August 15, 2016

Raquel Reyes-Lopez

THE DRAFT OF A MESSIAH

I’m not sure what sounds escape
when a false messiah sings. If lips
part gently, while tongue pushes
out noise that mimics semi-truck
collision, or if it’s a burst of two-
hundred hummingbirds fluttering
at the same time.

So when my mother asks for me
to sing to her, as blood runs down
her nose. I can’t. There’s not a note
etched onto my skin that reads off
a hymn of salvation.

In her delusions I am a messiah,
something supernatural that can fix
everything, and my human fragility
is muted. I cannot cut at lower back,
pull out, and beat my liver into hers.

My mother’s voice eventually cracks
after repeating over & over, “It hurts.
Everything hurts. Save me. Why won’t
you save me? Help me.

I sing out doctor, medicine, ambulance.
Words that sting. She realizes I am false
messiah, a draft of a prayer unanswered,
but somewhere in my eyes she sees a glint
of daughter lingering.

It’s enough for her to hang on, enough
for her to mouth out daughter over &
over. In tears I reply, “Mother, mother
stay with me,” while wiping her blood
away with my sleeves.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

__________

Raquel Reyes-Lopez: “Being a Los Angeles poet allows you to reflect on every aspect of diversity and identity in your life. It urges you to incorporate into your writing what you have lost and gained, origins, and family. I am first generation here. Los Angeles poets have brought everyone from different cultures and age groups together. There are no barriers that stop us from expressing ourselves to one another. I believe no walls should stop Los Angeles poets from writing the uncomfortable because we have an audience that constantly welcomes our truth.” (website)

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August 12, 2016

Risa Potters

IN MY MOTHER’S THINGS

specifically, in one of the old recipe boxes she kept in the kitchen pantry,
was a poem. Soon after she died I went through her kitchen,
carefully opening each drawer, and like an eavesdropper I inspected shelf
after shelf, getting to know her intimately through the objects I found.
I separated the dishes to be kept and the pots and pans to be given away.

In a large and beautiful antique cabinet she kept in the dining room,
I found her silverware. I opened the lid of the dark mahogany box
lined with burgundy-colored velvet, and remembered
how often I had polished each piece before a party, rubbing them with
a soft cloth until they shined, getting to know them.
It is astonishing how objects can hold memories,
how you can be lost in them, just by looking. Feeling the weight of
the knives and serving pieces in my hands, the small and large forks
and spoons, some tucked in soft pouches to protect them
from scratching, the memories were all there, among the silver.

Recently, I heard the story of a Buddhist monk who came to America and,
when presented with a fork, had no idea what it was, or how to use it.
Coming from Tibet as a young boy, he had never seen one.
What would he think of the box of silverware and the many
sets of dishes carefully wrapped, waiting to be used?

In the front of one of the dusty boxes marked Recipes
was the poem. On an index card, mixed in with the recipes
she hoped to make one day, some torn from the newspapers she read daily
and the hand-written she copied from memory, the poem was there.
My mother thought it belonged there, in the box, loosely filed with the rest.

Written by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, it was printed
on newsprint and she had cut it out and taped it to an index card
so it would fit the box. It had the caption, Read my poem from
our News and Views, written in my grandmother’s hand. I think she
must have been referring to the Jewish rag put out
by the Community Center in Brooklyn, and I noticed how both
their handwritings, my mother’s and grandmother’s, looked the same;
I had to look carefully to tell them apart.

I picture my grandmother sitting at her small table in the
middle of the main room of her small apartment in Brooklyn,
perhaps after a night’s sleep, writing the poem.
In it, she talks about sweeping her hair from her eyes and
I see her soft, beautiful white hair, not yet braided, and her sleepy eyes.
When I visited her, she would ask me to help her put her hair up,
and I would brush the fine strands, braid them and pin
the braids to her head, like a crown. And then, I would help her
fasten her large corset, before stepping into her dress, as she bent forward
to position her large breasts inside the cups; there were so many hooks,
they went down to her waist and when she took it off, after a day
of being cinched in, the body that had been tightly secured inside
its stiff bones became itself again, able to move.

The poem is simple, just a few lines, but in it,
I know her; I know her struggles, her dark thoughts and,
most of all, her courage. In the poem, though her name
is not written, is her mother, my great-grandmother and namesake,
tragic in her own right; I feel her there; I feel her struggles.
My own mother, who endured a motherless childhood, is there, too.
In the courage of those few lines, I can see the months of pain and
separation away from her children, hoping to find relief from
the depression that plagued her. My grandmother suffered deeply;
manic depression is a cruel companion. She was removed
from her home for months at a time, hidden from her sadness,
relieved of her duties, relieved of her life, until she could return.

You never know what you will find in a recipe box.
Amid the recipes filed loosely, mixed in with the cakes and pies, there was
her poem. But where in the box do you file sadness? Where does that belong?

And, in this short poem, there is also me, not yet born, but struggling
to free myself from the depths of a sadness passed down
from generation to generation of women, each one rising slightly above
the rest. Many generations in four lines, that’s all, a prayer of sorts,
that’s all it is, heartbreaking and hopeful.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

__________

Risa Potters: “It sounds like such a cliché, but the first things I remember when landing in California from Brooklyn were blue skies and palm trees. To my eight-year-old eyes, they were the bluest skies I had ever seen and the palm trees, all lined up in a row along the boulevard off the airport, were beyond exotic. To me, the West has always held an expansiveness that I treasure. The West fits me, and it fit my father as well, who brought us to Los Angeles after falling in love with it so long ago. He drove his blue Buick across the country looking for a radical change from the life we had in New York and then, finding the new beginning he sought, sent for us—my twin brother, mother and I—setting us up in a small furnished apartment a block from Santa Monica beach. There, we spent every summer day walking down the California Incline to the sand and diving into the Pacific Ocean, coming out only to eat tuna fish sandwiches. It was heaven. Since then, I have never taken the California lifestyle for granted. The beauty, the diversity and the ability to be outside every day are things I yearn for when I am away from home. Although I have been to many beautiful places, I am still astounded by the stunning beauty that is right outside my door. From desert trails, to lush California Oaks, there is a landscape here that I use and is my constant, dreamy companion. I am grateful for my father’s vision; he loved it, like I do, and once he hit the California sand, never looked back.” (website)

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August 10, 2016

Ruth Madievsky

PARAGARD

I was in a lecture hall, explaining how the copper IUD works,
talking about how metal ions
change the intrauterine environment, making sperm
swim all gimpy like they’ve had
too many drinks. I was trying not to notice
the dark shoving my head
in a toilet, the way three months earlier
it cannonballed into my grandmother’s CT scan.
It hid within her kidney like the plastic
baby inside a King Cake,
and then it was nothing like a King Cake
once we found it in her lungs, liver, and bones.
I was using words
like cervical mucus and nulliparous.
I was thinking about the body
and its mousetraps.
How the copper IUD
does to fertilized eggs what the body should
but doesn’t do to tumors,
which is to say, prevents them,
either from forming or implanting—no one knows exactly
how it works, but it does. I want to
believe in the elegance
of chemicals
and the elegance of the person
mixing the chemicals,
but I know there’s only so much dark
you can pass
like a kidney stone. Medicine
can’t promise us anything, can only
paddle from one buoy
to another, maybe
harpooning the shark or being eaten by the shark
or shooting cannons at swimmers
and becoming a bigger problem
than the shark.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

[download audio]

__________

Ruth Madievsky: “Though I was born outside the U.S., in Moldova, I’ve lived in Los Angeles for most of my life. To be a Los Angeles poet is to negotiate the city’s many contradictions: the lively literary scene and the flawed public transit system that makes it difficult to access; the glamour and extreme poverty that are often just around the corner from each other; the lights and skyscrapers, their beauty and ugliness. The particular imagery of Los Angeles is always making its way into my poems. I love living in this city and being a poet in it.” (website)

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August 8, 2016

Lester Graves Lennon

CROSSING OVER

The Angeles Crest Highway’s mountain curves
swing beauty close to canyons with death as chaser.
Some are caught, crosses mark the crossing over.

One mountain boulder marked our neighbor’s son:
his motorcycle swerving through blind curve,
his helmet helpless against granite will.

His mother crossed our street to share the news,
Eugene O’Neill’s moon mother heroine,
sun-leathered skin, sun-streaked eyes marked with loss.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

__________

Lester Graves Lennon: “I am a native New Yorker who has lived in California 46 years, twice as long as in the Empire State. My soul is home in the Golden State and centered in the Los Angeles megalopolis.” (website)

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August 5, 2016

Deborah P. Kolodji

FOUR HAIKU

sharp words
her holiday collection
of cookie cutters
 
 
 
 
 
 
cosine of an angle
he changes political
parties
 
 
 
 
 
 
lottery tickets
with the wrong numbers
terns
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gone with the Wind
an empty pillow
on the window seat

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

[download audio]

__________

Deborah P. Kolodji: “I’m a native Southern Californian, born in Long Beach, a graduate of USC and a USC football season ticket holder. With a lifetime of snowless winters, I rarely write of snow, but instead feed my muse by walking the beaches and botanical gardens of Los Angeles County.” (website)

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August 3, 2016

Ron Koertge

DEAR CITIZEN,

That letter you received last Tuesday, the one with
the official seal, was not meant for you. We hope
you have not read it.

We know you like to put things off. Perhaps
the letter is lying on that yet-to-be-paid-for coffee table
with the coupons and bills?

We hope so! The letter was meant for another citizen
who resembles you in many ways, but who is not you.
Only you are you.

Destroy the letter now! You do not have to drive
to the Fortress. A note will do. No one will come to
your house with a Taser. No one will hurt Sasha,
who is a good dog. We trust you.

If you have read the letter, well, it disturbs us that you
know more than you should. A little knowledge really
is a dangerous thing. Any knowledge, really.

You have been a good citizen up until now, the tapes
show that. Do you know how to forget? Let’s try that
first. Before the other. Simply put the matter out of
your mind.

Continue leaving for work at 7:50 every morning and
walking Sasha in the evening after dinner and before
the curfew. Once you’re sure you have forgotten,
write and tell us.

We know how difficult it can be, remembering
to reassure us that you don’t remember. It’s a fine
line, isn’t it? But it can be done.

Others have, and most are living happy and productive lives.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

__________

Ron Koertge: “I’ve lived in the L.A. area since 1965. Sure, I came for a job, but I’d been to L.A. briefly and it struck me as wonderfully indifferent to what I did, whom I slept with, what I wrote. For somebody from a little town, that seemed like paradise.” (web)

 

Ron is the guest on Rattlecast #47! Click here to watch …

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August 1, 2016

Ron Koertge

A SURPRISE VISIT

She appears during my office hour, says a name,
and asks if I remember her son.

“Victor. Sure.”

“Did you know he died?”

That makes me sit up straighter. “Jesus, no.
I’m so sorry.”

She shows me a handful of poems written
in the lilac ink he adored.

“He wrote these in the hospital.
Were the other students kind to him?”

“It was a good class.”

“He talked about it a lot.” She grips a double-strand
of pearls. “I promised him I would stop by.”
I stand to shake hands. Then walk her to
a door that opens to the usual pandemonium:

the insults and flirting and threats of the living.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos

[download audio]

__________

Ron Koertge: “I’ve lived in the L.A. area since 1965. Sure, I came for a job, but I’d been to L.A. briefly and it struck me as wonderfully indifferent to what I did, whom I slept with, what I wrote. For somebody from a little town, that seemed like paradise.” (website)

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