November 16, 2020

T.R. Poulson


confession of a UPS driver

This didn’t begin with dogs, but with a stack
of boxes and the twisting of my knee
between, beneath them, even as they smacked

the pavement, then the doctor’s quick decree:
A contusion (just a bruise). You’ll be mended
in a week or two. My boss agreed

and left me on my route, where dogs friended
me for treats. At first, my knee would tighten
at night until it could not be extended

in the morning without pain, lightened
by ibuprofen. It loosened with every stride
I took, and every box I touched, but heightened

from one day to the next, with the pull and slide
of a torn MCL (the doc was wrong).
I smiled at humans, smothered truth with pride.

I’ve read that dogs can hear a whistled song
from miles away, can smell agony through layers
of flesh. They nosed my knee and used their tongues

to slurp it all away. Those pink conveyors,
wet and unafraid to find something. To feel. To take.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020
Tribute to Service Workers


T.R. Poulson: “I am a UPS driver, and every day I struggle to find balance between work and writing. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything. My communities of writers provide support for my writing, but it is my blue-collar world that provides inspiration for what to write about. Though I rarely write directly about work, it’s in everything I write: reimagined versions of my customers, my coworkers, the settings I would never discover if I did not do what I do. Covid-19 has changed so many things. I find myself writing about my customers’ dogs—because they are what’s keeping me sane.”

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September 11, 2020

T.R. Poulson


Let’s say I need a thingamajig that flips
and slips and grips and nips. A tool,
perhaps, or just a treasure. Those trips

to stores now obsolete, I simply Google
a key phrase of action or appearance
sought. Amazon appears atop the whirlpool

of websites listed (of course), coherence
constant in their quest to draw me, lure
me and my credit card. Perseverance

pays, and I discover that a simple tour
with clicks or swipes pays dividends.
The thingamajig has a name, obscure

perhaps, but now I know it! I look up trends
(using the real name for this thing I covet)
and go to reviews to see who recommends

Brand A over Brand B, and why they love it.
Now, with confidence, I search once more
and (fully done with Amazon, sick of it,

I leave it like last year’s textbook, stored
for future research), a click or two, I find
an exciting new company in which to pour

my hard-earned dollars. I may be resigned
to pay some extra pennies for shipping
or wait a week or two, but I don’t mind,

and I don’t have to be a member, committed
to a CEO who makes more per minute
than I take home all year. Life seems rigged,
but I’m happy. I order my thingamajig.

from Rattle #68, Summer 2020


T.R. Poulson: “I write poems while on the water. I don’t mean in a Jesus Christ, walking on the water, kind of a way; what I mean is, I often compose poems or stories when I’m far, far away from a computer, device, or even a piece of paper. So many times, the poem disappears before I ever write it down. A mentor once told me that a truly good poem will not go away; it will find a way to be written. As Prime Day loomed, I conceived this poem while windsurfing in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, the San Mateo Bridge in the background, while crashing on shove-it attempts. I kept thinking about how shove-it rhymes with covet.”

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May 26, 2019

T.R. Poulson


“It’s breeding, and it’s training, and it’s something unknown.”
—Dan Fogelberg

Well, yes. We do. We do so many things,
like hook men, dead or dying, to machines

programmed to make them breathe. We fight
on streets, in class, about the fates and rights

of human embryos, though only those
in wombs. We breed the best of roses,

cattle, dogs, and horses, all hardwired
to smell good, repel insects, roast on fires,

attack, wag tails, and run. If I could stand
up on a soapbox, I would reprimand

the human race. I would rant and rave
about the bees, that (though they misbehave

sometimes, and sting) make food chains bloom
like black-eyed Susans. I would fume

about the animals, the lasts of kinds, captured,
no mates found. I have read about the rapture,

the horse and rider thrown into the sea, in meekness,
good guys saved. Consider, now, the Preakness.

A horse rears up and throws his jockey at the gate,
and in that moment I forget to speculate

about the good, the bad. No human hands,
no whip, no voice, no heels, no demands

at all, he runs wide, one lap with the rest,
a second lap, alone. I must confess,

I’ve found magic in a flowing mane
and hoofbeats. I stop there again, again,

and I glimpse how Allah might have felt, all sins
aside. The horse, born from condensed wind.

from Poets Respond
May 26, 2019


T.R. Poulson: “This poem was inspired by Bodexpress, who ran the entire Preakness Stakes, plus more, without his jockey. ‘The horse and rider thrown into the sea’ is Exodus 15:21.”

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December 18, 2018

T.R. Poulson


for Virginia Partain

She made a list of things that she would save
as a child, before she read of storms, despair,
and essays that told of surviving, being brave.

Back then, it was the things her parents gave
her: cats and toys, a ribbon for her hair.
She made a list of things that she would save,

metaphoric then. The boyfriend she forgave,
a note he sent to her. That lovelorn bear.
The essays told of surviving, being brave,

in classrooms, poems by Plath and Sexton paved
the way to leaving pain, to be prepared.
She made a list of things that she would save,

blurred with time and grief. She grew to crave
success for those entrusted to her care,
whose essays told of surviving, being brave,

not victims. She took her cats away from waves
of fire. No time to stop, to look and stare
at lists she made. The things that she would save:
Essays that told of surviving, being brave.

from Poets Respond
December 18, 2018


T.R. Poulson: “This is in response to the story of Virginia Partain, a teacher from Paradise, California who saved only her cats and her students’ college application essays from the fire. Stories like this make me feel hope.”

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February 4, 2018

T.R. Poulson


after Jeopardy, aired 2/1/2018

For those who know nothing of football, the option is this:
a bowl of soup the size of a kiddie pool, where guests ladle
servings of noodles to slurp or share. Imagine the bliss

of steaming cups, as snow outside drifts in the shade, well
short of the post. Far from Dallas, we’ve never heard of Landry,
and a shotgun has kept the nursing calves safe, the babe in a cradle.

That was yesterday. Today we party, and after the soup, the candy
or Girl Scout cookies appear. Perhaps a fondue, and beer or cider.
We break for commercials: the Clydesdales, puppies, the dandy

young men. She dubs them “fair catch,” the ones not denied her,
she, the life of the party, the one for whom penalties for cheaters
never offset. It’s game time: Monopoly, Catan, those dividers

of winners. Of Losers. The kids find grape-toned paint, in liters.
Those basement chants: We are the Purple People Eaters.

from Poets Respond
February 4, 2018


T.R. Poulson: “I found it amusing that the Jeopardy contestants didn’t even try to answer the football questions on Thursday night. This poem is in response to those missed clues.”

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