“Watch This!” by Tristan Roth

Cold Sun by Jeanne Wilkinson, sepia photograph of an abandoned shopping cart in a snowy landscape

Image: “Cold Sun” by Jeanne Wilkinson. “Watch This!” was written by Tristan Roth for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, December 2023, and selected as the Editor’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Tristan Roth


You captured the whole thing on the flippy-est dumb phone,
before you got smart. Fourteen felt like the un-freest zone
of youth: can’t drive, can’t drink, can’t rub two nickels,
can’t march to the beat of your harmonious own.
That winter of fourteen, you three trudged through snow,
pushing a Safeway shopping cart up the bunniest slope,
where the interstate goes under the canyon road. With temps
in the teens, you played Rochambeau, with the runniest nose.
Chomping at the bit, Jake always threw rock.
You always threw scissors. You were the cunningest one.
But Tristan was a lame-o poet, who lived life on paper.
“Me?” he said, voice squeaking in the jumpiest tone.
You were complete dicks back then, scared shitless of being
called chicken, charlatans strutting around the unknown,
your cockscombs uncolored by the foghorned winter sun.
Jake did a DX crotch chop. You were the scummiest clone,
You said Suck it! like Triple H and called him a pussy.
You mocked him like girls with your honey-est moans.
He climbed in, then dropped, the doppler sound of his voice.
“Watch this!” Tristan said, before breaking his funniest bone.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
December 2023, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the series editor, Megan O’Reilly: “There are so many elements of ‘Watch This!’ that I enjoyed, admired, and was moved by. The voice feels true to the way teenagers actually think and speak, and this is reinforced by the repetition of creative ‘-est’ words throughout the poem: ‘the flippy-est dumb phone,’ ‘the un-freest zone.’ I had to read some of the phrases a few times because they were so unexpected and satisfying: ‘cockscombs uncolored by the foghorned winter sun.’ The scene works well placed into Jeanne Wilkinson’s bleak, evocative image–one can imagine a trio of directionless teenage boys, riddled with hidden insecurities and secret fears, scattered across Wilkinson’s desolate winter landscape, ‘pushing a Safeway shopping cart up the bunniest slope.’ And finally, there’s the encompassing fact that this is simply a gorgeous poem. It’s no small feat to write a ghazal that flows naturally and feels entirely authentic (believe me, I’ve tried), and Tristan Roth makes it look easy.”

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