February 16, 2019

Ilya Kaminsky

IN PRAISE OF LAUGHTER

Where days bend and straighten
in a city that belongs to no nation
but all the nations of wind,

she spoke the speech of poplar trees—
her ears trembling as she spoke, my Aunt Rose
composed odes to barbershops, drugstores.

Her soul walking on two feet, the soul or no soul, a child’s allowance,
she loved street musicians and knew
that my grandfather composed lectures on the supply

and demand of clouds in our country:
the State declared him an enemy of the people.
He ran after a train with tomatoes in his coat

and danced naked on the table in front of our house—
he was shot, and my grandmother raped
by the public prosecutor, who stuck his pen in her vagina,

the pen which signed people off for twenty years.
But in the secret history of anger—one man’s silence
lives in the bodies of others—as we dance to keep from falling,

between the doctor and the prosecutor:
my family, the people of Odessa,
women with huge breasts, old men naive and childlike,

all our words, heaps of burning feathers
that rise and rise with each retelling.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005
Tribute to Lawyer Poets

___________

Ilya Kaminsky: “In a city ruled jointly by doves and crows, doves covered the main district, and crows the market. A deaf boy counted how many birds there were in his neighbor’s backyard, producing a four-digit number. He dialed the number and confessed his love to the voice on the line. My secret: at the age of four I became deaf. When I lost my hearing, I began to see voices. On a crowded trolley, a one-armed man said that my life would be mysteriously linked to the history of my country. Yet my country cannot be found, its citizens meet in a dream to conduct elections. He did not describe their faces, only a few names: Roland, Aladdin, Sinbad.” (web)

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May 31, 2012

Warren Wolfson

MISPLACED BLAME

A power failure blamed on a cat shut
down the Cook County Criminal Courts
building Monday…
—Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, 9/26/03

Let’s not blame the cat.
He, if he was a he,
had a right to find
a warm, safe place
to rest until dark.

The cat did not know
the white powder was dropped
at the detective’s feet,
or placed for finding
on the car’s cold bright leather seat.

The cat did not see
what the worried witness saw—
the hooded man running
after firing the bullet
that ended an unfulfilled life.

The cat did not commit
the stickups or burglaries
or aggravated sexual assualts
or any of the other ways
men and women find to offend.

The courts closed for a day.
No trial, no prison term,
no decision to kill a killer—
a restful 24 hours.
Then it all started again.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005
Tribute to Lawyer Poets

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May 29, 2012

Jesse Weiner

HIGHWAY TURKEY CRIME, FILM AT 11

so, the last time I did an actual
thanksgiving is when I lived
in huntington, and now I read
about a bunch of kids from huntington
who threw a 20 lb frozen turkey
through some lady’s windshield
on the highway. I didn’t really write
about huntington, but one of the kids
was from northport and I wrote
about a house in northport I almost
bought. patient, a white female in
her early 30s, is in critical condition
with multiple lacerations and abrasions
about the face, the shoulders and the hands.
surgery is indicated, bleeding must be
controlled, vital signs are lacking in
vitality. I wrote the tin ceilings in that house but
neglected to mention the setting. it stood
about four stories above the street, a garage
built into the near cliff at its bottom, a steep
stairway up, passing growth and untidy
gardens in a few flat places near the top,
nearly terraced. the youths involved
are said to have used a stolen
credit card at waldbaum’s. I wrote
about waldbaum’s. poetry is dangerous,
I knew this, I just never knew how
dangerous. the driver of the vehicle
stated to detectives that he warned
his passenger not to throw the turkey
from the car, but the passenger,
against his expressed wishes, insisted
and threw said turkey, frozen, weighing
20 lbs, out the car window and into traffic,
hitting the victim’s honda and smashing
the windshield. the manager of waldbaum’s
expressed sincere regret that his store
was used in so terrible a crime, pointing
out that he profited not at all, instead
suffering the loss from a charge against
the stolen credit card. all the youths were
charged with assault, grand larceny, reckless
endangerment, forgery and other crimes.
I wrote about forgery. and assault. there’s
risk to poetry. detectives entered a manhasset
motel room, finding the bodies of two women
they learned were a mother and daughter from
deepdale, queens. I spent a night in that motel,
with a girlfriend on her birthday, which that year
was on thanksgiving. one had a history of kidney
disease, the other had a history of emotional
problems. they were found in separate
beds having overdosed on prescription
medication. I’ve written about kidneys
and about pills. I’ve written about deepdale.
they ate the pills with ice cream. detectives
say a receipt for ice cream, which was ben and
jerry’s vanilla, was found from waldbaum’s. well,
I wrote about vanilla somewhere and I wrote
about ice cream too. subjects, two white females,
exhibit no external signs of struggle, death
likely due to the presence of large quantities
of kidney medication found in the blood
of both. I wrote about a woman in boston
with the same name as mine. the name of
the dead mother was judith wiener, the
daughter’s name was jessie. they lived
two blocks away from me. poetry
is about nothing if it’s not about risk.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005
Tribute to Lawyer Poets

__________

Jessie Weiner: “I published my first poem in the PS 187 PTA newsletter when I was in kindergarten, but I don’t remember this. My mother told me about it when I got my first real pub some forty years later, so that’s not why I write poetry. Practicing law uses up the same energy poems come from, so being a lawyer isn’t why I write poetry. I’ve been ill for about five years and unable to work, but I’ve written almost nothing about having MS, so that’s not why either. I know I came back to poetry after a long hiatus coincident with getting divorced, but the divorce ended and I’m still writing poetry, so that’s not the reason. I could offer up a bunch of bullshit about trying to understand the ineluctable or needing to own the ineffable or something even deeper and more mysterious sounding, but I’d see right through it. And seeing right through it also isn’t why I write. It looks like I have no idea why I write poetry. This is probably for the best.”

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May 28, 2012

Robert Thomas

THE HISTORY OF POETRY

Not the astronomer but the accountant
slicing olives for his egg salad sandwich
before resuming his ledger. The first writing
was the kingdom’s accounts: 22,000 sheaves
in the granary, 600 head of spotted cattle,
a queen’s 12 gold combs. The first poem:
whoever wrote it must have suspected
he had the goods on the pharaoh: words
more real than things. The salsal bird
cracks one barley seed with its beak
on the greenest branch of the tamarisk.
A barge with reed baskets full of lettuce
and casks of resin is dragged downriver
by slaves on the bank grasping taut ropes.
The scribe takes it all down with his stylus
and one day notices the jagged gold stripe
on the gills of the azagur, who are owned
by no one, and thinks to write it down,
along with the number of sila of wheat
on the 480 iku of fields he has surveyed.
Soon, that word is written whose exact
meaning is unknown but is translated
as that without which life is not possible,
and the hawsers’ creek notches higher.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005
Tribute to Lawyer Poets

__________

Robert Thomas: “Working as a legal secretary, I spend a lot of time on the Internet, surely the most inspiring tool for poets since Coleridge’s discovery of laudanum. I was fascinated by an article on the completion of the first Sumerian dictionary, a work in progress for 30 years that includes salsal, azagur, and the other ancient words in my poem.” (website)

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May 27, 2012

Terry B. Stevenson

HOME

I stop by our old house on Fairview Street.
It’s a warm and sunny Valentine’s Day,
the good weather not at all unusual
in Southern California.
My mom died in this house,
sleeping the last of her days in narcotic slumber,
feeling no pain, I pray. Now the house is empty,
almost appears abandoned,
waits for my brother to finish his work.
Most of the furniture is gone, drawers left open,
packed boxes in every room, construction dust
covers the kitchen and bathroom floors.
I thought about killing myself in this house.
On those nights that the depression
kept me awake, I would walk to the bathroom,
stare at razor blades for a while, pick one up,
turn my wrist, draw the double-edged blade
along the skin; never enough to break it
only enough to know I could.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005
Tribute to Lawyer Poets

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May 26, 2012

Lawrence Russ

NO MATCH

Father, you must admit
your parents were fabulous

tennis players—
especially your mother

with that flaming backhand slash!
But, sadly, they had no ball.

Then, you were born …
Years later, they served you to me,

but my racquet had no strings.
Father, you passed right through me.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005
Tribute to Lawyer Poets

__________

Lawrence Russ: “My urge toward poetry probably began in the darkness and cold of my early childhood, with a wish to make my unseen, uncared-for self visible and compelling to others. Finding a way to do that led from the fairy tales I heard and read as a tot, to the Dr. Seuss books that my third-grade teacher recited with such gusto, to the poems of Eliot, Frost and Thomas that excited and intrigued me as a thirteen-year-old. But poetry, in the end, isn’t self-expression or self-enhancement. It’s a fidelity and grace in using words as best we can to help bring people life, and life more abundantly.”

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May 24, 2012

William Keener

HONK IF YOU LOVE THE LORD

John 3:16 is gaining on me, book,
chapter & verse welded to the bumper
of the Peterbilt burning diesel like
the devil in my rear-view mirror,
this son of a trucker come to set
driver against driver on I-85 near
Greenville, South Carolina, home
of Shoeless Joe and Praise Radio
whose listeners are the lambs of Christ,
say it ain’t so, in a world so loved
by God he gave his only begotten
as I give it more gas because Johnny
3:16 is barreling down, rolling steel
and chrome to kingdom come as if
my car is marked I Brake for Satan,
both of us overtaken by the white
Continental, license GOSPEL DJ,
a speeding preacher singing the news
whosoever followeth him shall not
perish, but shall take the off-ramp
for the Word of God Factory Outlet
where bibles stack halfway to heaven
next to Big Zack’s Discount Fireworks
and the roadside stand that promises
salvation from the traffic and an end
to everlasting thirst and hunger, yes
Hot Boiled Peanuts, Cold Peach Cider!

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005
Tribute to Lawyer Poets

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