March 26, 2021

Gordon Kippola

ARMY MEMORIAL SERVICE: TIKRIT

Our ghost today is Private First Class Jones;
his rank and name are called for roll. Air Force
boys are flying home his bits and bones;
so Jones won’t answer back, praise Mars.

The Sergeant Major calls his name out twice,
it’s Private First Class Aaron Jones this time.
His Humvee bumped a hidden boom device,
which made his ass go AWOL. Now, we’re primed

to hear his three-fold summoning; the name, 
in full, his parents told the county clerk:
Private First Class Aaron Francis Jones. Same
silence … then rifle volleys. The bugler, here for work,

plays Taps, that old-school twenty-four note song.
The lyrics promise, God is nigh. They’re wrong.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Gordon Kippola: “In 2004, while commanding the First Infantry Division Band in Iraq, I attended several memorial services for Soldiers who had been killed a day or two prior. Sitting in a room with a Soldier’s friends while they experienced this ritual farewell is something I’ll never forget.” (web)

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March 24, 2021

Skye Jackson

SPOON-REST MAMMIES

i.

on tuesday at work 
my manager, a brown latina
married to a black man
approaches me 

with a smile she sets 
something down 
in front of me
and asks
what do you think
about these?

i look down
at a porcelain spoon-rest
shaped into the swollen 
figure of a mammy:

her lips exaggerated
& face dark 
like the bark of a dead tree

the dress painted jemima red
with a white apron
tied chain-taut 
around her waist

my heart races in its cage
after a second i say
we shouldn’t sell these
they are offensive

my manager purses her lips
sighs and says
but they sell, my dear skye
people buy them

 

ii.

at the end of my shift
a latina woman
with frizzy bleached blonde
hair stands in front of me
she says
i’m from california
just buying these for my kids
as a joke

they’re gonna be so mad
she says
they’re gonna be so mad
i bought these

she hands me
two of the mammy spoon-rests
says
make sure you wrap them up good
i’d hate
for them to break
on the flight back home

so i protect them
in paper and bubble-wrap
carefully place each one
in a plastic bag
you know, the lady says
your store shouldn’t carry these

i hand her the bag
smile and say
but they sell

 

iii.

three weeks later
my manager
hands me a cardboard box

i open it
to all the spoon-rest mammies
gathered together

they all smile up at me
from the guts of the box

my manager says
i tried to donate them to goodwill
but the guy accepting donations said:
i won’t sell these

but if you want
i can throw them
in the dumpster out back

i’d be happy
to do that

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Skye Jackson: “One spring afternoon, not too long ago, I was in the business of selling Black bodies. These bodies, porcelain spoon-rest mammies, are ugly remnants of our nation’s antebellum past. As a Black woman working in a tourist gift shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans, I often thought long and hard about the things we must sometimes do in order to survive in a racist and capitalistic society. This poem depicts my revulsion at my own participation in this twisted system—so insidious that it often demands we sell our very selves in order to survive it.” (web)

 

Skye Jackson was the guest on Rattlecast #73! Watch it here

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March 22, 2021

Shelly Stewart Cato

MEGA-

I got a big church. My church has got a big rock right in the middle of a big circle drive, and the rock’s got a waterfall in it, and at night, the waterfall has big blue lights and big green lights that shoot all the way to the moon. My church has a TeeNZoNe and t-shirts that say, NOT TODAY, SATAN! We got deodorant in the bathrooms and neon vests for the traffic people and those orange sticks like airport people use to scoot everybody along. My church has got a bowling alley. My church’s parking lot is bigger than the mall. 

On the inside, we got a Starbucks and a basketball court. When Brother Wayne mashes the red button to lock the big doors, Chase and I know how to hide under the bleachers. My church has got big swings inside that shoot like hot-tub jets and squirt out preachers on ’em. And they all lock hands and arms and hang from their underknees like red-and-blue Monkeys in a Barrel from Toy Story because of the red-and-blue lights they shine on ’em. And sometimes, the preachers just pick up a little kid or two and dip ’em in the water and save ’em. 

My church is safe. My church is dark. My church has got a life-sized cardboard Elvis at the Starbucks that says, It’s hip to tip

My church has lots and lots of people and a huge, fat, square swimming pool. My church has Jumbotrons and metal detectors like at Roll Tide football in T-town, and all the kids get to go through the fast lane. 

My church has a band and a drummer inside an upside-down glass bowl, and he looks green (because of the light they shine on him)—like when you catch a lizard and put him in an upside-down jar and slide cardboard under him and keep him for just one night. Lizards can see in the dark. In the dark, people can’t see you cry. My church is safe.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Shelly Stewart Cato: “I fell for poetry when I first heard Langston Hughes’s lines: ‘I’ve known rivers; I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.’ I am writing poetry. I am growing my soul deep, and I want my writing to grow the souls of others. I was actually a member of a megachurch for a while. I attended irregularly, but when I did attend (after I got my coffee), I reveled in the dark anonymity. I felt safe and unsure at the same time.” (web)

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March 19, 2021

Kitty Carpenter

FARM SONNET

The barn roof sags like an ancient mare’s back. 
The field, overgrown, parts of it a marsh 
where the pond spills over. No hay or sacks 
of grain are stacked for the cold. In the harsh 
winters of my youth, Mama, with an axe, 
trudged tirelessly each day through deep snow, 
balanced on the steep bank, swung down to crack 
the ice so horses could drink. With each blow 
I feared she would fall, but she never slipped. 
Now Mama’s bent and withered, vacant gray 
eyes fixed on something I can’t see. I dip 
my head when she calls me Mom. What’s to say? 
The time we have’s still too short to master 
love, and then, the hollow that comes after.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Readers’ Choice Award Winner

__________

Kitty Carpenter: “I’ve always been entranced by the way language in poetry cuts to the core of every aspect of our humanness. Poetry is less sipping tea on the bank of a calm river and more being suddenly dumped in and nearly drowned under the current; when you come out the other side, you’re never really the same. I read and write poetry because that act helps me feel a little closer to understanding things in the world that don’t always make sense.” (web)

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March 17, 2021

Chaun Ballard

SURVIVAL IS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE WHEN

We step four feet onto pavement 
my wife & I 

confident in what we know 
will be 

a good jog 
to air out whatever it is the robins sing— 

With each breath 
the runner before us 

turns 
torn 

then retreats back 
in failure 

the length 
of the sidewalk— 

On our right 
a moose comes into frame 

Maybe a yearling 
perhaps the same from May 15 

abandoned almost instinctually 
by its mother 

in preparation for her newborn— 
The moose has aged into tree trunk 

a UPS delivery truck 
in fur 

tall enough to raise its head 
from the ground 

over the seven-foot wooden fence 
Who says Good fences make good neighbors? 

How I relish this 
Wish it became more 

than a proverb 
applicable 

in all situations 
But the truth is 

what holds beautiful 
in one context 

does not hold beautiful 
when misused 

in another 
For example 

There are only a few bad apples 
for some 

implies 
that if you purchase a bushel 

identify the bad ones 
remove a few rotten Haralsons 

there is no great loss 
In essence 

the others may be salvaged— 
But what if the few bad apples were identifiably pilots 

joked Chris Rock 
What if the airlines said 

We have a few “bad apples” 
pilots that like to crash into mountains— 

Please bear with us—? 
Would you 

bear with them? 
See how the fence changes 

See how the moose remains there 
across the street 

like the only tree 
absent of flowers 

& fruit 
See how its shade of tree trunk bears none— 

Bad apples 
Who took you out of context? 

Who bruised you 
into new proverb 

when we know one bad apple spoils the bunch? 
Now see how the moose turns 

to look at us 
& we turn into statues 

Now 
it no longer sees another woman 

in her sunglasses 
gliding along its path 

& my God 
it is such a beautiful day 

We all should stay 
safe from such tragedy 

to have our moment a while longer 
in the sun 

like a branch of apple blossoms 
before descending red globes 

In Alaska 
we call this June 4 

Thursday 

Now / see / how everything / slows / down / after all the build-up: / the moose— / the woman—when all you want to hear / is / what happens / because you now have a picture / that is not unlike a passenger train / with joy-filled faces / who wave at the locals in each town / & crossing / Each beautiful mile / peaceful / hands raised in solidarity / to a window— / & see how I have said nothing of metaphor / outright / I have said nothing of police / nor their view from a riot-proof frame— / See how / this is the first time I mention / riot / when I mention / police / This is called / rhetoric— / 

the moose does not see the woman 

on her bike 
as we see the woman 

on her bike: 
a blissful train approaching 

from the opposite end of the same track 

no one has to tell you 
who lives— 

it is such a beautiful day 

the sun is where it should be 

the breeze is light 

pleasant 

I am trying to hold onto the moment 

a while longer 
for the woman’s sake 

but repetition is impending 

the ampersand is causing tension 
evoking a response 

but even an emotional response 
is situational 

because repetition 
is a rhetorical device 

because this is a poem 

it has the power to delay 
but not to build a fence 

nor resolve the situation that will end 
in the body of the poem— 

which means 
repetition does not forewarn in every situation— 

which means 
if you look like the woman 

you keep riding your bike 
toward danger 

with your eyes 
on the interracial couple 

If you are a moose 
you are still looking at the threat 

for a positive ID 

if we yell 
MOOSE! 

several times 
neither of the two will see the other 

The moose will deem us threat 
The woman may think argument 

if she sees the moose 

before it is too late 
she may turn around 

In Alaska 
a moose attacks when it feels threatened 

A bike rider rides their bike 
because it is summer 

When you think of repetition 
what comes to mind? 

In most communities 
if you look like me 

innercity
in contrast 

to a picket fence
the woman calls the police 

She calls the police 
She calls the police 

if she survives 
Perhaps half 

of a whole couple 
runs 

       out of time

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Chaun Ballard: “No one was harmed during the writing of this poem. The woman on her bike lived, just barely missing the kick from the moose’s hind legs. As she passed us, she said, ‘Oh! I was wondering what was going on.’ I remember being stunned, wondering what she thought we were shouting about and gesturing for if not for her safety. Around this same time, in Anchorage, a Black man jogging was questioned about his presence in the neighborhood close to his home. The recording aired on our local news, and the community came together to host a jog in his support. This Anchorage incident came not too long after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. In the context of our country’s movement against racism, the whole event felt surreal. I, of course, am grateful to be here to tell the tale.” (web)

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July 28, 2020

Courtney Kampa

POEMS ABOUT GRACE

Ust Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan

I.

The video was soft and grainy
as an ultrasound: 11 seconds of a caretaker
holding a baby girl up by the armpits

like a potted plant. When the woman bounced
her in the air, the infant shivered
the way petals do when wind grasps a stem

too thin, too breakable to hold.
We stood a foot from the screen
for hours. Rewind, and play. Rewind, and play.

Inside us, something raised and gathered
like a scar. We were an ache—a gash sealed
for someone other than ourselves.

My husband boiled pots and pots of tea.
We wouldn’t sleep—that baby out there, burning.
Remote and lonely as a star.

II.

At the orphanage she learned early
not to cry—no one came.
Twelve children per nurse, she lay

with sleeves safety-pinned
to the mattress. By mid-afternoon
her window darkened like a clot:

blackness welled up and pooling—
pushing even the clouds
from their sky. Maybe in the stillness

she heard a starling. Maybe she wanted
to sing too—got as far as opening her mouth—but
didn’t know any songs.

III.

To adopt, you visit first.
This is labor:
It is unpinning your baby’s arms

from her crib of toothpicks
and lead paint. It is her squirm when caressed:
caught between an instant of panic

and her lifelong yearn.
It is the cautious curl against a mother’s chest;
how her brown lips part like an upturned beak

as you darn the holes in her clothes. The punctures
made when fettered to her sheets. It is your impulse
to encircle her like a womb. To feel her

breathe and kick in her sleep. To hear her heart
faintly against yours—that pregnant syncopation
you thought you’d never know.

IV.

Touch had turned her hungry—all night
she wailed, her mouth the O
of an open drain.

The next day a nurse yelled
you’ve ruined her—held her too much.
The vein running up her neck

stood out like a blue cable.
She had taught this child what was good
to know: that life would be low pitched

and solo. That dream is just another word
for tunnel. That to be born means the same
as to barrel—the way a train does

from its station. The way this child had, from the body
of the mother
who, first, cut her brakes.

V.

Her toes, like tiny golden hooks, pulled
me up from the world. Mornings she
put the undersides of her feet together,

as though in prayer. I learned a new way to talk
to God—her little feet
in my mouth, in each sentence

I spoke. Once, seeing her socks on the staircase,
the shape of two white eggs,
I burst, grateful, into tears.

VI.

—Did I come from your tummy?
—No, but Grace, you came from my heart.
She hears this, and stretches wide

like the confident roots of a flower.
An outward, earthen stir.
See how her veined palm draws, gently,

toward the roots in mine? Our dangling threads
crocheted into a trellis, like lace—a helix

we’ve doubled and twisted
by hand.

from Rattle #46, Winter 2014
Readers’ Choice Award Winner

__________

Courtney Kampa: “For me, this was one of those poems you write knowing you’ll never do the beauty of the subject justice, and feel all the luckier for it. I’ll take the ineffable any day.”

 

Courtney Kampa is tonight’s guest on the Rattlecast! Click here to watch …

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April 15, 2020

Matthew Dickman

STROKE

The hotel sign blinking
in the brain

of my body
stops blinking but not

the whole sign,
you know, just a couple

of the letters,
the H and T.

Then the E and L
so all that is left

when the whole left
side of my body

comes to an end
is the O.

I am sitting across
from a beautiful

woman, drinking coffee,
and she is asking

me what I did.
What were you doing

when you were
in your twenties,

she asks. And I am
saying something like

I was doing
a lot of drugs

but the words
come out all slurred,

they come out
like pushing your tongue

through a clay door,
the word drug

becoming droog.
And then free-will

floats up and out,
really it flies, it leaps

off the ledge of me,
and I remember

while falling
from my chair

to the ground, trying
to apologize.

The half of my brain
that was still

alive, as alive as
a deer

standing in a meadow
in the morning

licking dew off
the blades of grass,

telling what was left
of me that I was just

tired. You’re just tired
the left side

of my brain said,
you’re just tired,

this is normal.
The normal not normal

blood clot
in the right side

of my brain
wiping everything

away like a teacher
wiping chalk away

with an eraser,
the blackboard

full of signs and cosines
and then just long

strokes of white,
a white field in winter,

a white sky
before rain. A white

sheet of paper.
Through the tunnel

of my body
I could hear someone

ask me
are you ok?

My whole life someone
asking me,

and so often it was me,
are you ok,

are you feeling well?
I’m just tired,

I thought.
And then this

thought: I’m not.
A hand on the hand

I could still feel.
They are coming,

the voice said,
it’s ok, you will be ok.

The sound then
of the ambulance

from far off.
The sirens getting

closer, lights
and sirens approaching

my body
from a street far off.

That’s something
I never thought of

before.
That sirens are always

approaching
a body, that’s the whole

reason for them,
to let everyone know

there is a body.
I thought of my son

at home,
seventeen months old,

pointing to the window
in the living room,

saying
siren, siren, siren,

and up, up, up.
I was lifted up

onto the gurney,
my shirt cut off

in the ambulance,
and arriving

at the hospital,
the triage nurse

asking,
are you Matthew Dickman.

Yes. Up, up, up,
I thought.

Death is not a design,
not an idea.

Death is the body, I know
this now, it’s your arms

and legs,
your whole cardio

vascular system.
It is the whole of us,

only we walk around
enough to think

it isn’t.
The blood clot is doing

its job,
it’s doing exactly what

it was made to do
and the only thing you

need to do
when you are dying

is to die.
Nothing else.

You don’t need to
fold the laundry

or clean
the kitchen floor,

you don’t have to
pick your children up

from school.
Unlike

the rest of your life,
there is only this one

thing. You don’t even
have to be good at it,

you just have to
do it. A list of chores

with just one
chore. In the operating

room I’m awake,
made to stay awake,

while the surgeon
threads a “line”

through the artery
in my groin

and up through all
the rooms, through

the room of my legs,
and the room

of my chest,
through the room

of my neck
and into the room

of my brain.
When I put my son

to bed I give him
a bottle of milk,

and rock him and sing,
it’s time to rest your body,

it’s time to rest
your mind,

it’s time, oh it’s time
to rest your brains.

The surgeon is able
to grab the clot

and slip it through
and out

of all the rooms,
into the one he’s working in.

I can hear everyone
in the operating

room clapping
because they are happy,

because it took
that one try

to get it all, to remove
the clot, and then

the left side of me
begins to move again,

and there it is,
I have to pee,

my body is done
with this death.

And now there is nothing
to do but wait

for the next death.
I have never been more

inside than that
moment. I have never

wanted anything
as much as I wanted

to stand up
in that room

and walk out through
the automatic

doors to you,
to walk right into

your arms
like walking into the sea.

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

__________

Matthew Dickman: “When I suffered a stroke in April 2018, I wasn’t sure that I would write poems again. Of course I could physically write a poem. I was lucky that I was in a public place when the stroke occurred and got help right away. It’s just that mentally I felt lost and alone and angry. But with any of the trauma I have experienced in my life it was always poetry that called me back to myself, back to the world—even if that world had changed dramatically. This poem was a calling back.” (web)

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