January 16, 2020

Cecilia Woloch


I was small and half-believed I could disappear
just by closing my eyes—no,
I wished for it fervently:
that my scarred hands, red with itch,
would become the hands of ghosts, of saints;
the dark oval of my face dissolve,
transparent as the air.
How does a child fit a body she hates?
How does a child learn to hate what she is?
At school I was wool-locks, chink-eyes, freak;
each slur spat—a twisted animal,
some trapped thing thrown back, maimed.
In church, the gravest of my sins
in the hushed confessional: this flesh
which, bead by bead, I prayed might be illumined, changed, erased.

Oh I would have died to be beautiful once
Saint Cecilia, Saint Genevieve
wrapped myself in the scratchy sheets
to be buried, and risen again;
to blink and vanish—look:
here’s how the world turns a girl on the wheel of herself,
what wasn’t murdered in me:
a face that stares out from the glass of its longed-for death,
alive, and loves what it sees.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Cecilia Woloch: “I’m a poet, writer, teacher, and traveler, based in Los Angeles but happiest living out of a suitcase. I’ve crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border on foot in the company of smugglers, been robbed by a Russian gang in Warsaw and rescued by off-duty police in Paris. I write poetry because I keep falling in love with language and prose because there are so many stories that haven’t been told. I can build a fire in a woodstove, bathe in a bucket, apply lipstick in a rearview mirror, cut my hair with a kitchen knife, drive a stick shift and pick a lock—these are skills I consider essential, along with good grammar and knowing how to fake it until you’ve learned the steps of the dance.” (web)

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May 21, 2019

Joan Jobe Smith


One of the oldest big old stucco buildings in Southern California, my poor old Excelsior High School stands there naked scarecrow on the corner of Artesia and Pioneer Boulevard, empty and closed down now since 1981 for lack of enrollment, the Baby Boomers moving on with their teenagers to a larger part of town, and I get tears in my eyes when I drive by and see most of the windows boarded up, some of its old red Spanish tiles on its roof missing, like teeth gone from old age or a prizefight. The math department has been leased to a day care center, the cafeteria to a Vietnamese Cultural Center, the two-story auditorium condemned where on its stage my junior year for the Spring Swing I danced a “Day-O Day-0” samba with my girlfriend Jan, giggling so much from stage fright and sweet 16 giddiness I almost wet my pants. Then later the movie “Grease” was shot there, over there on the front lawn, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John singing, bopping to “who-do-you-love?” love songs. But all was not jolly at my old high school. Boys went away to four wars during those decades and didn’t come back. A Great Depression occurred and kids quit high school to find work. There were gangs. Drugs. In that stadium over there our varsity team lost the homecoming game. My senior year over there on the way to the Four H sheds next to the English building my Othello boyfriend beat up the boy who gave me my first kiss in seventh grade. No more coolest cars in school drive by my poor old high school closed down now. No more mean-well teachers telling you you’ll go far (you did/you didn’t) or go to jail (you did/you didn’t). No more teenagers wizened with young and cigarettes hang around. No more toot-toot-tootsie, boogie-woogie, be-bop-a-lulu, surfin’ safaris, sock hops, California girls, Mustang Sallys, Mohair Sams swinging on a star stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive, la-la-la-la-la bamba, rock around the clock. My poor old high school is closed down now forever but still stands there fat old wise worn-out graffiti’d Buddha. Easter Island, Stonehenge, alabaster Abraham Lincoln and seems as if it might answer from out the cracks of the mouth of its locked front doors if we ask, ask again that same question we asked when we were kids: How, how did we all get so old?

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Joan Jobe Smith: “I graduated from Excelsior High School in 1957, where I published my first poem ever at age thirteen and lost my bid for student body vice president in a landslide to a candidate good at algebra. My creative views agree with Charlie Parker’s: ‘If you ain’t lived, it won’t come out your horn.’ But I also know this: in creativity and life, there are no absolutes.” (web)

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January 5, 2019

Leslie Adrienne Miller


I confess to having abused the ordinary details
of personal days, to having used the world less,
the self more, to the womanly flaw of regarding
private hours as the primary province

of knowledge. Dear critic, appalled
by female details, the minutia of a childless
and husbandless bluestocking strewn across
that unspoiled landscape of literature, you are

right to side with Bly, legislate against
the blight of first person pronouns. Dump
those babies in the great pit of poetic dross.
Away with these maudlin cravings, these

not new, even if cleverly disguised contributions
to the egotistical minus the sublime. All those weak
moments when I deferred to the memory
of an actual lover. Then to have covered

it up with the thin dirt of allusion, invoking Keats
or Wordsworth in concert with some man
done gone and left me. I ought to be shot
like the old dog I am, irascible, blind,

given to biting the hand that feeds, guilty
of living on the grim edges, having wished
to be the center of attention. You, dear critic,
and my father, win: I was simply not marriageable.

Was headstrong, controlling, insufferable.
How can I argue my bright Bly aficionado.
Wicked tease. Naughty girl. Dear doctor,
could you hand me that box of Kleenex now?

I’m about to weep for you, to spill the usual
gaudy humiliations, and because I pay you well,
really too much, you can’t look bored. Upstart I
who really ought to have stuck with She,

learned a We, better yet a They, or the proper art
of You, let alone the beauty of going pronounless
completely. My good grandfathers have rolled over
in their graves at my assumptions. Beginning with

the girl who peeled off her shirt to chop
wood in the sheep lot, caught like that at twelve.
Imitating the hired hands! Grandma straightened her out,
and fast, but here she is in public with her shirt

so actually off again, and plenty old enough to know …
She’s properly chastened now, sitting in her hermit’s hut
in France, all those lovers she’s abused in print, quite fled.
She hears you now, this one, feels the sting of 20 years’

advice unheeded, and promises this time to try.
She’s got this garden, see, first time in her life,
and begins to understand that bit about the still point
of the turning world: pansies nod their floppy

little pastel heads. Ivy creeps about, but quietly.
Pretty zinnias preen. And the trees, oh doctor,
I tell you, she has heard them speak out loud.
They want to be hugged, understood,

have their best stories told for the good
of the planet, told again for the good of great
literature. She must, they’ve whispered, forsake
presence, revise herself to essence, star dust, shy stuff,

cosmic thrust.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Leslie Adrienne Miller: “I believe that poetry is a language that makes us all (readers and writers of it alike) feel smarter than we are.” (web)

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January 3, 2019

Diane Seuss


Having a threesome with Jack
Daniels and Billie Holiday.
Garden sex with the dumb serpent.
Sex at the Wailing Wall, the Berlin Wall,
the Great Wall, the Wall of Names. Sex
with Sonny Corleone against the wall during
the wedding. Having horse sex with Mr. Ed
reruns. Olive oil sex with the Big Cook.
Clothesline sex with the chickens hanging there;
with the bodies without heads running through
the pumpkin vines. Having gardenia sex
with my father’s romantic notions of how to get
a girl. Educated sex with the New York Times
paper carrier. Grandfather sex with a swivel
rocker. Camel sex with the butts in the ashtray.
Hot sex with the air conditioner. Having nostalgic
sex with the guy who embalmed my father. Vietnam
sex with Doug, who’s paranoid and gives good head.
Dirty sex with the potato farmer’s daughter. Having
Bob’s Country Club sex with one of the Drake
brothers. The good looking one. Not the smart
one. Not the one who went on to make something
of himself. Chuck, the one with a hi-fi ass. Tamale
sex, going to Juanita’s on a booty call hoping to get
Gabriel’s attention while he leans over the fryer.
Having halfway sex at a rest stop halfway between
here and there, meaning Michigan City, the town
where I was born. Ore boat sex. Mall parking lot
sex. Nun doll sex. Rock me like a baby sex.
The Reverend Al Green sex. Sex in the black groove
of an old record album, sex in the scratch on the vinyl,
sex in the skip, in the skip, in the skip, sex in the applause
of the long dead audience thrilled with Miss Billie Holiday
in a single spotlight singing Strange Fruit. Sex in the dark
after she leaves the stage. Sex on her grave; sex that
blasphemes death. Arrowhead in the heart sex. Sex on the body
of the last buffalo. Sex on God’s welcome mat, in Mother
Hubbard’s cupboard, sex with her poor dog’s bone.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Diane Seuss: “The most loyal and passionate relationship I’ve had in my life is with poetry. Addition came hard, subtraction harder; chemistry threw me for a loop, as did sewing and quick breads. But I could write. It’s come in handy, especially during the rough times, which were most of the time. Poetry’s like my beagle. It’s wrecked my furniture, but it keeps me warm at night.” (web)

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August 9, 2018

Kate Sontag


Not the lobster pot
nor the chamber pot
not the driftwood
or the firewood

not the stripped
oak spool towel rack
or the small claw-footed
porcelain tub. Not

the giant bleached green
nautical chart
stapled to a sunny wall
by the window

nor the yellowed stack
of flute music
on top of the upright
piano. Not even

the children’s rainy day
clay animals
in procession on the sill
or the family

photograph tucked
behind the coat tree
at the foot of the shallow
stairwell. When

you climb to unpack,
not any of these
ever takes you quite
so much by surprise

as your husband’s
ex-wife’s workshirt
hanging in the master
bedroom closet

of this island house
they still share.
By now you should be
used to the presence

of such washed out
denim, an embroidered
daisy on one breast
pocket frayed

like the peeling
interior of the sloping
gabled rooftop
each summer

you come up here.
Always on the same
hook, nothing more
than something

she might have cleaned
or gardened in,
or casually thrown over
her shoulders

on foggy Vinalhaven
mornings. This time
offering from the adjacent
pocket a blackened

sprig of rosemary
and a tiny white
button missing
from the torn left cuff.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Kate Sontag: “Having traveled full-circle from stepdaughter to stepmother, I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a ‘step-language’ poet, not to be confused with the Language poets with whom I have very little in common.” (web)

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July 10, 2018

Paula Sergi


I want to wake in a place old
enough to know crumble, a house
built with lath and mortar,

that sloppy concoction of sandy
glue oozing between little strips
of thin wood. In any corner

you’ll find walls defying “plumb,”
honoring gravity, some cracks
creating the face of a woman in repose,

the shape of a moose, his hairy neck
crooked as a boxer’s nose.
Maybe an old dog left chemical

traces of his wag, elemental evidence
of loyalty embedded in the oak’s grain,
his claws’ happy scramble etched

where the varnish has faded.
Those planks, weighted with work
boots and real leather heels will tilt

off center, the way a gaze through
window panes made before glass
was perfected will distort the view

so any gaze is like peering
through soap bubbles. Too much
is made of the sleek caress of new

drawers that open on cue. How else
to locate fortitude but through
the nagging knot of failure at the fourth

or fourteenth try? Give me a path
of settling flagstone, something
to stub my toe against, to learn

negotiation, the patient splinter
saving itself for my foot, ignoring
the fleshy heels of all who passed before.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Paula Sergi: “Lately I’ve been enjoying the interaction between sound and meaning, the dance between these two elements of language. I’m usually surprised when I find that I might have something going, that there might be a tune or a pattern. The challenge is to recognize when the dance is over—or that there’s really no music playing at all.”

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January 2, 2018

Gail J. Peck


My sister told me she took Dad’s face
in her hands and said,
There’s nothing, just nothing in your eyes.
That if he wanted to get help, she’d go with him.
I’m not letting the kids ride with him anymore, she said.
My nephew came home from the Country Kitchen
with a gash in his forehead because Dad
slammed on his brakes and got
in another argument on the highway.
We discovered he even shot at a man once.
Growing up, we’d been held hostage—
rounding the corners on two wheels
while Mother pleaded, Slow down.

But my kids don’t have to take it, my sister says.
She’s persuaded Mother to stop riding with him also—
Mother, who finally walked out years ago,
but who rode with him to dinner each Sunday,
reminding us He’s so alone, he’s got his good side.
That’s true—remembering every birthday,
sharing the bounty of his garden.
And even if I did think it was crazy to spend
all his savings to buy that new car, it was his money.
It helps some that he’s only my stepfather,
this sadness, this not loving him.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Gail J. Peck: “What interests me in writing poems is how people interact with one another. How do we get to the truth, and what is the underside of that truth? Can we use the shaping of language to move beyond the self-deception that seems so often to protect us from our own vulnerability?”

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