December 17, 2018

Mike Good


after Martín Espada

On his first day, at the Heinz-Kraft plant,
his boss leans over his shoulder,
to spell out C.W.P., which stands
for Continuous Wiener Production.
Outside of Columbia,
Missouri, the sun rises, bathing the plains
in bronze. Inspecting the factory,

taking notes, watching pink pulp strain
through steel grates,
he walks, white hard
hat jostling to the side. It won’t stand straight.
At the end of the line, entire
cartons of wieners fill pallet
after pallet, spitting three
centuries of hot dogs
on every hour. One man guides
the dogs’ tongues like a shepherd. Watching

this man, he feels the white-striped
collar beneath his smock
mingle with oil, brine,
and boiled shells. The contraption jams. He asks
the man to show him how
he will fix it, and together, they change
the sprocket of the trimming
machine. The man handing him the tools.
Cajoling the crescent
wrench, he thinks of hours under
his father’s car, though he is not his father

who doesn’t earn a salary,
who doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree,
who is looking for a job again,
who does not wear latex gloves
to meet protocol. The machine clicks

into place, and how it churns
for the perfection of wieners: inflating
cellulose casing with precision,
imposing order from
the fleshy chaos of animal hearts
and plastic parts, inching
down the line. Industrial rolling pins
rattling like chainmail, hammer
on metal, pregnant vats overturning mountains
of hot dogs. Amid the din of steam
and steel he recalls
the briefing, that Lay-offs
are coming. He will conduct performance
reviews, though he assumes
he is immune, watching boxes of chicken
intestines and cow products
grin into homogenous
batter. In one month, after firing

this man, himself gone too, he will drive
back to his wife
in their new Hyundai Santa Fe, backseat
still empty, gripping the leather steering wheel
with heavy hands that slip. Heavy
from what? Tears? Condiments?
Grease? Those fingers that once threshed
electric chords, that once spidered
across the fretboard. He tells

himself, it may only be a matter
of time, that the two of them may
only need to wait a while longer
for the things they had

planned upon. He consoles himself,
at last, with the odd recognition
of just how far he has come from home.

for Jonathan Good

from Rattle #61, Fall 2018


Mike Good: “Around the time I wrote the first draft of ‘C.W.P.,’ the theme of home—returning to it, longing for it, even escaping from it—seemed to be recurring in many of my poems. Many of us spend a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out where we belong, or trying to assess if where we are is where we want to be. Rightfully so. When I started this poem, I was still living in a cabin in southwestern Virginia. By then, I had been away from Pittsburgh, where I have spent most of my life, for nearly two years. Initially, I planned to extend my stay in Virginia, but soon found myself moving home. While it did not arrive for a long while, this was the first poem I was able to finish after I moved back into the city.” (web)

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March 29, 2018

Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2018: Editor’s Choice


Nine Lives by Jeff Doleman

Image: “Nine Lives” by Jeff Doleman. “Bright Blue Muscle Car” was written by Mike Good for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, February 2018, and selected as the Editor’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Mike Good


My father once owned a bright blue muscle car.
He sold it to buy my mother a ring.
I wanted to bring him back a bright blue muscle car.

Instead I stole a bright blue poem. In his driveway I parked
it until exhaust flooded the lawn. I left the idle on. Clouding
the spot where my father once kept his bright blue muscle car,

the smoke was gray and black and charred,
as if clouds cobbled the yard. I found it startling—
this urge to buy my father a bright blue muscle car.

He is asking, if a black cat crosses your path how far
from your way do you walk to avoid bad luck? The cat hissing,
“My father was crushed by your father’s bright blue muscle car.”

Like stepping in mud we felt the brakes in mother’s car.
Her car red and out of frame. Would you believe, I am thinking
it is time to buy my dad a bright blue muscle car.

What paint paves over mangy fur, the driveway scars?
Some men will not reciprocate your love though given everything.
My father once owned a bright blue muscle car.
I wanted to bring him back a bright blue muscle car.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
February 2018, Editor’s Choice

[download audio]


Comment from the editor, Timothy Green: “Maybe it’s because it made me think of my own father, but this poem moves me personally as it explores that hopeless desire to please that is so stereotypical of the father-son dynamic. The figure of the father haunts this poem in the same way that it haunts the photograph, always out of frame, but still owning it, the ringing refrain a lasting shadow that never leaves.”

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