February 6, 2024

Lynne Knight

BODY TALK

Sometimes in airports I leave my body behind—
my old body, I mean. I step into the younger version,
 
the one where I flirt with just about anybody,
who cares, because nobody knows me—
 
it has to be a big airport, preferably international—
and I carry on as if I’m not even thirty yet, so whoever
 
stares back at me can trust me and start imagining
how hot it will be to ditch the flight and head for
 
an airport hotel. This happened the other day.
He was maybe late 40s, no gut, but nothing
 
too fit—just a nice-looking guy who wouldn’t
make a quick fuck complicated or need to ask
 
my name afterward, just to be polite. So I smiled.
He smiled back. Maybe not at me—the gate
 
was jammed with people trying to rebook after
storms the day before. Still, the 20-something me
 
went right on trying to woo. I decided to pull
my carry-on closer, wanting to be sure he meant
 
his smile for me. I moved closer, closer.
And he stood, offering the old lady his seat.
 

from Prompt Poem of the Month
January 2024

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Prompt: Write a poem that tells a story about a silent interaction with a stranger.

Note from the series editor, Katie Dozier: “Lynne’s note accompanying her submission was simply, ‘Just having some fun with this one.’ Here, the fun for the writer becomes positively seductive for us readers. The sharp turn of the last line volts us from an initial reaction of laughter to a lingering exploration of what it means to age.”

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February 5, 2024

John Wojtowicz

FRUIT GUY

Each morning my son and I pass
an orchard on the way
to his preschool 
 
and this morning, he asks 
what type of forest is that? 
 
and I tell him
it’s an orchard, a fruit farm
and he declares: 
 
Farms. Have. Animals.
 
I tell him some farms have fruit 
but again, he insists 
that this cannot be true. 
 
And because I know 
better, I ask, who grows the fruit 
if not the farmer?
 
And my son responds, 
the fruit guy grows the fruit. 
 
And believing I have him cornered 
I declare, a fruit guy 
is a type of farmer
 
but my son retorts—
the fruit guy 
is a watermelon named Mr. Banana.
 
I am silent 
imagining 
a humpty-dumpty-type 
watermelon 
with an unfortunate surname 
waking up 
next to his watermelon wife 
donning overalls 
and straw hat
before heading out into his fields 
with basket 
and stepladder. 
 
And because this 
is a reality worth escaping into—
 
I let Mr. Banana live.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023

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John Wojtowicz: “I write poetry because I don’t like fishing, but I do like casting a line into the void and throwing most of what I catch back.” (web)

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February 4, 2024

Beneth Goldschmidt-Sauer

ANY KIND OF LIGHT

Your voice said Watch what happens now and then
I woke. Of course it was a dream for you’ve
Been gone for many years, dead dead & Dead.
But still I wait. For what? An icy sluice,
 
A spurt of flame or lightning’s long arm bent
To etch your insignia on my back,
Okay, more pain. I thought of you—I read
We’ve learned why moths (you always wondered) bash
 
Into light, any kind. Why don’t they stop? Stop.
They can’t. For eons stars were brightest
And moths steered clear of sky, but now they drop
Into the suck of incandescent night,
 
They spin and spin, wings loosening their damp
To heat. Now watch what happens, says the lamp.
 

from Poets Respond
February 4, 2024

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Beneth Goldschmidt-Sauer: “Scientists think they have discovered why moths and other nocturnal insects are drawn to light; it’s a glitch we’ve introduced into their evolutionary engineering, caused by our pervasive light pollution. Their discovery provides both an indictment of the damage we have done to our planet and also a tidy metaphor for damaging relationships.”

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February 3, 2024

Julie Price Pinkerton

WHY I OPTED FOR THE MORE EXPENSIVE OIL AT JIFFY LUBE

This one is better for a car as old as yours, he says.
It won’t glob up, he says. And spring is almost here,
so of course you need a thicker oil.

And I say, So with this good oil my car will run better
and it’ll be washed and waxed every time I get in it?

Yes, he says. And you’ll never have to put another drop of gas in it.

And when I start the car, a big bag of money will appear in the back seat?

Yes, he says. And cash will shoot out your exhaust pipe
and people will be glad when they see you coming.

And will I look rested? Like I’ve gotten plenty of sleep every night?

That goes without saying, he says.

And when I roll over in bed and look at the man
who says he loves me, will I finally believe he loves me?

You, he says, won’t be able to believe anything else. Your heart
will soak up the goodness and you will smile and beam and sigh
like a pig in mud.

And what about my parents? I ask. Will this oil keep them from dying?
They’re very old.

Let’s call them and tell them the happy news, he says.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013

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Julie Price Pinkerton: “The first half of ‘Why I Opted for the More Expensive Oil at Jiffy Lube’ is verbatim the conversation I had with the guy working there. He went along with the silliness. The darker ending of the poem came later, in part because the fear of losing my parents became almost an obsession. It entered everyday things, like oil changes. Not that long after I wrote this poem, I did lose my dad. The anticipation of certain loss has always haunted me. A few years ago, before my father died, my husband Scott and I noticed that our beloved, fragile eighteen-year-old yellow tabby, Hankie, was having trouble bending down far enough to reach his food and water bowls. We set the bowls up on phonebooks to make it easier for him, but that didn’t seem terribly dignified. Scott began working on a secret project: from a long scrap of wood he crafted an old-fashioned ‘lunch counter’ for Hankie. He painted it white and curved it at the ends like the counters in the old Woolworth’s five-and-dimes. It was grander, by far, than the Yellow Pages. The metal legs made it tall enough for Hankie to eat comfortably and we took delight in watching him walk over to the lunch counter and take his usual spot, just like a regular. It helped us, knowing we were giving him the best old age possible. The poetry I like most is like that homemade lunch counter: original, surprising, and carefully crafted, with the driving force behind it some kind of love. Love of words, love for a parent, maybe love for an elderly cat. Hankie lived to be twenty, by the way, and we still have his lunch counter, though the restaurant is now closed.”

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February 2, 2024

Rimas Uzgiris

HAYMAKING

Western Lithuania, 1993

The farmstead was tucked away like a child
in sheets of gently rolling Samogitian land:
tufts of deciduous trees, the occasional stand
of pine, long stretches of rape and rye rounded
by the odd dairy cow fertilizing the ground.
The man of the house watched TV, paralyzed.
Three women worked the fields. They took me 
to harvest hay. We rode a cart pulled by a hag.
I was given a two-pronged wooden fork—
my “trident” to rule the waves—and struggled
to correctly lift and tuck the golden threads
onto the wooden loom. 
                                         That morning,
I had milked my first cow, trying not 
to show fear at the feet of the abrupt heft 
of the mammal, my senses overwhelmed
by the scents of her muscle-rippled hide, 
by the dew-drenched grasses scumbled
with the wildflowers of exclamation
whose names I didn’t know, by the hot 
white manna squirting into a dented 
metal pail that pealed like a broken bell.
 
The girls—as stout as the storks patrolling
the fields, as focused, and as at home
(though they too would migrate: to college
over the horizon’s edge)—smiled at me 
as at an omen of the good life to come
while they worked the harvest into shape,
sculpting their load, invisibly adept.
I was the plump anthropological specimen,
not they, visiting from far away, from a life 
they only saw refracted through a screen.
My God, were they strong! I was to be
a drenched rag-doll pulled out of the sea
in the still cool morning by the time
we had loaded up, riding back on top
of the pile of hay, feeling like a Breughel
subject, completely out of place,
as if I had been sucked into the frame
straight from some cozy gallery couch.
 
The tufts of trees, they explained, were graves
of farmsteads from before the last war: 
neighbors dispossessed of their land 
and transported in cattle cars to make 
what they could of love and death
in a New World of Siberian wastes. 
The mother had taken the fresh milk 
each day to the communist collective
in the valley below. The land was theirs
now, but she had to sell what they made:
milk, salt-pork, eggs, and fowl. Her husband
making the best of it in his wheelchair.
 
Baling the hay from our creaky ship
into its hollow, sun-slatted harbor,
learning how to take that devil’s fork
up and up and up until the loft
was covered in rough strands of gold,
I had had enough of anthropology by then,
and retired to a sunny mound to read
Mačernis’s poems about these parts:
the young poet himself blown up in a cart
like the one I rode, fleeing the oncoming
Red tide, trying to find the mysterious ferry 
to the New World where my parents fled, 
finding Charon smiling instead,
though no one knows which side
lobbed the shell onto his family’s 
desperate ride. 
                           The three came in
after several more rounds of hay
had been safely stowed away: thunder-clouds
gathered behind them like the omens of history.
They thanked me for the “unexpected
help.” I wanted to slink away to the city
and never come back. They meant it.
(I would swear they were genuinely
full of gratitude, that not a single smile
was snide, or false, or slow. I had a wife 
already, so this was not for show.)
 
I walked down to their little pond
at night, undressed and took a swim.
Duckweed parted, mosquitos patrolled
the sky above. Stars poked like pinholes
through shadows of intermittent clouds.
It was calm, small and beautiful, and meant 
nothing on its own. The city called,
but I took the phone off its hook
and drifted. I drifted away. I drifted here.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023

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Rimas Uzgiris: “In the early summer of 1993, three years after Lithuania declared itself independent, thereby starting the disintegration of the USSR, I visited my then-girlfriend’s family in rural Samogitia (Žemaitija). I had never been to that region, had never heard their dialect spoken, had not ever worked on a farm, or even sat and talked with farmers. So it was quite the anthropological event for me, already feeling a bit lost and homesick after nine months in the country from which my parents once fled as refugees. I still remember that visit fondly, and finally, now living in the country again, I figured out a way to write about it. That way of life, the small, technologically simple farmstead, is dying out. So the elegy mixes here with a bit of comedy (directed at the author who felt himself quite out of place).”

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February 1, 2024

Ruth Bavetta

THE FUN

was always where I wasn’t,
in the other room, behind the paisley curtains,
on the bigger Ferris wheel,
out in the backyard while I was washing cups.
It was always just before my Currie’s Mile Hi cone
or just after I left the party.
It was while I was leaning over the toilet,
throwing up a bad tuna sandwich
when my boyfriend went out alone and got drunk
with a girl he barely knew
and ended up fuzzy-diced into marrying her.
It was in the sixties, with love and pot
and rainbows over the radio,
while I was bricked under lawns and tricycles
and dirty sheets, scrambled with the eggs, broken
over and over and over again.
Now the sixty turnings belong, not to the century,
but to the mirror,
and I’m still here, waiting for amber earrings.
 

from Rattle #4, Fall 1995

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Ruth Bavetta: “I was a visual artist for years, until I found I also wanted images that could be painted with words. I wanted to use words, as I used images, to help me make sense of my life. Now, I’ve become convinced that neither words nor images will suffice, because there is no sense-making. There is only what is and what has been. It’s enough to know I am human, separate and mortal, and that’s where I find my poems.” (web)

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January 31, 2024

Erica Reid

THE RAFT

I approach every poem I write
as if I’m going to save a life.
—Aaron Abeyta

It was no small feat to locate a phone book—but I did, 
and Angela Winston from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, 
I have chosen your name at random and I have come 
to save your life. I recognize that it is a huge swing
on my part to assume that you need saving—but then
we are all drowning these days, are we not? Don’t you wake up
feeling you’ve reached your limit, that the worst must be past, 
only to discover you’re at the top of a spiritual Guggenheim,
a cool, white spiral of descent still awaiting you? Or 
perhaps you are bearing the betrayal better than I am, 
the dark regime we’ve invented, the great American 
miscarriage, the mockery this country makes of itself, 
the arc bending away from justice. Maybe you have a friend 
or sister to help you shoulder the burden of your complicity. 
It is possible you are thriving in 2021, in which case
please write me a poem—but if not, Angela Winston, 
if you’ll have me, I would like to write you a life raft—
if not to save you, at least to buoy you until a better poet
comes along. I inflate the raft with my breath, and it sounds
like this: (hff) No matter who you are, your very life
is rebellion, your love is a fist in the air. (hff) Your name
matters. It is right here in the White Pages, surrounded
by relatives and potential accomplices. (hff) You can begin 
today, Angela, the work you could not bring yourself to do 
yesterday. You have not missed your chance to pluck 
the shrapnel from your heart; there is time yet to (hff) carry
the sign, or throw the brick, or fashion the song 
from your fear, your hurt, your fury. And finally (hff), a secret 
about this raft: that it is built for two. It carries me 
as much as it carries you.
 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023

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Erica Reid: “Poetry and breath are intimately connected. Is it any great exaggeration to imagine a poem as a life raft, one we inflate with everything we have inside us?” (web)

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