May 26, 2021

Justin Vicari


Once I destroyed a man’s idea of himself,
to have him.
—Frank O’Hara

I guess it might be tough to see,
now that I have
been an outcast for so long,

but I was serenaded one evening
on the violin
in a classy restaurant
by a sweet young lady
who was in love with me.

She took me out for my 20th birthday.
Secret plans had been made.
She had gone to the restaurant earlier 
to give her violin to the maitre d’,
so he could surprise me
during our meal.

My baby-fat paunch now
larger with the years,
my beard
that reeked and reeks of weed,
my denim jacket hanging on the rack,
the fleece-lined one my family gave me
long ago to exalt my promise
and which I lost years ago,
my whole small-town heart
sitting there on display
should have broken then
(I sensed)
with the whole classy restaurant looking on
as witnesses to this odd event,
which nothing came of, by the way.
Odd, because the town already
had the goods on me,
and did not hesitate, and because
I never denied it.

She played her instrument
proudly for me
and my princeliness,
such as it was.
But I felt embarrassed for the girl,
standing there plump as a donut
in her lavender dress,
making her violin almost sob
(she could really play),
because I knew what she did not,
that I had already tried twice with guys
and knew I would do it again. 

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Justin Vicari: “I found out in middle age that I have Asperger’s, because no one looked for that diagnosis when I was growing up. High-functioning autistic people were invisible in the 1980s and ’90s, and did our suffering in silence, often written off as odd, ostracized, and given empty lives. Realizing that I am on the autistic spectrum gave me context for the stubborn, stupid antisocialness that has marked all the phases of my life and for the almost complete void of other people throughout my life. My Asperger’s seemed most severe in my adolescence and throughout my twenties. I found that I could barely speak to other people. The thoughts that formed in my mind as I listened to other people talking never led to any vocalizable sentences of my own. This was worst in groups, but even one-on-one I struggled. Every conversation passed me by, my inner life once again refusing or unable to make any kind of leap into the real world. I learned to extrovertly listen, with a lot of facial reactions and heavy breathing, always as if I was on the verge of adding something. But no, I communicated mainly through rock songs (pretty, sinister), which I would catalogue obsessively and put on mix-tapes for people, which I now view as somewhat creepy. I could also communicate with one or two people through post-structuralist discourse, though in those days I would have been mostly bullshitting. And I drank a lot in my twenties. When I was drunk, there was an excuse for me being withdrawn, non-communicative, sullen, and generally disappointing socially. It was a way of keeping people away. And of course there was always my writing, my poetry, where I struggled and was at that time often blocked. My Asperger’s affected my writing to an intense degree. I would either be almost completely blocked, taken up with fussily lineating and re-lineating found texts and translating sometimes freely, or I would struggle to produce a coherent poem that didn’t seem coy and false and artificial. What I could get down on the page felt cut off from me, alien and inauthentic. I didn’t realize that my autism made it hard for me to access myself when I needed to, even within the landscape of my own mind. Almost as if I had no self. People who saw me in those days saw an affectless fool stumbling drunkenly, numbly, toward the next bad bet. Even when alone I had to sort of get up and walk across the room and shake hands with myself and remind myself that I was doing more than occupying space. Like I wasn’t completely in my own life. As a result, I never was able to really bond with anyone I met. My friend Melissa asked me, aghast, ‘Didn’t you ever just meet someone and go home with them and stay up all night talking about everything?’ Needless to say I hadn’t. But that sounded like hell to me, or at least something I doubted I could do. Now I just don’t give a fuck.”

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May 24, 2021

Isabelle Thompson


Leonardo da Vinci took oxen
hearts and poured molten wax into them,
trying to discover how the valves worked,
how the blood entered and exited
the muscle. He made diagrams and wrote
his notes back-to-front in mirror writing—
this might have been because he thought the heart
a secret thing or maybe, being
left-handed, he found it easier
to pull the quill than push against the grain.

From the wax cast of the oxen heart,
he made a mould of gypsum for blowing
thin glass inside. The strange transparent heart
must have caught the light, frozen as it was
in time; mathematically perfect,
an exposed aorta in Italian sun.
But if he had asked it to beat, if
da Vinci had placed it in a body
of his own invention, the body would have
suffocated in immaculate silence.

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Isabelle Thompson: “If I had to say how being neurodiverse has affected my poetry, I would find it hard. Perhaps being someone with a heightened attention to detail and a desire to unpack every moment down to the last dust mote has led me to poetry. But then again—who’s to say what comes from personality (whatever that may be) and what comes from autism? Maybe they’re the same thing. Just like those with no diagnosis, those who have neurodiverse labels exist, behave, create, and write as full human beings. We are different—but perhaps the funny irony of ‘difference’ is that to feel different to others in some way is, to an extent, a part of the human condition. Different and varied in those differences. Differently different. Different and equal.”

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May 21, 2021

Scott Strom

12:32 P.M.

Paree fears her glacier 
bears are disinterested 
in the New Testament. 
So, she will translate 
into Bear, the good 
Word. She does 
not know how 
to conjugate 
past tense verbs. 
So, she will find 
a linguist who does. 
The few who do have 
spent so many days 
learning this they 
themselves are dis-
interested in God. So, 
desperate to save her
cubs’ little souls, Paree 
will translate, in present 
tense, verse by verse, the 
Word, and the furry ones 
will learn to think that 
Jesus is in Jerusalem 
now (!), and they 
will escape and 
be broken to 
get to the 
town before 
the end of the 
tale and find that 
Jesus is long in 
the ground.

They will
the faith,
those who 
can conjugate 
   verbs will co-
   llectively rate 
   her translation 
   a two—out (?)

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Scott Strom: “I have obsessive compulsive disorder. Two types of OCD are portrayed en masse: contamination and symmetry/ordering. The other three (checking, intrusive thoughts, and hoarding) are left aside. I actively experience both checking and intrusive thoughts. In middle school, I feared that I would spontaneously shit my pants. So, I spent much of my time in the nurse’s office’s bathroom, attempting to ‘go’ so that I would not later in class. I also, in middle school, feared that I was gay. I would check and refute this by reminding myself of my interest in girls. I now know that this was an ineffective rebuttal, being in truth a bisexual man. Around the same time, I experienced the more publicly identifiable ‘contamination’ OCD. This was not because of a fear of contamination itself (as is often portrayed en masse), but because of a fear of contracting the flu and, particularly, throwing up. I washed my hands until my knuckles bled and ‘checked’ this fear by asking those around me, typically my mother, if my face looked pale. OCD is ingrained in my poetry, particularly in the matter of ‘choice.’ I am overwhelmed by choice, but I desire moving beyond reality—and anything can happen beyond reality. So I ground my poems in particular moments (thus the time signatures), particular shapes, and/or particular characters. OCD also informs the content within these structures. I have spent my entire life moving beyond my obsessions. When I am carried to the other side of an obsession, I am able to see how ridiculous that obsession was—I have therefore learned to view my actions, and sometimes the actions of others, through an absurdist lens. I have learned to distrust myself, therefore the speakers in my poems are not always to be trusted. And, in part as a way of grounding myself and in part on account of the intersection between my OCD and acne, I have learned to make the body grotesque, to portray the greatest dangers as those that come within.” (web)

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May 19, 2021

Esther Ottaway


dyspraxia, developmental
topographical disorientation

It means not knowing where you are in space, 
your arms and legs, your clumsy feet, your hands;
the door, and how you get from here to there, 
forgetting how this puppet walks or stands
(exhausting). And, more broadly, means not knowing
where you are in the building, or the street, 
the suburb where you’ve lived for twenty years. 
Means driving round till you admit defeat
in a tangle of roads that disconnect,
trying to find the familiar shop or school, 
your work, your friends; this often brings on tears. 
To travel is to struggle like a fool
because, despite the Google maps, the signs,
the sun, you stay as lost as when, at three,
you let go of your mother’s hand and stood
terrified, mouthing shopping-centre pleas;
it’s why you take a taxi, not a train,
miss entrances, ask people where things are,
eat in the one cafe you know, again,
because you dare not walk a bridge too far. 
It makes the world veer, shift, and be nowhere. 
Come here to me. Don’t make me meet you there.

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Esther Ottaway: “I am an Australian poet, an autistic woman raising an autistic daughter; we have ADHD and many more conditions, which are part of the autism spectrum. Our physical health is also affected. Since we are not boys, we have had to fight hard to get diagnoses and support and are still working on this. I am currently writing my third book of poetry, titled She Doesn’t Seem Autistic, about the experiences of women and girls with autism and its related conditions.” (web)

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May 17, 2021

Xuan Nguyen


we try to be good,
we try so hard to be good.

but it’s in our nature,
you can’t change nature, 

trying’s futile,

so we love, love, love you,
and we do what our
maker says.

she compels us to say,

what are a few cuts
where no one can see?

what is that against a wickedness
sweeter than we?

and when you resist,

rain on our velvet boots, 
a cat that can’t find his way home,
a night cold as water-chill,

that which is beloved,
ruined, ruined like you,
once godlike in your mind’s dominion

now diminished
into the pathetic nothing
you always knew you were

we are only making you
what you were meant to be.

little less than us,
but more than we.

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Xuan Nguyen: “Five years ago, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, depressive subtype, which my psychiatrist described to me as ‘schizophrenia and depression.’ I wrote these poems during the second major wave of psychosis, when the antipsychotic medication I had been on had stopped working and before I had found one that still worked. Part of my issue, I realize now, was distinguishing between psychosis and dissociative identity disorder, which only recently came to light between me and my therapist. Some of the voices and presences I wrote about in my poetry were actually nascent alters, I realize now.” (web)

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May 14, 2021

Palma McKeown


Miss Barratt would thwack your palm
with her two-tongued leather tawse
for asking to borrow a pencil,
make you stand in a dark cupboard
for one hour for being one minute late,
rap you over the knuckles with a ruler
for getting your sums wrong.
My school satchel lay under my desk,
if I touched it with the tip of my toe I’d be safe (not yet)
if I touched it with the tip of my toe I’d be safe (not yet)
if I touched it with the tip of my toe I’d be safe.
Not yet.

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Palma McKeown: “I’m Scots-Italian, living in Scotland. My OCD started when I was eight years old and had a scary school teacher. It’s not the hand-washing variety, but the often repetitive doing-or-not-doing-things-to-keep-yourself-safe type. It occasionally affects my poetry in that a word I want to use might feel ‘unlucky,’ but the poet in me usually wins the day if I know it’s the best word for the poem—a victory for poetry over OCD.” (web)

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May 11, 2021

Michael Mark


A leaky pot cannot hold the Dharma’s jewels,
my guru scolds. Almost all he has poured 

into me finds the floor, spots the carpet. 
I can’t remember the sacred sutras 

or absorb their meanings, I blank 
on the chants. Even the Diamond Sutra, 

an instant after our lesson, dims. 
Patch the pot! Guru stamps his doll-sized feet. 

Concentration! he growls in my ear 
so close it’s a kiss, and forces cup after cup 

of tea into me so I may continue. 
The chances of a blind tortoise 

swimming the vast oceans, he says, 
and surfacing its head—

my head, he means 

—through a life preserver are more 
favorable than the odds of finding 

enlightenment. And that’s a good pot!
Gurus get angry. It’s called wrath. 

Purposeful rage. Patience in disguise. 
I get it. My progress is his 

after all. His illumination 
hinges on mine. So I meditate 

on the pot, as he instructs, 
visualizing the leaks stopped. Tell me what 

you see. The pot, I say, dented, scoured 
past its shine. Good! Worn from use. 

Shiny is lazy. Where is the pot? 
On a windowsill. Her hands bring it to 

the sink’s spout. She has arrived! Auspicious! 
But the pot is leaking. No-no! The pot 

is solid. The pot is complete, whole. 
Water is running out. How can 

she boil tea, meat? She wants to feed 
the plants. Generous heart. But when she gets 

to her garden, the pot is near dry. 
Garden? She has a nice place! There are 

puddles around her feet. She dances 
in the puddles! No, she apologizes to 

the shrubs, trees, flowers. Ah, 
compassion. Bodhicitta. Drop by 

drop, back and forth, 
she tends to each. Joyful effort! 

I open my eyes. 
My guru is drenched. 

We are getting there, he says.

from Rattle #71, Spring 2021
Tribute to Neurodiversity


Michael Mark: “I have so many voices blathering inside me and then there’s the swarm outside, so I write to see what to believe. I’m not saying what I write is the truth; I’ve learned that’s a fool’s errand. It’s merely my attempt at cracking whatever’s in front of me, putting the flashlight between my teeth and looking around. This poem is about compassion. I’m trying to figure out the Buddhist tradition of Tonglen, in which practitioners dedicate themselves to others’ happiness, even trying to absorb their suffering—pretty challenging for humans.” (web)


Michael Mark is the guest on Rattlecast #92! Click here to join us live at 9pm EDT …

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