February 21, 2023

Clare Cross


I too colored birds, or tried to. Mine
didn’t hatch. Every day, I peered
into the yellow incubators, hoping
to see a cracked shell, a blood spot,
a beak, something to tell me I’d have
bright chicks, like I saw at the state fair
and could bring to the science fair.
After we gave up, my father buried
the eggs out back, broke them
first to see. I was too sad to watch,
but my sister remembers a dead chick,
brilliant blue like the food coloring
I’d injected, my ten-year-old fingers
pushing the hypodermic’s plunger
after carefully poking small holes.
I wrote out a schedule for turning
the eggs. Everyone played mother hen.
My brother, who stayed up late,
turned them at night, my mother
at dawn. How I longed for those chicks,
red, blue, green. How I pictured them,
pretty and purple and soft. And then
it was over, nothing but broken shells,
dead embryos. I still made a poster
for the science fair, set out empty
incubators, talked to judges, somehow
won a first prize. My brother built
a computer and won first outstanding.
But in this year, this 1969, when everyone
knew Christiaan Barnard’s name, the boy
who sliced open two rats, moved a heart
from one chest to another, called this
a transplant, counted ten heartbeats
and said the rat lived, that boy
got his picture in the newspaper,
his two dead rats right there
on the front page.

from Poets Respond
February 21, 2023


Clare Cross: “When I saw the story about the pigeon that died (and was dyed), probably after being used for a gender-reveal party, I was appalled like everyone else. But then I remembered that, as a child, I had seen dyed baby chicks at the State Fair and for some reason, my parents agreed to let me try dying some for a science fair project. So then I started thinking about my child self, my parents, and the general disregard for animals at that science fair, which led to this poem.”

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February 20, 2023

Elizabeth Hill


In the parking lot of Churchill’s Garden Center, my mother
turned to me and said, I found the pills. I asked What pills?
though I knew. The birth control pills. Are you having sex? 
Yes, I said, with pride. She whipped the words out,
fast as a striking snake, 
You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re too young. Are you in a relationship? 
Though I was, I said, No.  
Her face cinched tight and she turned in profile, considering her options.
And I could see her jaw shifting, slowly. She turned to face me 
and blurted, Who the hell are you having sex with? 
Different people, I said, though there was only one.
She flushed red and sound issued from deep in her throat. 
You … stop … now. Don’t you have any self-respect?! 
Do you want to be a slut?!
Do you want people to call you a slut?!
I’m going to tell the pharmacist to stop giving you the pill.
Then I’ll get pregnant, Mom, and people will certainly talk about that, 
I said with internal glee. Why are you doing this? 
she demanded, with fury closely held behind her teeth. After a long silence, 
I said, to play the field, Mom. To see what’s out there. 
Her face stiffened, tighter. Her lids clamped closed as she turned the ignition. 
Gripping the wheel tightly, she drove the AMC Pacer the twenty miles 
to our home, as I began to describe the boys who came to my mind
and the fantastical circumstances of our sex. 
I gave Red a blow job in the woods near School Street. 
I had sex with Daniel in our biology classroom after school … 
I struck out for myself, for a realm independent 
of my mother’s strictures, her angry enforcement.
And Miles, I said, (my actual boyfriend, who I adored), 
We’ve had sex a few times. And it was so good, I thought, 
our bodies straining, reaching for more, and more. 
I did not share this particular delight with my mother,
as it came close to an admission that there was only one boy. 
Her face was heavy with sadness and rage. 
Giddy, I leaned out the window of 
the obsolete Pacer and yelled out the names of 
my purported partners. I sang them out,
past the white Colonials on Walnut Street, 
prudish with their tiny windows and doors, 
past the dilapidated candy store on High Street 
whose charms I had outgrown, 
past the seamy, doldrum Seabrook dog track 
where I was not old enough to place bets,
and oh, so far past the home of Ann Fieldsend, 
the actual town tramp, who was currently pregnant.
Finally I sat, satisfied.
I remember my mother’s livid, punitive face, her roiling silence, 
her crippling grip on the wheel.
And it dawned on me, I’ve won,
and I resolved never to tell her the truth.

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Elizabeth Hill: “I am a retired administrative law judge who decided suits between learning disabled children and their school systems. I live in Harlem, New York, with my husband and two irascible cats. I write poetry because I love words, and because I hope to connect with others’ emotions.”

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February 19, 2023

Shannan Mann


and it writes me a red flag. According to science,
love enters midlife crisis at 17 months. We are
at 11. Six more months, I tell him, until
the AI poem assembled from our woe-
and-woo world prophesizes our war.
But we’re having fun with this,
we’re piecing together a breadloaf
from crumbs like fire and flower.
Change flower, K says. We scroll
through a list of color and smell,
settle on lilies, cut and paste
them beside the lonely cursor.
He claims a poem is not just
the poem but the place it came
from too. I claim annoyance
with ether, with technology
selling water by the river.
And just as we want to scrape
together a sonnet, a power
cut obliterates the WiFi,
our screen goes black, the sonnet
of ones and zeroes yawns behind
the glass. We bite our lungs shut
in the prosthetic night, kiss like snow
on windshields. Our fingers flicker
against skin, trace a minefield
of muscle along spine. Clothes
crumble. Words linger like spiders
beneath the toilet bowl,
their bowstring legs attempting
to weave a world despite
all the shit. AI wouldn’t write
shit into a love poem, he says.
Wouldn’t feel the urge I do
to write you poems, fix you
dinner, speak to you differently
in bed than I do at the table.
Your words aren’t more yours
than in a poem. You do not own
language, but these birds
on a wire are yours alone.

from Poets Respond
February 19, 2023


Shannan Mann: “AI is going to be next year’s Poet Laureate.” (web)

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February 18, 2023

Marvin Bell


The plop of Basho’s famous frog
when it leapt into the pond,
thus seeming to pierce the ancient water,
which circled and instantly resealed itself,
offers us the chance
to crack the silence that overtook
the empires and their far flung armies
by hearing again that which
the armies could not kill. So, too,
those who traveled to New Zealand to see
the full eclipse firsthand were able
afterward to feel again the shiver
that overtook the land when the night arrived
ahead of time. And to remember
the cries of the roosters when it was over.
Basho’s frog at the plop!—
it’s the provable moment to be registered
among the plopping and croaking and wind
shaking the cherry blossoms
out of the trees while we were still on the road
going to see them.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008


Marvin Bell: “It’s true that, no matter what, the literary world is full of insult. When you put yourself out to the public, you’re going to get some negative stuff. But writing just feels wonderful. I mean, I love the discovery aspect of writing. I love that. I love saying what I didn’t know I knew, not knowing where I’m headed, abandoning myself to the materials to figure out where I’m going. Of course your personality is going to come out of it, of course your obsessions are going to make themselves known, of course if you have a philosophic mind a matrix of philosophy will be behind things; everyone has a stance, an attitude, a vision, a viewpoint. All that will come out. But in the meantime, you’re just dog-paddling like mad. And that’s fun. That’s what I always liked about every art.”

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February 17, 2023

Jennifer Griffith


I’d been bleeding for a year when we unsexed the frog. 
Cold and pungent from formaldehyde, it lay with limbs 
splayed and pinned to the tray. The science teacher 
lectured about the arrangement of a frog’s organs, how 
similar they are to ours, that dissection helps us learn
the way our bodies work too. We’d been studying 
frogs for days; my lab partner and I were sick of them, 
so, we relieved ours of its reproductive parts, flicked 
them out the window, chipped pink nails launching 
tiny gray entrails to the snowy pavement outside
the decaying junior high that looked like a penitentiary.
Inside, biology was wild; boys dumped bottles of fox lure
in the radiators, stole a Fiesta Barbie from the Spanish
lab, denuded her and hung her from the cafeteria blinds. 
Someone in homeroom had a crush on me, but he smelled 
like cigarettes and dirty socks, was in the slow courses,
and went around with sticky streaks of pot resin down 
the legs of his jeans. It’s called “amplexus” when a male 
amphibian wraps himself around the female and releases 
his sperm on the tapioca pearls of her eggs. In French class,
our teacher smeared crimson lipstick on her mouth like a wound. 
She came to school sick most days and taught us the language 
of the body: maux de gorge, maux d’estomac, la jambe blessée,  
Or, like a certain frog, malade dans les trompes de Fallope,
malade dans les ovaires. In the third-floor bathroom, I watched 
a tall, blonde eighth grader pound an anxious, primitive 
rhythm on the broken Kotex machine. A scarlet Rorschach 
bloomed across the ass of her white pants, the red blot shaped 
like West Virginia, or maybe a human heart, la coeur.
When tadpoles turn into frogs, their external gills move 
inward and evolve into lungs. In water, frogs breathe 
through their skins, but they cannot feel love. My own body 
had become a violin; some days I thought if I drew a bow 
across myself, I could cry a concerto. During study hall, 
the boy behind me arranged my long hair in a pile on his desk, 
lay his head down in it and slept. I listened to the soft 
sounds of his breath while I did algebra problems—oxygen, 
nitrogen, variables, and equations mingling in the air. 

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Jennifer Griffith: “I began writing poetry when I was a child and have always been fascinated by why we remember some things in our lives and totally forget others. ‘Augury’ came from my exploring various moments I recall from middle school, and, through writing the poem, I discovered that those seemingly random memories, whose commonalities appeared to be only time and proximity to one another, were actually topically and symbolically analogous and revealed a body rather than just an assortment of parts. So I guess you could say I write poetry to galvanize fragments into flesh.” (web)

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February 16, 2023

Patricia Crawford


All along the back fence
Tucked between the incinerator
And the clothesline, hidden from view
Meandered the prodigal sweet peas.
Lassoed with chicken wire
Climbing up and over the fence.
Reaching through the smog filter
To the sunshine.
The whole fence was a wash of color
A secret wall of delight.
I wandered down the row,
Woozy with their perfume
Wishing I didn’t have to exhale
Between inhales—just take
All the swoony sweetness inside
And keep it there.

from Rattle #7, Summer 1997

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February 15, 2023

Sarah Ederer


I could tell you about the hot cat shit
That lay in the hallway
Just outside of my mother’s bedroom
Nestled into itself on the floor
Like a sleeping dog.
I could tell you that,
Like a sleeping dog,
We stepped over it carefully.
Like a sleeping dog,
We walked past it every day and
Most of the time
We ignored it.
I could say that we treated it like a part of the backdrop
A landmark of home
Hanging in the air under our noses
Like a soft-baked pretzel
Comforting and familiar
And you might think that I’ve said enough
For you to understand just how outrageous the situation was
But I haven’t.
The truth is,
The cat shit never bothered me that much.
Not at first.
There was a brief moment of disgust,
But that moment would end
As quickly as I could take one step
And get over it.
Then I was in another room and,
As far as I was concerned,
The cat shit was gone.
What bothered me
About the pile of cat shit in the hallway
Was what I suspect would bother anyone:
How shameful it was
To be living that way.
But that shame wasn’t something I could access
In the folie-a-quatre
That was my childhood home.
I became aware of the shame much later in life,
Found it wafting over me one night,
When my own family’s dog
Had an accident
At the foot of my bed
And I got up to clean it
without thinking.
It was an automatic response:
There’s shit on the floor
It must be removed
Remove it.
It struck me like a freighter
That I had been robbed for sixteen years
Of something I felt that I was entitled to,
But never received.
I couldn’t quite put that thing into words,
But it amounted roughly to
“The right to not have to step over piles of cat shit
Every goddamned day of my life.”
Then the shame arrived
In its fullest form:
A revelation
About the burden of secrecy.
I had spent sixteen years of my life
pretending that the pile of cat shit wasn’t there
Waiting for me
When I got home from school.
I got so good at pretending
That sometimes I wasn’t even aware
That there was a pile of cat shit
Waiting for me,
For my mother,
Outside of her bedroom door.
But the cat shit was always there,
An ornament of a broken home.
The cat shit was there
When I kissed my first boyfriend.
The cat shit was there
When he fingered me in the car outside
And I lied and said my parents were home
So he couldn’t come in.
I stepped over the cat shit
And fell into my bed
And dreamed of him kissing me,
Touching me,
Touched myself to the thought of it
All while the cat shit,
Sun-dried and brittle,
Shifted with the floorboards,
With the weight of the house,
With its damned foundation,
Settling lopsided into the hole
Where the previous owner’s septic tank was
Until it eventually collapsed.
I spent sixteen years
Falling into someone else’s shit.
They kept twelve cats I never wanted
And they asked me
“How could you not want them?”
As if I was cruel
They called me Bob Barker
I repeated it so many times:
Spay the damn things.
You can be buried alive
By a certain kind of love
One that I’m not so convinced
Is kind at all.
But the cat shit wasn’t what bothered me.
Not really.
What bothered me
Is what I lost under the hordes of cheap, dysfunctional garbage
That my mother compulsively lifted
From flea markets,
Dollar stores,
Yard sales,
And clothing exchanges.
A book of nursery rhymes,
A keyless trumpet,
A mummified tangerine,
And a dressmaking dummy,
Buried under soiled laundry,
Buried under moldy dishes,
Buried under childhood photos
In frames with broken glass.
Buried somewhere under
The junk that nobody wanted
Was my family.
It became difficult to distinguish between the two.
I wondered to myself,
Standing next to a puddle of cleanser
At the foot of my adult bed,
Why I had never cleaned the cat shit
In my childhood home,
Why I stepped over it every time.
A form of protest, maybe
A sinking sense that it would never end
That twelve cats could shit faster than I could clean it,
That flea markets,
Dollar stores,
Yard sales,
And clothing exchanges
Never ran out of junk,
That I was a child
Who had a right to something
That I never received.

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Sarah Ederer: “To me, writing poetry feels a bit like lancing a boil and sending a ‘thank you’ card to the pus. I tend to use free verse narrative fiction to tell the untellable stories of people marginalized by the taboo nuances of a life lived under oppressive domestic conditions. I hope to help make experiences that might make one feel unintelligible to the world a little more easily understood by emphasizing the humanity and dignity of the protagonist.”

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