March 2, 2019

Anis Mojgani

THE BRANCHES ARE FULL AND THESE ORCHARDS HEAVY

gentlemen have you forgotten your god?

He weeps out loud
waiting for our dreams to grow like ears
while you are making ghosts out of people
making ghosts from your torah
your koran
your bibles

we have shaved our books down
swallowed them
so that the word of God
might flow through us
but the pages just sit in our bellies
speaking to us in dull murmurs as we sleep
we wonder what to do
make me understand
we wish to become one with our Lord
we hear the voices and think we know what they say
this
is the word of God
i hear this i heard this correctly
so we rise and try to translate this word
with the work
with the heart
we search the bed
through thighs
the blanket the leg the needle twist
fuck and the fuck you
curse of the moon
to find our Lord
and listen more proper-like
but our ears are too small
for our hearts to understand the humming of these sentences inside of us

we are trying to decipher the bang buck braille of Your silent throat Lord
but the voices grow and grow just as fuzzy
so we stand and go to the kitchen
and pick up knives to cut these voices out from inside
we stab ourselves
i must hear You
cutting the flap of our skins
the words twist on the floor of our homes
mixing their sounds with our blood
they drown
but it does not stop
i must hear you
we hear the same songs singing in the stomachs of others
so we grab more knives to cut those out
but there are more and more stomachs
—we need
bigger knives
we need soldiers tanks and missiles
but we still cannot make out the words
we need dead mothers
and children raped from searching
the hospitals are full and overflowing
from us trying to cut our God from our gut
with the blade the pipe
the fingernail twist of the drug
pushed and poked through the arm to the belly
to throw Him up
in the bang of the scream
we find our savior
the shell in the chamber
is a quiet plea to a distant God
asking for us to be remembered by Him
through the tire tread
through the smoke of the tank
the crunch of the skull
through the babies we bury beneath us
we empty their tiny limbs to see if a scrap of our Lord still lingered
somewhere inside there
we clutch throats pistols and palms in the same two handed clasp of prayer
staring into the mirror
we see crypts
fondling the marble of our hearts like they were mausoleums
we are ghosts hungry
for something bigger then what our mouths are kissing

let me see You
let me see You Lord
i have balanced in the middle of the question
black as my eye
beaten by Your hymn
i am holding still

so
go ahead
you gentle

men of God
you tender sinners

take your rifles
raise to my gut and fire on

hear the song more clearly
it does not sing what you wish it did

it is too big for us to see a letter of it
so do not even try

cut Him from me

i wish to drape His face with my kisses
and finally sleep softly

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

__________

Anis Mojgani: “I have skinny arms and get cold easily. I have bad posture. I really like MF Doom. His rhymes are totally awesome to the max. I grew up in New Orleans. I have a BFA in comic books. Two months ago I watched my father try not to cry as he read about Baha’i martyrs dying in his home country of Iran. I wrote a poem about it. I like to write poems these days about people other than me. I like to write poems that illuminate the truths people hold in common. I like the myth of the poem, the ancient theater of its mythology. Right now I am writing a poetry book about a whale.” (website)

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February 2, 2019

Patricia Smith

BUILDING NICOLE’S MAMA

for the 6th grade class of Lillie C. Evans School, Liberty City, Miami

I am astonished at their mouthful names—
Lakinishia, Chevellanie, Delayo, Fumilayo—
their ragged rebellions and lip-glossed pouts,
and all those pants drooped as drapery.
I rejoice when they kiss my face, whisper wet
and urgent in my ear, make me their obsession
because I have brought them poetry.

They shout me raw, bruise my wrists with pulling,
and brashly claim me as mama as they
cradle my head in their little laps,
waiting for new words to grow in my mouth.

You.
You.
You.
Angry, jubilant, weeping poets—we are all
saviors, reluctant hosannas in the limelight,
but you knew that, didn’t you? So let us
bless this sixth grade class—40 nappy heads,
40 cracking voices, and all of them
raise their hands when I ask. They have all seen
the Reaper, grim in his heavy robe,
pushing the button for the dead project elevator,
begging for a break at the corner pawn shop,
cackling wildly in the back pew of the Baptist church.

I ask the death question and forty fists
punch the air, me! me! And O’Neal,
matchstick crack child, watched his mother’s
body become a claw, and 9-year-old Tiko Jefferson,
barely big enough to lift the gun, fired a bullet
into his own throat after Mama bended his back
with a lead pipe. Tamika cried into a sofa pillow
when Daddy blasted Mama into the north wall
of their cluttered one-room apartment,
Donya’s cousin gone in a drive-by. Dark window,
click, click, gone, says Donya, her tiny finger
a barrel, the thumb a hammer. I am shocked
by their losses—and yet when I read a poem
about my own hard-eyed teenager, Jeffrey asks
He is dead yet?

It cannot be comprehended,
my 18-year-old still pushing and pulling
his own breath. And those 40 faces pity me,
knowing that I will soon be as they are,
numb to our bloodied histories,
favoring the Reaper with a thumbs-up and a wink,
hearing the question and shouting me, me,
Miss Smith, I know somebody dead!

Can poetry hurt us? they ask me before
snuggling inside my words to sleep.
I love you, Nicole says, Nicole wearing my face,
pimples peppering her nose, and she is as black
as angels are. Nicole’s braids clipped, their ends
kissed with match flame to seal them,
and can you teach me to write a poem about my mother?
I mean, you write about your daddy and he dead,
can you teach me to remember my mama?

A teacher tells me this is the first time Nicole
has admitted that her mother is gone,
murdered by slim silver needles and a stranger
rifling through her blood, the virus pushing
her skeleton through for Nicole to see.
And now this child with rusty knees
and mismatched shoes sees poetry as her scream
and asks me for the words to build her mother again.
Replacing the voice.
Stitching on the lost flesh.

So poets,
as we pick up our pens,
as we flirt and sin and rejoice behind microphones—
remember Nicole.
She knows that we are here now,
and she is an empty vessel waiting to be filled.

And she is waiting.
And she
is
waiting.
And she waits.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

__________

Patricia Smith: “I was living in Chicago and found out about a poetry festival in a blues club on a winter afternoon. It was just going to be continuous poetry, five hours. It was the first event in a series called Neutral Turf, which was supposed to bring street poets and academic poets together. And I thought, I’ll get some friends together and we’ll go laugh at the poets. We’ll sit in the back, we’ll heckle, it’ll be great. But when I got there, I was amazed to find this huge literary community in Chicago I knew nothing about. The poetry I heard that day was immediate and accessible. People were getting up and reading about things that everyone was talking about. Gwendolyn Brooks was there, just sitting and waiting her turn like everyone else. There were high school students. And every once in a while a name poet would get up. Gwen got up and did her poetry, then sat back down and stayed for a long time. And I just wanted to know—who are these people? Why is this so important to them? Why had they chosen to be here as opposed to the 8 million other places they could have been in Chicago?” (web)

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June 14, 2014

Jeremy Richards

T.S. ELIOT’S LOST HIP HOP POEM

Let us roll then, you and I,
the evening stretched out against the sky
like a punk ass I laid out with my phat rhymes.

The eternal footman is no one to fuck with.
Alas, he shall bring the ruckus.

You think that you can step
to this, and Lo, I hear your steps like Lazarus
echoing through my soul.

Bring the bass.

Straight out of Missouri,
Harvard University in your face.
I’ve got ladies in waiting all over
the place, singing each to each;
do I dare eat a peach?

You’re damn right I’ll each a peach.
Who shall stop me, with my Prufrock hip hop
non-stop, clippity clop, clippity clop
I hear the horses carrying the wassailers,
I’m ready to impale their ears with my rhymes
rolling off of my parched tongue
the way trousers roll off my ankles.

I get it done better than John Donne.
Pound for pound, like Ezra Pound,
no other literati around can confound
the post-Victorian quickness I bring
to the microphone, though I shall die alone.

But not before I rock the house.
Watch me douse you in my eternal flames
of a freaky-ass style, my crew has the flow
with European tangent, Kto vahsh otsiets saychoss
the Russian for Who’s your daddy now.

For I will tell you.
That I have scuttled across the floors of ancient clubs,
and yea, knowing that you may never return,
I will tell you this:
That I have been over to a friend’s house
for dinner, and lo, the food was not any good.

The macaroni, soggy. The peas, mushy.
And the chicken tasted of wood,
like the wooden coffin I’ve created for myself;
if this is going to be that kind of party
I will stuff my desire in the mashed potatoes.
But I tell no lie, I will show you fear
in a handful of hip hop,

making your body rock, your soul shudder,
your utter disbelief when the old school,
the ancient school, returns
from dusty book covers and scorned lovers
to reign again on the open poetry mic.
Bring the pathos! Bring the pathos!
You wannabe MCs just can’t stop …

… ’till human voices wake us,
and we back the fuck up

into eternity.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

[download audio]

__________

Jeremy Richards: “I am a writer, actor, and improviser residing in Seattle, Washington.” (web)

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May 6, 2009

Buddy Wakefield

CONVENIENCE STORES

We both know the smell of a convenience store at 4 a.m. like the backs
of alotta hands.
She sells me trucker crack/Mini-Thins (it’s like Vivarin).
She doesn’t make me feel awkward about it.
She can tell it’s been a long drive and it’s only gonna get longer.
Offers me a free cup of coffee, but I never touch the stuff.
Besides, I’m gonna need more speed than that.

We notice each other’s smiles immediately.
It’s our favorite thing for people to notice—our smiles.
It’s all either one of us has to offer.
You can see it in the way our cheeks stretch out like arms
wanting nothing more than to say, “You are welcome here.”

She—
shows brittle nicotine teeth with spaces between each one.
Her fingers are bony, there’s no rings on’m, and she’d love to get’er nails
done someday.
One time she had’er hair fixed.
They took out the grease, made it real big on top, and feathered it.
She likes it like that.
She’ll never be fully informed on some things just like I will never understand
who really buys Moon Pies, or those rolling, wrinkled, dried-up sausages.
But then again, she’s been here a lot longer than me.
She’s seen everything
from men who grow dread locks out of their top lips
to children who look like cigarettes.

I give’er my money.
I wait for my change.
But I feel like there’s something more happening here.

I feel—
like a warm mop bucket and dingy tiles that’ll never come clean.
I feel like these freezers cannot be re-stocked often enough.
I feel like trash cans of candy wrappers
with soda pop dripping down the wrong side of the plastic.
I feel like everything just got computerized.
I feel like she was raised to say a LOT of stupid things about a color.
And I feel like if I were to identify myself as gay—
this conversation would stop.

It’s what I do.
I feel.
I get scared sometimes.
And I drive.

… But in 1 minute and 48 seconds I’m gonna walk outta here with a full tank of
gas, a bottle of Mini-Thins, and a pint of milk while there’s a woman still
trapped behind a formican counter somewhere in North Dakota who says she
wants nothing more than to hear my whole story, all 92,775 miles of it.

I can feel it though, y’all, she’s heard more opinions and trucker small talk than
Santa Claus has made kids happy, so I only find the nerve to tell’er the good
parts, that she’s the kindest thing to happen since Burlington, VT, and I wanna
leave it at that because men—who are not smart—have taken it farther, have
cradled her up like a nutcracker and made her feel as warm as a high school education
on the dusty back road, or a beer, in a coozy.

I feel like she’s been waiting here a long time for the one who’ll come 2-steppin’
through that door on 18 wheels without makin’er feel like it’s her job to
sweep up the nutshells alone when she’s done been cracked again, who won’t
tempt her to suck the wedding ring off his dick, but will show her—simply—
LOVE.

She doesn’t need me or any other man but she doesn’t know that either, and I’m
just hopin’ like crazy she doesn’t think I’m the one because the only time I’ll
ever see North Dakota again is in a Van Morrison song late (LATE) at night, I
promise.

Y’all, I feel like she’s 37 years old wearing 51 (badly), dying inside (like certain
kinds of dances around fires) to speak through you, a forest, if you weren’t so
taken with sparks.

But she was never given those words.
She has not been told she can definitely change the world.
She knows some folks do
but not in convenience stores
and NOT with lottery tickets
so
I finally ask’er what I’ve been feelin’ the entire time I’ve been standin’ there

still
gettin’ scared like I do sometimes
really (REALLY) ready to drive
I ask,

“Is this it for you?
Is this all you’ll ever do?”

Her smile
collapsed.

That tightly strapped-in pasty skin
went loose.

Her heart
fell crooked.

She said (not knowin’ my real name),
“I can tell, buddy, by the Mini Thins and the way ya drive—

we’re both taken with novelty.

We’ve both believed in mean gods.

We both spend our money on things that break too easily like …

people.

And I can tell
you think you’ve had it rough
so especially you should know …

It’s what I do,
I dream.
I get high sometimes.
And I’m gonna roll outta here one day.

I just might not get to drive.”

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

__________

Buddy Wakefield: “I still tour full time while co-managing The Bullhorn Collective (a talent agency made up of 30+ of the most accomplished performance poets alive), and considers his recent tours with Ani DiFranco the highlight of his career thus far.” (web)

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May 2, 2009

Sam Pierstorff

WHEN GIRLS CALLED

When I was in grade school and girls called,
my mother always managed to pick up the phone first.
She would ask, “Do you know my son is not supposed to talk to girls?”

Of course they didn’t know, even I didn’t know why,
except that my mom didn’t understand America yet
and I hated her until she did.

I can still hear my mother in her 4-foot olive frame
and Arabic accent embarrass me as she yells,
“Never call here again! My son does not want to talk to girls!”

By this time, I am cowering under the dining room table,
anticipating tomorrow’s blacktop gossip about a gay boy named Sam,
pretending that the phone never rang—that my mother
could not possibly be explaining the difference
between virgins and sluts to a young girl
who probably just wanted the math homework.

Then my mom shouts for me, wanting a reasonable explanation
for why girls had my number. I wanted to tell her
that it might have been my fuzzy brown hair,

my sensual bottom lip, or simply my 10-year-old impulse
to write my phone number down on the sweet-scented notes
of 5th grade girls who had friends who had friends
who had a friend who liked me,

though I was only able to hear my mom lecture me
about silly religion and temptation and how kisses
spread disease and French kissing made “the babies.”

But I was too young to care. All I wanted was
for Amy Ishmael to like me, because it tingled
and felt good when she said I was cute.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

[download audio]

__________

Sam Pierstorff: “There are a lot of hours in-between life and death, and after singing ‘A Whole World in Our Hands’ with my son at pre-school, then teaching a little grammar and poetry at the junior college, then tossing my one-year-old daughter around after school, then cooking Moroccan meatballs with my wife, there’s usually an hour left (after the kids are bathed and in bed) for T.V., a chapter in a novel, or a few clicks of the keyboard, which, with any luck, becomes a poem. I write to save a little bit of myself for myself. I like to laugh and mine the depths of my childhood and dust the monotony off the shelves of life. I write poems because I have to.”

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April 27, 2009

Marc Kelly Smith

MY FATHER’S COAT

I’m wearing my father’s coat.
He has died. I didn’t like him,
But I wear the coat.

I’m wearing the coat of my father,
Who is dead. I didn’t like him,
But I wear the coat just the same.

A younger man, stopping me on the street,
Has asked,
“Where did you get a coat like that?”

I answer that it was my father’s
Who is now gone, passed away.
The younger man shuts up.

It’s not that I’m trying now
To be proud of my father.
I didn’t like him.
He was a narrow man.

There was more of everything he should have done.
More of what he should have tried to understand.

The coat fit him well.
It fits me now.
I didn’t love him,
But I wear the coat.

Most of us show off to one another
Fashions of who we are.
Sometimes buttoned to the neck
Sometimes overpriced.
Sometimes surprising even ourselves
In garments we would have never dreamed of wearing.

I wear my father’s coat,
And it seems to me
That this is the way that most of us
Make each other’s acquaintance—
In coats we have taken
To be our own.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

[download audio]

__________

Marc Kelly Smith: “When people ask me, ‘Well what makes Chicago style different?’ I say, ‘It’s genuine.’ Because, like the show, your bullshit gets you just so far and then somebody’s going to call you on it in Chicago. It’s always been that way.” (web)

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April 26, 2009

Marc Kelly Smith

I WANTED TO BE

I wanted to be so many things.
Bigger than I was.
A tall tower of building blocks.
A shoelace tied so fast.
Jelly spread smoothly
to the corners of the bread.

I wanted to be so good.
A smile on everyone’s face.
Folded hands. A clean desk.
All the numbers added up
digit under digit
perfectly clear.

I wanted to stand between the bully
and the frail kid.
Ready to take it. Ready to give it back.
I wanted to do the right things.
Pull the spit back into my mouth.
Scrape the gum-chewed secrets
off the bottoms of the chairs.
Drag the dumb, go-along laughs
out of the air.

I wanted to stand on an asteroid
whirling a mighty chain above my head,
flinging an outer space hook probe
into the heart of the Universe.
And by loving …
Whatever I wanted to love.
When I wanted to love.
How I wanted to love …
I wanted to grapple the Ultimate Connection.

So what happened?
What happened during that great revolution?
After we pinned our daddies to the floor?
After we made our mothers eat shame?
After we rolled all antiquity and tradition
into cigar size joints,
sucking in whole rooms of humanity,
hoping to assimilate all the differences
and heat the world
with our spontaneous combustion?

What happened
when the chain on the asteroid
slipped out of our hands?
When the ones we loved
loved others?
When our laugh became the dumb laugh?
When the spit shot quick and hard
from our teeth?
When we gave the kids the beatings?
What happened to our dreams?
What happened to me?

I wanted to read all the books
of unerring truth.
I wanted to tie my shoelace fast.
Spread jelly smoothly to the corners of the bread.
Build a tower, a tall tower.
Spell everybody’s name
top to bottom,
bottom to top
all four sides,
in and out.
I wanted so bad, so bad
to be so many things,
without the whole thing
falling down.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

__________

Marc Kelly Smith: “When people ask me, ‘Well what makes Chicago style different?’ I say, ‘It’s genuine.’ Because, like the show, your bullshit gets you just so far and then somebody’s going to call you on it in Chicago. It’s always been that way.” (web)

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