
junk. Nothing from the continent, looks like we can’t
have anything nice today. You pull yourself out
of it, decide to choose a red based on the
cuteness of the sticker label, but
all the cute ones are expensive so
you choose an okay Italian and go home
to eat standing up in your kitchen empty
of furniture and Mom texts goodnight
and you think maybe you will talk to God
and unpack and sleep.

from Poets Respond
September 18, 2022


Lisa Muloma: “As of today, Kenya inaugurated William Ruto as president in a peaceful transfer of power that was notable because of Kenya’s history of post-election violence. I’m still moody though.”

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September 17, 2022

Evie Pugh (age 6)


Zane lost 10 teeth
Nora lost 9 teeth
Olivia lost 7 teeth
All the teeth I’ve lost
I’ve had to make myself.


Some sisters are nice
Some sisters are mean
My sister’s in the middle
Between between.

from 2022 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Evie Pugh: “Because some of it rhymes and some of it doesn’t.”

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September 16, 2022

Elizabeth Spenst


after Gwendolyn Brooks & Lucille Clifton

Abortions never let you forget 
what it means to choose a life. 
Who you may be and who you could be. 
What is a few months, and what is forever. 
We talk about people like they 
could be separate from us. This life vs. 
that one, what is mine and what is yours. 
We are here only for each other—there is nothing else but time. 
And I say, if I am ever less than a mountain 
for myself, what could I seek to be for the ones who are coming? 
Selfish. We spend our whole lives explaining why we are this way.
Mountain breath. Baby blues. There is a space that is just for you. 

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022


Elizabeth Spenst: “My first year of college, I took a class on African American poetry with Elizabeth Alexander. My world opened up and blossomed into being, and I have been a poet ever since.”

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September 15, 2022

Michael Hettich


In that second grade classroom, Mrs. Circle said
each of us carries an ocean inside
bigger than we are, like happiness, and full of
fish that live nowhere else in the world
and tides that are pulled by our heartbeats, and low tide
sand bars to wade far out in the bright sun.
She taught us we can learn to swim there by jumping
out into the water where the water is still
and shallow, holding our breath and moving
our arms and legs gently, gently—try
for yourself she suggested, and we all closed our eyes
sitting there at our desks, while the snow fell outside
and the radiator whispered. I could hear the clock tick
as we held our breath and swam without really
moving our bodies, like jellyfish, across
the beds of coral that were filled with many-colored fish
whose names didn’t matter, Mrs. Circle said,
as long as you let them come to you—
they are like angels—and nibble the tiny
air bubbles that cling to the hairs along your legs and arms.
Feel how they tickle, she said, Take a deep breath,
dive down underwater as far as you can.
Do you see your shadow down there on the sand,
following your body? That’s another form of you,
a kind of memory, swimming down below
your only solid body. Don’t forget it. Then she clapped her hands
and we all looked up, happy to be sitting there
with our young teacher in that drafty classroom
in the age of extinctions and nuclear bombs
we hadn’t been taught about yet.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006


Michael Hettich: “I don’t remember how old I was when my father sat me down beside him on the living room couch to read to me from his favorite poets, but I do know that I was young enough to understand very little of what the poems meant, and that their meaning didn’t really matter at all. My father seemed another person when he intoned these poems, and yet he seemed exactly himself. And I felt very close to him then and very much myself: happy and pregnant with vivid possibilities.” (web)

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September 14, 2022

Maia Siegel


We argued over what an “elite” was
because you wanted to be included
in that category and I didn’t, because
I had branded myself as Appalachian
and poor in order to be different from
the billionaires I dated. I silently waited
for the billionaires to buy me things, but
they didn’t. I said I would let them have
my virginity if they bought me a boat, but
that’s not a gift, that’s a trade. If there’s any
thing a billionaire can do, it’s bargain. No,
barter. The billionaires would argue me down
to a jet ski and then I’d freak out in bed so
we’d never have sex anyway, and I’d never
get a jet ski. A jet ski is an elite purchase.
At first I tried to get them to buy me
a microwave and I felt so provincial
and cute and said things like We heat up
our food in pots and it takes a long time,
and I waited for them to offer up elite
kitchen appliances, but they did not.
I told you that elites all had microwaves
and fridges that make ice. We had neither
and we really did live in Appalachia, and
not in the nice area with the farm-to-table
restaurant, either. But we pretended like
this was all temporary and maybe even
ironic, because we were The New Yorker
subscribers, and we had even eaten
corn ice cream and charcoal ash
ice cream and ice cream with little bits
of meat in it. I liked to tell the billionaires
about the fancy ice cream we had tried,
how gold flecks honestly didn’t taste
so good. They tasted dull and metallic. Sort of
like blood, I guess. I waited for them to offer
to get me something really good, some rare,
rich sweetness. Maybe some of that adrenochrome
that conspiracy theorists say they have. They said
they were broke. They said that a lot. I told
my Appalachian friends about the billionaires
and they said I bought a belt bedazzled with tons
of little gems once, and that was when they knew
I was different. None of them had microwaves either,
or jet skis, and especially not bedazzled belts. I told you
we were not elites, but God did it feel good to think,
for a second, that maybe we had been them this whole time.

from Rattle #76, Summer 2022


Maia Siegel: “I like to tell people that poetry is ‘a quiet way to scream.’ To put it simply, I just can’t stop screaming.”

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September 13, 2022

John Hodgen


Most of us
at the end
will quiet quit
will recognize
as mystery
a history
book we must
a requirement
a requisite
each line on our face
or hand a pink slip
a dance stamp
allowing us
to be returned
to re-admit
body as thesis
op. cit.
loc. cit.
to wit
an extra Jesus
at the core of it
body a tool and die
shop breaking
bit by bit
a Morse code
dot dot
dit dit
even our clothes
refusing to fit
like sitting on
Clint Eastwood’s lawn
telling everyone
to git
saying what soldiers say
when they get shot
I’m hit
I’m hit
when all we want
is to get lit
like a funeral pyre
a fiery pit
a piece of shit
like the game is over
like tag
you’re it

from Poets Respond
September 13, 2022


John Hodgen: “Can’t hear that phrase without feeling as if we’re all taking another hit, one in a thousand pinpricks each day, not the ‘little death’ John Donne wrote about in describing sex, but more of a malaise, a sense that all of us, despite all that is partisan and which separates us, are united in this, sensing the end of things, society on the brink, democracy, and even the workplace, now a series of empty canyons with workers, spiritless, feeling alive in some other way, morphing into something else and yet dying a bit each day.”

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