Brian Beatty

WINTER CAN GO NOW

That child’s dirty boot
out there alone in the middle
of the snow-rutted street

has collapsed
again
like a grandfather’s lung.

I watch at the window
holding my breath
for no reason.

from Poets Respond
March 8, 2022

__________

Brian Beatty: “International news and ongoing Covid concerns have made this a particularly difficult winter, but it’s the smaller, more personal aspects of the season that often take a toll on me.” (web)

Heather Bell

THIS IS HOW I MAKE MY MONEY

Every time a possible employer called me 
in response to a resume I had submitted, they 
would awkwardly ask, “and when are you available 
for an interview?” And I had to 
casually say back, “oh, anytime,” as if it was
No Big Deal. You see, No Big Deal behavior is 

actually similar to a duck walking splay-legged
to the edge of a pond. Oh, I’ll get there,
and I will desperately pretend I can walk normally 

the whole way. At this point I had been unemployed 
for 4 months. I had periodically begged, stripped 
and even gotten embroiled in a weird business attempt 
with a covert religious fanatic. No Big Deal 

had become harder and harder to muster. 
I once had been so out of my mind with hunger 
that I had laughed and under my breath said 

I WANT TO DIE when the phone interviewer asked me 
what my qualifications were. I had hummed and 
growled and lost track of words while 
talking about my useless degrees. 

The night after the last growl, I began
the process to trademark No Big Deal.
Because nine out of ten people in my
city lived in poverty. Because even the county 
office had no charity shoes left for me 
and I had been poking around barefoot. 

The day I patented No Big Deal, I got a phone call 
from a lawyer saying, “hey son, I saw your idea,
let’s talk.” And I barked and growled, 

I had no more use for human sounds. 
But No Big Deal flew off the shelves,
people recognized it right away like a 
memory. A woman in a store used 

No Big Deal when she smiled at me,
slipped the rubbery new shoes on my 
feet. I began to speak again, and again, at shows 
and then arenas. “No Big Deal,” I said 
into a microphone and the crowd 

roared back at me, years of nostalgia 
bubbling up. But they wanted to buy it,
they wanted to hold No Big Deal in their 
hands all wrapped up, like it was new.

“How are you feeling?” asked the 
big-headed woman on the television show
and I relaxed backward in the velvet chair,
making sure to show my wrists and the big 
watch there. “No Big Deal,” I repeated 

and she nodded and the audience nodded 
and I wondered what I had done. 

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Heather Bell: “I am a six-foot-tall white-haired monster. There are exactly 31 jars in my home. Inside these jars are bones. I write not often at all, because writing is dangerous. I have children and these children are also monsters. But because monsters are what will lead us, this is completely fine. Hello. This is what a monster tells you: hello. Keep reading.”

Tatiana Dolgushina

WHEN WAR MAKES A CHILD

when Americans think about war, they think about men with guns, and soldiers in uniforms

when I think about war, I think about packing suitcases

I think about food shortages, I think about the economic collapse

I think about my grandmother, the one we had to leave behind

the one whose mother moved her from town to town, until they didn’t see a war anymore

the one who was left an orphan, in the middle of Siberia, with her 13-year-old sister to take care of her

when I think about war, I think about the cold walls of apartment buildings, I think about no heat in the house, I think about hotel rooms

I think about having to learn a new language in order to survive

when I think about war, I think about being a child, and standing on the coast of an ocean

where the wind blows just enough to make one paranoid, just enough to feel like war is right around the corner, right around and behind you, touching you

from Poets Respond
March 6, 2022

__________

Tatiana Dolgushina: “Russia and Ukraine are both my homeland, and I am a child refugee of the Soviet Union collapse of the ’90s. I was born in Russia and grew up in both countries before having to leave due to increasing violence and after my father was kidnapped in Ukraine. My poems deal with forever losing one’s home, the violent effect of war on a child, and the confusion and the loss that a child experiences before they can understand any of it. The western world has little understanding of witnessing war on their doorsteps, especially when young and vulnerable. The current Russia-Ukraine war has brought up many memories and emotions for me, recreating my childhood experiences all over again. I fear for the children and their families who are undergoing the same trauma that I experienced, which will displace and haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

Kim Stafford

THE HARD PART

It’s easy to lie, at first.
People want to believe you.
And betrayal—a cinch.
You control the first move.

Killing is so easy, it’s absurd.
People didn’t see it coming.
Even war, if you’re the one
to start it, goes well for awhile.

Sure, people hate you, fear you,
looking down as they surrender.
Once you win, for a thin moment
you enjoy the ornate word: Victory.

It glitters in your hands like dirty gold.

 

SUNFLOWER SEEDS

How many do you have? Enough
to line the roads? Enough to give
to others so they can fill the fields?
Enough to plant in every bomb crater,
bullet hole? That would be too many.

If you have just one, one can spiral
into a thousand in a halo of gold.
Where will you hide it in the earth
so every seed may declare peace for
a survivor’s knees at a brother’s grave?

 

TOP HIT

But comrades, if we kill him, someone will make
a martyr song and it will become the anthem sung
by thousands in the streets—first their streets, then
our own. And if we put them all in prison, they will
sing it there. And if we send them to Siberia, soon
it will be our children singing. You can kill a man.
You can kill thousands. But a song?

 

MOTHERS MENDING

After the tussle—or would you call it
a clash?—we stitch the torn uniforms
you men bring home.
Little needle, glint and glide …

After the cut—or would you call it
a gash?—we stitch the torn skin
you men bring in.
Little needle, glint and glide.
Lead this thread to heal and hide …

After the war—or should we call it
murder—we stitch the shrouds
you men wear now.
Little needle, glint and glide.
Lead this thread to heal and hide.
Never ask us to explain
why you left us here in pain.

 

CALLING HOME

How can we kill them—they look like us.
—soldier in Ukraine

An old man, who limped like uncle Alexi, stumbled,
and we shot him. He had a gun, yes, but he wore a cap
like the one you knit for me. One wore a coat like father’s,
he tumbled off a bridge into the river. When I shot one running
into the forest, his hands flew up like brother Oleg, twitching.
I remember grandfather Sasha shouting when he was disturbed
too early, before his tea. Here a greybeard shouted as we passed,
and my commander shot him on his doorstep. One my age, when
he was hit, cried out “Arina!” Who will have to tell her? If I die,
who will tell you? I can’t sleep. I see these faces everywhere.
When my gun is cold, I am afraid. When it is hot, I am ashamed.
What will happen to children here, like our Slava, Vasyl, Ksenia?
And if I live, after I have a hero’s welcome, tell me, mother,
after you hold me in your arms, what will happen to me?

from Poets Respond
March 5, 2022

__________

Kim Stafford: “This topic has command of my daily writing practice. When one leader accuses another of lying, as a poet I’m startled awake to the importance of fugitive truth, vulnerable trust, the fragile treasure of honorable communication—and I vow again to seek some way to tell truth through poetry. When I read about sunflowers being carried as symbols of Ukrainian solidarity in demonstrations around the world, I wanted our poems to live like that: seeds in the mind to grow into peace. When I read about Ukranian mJubilantex Dark Green Butterfly 100% Blackout Curtains for Bedro and blood type onto children’s clothes, I start to think of other kinds of sewing they will need to do As a poet, I’m often asked ‘What can poetry do in such a time?’ Then I hear about people singing in war time to empower their spirits, and I’m moved to try, again, to see what a poem, a little song, could do. In the terrors of the current war in Ukraine, the idea of a soldier on the battlefield Toggle Switches (ON)-OFF-(ON) SPDT, (Pack of 10) (A18HP) struck me to the heart. What would he say, and what could he ask of her?” (web)

Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose

AFTER MY TEENAGER TRIES TO KILL HERSELF, I DREAM EVERYONE IS TURNING INTO ZOMBIES BUT ALL I CARE ABOUT IS FINDING WARM TORTILLAS

A ridiculous dream, really. 
In the mall, hysteric masses rushing the exit and there I am,
stepping over half-eaten bodies, jumping Taco Bell’s counter, 
rummaging for chips and salsa.

When I wake, I try to untangle the meaning. 
Zombies = mindless hunger? 
Or, appetite for the mundane? 

Because how can anything return to normal
once you’ve held your daughter’s hair 
back so she can stick her fingers down her throat
and vomit the pills she just confessed to swallowing?

In my dream, all these walking dead stupid with need 
the way I am stupid with need 
for my daughter to be okay, 
so many years spent calling her name into shadows,
seeking her in dark spaces, hoping to find her 
sheltering behind some closed door,
shaken but safe in this apocalypse 
that is mental illness. 

You’d think I’d have been better prepared,
my family history loud as that disheveled but earnest 
scientist flailing their arms in every disaster movie: 

it’s coming it’s coming it’s coming 

but there I was, like the captain steering straight into the storm,
the amusement-park-goer insisting on another ride, 
the stubborn mayor of a stubborn town grabbing his floatie 
and wading straight into the mouth of the horror.

Now it’s eating us alive.

I just wanted one more day of pretending 
that’s not an asteroid heading straight for us,
one more afternoon splitting a plate of nachos in a food court,
of our hands bumping as we reach for the last chip, 
of both of us laughing, of the lie mothers tell: 
“Go ahead. I’ve had enough. I’m full.”

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

__________

Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose: “For years, whenever I had something hard to say to someone, I wrote it down first. In this way, I could control what terrified me. If I wrote the wrong thing, I could backspace over it. Parenting is terrifying. I want to say the right things. I write a lot of poems.” (web)

Brent Goodman

MAPS

The other night I spaced a stop sign
and ran it 60mph and died
but didn’t. What algebra is this?
The night a dusty chalkboard
streaked with moonlight, my life hwy K,
hwy 51 N intersecting K in a near perfect T
like a cardiac monitor flatline, the afterlife
this narrowing gravel road beyond pavement
disappearing into endless juniper and birch.
It was very dark and the signs obscured.
By heavens no screaming headlights
T-boned me into oblivion. Instead
I kicked up a little dust on the other side,
turned the pines brake-light red
and spun around: fuck! The very next night
I witnessed two logging trucks
cross each other north/south like two vault doors
slicing closed the ghost path
I blindly whistled through. Now every night
I approach that frightened intersection
with full attention. Sometimes
I die. Sometimes I continue. But most times
it’s too close to call, the stars
always rearranging their astrologies,
each cloud narrowly missing the moon.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007

__________

Brent Goodman: “The near accident that sparked this poem left me breathless, heart racing, followed shortly thereafter by a profound jittery calm which changed me. Many of my favorite poems have done the same over the years. This feeling is what I love most about discovering new poets, and what I hope to occasionally achieve in my own writing.”

Maryfrances Wagner

BRANDON LANGFORD TALKS THROUGH DETENTION

I’m here because I don’t want a suspension, 
but I hope you know you caused me to miss my bus.  
I don’t even understand why I have detention. 
You tell us to say what we think. I spoke 
my thoughts, and that’s my right. My dad
does it all the time, freedom of speech,
and we cheer. Well, we did. He’s a combat vet, 
but now he’s in prison for child porn 
and hitting my mom. She’s glad he’s gone. 
Do I have to stay here the whole time? 
If I’m nice, can I leave early? You could even 
drive me home if you want. My house is four 
miles from here. My mom works. You wouldn’t
want me to sit outside until ten would you?
I don’t know what to write my narrative on. 
Maybe you could give me some ideas. Do you 
like fish? I have tropical fish. I could write about that. 
Have you ever been to a fish show? Bet you
didn’t even know there was such a thing. 
I won first place in the last show. I set up
a great tank, and all of my fish have babies. 
I like guppies best. I once had a mother 
die in childbirth, but the baby lived. I still have him. 
My fantails are beauties, and I have gouramis 
and cichlids. My mom says they calm me down. 
You probably want me to shut up and do homework, 
write that narrative for your class. I already did my math. 
I’m good at math. I’m not good at raising my hand 
before I talk. This I know. I can do my timetables 
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up to fives. My math teacher taught me how to do them 
on my knuckles. Do you want me to show you?  
Nah, you probably want to grade papers 
and ignore me. I get it. My mom does that too. 
She turns the TV louder. You wouldn’t mind 
taking me home would you? You could see my fish.

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021

__________

Maryfrances Wagner: “I did have Brandon (I changed his last name) in an English class I had many years ago, and when I was going through old journals I kept, I found the conversation I recorded when he did serve detention in my classroom after school, a way I tried to provide an extra opportunity for students to have another chance before they were suspended. That time I spent with him told me so much about him that I would have never known otherwise. It reminds me of how important it is not to judge before we know the whole story.”