April 1, 2020

Daniel Arias Gómez

CATHEDRALS: ODE TO A DEPORTED UNCLE

Tío, you learn there’s always
a border—I imagine

a poor family in Jocotepec takes you
in. You work as a gardener at the club
across the lake where rich people
vacation. The town’s children run
shoeless on the dirt roads, stare
at the people on the other side
sun-tanning on the decks of their
boats, riding their jet skis, and
if the children smile, it’s because they don’t
know where the lake begins
and where it ends. And maybe one
night you find a guitar, and you press
your fingers to the strings, and the music feels like

the desert.
Michelle and I drive

to Robertito’s at one in the morning
to buy tacos de asada, carnitas, a churro,
a small coke. It’s freezing
cold, and a dense fog covers
the streets. We see the fog as it froths around
the street lamps, almost like the fog is pouring
down along with the light. Other than that we
see nothing but the double darkness
of fog and night. Our kitchen flooded recently,
and a chunk of our carpet got water
damage. The carpet guys are coming over
tomorrow, so we had to move all
the furniture into the kitchen to clear
the carpet. We eat our tacos squeezed
in, all cluttered up by the dining room table
propped against a wall, chairs stacked
against bookshelves, a cathedral of pots, pans, flower

vases filled with dried roses.
You mow the grass

at the club, you trim their bushes and keep
their orange trees. At night, you play
guitar in a small house you manage to buy, your fingers
full of blisters because of the strings. And maybe
you buy a used bocho, and you fix it up
on your free days and paint it blue
and then drive an hour to Guadalajara
and walk around downtown and buy
pepinos con chile y limón and tacos
de lengua and sit outside the cathedral
eating some tejuino. And then you mow
and mow grass and go back at night
and learn a few more chords on the guitar
and learn that you love playing. And maybe you
meet someone you like. You tell her about Arizona,
the desert, and she tells you about the time
one of the rich couples were riding their boat around
drunk and crashed into one of the town’s
houses, and the children gathered and stared
at the boat sticking out of the small living
room, and the woman who owned the house
fell to her knees and cried while the couple walked

away bent
with laughter. And maybe your friend

stays over one night, and you play guitar for her,
teach her a couple of chords, and you
sit outside and smell the rain in the air and feel the cold
wind against your skin, and if
you smile it’s because you feel the weight
of an arm around your shoulder and because
rain is a cathedral too and your

skin a prayer.
As Michelle and I eat, cramped

in our kitchen, we look over a used car magazine
we picked up from Robertito’s. I tell
Michelle to close her eyes, then I
open the magazine at a random page and tell her
to point her finger at it, and whatever
car she lands on, that’s the car we’ll buy
for her. We do the same for me, laughing
all along because we have no money
to buy a car. Then we lay some blankets
on the carpet and we lie down. Sleeping on the floor
makes my neck and shoulders hurt
in the morning—but tonight I’m thinking about kissing
every part of Michelle’s body, licking every inch of her
until she comes, fucking on the carpet until we fall
exhausted on the blankets, sweat glistening
on our skin, our legs spreading
like a cathedral, and sleep

until it’s morning,
and we have to go to work.

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Daniel Arias Gómez: “During the last year of my MFA, I read Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec, a book that made a deep impression on me because of the way it blends a contemporary narrative with mythological elements. After that I became fixated on the idea of the crossing of the underworld as a parallel to the crossing of the immigrant and what that might mean within the context of our mundane day-to-day lives. This poem is part of that exploration.” (web)

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March 30, 2020

Maya Tevet Dayan

FOREIGN-NESS

1.
“I’m not obsessed,”
Violette says, “just really passionate
about you trimming your side of the hedge.”
In translation from Canadian: she is about to report us to the city.
My husband responds immediately: “Gladly!”
The sorrow of the penalty starts sprouting in his throat.
He would gladly trim Violette’s head 
instead of standing on a ladder
with a rusty pruning hook in four degrees Celsius.

2.
From the top of the ladder, Violette’s yard unfolds
precise as a map. Two tanning chairs dripping
of April showers, rows of flowers saluting 
the grass. My husband waves the pruning hook 
to say hi, as Violette appears with the black dog,
screams “Cody!” and apologizes for the umpteenth time:
“The dog is deaf.”
At home, my husband whispers to me, “The dog can hear fine!
I’ve heard her speak to him in a regular tone.”
The thought sticks to my mind,
why pretend a dog is deaf?

3.
My husband is an avid believer in conspiracies; traffic jams
are an economic plot run by governments. Russian oligarchs 
keep the state of Israel from collapse. Clouds
are chemical trails that will bring humanity to destruction.
“Trust me,” he whispers,
“she’s out to get us.” Through the trimmed trees,
Violette can see us better now—
red poisonous mushrooms popped up after the rains.
The bushes grow wild, the girls’ toys
still scattered on the garden path since summer.

4.
I’m missing Sasson and Galila, my childhood neighbors 
who lived across a tangled fence that no one ever trimmed.
At lunch, I ate chicken and potatoes with their daughters
right out of the pan. I helped sort folded laundry into their closets,
I knew Galila’s lingerie drawer and her fights
with Sasson. They screamed like crows
and made up like rabbits—mouth, tongue,
all of it. “That’s what a happy marriage looks like,” Galila said.
“Not a single day goes by that you don’t want a divorce.”

5.
The day we moved here, Violette extended her hand to me
tall and wrinkled
and introduced herself: “I’m separated,
don’t feel bad about it.” I agreed.
“Good,” she said, “when you’ve had enough 
 you’ve had enough.”

6. 
She introduced the neighborhood: her three dogs,
the raccoon that tips the garbage pails, the rats,
the squirrels that nibble at the rooftops. She told me
what calms her: gardening and spreading traps for the squirrels.
She has to calm down. Her husband
still hasn’t removed his things from the house,
the neighbors won’t stop sighing 
about the separation,
and her daughter stopped eating.

7. 
My best friend in high school stopped eating. Retreated
quietly from meals
while we gossiped, studied, watched movies.
Her body shrunk
as though offended. Why did she hide it? 
Why from me?
Still, I nod in understanding
every time Violette tells me
about her daughter. In my mind, she is dark skinned
like my friend, black hair, thick lips. Violette’s daughter
lies on the carpet in her room in Raanana,
leaning over our history notebook,
always in those 501 Levi’s jeans from the ’90s.

8.
Galila said: “Those miserable girls 
whose jeans hang on them like on a scarecrow.
Be proud that you have something to grab!”
And when I slouched, she announced,
“It’s those with flat breasts that should be ashamed!”

9.
Violette and I talk about gardens, never about “territories.”
About animals, never about “terror.”
When she leaves a note on our front door
with the Baptist church logo,
I don’t tell her that I was born
where the Jordan River extends from the Sea of Galilee,
where John the Baptist cast water on the head of Christ,
and how, as children, we peeked at the pilgrims
coming out of those same waters, with their sheer gowns: bellies
bosoms, hips, thin bums
and big bums.

10.
The note said: “I have Build-a-Bear teddies for your daughters.”

11.
My daughters don’t play with Build-a-Bears.
I thank Violette for her good intention. 
She figures I’m excited about the teddies, hands me 
a heavy sack and apologizes:
“My daughter demanded all the accessories.
She never took no for an answer.”

12.
In a better world, Violette’s daughter 
would have taken no for an answer, felt shame
for being as thin as a scarecrow, eaten something right out of a pan 
and babysat my daughters. 
Instead, she is my dark-skinned friend from high school,
and I’m walking on eggshells speaking to her mom. Weary
but not sure of what.

13.
I allow my girls to go to Violette’s house
to pet the dogs. I stand behind the trimmed trees 
and listen. I pray she doesn’t ask them
about the teddies we gave to charity,
and that they’re not too loud, too Israeli.
She might tell them something that sounds nice
like, “Maybe you want to be 
more quiet.” In Canadian want means have to.
My daughters get that by now.

14.
What my girls really want is to play
every day with Violette’s dogs.
What Violette wants is for her husband
to get his things out of the house.
What my husband wants is to crack
her internet passwords.
“What for?” I ask. “We have our own wifi.”
“For fun,” my husband says. 
“It’s easy to guess dog-owners’ passwords.”
I ask him if he has nothing better to do.
“There you go!” he cheers. “Curby111, Gina222, Poppy333.”

15. 
Galila said: “Love is something 
you give a man anyways. 
So you may as well give it
to a rich man.”

16.
Violette gave her love to a rich man. She says
he didn’t do badly in business. 
She lives in an aubergine-coloured house
four stories high, with a wooden balcony and a waterfall
in the yard. She arranges pebbles
in the shape of a stream. Places a bench. Shoves gas
into holes in the garden, runs after a mole-rat
through the thick fumes ascending from the ground,
measures the heights of trees with a ribbon.
The two wrinkles between her eyebrows deepen
like dimples in the soil.
The three short dogs follow her
like a gaggle of goslings.

17. 
I read that goslings always follow
the first creature to move in front of them when they hatch.
It’s usually the goose. Her march imprints them,
like a secret password, like hypnosis. 
The goose never needs to look back.
Water imprints the salmon, who always return to their native stream
in order to spawn. 
Foxes, guinea pigs, chickens—all imprinted
to identify the one who brought them into this world
and to survive.

18.
In late spring, I see Violette’s daughter for the first time
stepping out of their gate, floating onto our street
tall and thin as a lone ghost. 
Her hair is long and ginger.
Her face fair and blurred like the afternoon moon. 
If she were to step out now 
from the Jordan River,
through her gown you’d see twigs and branches.

19. 
Sometimes an imprint goes wrong. 
A row of goslings follows a human. A kitten nurses 
from a female dog. I once had a lover
whose palms imitated my hand gestures
as he spoke. When we broke up he said, “How can you leave
when you are already imprinted in my body?”

20.
Galila said: “Don’t ever feel bad for men; 
they’ll never feel bad for you.”

21.
Violette doesn’t feel bad for her husband. She speaks of him
and the words whistle from her mouth in a whisper,
like a match before fire ignites. 
She does feel bad for the cyclamen flowers
and spreads ice around them when the air gets warm.
She shifts rocks in the garden from side to side,
and at the start of summer, she plants
right in the Canadian chill
a palm tree that arrives on a boat from Madagascar. 
“I’ve tried everything,” she says.
“The girl won’t eat.”

22.
I wonder if anyone ever researched 
what came of mothers 
whose offsprings were imprinted by others.

23.
My daughters return from Violette’s with a bouquet of purple flowers.
They tell me they’re called dahlias. They distinguish between the leaves
of silver maple, red maple, and sugar maple.
They tell me the raspberry bushes need lots of light,
and that’s why Violette asked us to trim the fence.
Their botanical knowledge expands
like an ocean between my childhood and theirs.
I ask my husband if we shouldn’t go back to Israel.
Risk the chemical clouds, the terror,
the high gas prices, the crumbling democracy
so that our girls will eat chicken at the neighbors’.
My husband reminds me that we don’t even eat chicken
and asks what it is I actually want.

24.
“You want your husband to come home with cheer,” Gallila said. 
Sasson always honked three times
when he slid into the parking lot of their home.
Gallila said, “That’s what a happy man sounds like.”

25.
One summer night, Tim is standing at my door.
Violette’s separated husband.
His head high, his hair white, like a cloud in an unconspiring sky. 
He has just removed his things from the house. He smiles softly. 
He nods and shakes the girls’ hands. 
He lingers on the family photos on the fridge.
Suddenly I feel bad for Violette. It’s too late.
He’s going back to his birthplace in the east. His car is packed. 
He’s standing at the entrance to the kitchen, looks at the onions
frying in the pan, and asks, “Maybe you have an idea for me 
to help my daughter?” 

26.
My friend’s parents hospitalized her.
I haven’t seen her since. Did she ever eat again?
Tim’s eyes hang on to me as if I was a last resort. 
I want to imprint my girls, if it’s not too late,
like goslings, like salmons, foxes. Like Galila imprinted me.
I want them to hear the inaudible sound 
of our blood, to identify the smell of my palms, to belong to me
in the endless foreign-ness of this country.

27.
Tim bends over the kitchen counter and writes his number on a note.
Then signs: “Tim, Amy Anorexia.”
He says, that way you’ll remember me. He’s right.
I remember him even when I forget
other things. I remember the note
and his floating walk towards the door
in tall steps, careful, as if in a moment he’ll trip
over a pulled rope in the hall, and how instead of extending
my hand to him, I held onto the wooden frying spoon.
I remember all of those, and his embrace,
all that height
folding above me like a stalk, and the question 
he asks before leaving
standing in front of me and waiting for an answer:
“What is with you women? Why do you all at once
stop being happy?”

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Maya Tevet Dayan: “I wrote my first poem the night my mom died. She was 64. I picked up my phone to call her, to tell her the news, that she had just passed away. Instead I sent her a text which came in the form of a poem. After a year of texting poems to her mute phone I published my first poetry book, a one-sided dialogue with my dead mother. That year we left Israel and moved to Canada. Orphanhood made me feel like a stranger in my own home. I thought it will be easier to be a stranger in a place where I don’t even expect to belong. That I will feel less orphaned in a country my mom had never even visited. Being in Canada was supposed to make the distance from her more logical. It didn’t. Poetry is that ocean of fire I step into every time I’m desperate for some logic. It’s obviously hopeless. But for those moments when it seems to almost work, I keep on trying.” (web)

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March 23, 2020

Kathleen Balma

PUNCH LINE

One night I was the first dancer in the bar.
My shift hadn’t started.
I had time to get ready.
I had the dressing room to myself.
I was in the right frame of mind for work.
The owner was a biker named Van Zandt.
He was a 50-something strawberry blonde, short and beardless with long hair.
The bar was called Changes.
Van owned another bar, a biker bar, called Van Zandt’s.
I had the dressing room to myself.
I had my pick of chairs.
I was getting into my good money head.
Van came downstairs with a green-handled broom.
He was trying to look serious.
He was serious and trying to look dire.
He did not want sex.
He had karate on his mind.
He was drunk.
I was in stilettos.
We stared at each other.
We knew each other’s names—his full name, my stage name.
I don’t remember my stage name then.
Van laid the tip of the broom handle on the counter and held it out like a limbo stick.
I’m really good at limbo.
I made a joke about it.
He stared at the handle and made slow chopping motions.
“Hold the broom,” he said.
I didn’t know this man.
The dressing room was at the ass end of the building.
The building was huge with a maze of halls and empty side rooms.
How fast could I get up the stairs?
I would need to get out of my heels first.
They weren’t the kind you could just kick off.
They had long straps that wrapped around the ankles and tied.
“I don’t want to hold the broom.”
“Hold the broom.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to chop it in half with the power of my hand.”
“You’re too drunk.”
“I’m not drunk.”
“You can barely walk.”
“I’m not drunk! I can do this. Hold the broom.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Hold it!”
“No.”
Van loved on the unbroken broom with his eyes.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I know what I’m doing.”
“I just want to get dressed here, man.”
“I’ve done this before. I’m good at it.”
“Find somebody else.”
“You’re the only one here.”
“Cherry comes early. She’ll help you.”
“I need to do this now!”
“Dude.”
“Just. Just hold it.”
“No sir.”
“I’ll fire you. I can fire you.”
“There are other bars.”
“I’m not going to fire you, okay? This’ll be quick. You won’t even feel it.”
“Hell. No.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Splinters.”
A titty bar is a funny place.
You don’t think it gets funny in there?
You don’t think it’s hysterical fun?
It was a slow night.
I made four hundred dollars.

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Kathleen Balma: “This is one of those things I had to write. It represents a decade of my life, and it mostly wrote itself. It’s for all the women in my night family—you know who you are, hosebeasts.”

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February 1, 2020

Courtney Kampa

SELF-PORTRAIT BY SOMEONE ELSE

The afternoon we traced our 2nd grade bodies
with poster paint, legs V-shaped on paper
like the outlines of victims at a crime scene,
I was the only girl stuck partnered with a boy—
his fists filthy from prying back scalps
of onion grass, bug shells crushed up in his teeth
because he’d liked the sound. He refused
all paint-colors but blue. Leaned over me,
complaining loudly to his friends. Then his lip,
heavy with focus. And the red wing
of his tongue. Dragging his paintbrush
like a match in a room of gasoline. The week before
Debbie Kaw passed a note saying babies
came from standing too close to a boy,
or if one sweat on you, or spat
in your direction. So the girls called it brave, what I did,
letting one trace me. And I let them think so—
let them run ahead in the carpool line,
the blood still returning to my knees.
Let my mother hang it full length on the refrigerator.
The white space something I’d stepped from.
Its thick blue line sort of wobbly
between my thighs, where his hands shook.
In the mornings my little sister would stand
on one foot, looking at it. Her groggy pajamas.
Her hands playing in her lunatic hair.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Courtney Kampa: “One of the many 23-year-olds in New York City, I’m from Virginia and miss it.” (web)

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September 8, 2012

Maya Jewell Zeller

HONESTY

It’s true I drove an SUV once
through Fresno with a backseat full
of college boys to whom I found myself
having to explain you could still catch herpes
even while wearing a condom. One of them
in particular was incredulous, he was listening to his iPod
and he removed his headphones and said he had
a few more questions. These were my husband’s
varsity runners, and I was a volunteer, so I was awarded
the new rental with only four miles on it when we left
the lot. I’m not going to lie—
I liked driving it. It was nothing
like riding coach or making love
with protection. There were so many buttons
to push, and they all did something satisfying,
like drop from the ceiling a DVD player
for passengers or warm the driver’s legs
in just the right places. The seats were leather,
the kind you feel guilty just sitting on,
the good kind of guilty when you can’t help
but imagine parking somewhere with someone
so you can watch the stars rise over the city,
take time to check out all the automatic features.
The boy you’re with will want to know
how things work, and you’ll end up showing him,
because he is young, because he has a bag of sour apple
or peach fruit rings he’s willing to share, because his face
can look so becoming in the streetlights.
But mostly it’s because you can no longer remember
where you were going. Was it to dinner?
Were you taking him back to his hotel, where
he’ll sleep, dream of winning?
Or maybe it was a nighttime snack
run. The SUV is black
and the night is blacker. You can feel it
closing, like a fist around a steering wheel.
You’re not the fist. You’re the wheel.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

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September 6, 2012

Bryan Walpert

OBJECTIVE CORRELATIVE

Start with a bird.
A petrel. No, a shearwater.
Whatever. You start with a shearwater,
then add a backdrop. An ocean, but not
too close, just close enough to hear it.
Not too much information, but a shearwater,
an ocean, and a house. Who’s in the house?
Two people. Well, one person. The other’s
on the deck, in a chair, writing a poem
about a shearwater, an ocean, a house,
and two people, one of whom is on the deck,
the other coming out to ask him what
he’s writing about. He explains about
the shearwater, the ocean, the house,
the man writing, the woman asking
this question, who is gone before he’s finished
the sentence, gone meaning her eyes are off
toward the ocean, which is fine because he
can get back to writing about a shearwater,
a woman looking out over the ocean at a boat
rising and falling on the surf, a fisherman
out alone under a hat, working in good faith
under a sun that shines in equal measure
on the ocean and house and the man writing
about a woman staring into the distance
of the past, thinking of someone important
she gave up for a house, an ocean,
and this man whom she can see now walking
down the path from the house to the ocean
to take a long run on the sand, as long as his body
will allow him, which is not the body it once was,
the body that drew her to a house near the ocean,
but what that body has become, a familiar
body, and though what is familiar can replace
youth and strength and mystery, it is no
substitute for it, and of course she’s thought
to leave, he thinks as his shoes slap the sand,
a hundred silent decisions in favor of
a commitment she made once to a house
near an ocean and the child that until
now was not going to be in the poem,
is not quite yet in this world, so
of course, she thinks, that explains the run,
and no doubt he’s thinking about the poem
on the pad he left on the chair on the deck
to take the run on the sand to chase a body
he is leaving, little by little, thinking
as he runs that it should be a petrel,
after all, can’t see her pick up the pad
to read about the house and the ocean
and the shearwater that might be a petrel
and the woman, who is not inclined to offer
an opinion on the matter because to live
with someone in a house by the ocean is
to take each suggestion as something more
than what it means, hence it occurs to her
to wonder why the bird at all, why
the fisherman, why alone, wonders as well
for the first time whether a fisherman thinks
about the necessary sacrifices the ocean makes
for his hunger, the generosity of it—she wonders
this as she comes out of the house to watch
the boat bob its way through another afternoon
at the noisy ocean and to listen for a bird
she could identify absent the shushing of the surf,
if the house were somewhere else, would wonder,
too, about the poem’s odd displacement—
she finds his choice of word interesting,
a Freudian word, and a literary one—
of their lives to an ocean, would wonder
this, too, were her mind not already on the dinner
she plans to prepare, a piece of something for herself
and a man walking the last bit up the sandy path
from the ocean to the house, curious
whether she picked up the pad as he’d planned,
whether she understood what he meant by the boat,
the fisherman, whether it might elicit from
the woman a revealing comment, something,
she thinks, they might have split along with
a nice white, were she allowed to drink it,
to open while he ices his knee, while the ice
does what it does, the boat does what it does,
as the house and the woman and the man
(and the wine she can’t drink) breathe
in the salty air wafting through the poem
in the hand of a woman on a deck watching
the fisherman wait patiently beneath his hat
for the fluid world to deliver itself up
as the bountiful flesh, that it might be divided
into equal parts mercy and remorse.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Bryan Walpert: “Poetry began as a passion, grew into addiction, and has since taken over my life, taking it in directions I would never have expected. Here I am in New Zealand, having followed poetry to the ends of the earth, without fully understanding how that came to be. I no longer know why I write it, only that years of poetry have changed the way I think about almost everything else. And for that I am grateful.” (web)

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September 2, 2012

Craig van Rooyen

THE MINSTREL CYCLE

is a group bike ride involving guys in tight pants
and floppy hats with feathers, I tell my daughter.
They play flutes and lutes and flageolets
and recite poetry while they pedal.

She asked—shyly passing a note in her 2nd grade script.
I didn’t misspell anything. Plus what am I supposed to say
about training bras and tampons—still years away?
OK, for reals, I say, laying next to her in the dark:

There’s a whole frickin’ peloton of these guys.
They decorate their bicycles with cowslips, primrose,
foxglove flowers. They ride (no hands) into town
with the breeze on a warm summer evening.

And the frogs and crickets go quiet just to listen
to them tell knock knock jokes. They ride in circles
around the Mission square, long hair blowing back.
There will be time enough for the rest. To tell her the part

about how they stop their bikes and pull out
their horns. There will be time for her to hear the music—
how they play the sound of summer—the heat of it,
the ice-cream sundae smell of it; how they play

sun on wild rye, barefoot prints in the key of oak tree
shade—how they play it lazy like a shallow creek
on Mississippi mud; how they play it quick
like a lizard tongue or thumping like a dog’s tail.

There will be time for her to hear them play it loud
like the Fourth of July then gentle like a mama duck.
And when the sun is down and the bats come out—
specks in a darkening glass—she will hear them play

“We’ve Got All The Time in The World,” and know
that they are lying—lying in their floppy hats,
lying in their funny pants, lying with every last breath
they let out of those beautiful sad horns.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

___________

Craig van Rooyen: “One of my biggest faults is avoiding hard conversations. Among other things, writing poetry is a way to trick myself into saying things I would not otherwise say and knowing things I would not otherwise know.”

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