April 24, 2021

Gretchen Steele Pratt

HITCH-HIKING

for my sister

I let you do the talking,
knew it was your
blonde hair blanched white with saltwater

They pulled to
the crab-grassed shoulders of Corn Neck Road
for.

You did the talking,
invented places
for them to take us. I saw my face

In the rearview mirrors
a hanging crystal hurt
my eyes. A station wagon

Its mats caked
with horseshit, warm cans of beer
for us to hold between our knees

The matches
that wouldn’t light in the wind
of a backseat. The minivan doors

Slid open babies opened
their eyes fell back to sleep
in the air-conditioned sunlight.

Surfboards knocked me
in the temples
bandanas tied around the boys’ necks.

I don’t remember any music
Just your
Who sings this? your calm elbow

Out the window
and pickup trucks with
full cans of gas to sit on. The doors opened

And there were dreadlocks
dripping held together
with a rubber band and Who sings this? and

An old woman
with buckets of seaweed
crawling with baby crabs or

The voice of a teenage boy
too thin
I live in an abandoned barn

Or a gutted van
white plastic kitchen chairs for
us to sit on and doors dented by deer.

Your calm elbow.
A hatchback in the parking lot of Mosquito Beach
slap of water

Against the hulls
an old sunset your tan shoulders
lift from the driver’s window turn

Give me the okay
to get in
and what could you sound like?

There was a fever of car doors
opening and slamming all over
the island that summer, everything

Out the window blowing by in
the white light
of our going. Who sings this?

fromRattle #28, Winter 2007
2007 Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention

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Gretchen Steele Pratt: “When I first started writing poems, I read a letter (in a book) that I believe was from James Wright to Richard Hugo—I can’t be sure because I have never been able to find the letter again. The letter was written while Wright was on vacation and he describes a particularly beautiful night to Hugo. It is implied that the night was too beautiful for Wright to ever write a poem about and so he was giving the details to Hugo in case he could use them. I will always remember how Wright graciously offered up these details to his friend—he said, ‘Here are some fragments of my hammer that broke against a wall of jewels.’ Although I have never been able to locate the letter, this quote has remained at the forefront of my mind and always reminds me why I love writing poems.” (website)

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April 17, 2021

Debra Marquart

BUOY

And so you came to realize that a married man
is like a drowning victim, when you find him

drenched, adrift and unhappy in the vast ocean
of his marriage. And you are always the first

to spot him, a floating speck on the horizon,
flapping his arms for rescue, desperate mouth

ringing an o above the rolling crests and waves.
You on the high dry deck of the cruise ship

in your espadrilles and crisp white shorts,
aren’t you the beacon, aren’t you the life preserver.

And when you jump into the sea salt foam,
if only for a refreshing swim, you understand

that he will seize upon you, strong buoyant
swimmer that you are, grab your shoulders,

pull your head under with his weight, so dense
in the water. And down among the reefs

and coral, with your new copper-coin eyes,
you will see then how he rides on the shoulders

of his water-breathing sea horse wife,
and his mermaid mistresses, those water nymph

former lovers, and whole tag-team pyramid
of three-breasted women who have tried

over the years to save him. Even then,
next time, when you see another one

go under, does it give you pause,
does it stop you from jumping in—

no, not once, not ever.

–from Rattle #28, Winter 2007

__________

Debra Marquart: “I’ve been a rebellious farmer’s daughter, a traveling rock musician, a tombstone saleswoman, an accountant, and, more recently, a professor of English at Iowa State University.”

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April 7, 2021

Alison Townsend

PANTOUM FROM THE WINDOW OF THE ROOM WHERE I WRITE

At sunset the russet oak turns into a lamp.
Each polished leaf glows amber, lit by sun.
As a child, I raked leaves with my mother each fall.
We burned small pyres, their flames the color of loss.

Each polished leaf glows amber, lit by sun.
I could not know my mother would die young.
We burned small pyres, their flames the color of loss.
I stand here watching, older now than she ever was.

I could not know my mother would die young.
The tree is a galleon, its sails coppered by light.
I stand here watching, older now than she ever was.
I raked leaves into rooms and houses as a girl.

The tree is a galleon, its sails coppered by light.
I’ll always be a daughter, part of her body’s bright map.
I raked leaves into rooms and houses as a girl.
Death is a lit tree, its amber walls falling in pieces.

I’ll always be a daughter, part of her body’s bright map.
As a child, I raked leaves with my mother each fall.
Death is a lit tree, its amber walls falling in pieces.
At sunset the russet oak turns into a lamp.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

__________

Alison Townsend: “I wrote this poem in a fabulous online class called ‘The Language of Color’ with California poet and essayist Elizabeth Brennan. During the course, we worked our way through the entire color spectrum. The poem emerged when we were contemplating orange. I live in the country, on four acres of prairie and oak savanna. The huge tree outside my study window, a constant companion, was my starting point. When my mother (who died when I was a child) entered the poem and each line presented itself as an end-stopped sentence, I saw a possibility for using form. I turned to the pantoum, which I love for its slow mystery, back-and-forth movement, and non-linear narrative. It’s a ruminative form and a melancholy one—exactly what I needed to evoke the on-going presence of the past in the present, and the way even great loss can be illuminated by beauty. The tree, the autumn season, my mother’s spirit, the color orange, and the form all combined magically to make the poem possible. Poetry is a calling for me; moments like these are the reason I write.”

 

2020 Rattle Poetry Prize winner Alison Townsend was the guest on Rattlecast #79! Click here to watch …

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April 5, 2021

Alexis Rotella

EMPTY SOULS

Tibetan prayer flags
flap in the wind
no one to talk to

Why Tower Air? I ask as my husband packs a suitcase to get ready to attend his mother’s funeral.

Because it’s a bargain, he says.

Wouldn’t you rather fly a major carrier? 

I pull a card from my Tarot deck. Out of the 78 possibilities, it’s the Tower that shows up. Flames shoot from the top of a crumbling brick tower while a couple with shock imprinted on their faces falls through the air, crowns flying. There’s no soft landing in sight.

I plead with my husband to book with another airline, but he says he’ll be fine. I shouldn’t put such faith in divination.
                   
As I entertain a couple of acquaintances, the phone rings. My husband’s voice sounds far away. 

dusk signals the jasmine to release its scent

I’m at Kennedy. We had to make an emergency landing. While flames shot from the engine, the pilot told us to put our heads in our laps and brace for impact. The silence was so thick, no one could make a sound. I took my wallet from my jacket, placed it in the seat pocket facing me, just in case my body couldn’t be identified. And then I saw a newspaper headline which seemed so vivid and real—son dies in plane crash after attending mother’s funeral. It was the most bizarre experience. I thought my life was over, that I’d never see you again. When we got off the plane, some people actually kissed the ground. Everyone is shaken including the pilot’s wife. It was her husband’s last flight before retirement.

While my guests stuff themselves on tacos and guacamole, I try to regain composure. Don’t sweat the small stuff, they tell me. Get over it. Move on. Come eat.

I want to throw them both out but instead I bite my tongue until it aches. I count the minutes until they’re out of my space.

the cat brings home a screech owl

I sense disappointment in my brother-in-law’s voice. Had there been a fatal accident, he’d inherit all of the mother’s estate. I so need to vent, but my next-door neighbor, who caught a blip about it on the news, is nonchalant.

During break in qi gong class, my husband tries to tell a classmate about the incident, but the instructor glares at him as if to say, keep your sad stories to yourself.

The taste 
of loneliness
evening meal

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Alexis Rotella: “My husband and I were living in Los Gatos, California, a few months when he flew a low-budget airline back east to attend his mother’s funeral. The reaction of dinner guests, a neighbor, my brother-in-law and qi gong teacher taught us how a near tragedy can bring unexpected reactions from others as well as an education in human nature.” (web)

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April 2, 2021

Austen Leah Rose

DEAR HUSBAND

Yesterday

 

I swam into the center of a dark star, the farthest point 
from every other point, 

 

the place 

 

where people become shapes along the shore, where a mother 
becomes the idea 

 

of a mother, and a sister becomes the idea of a sister.

 

Here, everything is its opposite: trees, buildings, snow, Thursday, music, 
boredom, regret.

 

Dear husband, I have been writing you letters, then erasing them, 
then sending blank pages in the mail
as if to prove you really are 
married

 

to a ghost. I swear

 

yesterday I dipped my hand in a pool of emptiness
and dragged up a dead dove. Do you realize what cruelty I’m capable of

 

when you leave me alone like this? Dear husband

 

I am thinking of a house with yellow curtains in a town that no one visits,
and where it always rains, a child 

 

tying his shoelaces at the bottom
of a staircase.

 

Not this wind that knocks the power lines down.

 

Dear husband

 

yesterday, I unzipped the translucent skin of my tent to watch the mountains 
glow pink somewhere 
in Arizona. I swear 

 

I saw a spark 
ignite between two mirrors that faced each other in a field,

 

a silver necklace caught in the bare branches of a tree. 

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Austen Leah Rose: “Rilke wrote a lot of letters, especially to his wife, Clara. He had to, because he was always running away from her, isolating himself in windswept castles perched on rocks by the sea. I suppose he required a certain amount of distance in order to feel intimacy. In one letter, he describes an ideal relationship: ‘I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.’” (web)

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March 31, 2021

Jessica Lee

GREENER PASTURES

I was embarrassed by the way my dog 
Daisy licked herself so openly, 
with no shame, whether she was sprawled 
in the middle of the lawn or
across the kitchen floor, her pink tongue
cleaning the holes where her natural fluids left 
her body, the hole where 
the Australian Shepherd down the street 
would enter her when she was in heat
despite my mother’s attempts 
to keep the gate locked. 
A litter would come out of that hole 
eight weeks later, wet and blind, not at all 
the cute puppies I’d imagined they’d be. 
Of course, I was a child and actually afraid 
of my own body, the folds of skin 
I did not understand and sometimes explored 
until, at the dinner table, my mom told me 
to get my hand out of my pants and
my face got hot as the bowl of Campbell’s 
tomato soup on the table in front of me
that I was supposed to eat with the spoon
clenched in my dirty hand. 

                                                 Years later,
my first boyfriend begged me to flip over
so we could do it doggy style
At first, I refused, thinking of the porn 
I didn’t watch but knew he did, not wanting
to be a woman on her knees, bare ass 
in the air. I was also thinking 
about Daisy licking every part of herself, 
then coming over to lick my hand.
I wanted more separation 
between her tongue and my skin, her tongue
and the places it had been, myself 
and the parts of myself I wasn’t 
supposed to touch. I’d watched 
so many period pieces about English
high society, dreamed of a being a lady
who knew how to waltz
and eat pheasant with a fork
and knife moving simultaneously. I imagined
to be one of them I had to keep lying
on my back, prim and quiet, thinking 
of green pastures I’d never actually seen
instead of the boy above me, asking me to
open my mouth and make more noise
like the animal I was. 

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Jessica Lee: “For years, I tried to write a poem about this particular time in my teenage mind/bedroom, but the drafts never felt like they encompassed everything I wanted them to hold. Then one winter, during a trip home to visit my mother, I watched our dog lick herself in the middle of the living room while we were watching Pride & Prejudice and—just like that—the poem unfolded in my mind’s eye. I stopped watching the movie and Daisy, went in search of a pen.” (web)

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March 29, 2021

Lance Larsen

AND ALSO I RAN

I wheedled a ten-minute visit from the night 
nurse. This was Friday, the evening after 
my best friend hurtled through a windshield 
at 70 mph, the day before I drove 
to a numbing family reunion for blue-hair aunts. 
He had a machine to count his breaths, 

a tube to collect his pee, and a pair of legs 
that would never again shuffle or glide through this life. 
Every six hours his Stryker bed flipped him 
like a flapjack, stomach down for now, 
with a cutout for his face, so I sprawled 
on the floor. Days before, we had lain on grass, 

close as sleeping bags, counting stars 
and girlfriends we didn’t have. Tonight, more 
of the same bull, and less. His chin and my dirty 
shoes trading gossip, the eighty-seven stitches
on his back playing hard to get, and the moon 
outside skinny dipping in the fountain. 

I was fifteen plus four months, and my friend 
was fifteen plus blood all over the Ford 
Bronco, even on the road, even on trees, 
he said, promise me that you’ll definitely check 
out the crash site. And I said no, not 
one part of me wants to see blood on trees.

Before leaving, I counted stitches on my friend’s 
bad shoulder, then touched his good one, 
warmish like when you put your arm around 
a girl at a matinee. And the hum of machines 
was a prayer to healing, and the dirty
tiles were a prayer to grit, and the intern 

was a ten-fingered prayer to vitals and charts.
And my friend saying Hey, man, later, was amen. 
Outside, the sprinklers sputtered and hissed
and did a silvery dance with the grass, the stars 
tried to go all the way with sleeping cars, 
and the dark said, What is this, amateur hour? 

I broke into a run then, sliding through chain 
link to an endless empty parking lot. With so many 
overhead lights I had three shadows at once, 
like three wavery souls. When I ran, they moved, 
one pinning me to pavement, one sliding 
off like oily water, one being born up ahead. 

What did I care? When I closed my eyes 
they went away. Just a buzzing breeze 
and these slabs called legs doing their work. 
They didn’t want to run. My lungs pushed 
them, my slippery beating heart, and my friend’s 
catheter leaking amber bubbles into room 514. 

Who needed a soul, or the disappearing shadow 
of a soul? Breath was enough, and hurrying
blood, provided it stayed inside. Nine-thirty
at night, the day after and the day before. 
A clean, brisk, heavy, terrifying, innocent 
Friday in June. I ran and ran and also I ran.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Lance Larsen: “In a poem over twenty years old, I describe floating in a swimming pool late at night: ‘I kept the lights off to blur my edges.’ In childhood, the demarcation between self and world often felt smudgy, as if I was on the verge of dissolving into something beautiful or terrifying. It was never entirely clear which. How to center yourself on this darkly turning planet? When I try to rewind the clock via poetry, that strange opaqueness, that lovely permeability often returns. And mystery, once again, is everywhere.”

 

Lance Larsen is the guest on Rattlecast #97! Click here to join us live at 8 p.m. EDT …

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