November 19, 2022

Cynthia Zhang (age 14)

RUNNING AT STILLWATER

Running the unforgiving woods and puddles        at Stillwater        I peer up through bare        branches glimpsing the sky        so maybe the miles will        feel shorter        cold water shocks me
 
splattering my knees I come back a red uniform too        tired to speak        we run on        and        cresting the hill        all I can hear is our sharp breaths        not enough for greedy lungs
 
one mile says Iren and the        world blurs and refocuses my legs will fail me soon        is all the mind        can think        but the burn continues        hearing crunchy leaves        scattered rocks or
 
roots we jump        stumble over mud patches        only two of us in twisting forest and trail        mocking my legs        heavy as lead        shoes waterlogged and squelching        I cannot give
 
up        our gasps        thoughts scatter        a flock of sparrows        feet slap pavement shins cry        like never before but there’s no time        first we race against        others but now the brain
 
turns on        itself and no matter        how hard fists        teeth clench I want        to laugh        painfully        why did I start        legs carry me        past people        bleachers        around the fence
 
slightly askew I cannot        but I must        and finally slow        one foot in front        don’t throw up        please no more        Let’s go Cynthia        someone in the distance
 
the key turns        calves and lungs scream        cruising along        on nothing just a cheer        glaring        white stripes        red        the track the final        stretch Iren is        forty
 
meters        thirty        twenty meters        finish strong        the engine        screams        too fast we’re        sprinting too        fast        those last seconds        oh        the        sweet
 
temptation        but no        my elbows        pumping        hardest in my        life and        it was        then        I decide        never        to be        a quitter        line        crossed        slow
 
burned        Bend over        mind        folds        limp        by vision’s edge        excited red        uniforms say        you’re done        I wonder        dimly        why they smile
 
you did it        they say

from 2022 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

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Why do you like to write poetry?

Cynthia Zhang: “I always loved writing stories, ever since I was a tiny kid, and wrote a very long book with my friend, who lived all the way across the world. I got interested in poetry when I was in eighth grade, and I enjoy it because it describes and relieves very personal feelings. Often times I get bored (which was especially the case during quarantine), and poetry gives me something to direct my concentration at. Also, other famous poets provide great inspiration to me, such as Nazim Hikmet, William Carlos Williams, James Wright, and Robert Frost.”

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November 18, 2022

David Kirby

THE FATES

A child is born. It’s you! Family and friends stop by
and then the whole neighborhood, it seems, including
three women who sit in the corner and smile and nod
at anyone who says hello, though mainly they keep
to themselves, nibbling the cookies someone else
 
has brought and sipping tea, and then the one nearest
the window takes a ball of yarn out of her purse
and gives it to the one in the middle, who is knitting 
something—booties? a little cap?—as the third 
woman just sits there, a pair of scissors in her lap. 
 
Ten years later and you’re in school now, and even 
the lunchroom ladies are in a good mood as you step 
toward a table with an empty place, and an aide 
says Let me clean that for you and wipes the table 
down and pats you on the shoulder before she heads 
 
to the break room where her two friends wait. 
Your first job? You’re behind the counter 
in a department store, showing a watch to a woman 
who’s buying someone a present, and she pays you
and puts the watch in her purse and waves to a woman 
 
at the perfume counter who hurries over and says Come on, 
we’re late, she’ll be waiting for us at the restaurant.
It’s sunny yet cool the day you marry, and the venue costs 
more than your dad had in mind, but the ceremony 
goes off without a hitch, and the band is cranking 
 
the oldies so everyone will get out on the dance floor, 
and they’re all a little tipsy, and if your aunt’s friends 
are screeching so loudly as they do the Electric Slide 
that you can barely hear the music, it’s a wedding, right? 
Anything goes. In New York a man whose manuscript 
 
has been rejected twenty times is walking down 
Madison Avenue when he is bumped off the sidewalk 
by a gaggle of women who don’t seem to notice him, 
and a car slams on its brakes, and the driver is 
a classmate he hasn’t seen for years who has recently 
 
become an editor with a trade press, and the man 
gets in the car, and by the end of the month he has 
a book deal, and after twenty years and dozens 
of books in print he thinks, If I hadn’t stepped out 
into the street, I’d be in the dry cleaning business now.
 
In Africa a man emerges from the jungle, his bag dripping 
blood: it was a good day, and now his bag bulges with bats,
rats, chimps, even a snake or two. Others have died, 
like the hunters who had cooked and eaten the carcass 
of a gorilla they’d found in the jungle. But who would do that?
 
Bats are healthy: look at them soar from tree to tree!
At the market, the man’s wives spread the bushmeat
on a cloth and begin to bargain. A ferry sinks off the coast 
of South Korea, and among the dead are seven crew members, 
including three women who gave their life jackets 
 
to passengers. Your own children are born. They, too, 
go to school, to work, get married. You have a long life, 
a good one. You weren’t the kid who got picked up 
by a guy who was driving a stolen car and sent to juvie
for being an accessory. You weren’t the one who tried to
 
break up the fight and got knocked down on the sidewalk
and hit your head and never stood up again. You weren’t
those people. Your accidents were good accidents,
and when they weren’t, you learned from them.
A nurse comes in and takes a tube out of your arm
 
as another adjusts your ventilator and a third says
the doctor will be in soon, and the nurses’ names
are Clotho, who spins the web of life, and Lachesis, 
who measures it, and Atropos, who cuts that thread 
when your life is over, and as they make a fuss, 
 
you think how poetry entered you and became like 
a mistress in her own home, one you had not 
summoned but who entered your body of her own accord, 
this force into which everything—work, the sound 
of tires on pavement, home, birds, rocks, love, 
 
the whole world—entered easily and made itself 
comfortable, stanzas rising and falling, one after another, 
in a way that was always surefooted, always a surprise. 
The world rushed in at the speed of a comet, 
everything shouting, “Take me!” and “No, no—take me!” 
 
and all this without your ever having written a single line 
of poetry in your entire life, though along the way 
you learned to think like a poet, to take this over that, 
to begin here and end there and then the other way around 
until at last you could see your life as it really is 
 
and make sense of it, or at least as much sense as one can,
and now you are opening your eyes for the first time, 
and now you are eating, and now you are walking 
from one side of the room to the other, and now you are 
a little girl on her bicycle, flying out into this sunlit world.
 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022

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David Kirby: “Like everyone, I wrestle with what happens and how and why, and then I remember: older and wiser people addressed these same issues thousands of years ago. The no-nonsense title of this poem makes it clear that I’m looking at life as it is tempered by the Three Fates of Greek mythology, only I wanted them to show up in disguise at various points in a person’s life. I also wanted to conclude on a high note: everyone’s life has the same end, so it’s what happens before that counts. And the best thing that can happen is to learn how to look at life the way poets do. Thing is, you don’t have to be a poet—I know plenty of people who think like a poet who have never written a single poem. It’s what you see and what you make of it that counts.” (web)

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November 17, 2022

Courtney Kampa

BABY LOVE

Gregory had a mole below his left eye
and sometimes kids in our 5th grade class 
would tease him, saying he had chocolate 
on his face. I was the girl who knew it 
was his left eye and not his right. Who listened 
in secret to Oldies 100—music like Baby Love by the Supremes 
and knew every Patsy Cline song by heart. Gregory 
didn’t backpack pocket blades to school like Richard 
or look up girls’ skirts beneath the monkey bars 
the way Kenny did, whose mom let him watch 
all the Late Night TV he wanted. He was nothing 
like Vinny who’d steal the grape juice box 
off your desk when you weren’t looking.
And he didn’t mock William, whose dad worked hard
for a gasoline company—gasoline has the word gas
in it, which all the cool kids thought 
was pretty funny; really classic. Gregory had immaculate 
Ticonderoga erasers and he made my knee-socks droop 
and he made my weak bony ankles 
weaker. At recess before summer a soft piece of sidewalk 
tar was thrown at my feet and I looked up 
and there he was, skipping backwards, a rocket wanting 
me to chase him. Mrs. Rivers led him off to suggest 
alternative ways of procuring
female attention and in those awful green uniform pants
he looked back at me and winked—which is not 
something the average 5th grader does
to another 5th grader. Three weeks later his winking face was fed
into the teeth of a triple car wreck. Eleven years 
and I’m still mouthing the triple syllables 
of his name. Not because he needs me to
but because I have no alternative way of procuring 
his attention. At school I quit talking, Colin inches 
from my face taunting SAY-SOME-THING
but I didn’t, so now I will say something, I will say 
that I cried at our class talent show, watching Gregory’s mom 
out in the audience, shirt mis-buttoned, camera readied,
looking for him, and seeing him
nowhere. I will say that with Gregory gone there was no one 
to stop the boys from snapping 
Stephen’s stutter like a twig across their knees. I’ll say ours 
was a misfit purity. That after art he gave me 
his scissors and I swapped 
him mine, both blades aimed forward, looking at each other 
like we’d just done something 
dangerous. Handles inked with initials 
in handwriting not his, marked the way mothers mark us carefully
when we walk into the world. I’ll say that I still 
have them. Gregory, ask me to name a thing 
as indestructibly beautiful as you, and I cannot. Time disfigures 
those who breathe and those of us who no longer can
but none of that has touched you. Not the cruelty 
of children. Not the gravel and glass
that pushed their way into your green 
restless legs. Not the ugliness of an ambulance
come too late. Not the small grass square 
that mothers and quilts you. Not even the skid marks 
below your brother’s eyes, tire treads 
red across his chest. Love is nothing
if not what takes its time. It takes sweet 
time and it took tar but was taken 
by tar and it’s taken eleven years of not trusting 
the pitch of my voice or the shamed 
insufficiency of what I have 
to say—that at your service I got no further 
than taking a holy card from the altar boy; picture 
of an angel as dark-haired as you: an angel I’d soon shred 
to ribbons, my hand around those handles for the first
and only time. Gregory, think of me 
in St. Joe’s parking lot in July in a sweaty cotton skirt. 
Think of my confession to that angel, in his headband 
of light, how much I liked 
him too. Hoping you had stopped a moment 
in the beatific beating of your wings; in the now-familiar strumming 
of that strange, beseeching harp.
 

from Rattle #42, Winter 2013
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

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Courtney Kampa: “I wrote ‘Baby Love’ four years ago while attending the University of Virginia.” (web)

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November 16, 2022

Alireza Roshan

TWO POEMS

 
In the river
are fish
 
In me
loneliness
 
 
 
 
 
 
Altho’ parallel lines
may never meet
they’re headed
in the same direction
 
 
Translated from the Farsi by Gary Gach and Erfan Mojb
 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Tribute to Translation

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Alireza Roshan was born in Tehran and now lives in Hamburg, Germany. The author of 10 books of poetry and fiction, he made his literary debut in 2011, posting one brief poem a day on the internet. | Gary Gach & Erfan Mojb: “Amidst the thousands of his followers he attracted, we were struck by the timeliness of his poems, and their uncanny wedding of classical Persian poetry with Modernism, like Sufi haiku.”

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November 15, 2022

Hayden Saunier

SELF-PORTRAIT WITH THE SMITHFIELD HAM WE HAD TO CUT ON THE BANDSAW

Mother, for once, it wasn’t your fault.
You always said you can’t soak hams
long enough and one full day and night
seemed adequate, but we gave it two,
scrubbed mold, rind, salt away, changed
the water, tucked it like a baby in its bath;
another day, rinsed, patted dry, made ready.
Butter and brown sugar coated all our hands.
Let’s face it; it was ancient, not just aged.
The woman at the ham shack must have seen
my husband’s Pennsylvania plates and figured
what the hell, he won’t be coming back.
Or it was just bad luck. But wasn’t
our discussion on life with Lewis and Clark
educational for the children? Ham jerky!
Ham shoelaces! Ham-flavored chewing gum
to last a winter portage through the Bitterroots!
Oh, we were jolly then, those spots still undiscovered
on your lungs. Yes, my Yankee husband
sliced it on the band saw but so would any man
faced with that ham who had a power tool in reach.
That was Easter. It’s November now.
You’re dead and I am making black bean soup,
beginning with a frozen cut of that disaster
sizzling in a taste of olive oil. No other
seasoning is needed for this winter’s portage,
Mother, just my store of crosscut sections:
meat and marrow, sugar, grease and bone.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008

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Hayden Saunier: “I am an actress and theatre is always sending me to poetry and poetry to theatre. ‘Self-Portrait With the Smithfield Ham…’ evolved from that intersection. I was interested in the self-portrait less as image and more as inner monologue, a kind of private soliloquy.” (web)

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November 14, 2022

Karan Kapoor

GHAZAL FOR DIDA

There is no harm, in times of darkness, to use god.
Light, love, is seized time and again, else we lose god.
 
The devil measured every pain he could draw from our bodies;
straightened his back, and asked: Now, who’s god?
 
He stood at your door—you averted your eyes.
O dying mother, with whom did you confuse god?
 
On certain nights she screams curses at Krishna.
There are times, O despair, when we cannot choose god.
 
You blew on the first morsel, then offered each idol. Now 
your unfaithful tongue burns each time you abuse god.
 
Best to let the past remain in the past—she
weighs the beads of her rosary to seduce god.
 
Take me into your arms, O omniscient one! 
With endless prayers all night, unafraid she cues god.
 
The world is full of binaries. God is singular. 
Who divides better than morning news? God.
 
On each of our arms, the black moment we are born,
the words suffering, sorrow, and death tattoos god.
 
As a child I was told there’s one answer to all:
chaos, caste, guilt, grief, grace, a bruise—god.
 
At the end, we forget more than we remember.
It counts we are blessed—who cares by whose god?
 
My mother sits by the moon, sister a candle—
I know I am not alone who interviews god.
 
His crimes forgiven for centuries, enough now!
We’ll execute—fetch the hangman, bring a noose—god.
 
Your name is her offering, Karan. The day she dies
you will lose your name, and you will lose god.
 

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022

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Karan Kapoor: “Dida (my paternal grandmother) was sick for six months before she died, three years ago. In that time, I moved between weeping, massaging her feet, and writing. That death inspires poetry is not new. Whether as journalistic expression, ritual purgation, or literary experience. When I began working on my collection of poems for Dida, I found myself shifting through these three states. I wrote to survive her death. The strict form of the ghazal allowed me to channel (and give structure to) the chaos that severe inexplicable illnesses bring to a house. I started with 21 couplets and brought them down to 14. While traditionally a song of longing and love, and at times political advocacy—the ghazal—mastered by Agha Shahid Ali in English—is a form that defies what we think is possible in poetry today. At once dramatic, self-aware, subtle, musical, excessively emotional, and then quietly metaphysical—it is emblematic of poetic community. Death, too, does not happen alone. Especially in India—it brings together families, beliefs, doubts. Nor is writing truly a solitary act. All poems remain unfinished if unread.” (web)

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November 13, 2022

Wheeler Light

AARON CARTER YOU ARE DEAD AND NEVER READ THE BOOK I WROTE ABOUT YOU

Once I loved you. Seven
and what did I know about sex?
 
I howled at your laserdisc moon,
found a boy with frosted tips
and kissed the fantasy of you
for all of second grade.
 
I didn’t grow up to be gay,
a disappointment to only the poems
I write about you.
The boy with your hair grew up
to be an alcoholic,
I grew up to get sober at 22,
and you grew up to be dead.
 
Aaron Carter, I don’t know where
they will hold your funeral
but tonight I am wearing black
wandering Greenwich Village
wanting to hear “I Want Candy”
behind the ambient curtains of jazz.
 
I want every basketball court to cut
the net down. I want Shaq to take
a knee and still be taller than me.
I want Leslie to whisper your name
and find you. Tonight, I pray to your pop
and the world is a bisexual opera
harmonizing cock. Tonight, I worry
about Nick, every anxious addict knows
what it is to mourn a stranger they loved.
 
Tonight, I want candy. Say lick.
Tonight, I want high spirits, say lift.
 
Tonight, I want your memory to say live.
Your fruity-loop ambitions, slender wrists.
The first CD I ever owned, the poster
on the inside of my closet door. My first show.
 
Oh Aaron Carter, patron ghost, a bright warning.
Popstar shooting across the past’s sky waning.
Tonight I place a wish on you, a kiss
on the shiny moon. Rewind the track.
The car is in the driveway.
Clean up the house.
The party is over.
You are coming home.
 

from Poets Respond
November 13, 2022

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Wheeler Light: “Aaron Carter died last week, which is tragic. Aaron Carter was a musician, addict, and my first celebrity crush. When I was a child, his music opened up a world of love to me and began my personal exploration/discovery. His story is a story of exploitation and neglect, but his effect was a ubiquitous joy that befell many millennials. I wrote a chapbook about him called I Want Candy, which was accepted for publication by two presses, but I pulled the chapbook both times, because I didn’t feel comfortable with anyone having access to it. This poem is elegy, a follow-up, a tabloid about a musician’s work the world was lucky to have.” (web)

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