“Wildflowers” by Paul T. Corrigan



Ekphrastic Challenge, March 2018: Artist’s Choice


Chickens! by Marion Clarke

Image: “Chickens!” by Marion Clarke. “Wildflowers” was written by Paul T. Corrigan for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, March 2018, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Paul T. Corrigan


The farmyard is not a schoolyard.
The hens are not teachers.

The cottages are not classrooms.
Their doors, although as red as alarms, are not emergency exits.

Although hard from being walked on, the path is not anger.
Although taloned and full of testosterone, the rooster is not a shooter.

The boulders are not bullets.
The wildflowers are not students, splashes of clover, dollops of poppy, ribbons of milkweed, blooming, bursting from swaths of rye, alive.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
March 2018, Artist’s Choice

[download audio]


Comment from the artist, Marion Clarke: “From the innocuous title, ‘Wildflowers,’ to the final word, ‘alive,’ via a series of negative statements, this poem really struck me. The pastoral scene depicted in the painting is effectively juxtaposed with terms that might be used to describe a school shooting. Vocabulary such as ‘alarm,’ ’emergency exits,’ ‘shooter’ and ‘bullets’ are all the more arresting in such a bucolic scene. Terms employed in painting such as ‘splashes’ and ‘dollops’ made me think of spilled blood, particularly since poppies feature in both the painting and poem. I found it clever how the poet lulled us into a false sense of security through the image and the title and then in a quiet, assertive voice (much like that of a teacher) the reader is presented with a totally unexpected scenario. And of course that word ‘alive’ resonates long after reading.”

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“Heard” by Rayon Lennon



Rayon Lennon


I am still
Alive so
I move out
Of my doc’s
Cave-like office
And let the sun
Sip tears
From my
Pooling eyes.
I learned
I am
But all this
Pain is nothing
If death will
Erase it.
I am still
Alive so I
Buy Jamaican
Food at
A Jamaican
And savor
The muddy
Of the brown
Stew while
The sunny
Cashier who
Looks me
Dead in
The eye
And tells
Me love
Is not dead
But on life
I say
I learned
I am dying
And she laughs
And says good
One. I laugh
Too to keep
The unknown
At bay. Cuddled
Dogs whine
Like babies
To me. I will
Never have babies.
I let that sink
Deep and forget
It. Though
I can’t.
I’m still alive
As I move by
A park teeming
With laughing
Children. The sun
Finds comfort
In a crib of trees.
And suddenly fall
Shines with greater
Focus, wind-carried
Orphaned leaves
Serenade streets.
I like to think
I’m dreaming
But the horn
From a sick car
Brings up
Reality. A young
Woman of about
20 models by.
She doesn’t even
Acknowledge me
And I imagine
That’s how death
Is—a gorgeous
Woman oozing
By without seeing
Me. She’s decked
In super tight
Whitish yoga pants.
Her ass bouncing
Like a basket-
Ball, her hair knocking
On her ass like
A good dribbler. I get
Hard and it makes
Me sad to think
I haven’t made
Love to enough
Angel-faced women
And now I’m on
The edge of leaving
Earth. I may
Attend a brothel,
I chuckle, that’s heaven.
I suddenly believe
In Heaven, a place
Of no worries, but not
Hell, a cruel
I am still
Alive so I
Hoop it up
With some
Kids. My jump-
Shot is still
Alive and I rain
Threes. The kids
Tackle me
But I cannot
Be stopped
Like death.
At home,
An ancient
Apartment on
Edgewood Ave.,
I make love
To myself
Like leaving this
Pretty awful
Someone once
Said death
Is the ultimate
Orgasm. I am still
Alive so I shower
Slowly, allowing
The massaging
Water to cure
My worries.
I am still alive
So I enter
My wound-red
Sentra to go see
My father, the sky
Is a new version
Of blue. I am
Still alive so
I note how Father
Creaks with a cane
From an accident
With a crane
At work several
Years ago.
Blind in one
Eye, one and a half
Legs, cracked
Ribs. Are you
Okay? I say.
He says, I am
Dying. We are all
Dying. Even
The newborn is
Marching towards
Death. I say,
Who have you
Been reading, Dad?
He laughs. Wind
Nods the trees. He says
He recently
Flew to Jamaica
Where he built
A house overlooking
A sea-big
Woodland. I tell
Him I love him
Even though I know
He’s a womanizer,
Who left me
In Jamaica when
I was born
To marry America.
He once owned two
Wives at once, Mom
In Jamaica, and a cold
Woman in Connecticut.
Plus a woman in
Every parish.
But he’s never felt
Connected because he is
The unwanted
Product of an affair
Between his aunt’s
Hubby and his
Mom. So the father
So the son.
Dad once
Told me life
Is really freaking
Short and the only
Place to find joy
Is in a woman’s smile.
Heaven is a beautiful
Gal, he had said.
Go find you some.
He doesn’t know
What to say. So
I tell him
I love him again,
And he says
Your face
Has always told
Me something
Not now, I say.
I really love
You, Dad.
What’s wrong?
He says. Nothing,
I say. I say, Thank
You for bringing
Me to America,
A place like
Heaven if you
Want it to be.
I am still alive
So I fly
To Canada
To see
My mom, who
Is anger fighting
She greets
Me at the airport
Dressed in a sunny
Dark green dress. How
Is Trump’s
America? she
Wants to know.
I say, He doesn’t
Take office
Until 2017, Mom.
Her face softens.
I don’t call
Her Mom often.
Son, she says.
I’ve missed
You. Come stay
In Canada for good.
Trees scroll by
Like crumbled
Paper. Her barber
Husband is driving.
His night vision
Is poor, and he nurses
The car along.
I say, I don’t know
About living in Canada.
I have to see
How bad things
Get in the U.S., Ma.
The moon dangles
Like a dying bulb
Over clusters of houses
Followed by wide
Open spaces. I see
More houses than people
In Canada, it seems.
The streets are cleaner
Than a germaphobe’s
Place. But it’s wickedly cold,
Like the air has teeth
That nibbles at your senses.
And there is a silence
Everywhere like light
That never goes out. Mom’s
Condo sits like a nest
Of bricks on a mountain
That looks like the back
Of a dinosaur. I am
Still alive so I head
Out with my step-
Father’s 23-year-old
Son, Rick, who
Is so beautiful
Women look away
When he glides by,
Less they get sucked
Into wanting him. The women
Who look at him
Slither up and beg
Him for directions
And tell him they like
His moon-bright shoes.
He looks like a brown
Brad Pitt. It’s sickening
To think my life has been
This hell because I’m
Not beautiful. As we head
Downtown women throw
Themselves at Rick and all
He does is grin and jerk
His head back to look at
Me to make sure I’m catching
It all. It’s confusing.
I thought women played
Tight to get into. In the mirror
Of the cloud-touching glass
Building I see that my teeth
Are buck and yellow
And that my mother never
Took the time to fetch
Me braces the way she
Never got me glasses
But got glasses for herself.
I could stand to lose
20 pounds. My head is
As round as a deflating
Basketball. The black
People in Canada look
Like they carry a lighter
Weight of racism. The cops
Don’t seem to want to shoot
Everyone. The clean air
Clears my senses. The black
Men stroll with grateful
White women. The black
Women are so gorgeous
They appear like flowers
Somehow sprouting
In the deadly cold.
Rick’s beauty lights
The streets. Pale groups
Of women stop him
To ask him if he’s a movie
Star. I’m still alive so I get
Jealous and tell him
I’ll see him whenever later.
He says, No problem
Mon, in his poor
Jamaican accent.
When I get back
To the condo I see
That Mom has this after-
Cried face, and I ask
Her what’s wrong?
And she says she has
Missed out on my life.
Her face is as soft
As a swamp from bleaching
Creams. She is short
Like a middle schooler
With an unending supply
Of sarcasm and stories
Dug up from our past
Countryside lives
In Jamaica. I tell her
I love her and her face
Hardens into puzzlement.
She locks her
Eyes, and I think
She has been waiting
For me to say that ever
Since I was thirteen
And she left me
For good in Jamaica
So she could
Reunite with her
Deadbeat preacher father
Here in Canada. She unlocks
Her eyes with a smile
As dark comes
On like a comforter.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

[download audio]


Rayon Lennon: “I moonlight as a clinical therapist and in one session last fall I asked a client to write a forgiveness letter to himself; and in another session, I asked the same client to write a forgiveness letter to someone who has hurt him. I wrote my own forgiveness letters as well, which gave birth to this poem. I should also mention that I am a Barrel Child. The phrase ‘Barrel Children’ refers to, in particular, Jamaican children whose parents—compelled by social and economic challenges—choose to leave their children behind in Jamaica to pursue economic opportunities in other countries such as Canada, England, and the United States of America. These parents then send back barrels full of food and clothes and other items to their children. A good many of the children left behind face physiological and psychological challenges. I have devoted my life to correcting this problem. It’s easy to say too that this lightly fictionalized poem was informed by the shock of watching Trump win the election last November and our ensuing crush on Canada. Or that this poem is a meditation on mortality, in general. In some ways, it’s an elegy for the life I could have lived. It’s a letter and a prayer to a God I tend to disappoint but who continues to fill my life with otherworldly blessings; a forgiveness letter to my parents too, who I love dearly, though—for complicated reasons—I don’t believe I’ve ever told them I love them (except in poems). They have done the best they could for me and for that I’m forever grateful. It’s a love letter to New Haven, Connecticut; Hamilton, Canada; and all of Jamaica. And finally, a thank-you letter to and an elegy for Derek Walcott, the towering, Nobel-winning, Caribbean poet and my literary father (though I’ve never met him) who left this world last spring and whose life was, like mine now, an answered prayer.” (web)

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“Eyes Wide Open” by Sam Hamill



Sam Hamill


The little olive-skinned girl
peered up at me
from the photograph

with her eyes wide open,

deep brown beautiful eyes
that bore silent witness
to a grief as old as the ages.

She was young,
and very beautiful, as only
the young can be,
but within such beauty
as bears calamity silently:

because it has run out of tears.

I closed the magazine and went
outside to the wood pile
and split a couple of logs, thinking,
“Her fire is likely
an open fire tonight,
bright flames licking
and waving

like rising pennants in the breeze.”

When I was a boy,
I heard about the bloodshed
in Korea, about the Red Army
perched at our threshold,
and the bombs
that would annihilate our world


I got under my desk with the rest of the foolish world.

In Okinawa, I wore the uniform

and carried the weapon
until my eyes began to open,
until I choked
on Marine Corps pride,
until I came to realize
just how willfully I had been blind.

How much grief is a life?
And what can be done unless
we stand among the missing, among the murdered,
the orphaned,
our own armed children, and bear witness

with our eyes wide open?

When I was a child, frightened of the night
and crying in my bed,
my father told me a poem or sang,

“Empty saddles in the o-l-d corral,
where do they r-i-d-e tonight.”

Homer thought the dead arrived
into a field of asphodels.
“Musashino,” near Tokyo, means
“Musashi’s Plain,”
the warrior’s way washed in blood.

The war-songs are sung
to the same old marching measures—
oh, how we love to honor the dead.

A world without war? Who but a child or a fool
could imagine such a thing?

Corporate leaders go to school
on Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
“We all deplore it,” the President says,
issuing bombing orders,
“but God is on our side.”

Which blood is Christian,
which Muslim, Jew or Hindu?

The beautiful girl with the beautiful sad eyes
watches, but
has not spoken. What can she

possibly say?
She carries the burden of finding
another way.

In her eyes, the ruins, the fear,
the shoes that can’t be filled, hands
that will never stroke her hair.

But listen. And you will hear her small, soft, plaintive voice
—it’s already there within you—

a heartbeat, a whisper,
a promise broken—
if only you listen

with your eyes wide open.

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006

[download audio]


Sam Hamill: “I grew up on a ranch in Utah, a farm in Utah, and my old man, my adopted father, loved poetry. And he would sometimes recite poetry while he worked. And he would explain to me, the rhythm of the work would help you decide what poem to sort of say. The way you sometimes hum or sing when you work—well, he recited poetry that way, and I think that was what first turned me on to poetry.” (website) Note: Recording courtesy of Michael Ladd. First aired on Poetica Radio, June 23, 2007.

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“The Beautiful Particulars” by Alison Townsend



Alison Townsend


after Xu Bing’s exhibition, Background Story: A New Approach to Landscape Painting

Because I have forgotten to bring
my small, travelling notebook
to this exhibit, where I have come
to fashion a poem, I’m making notes
on the first piece of paper I find in my purse,
scribbling gibberish about the ocean
and mountains that unfold without end,
willing images to catch and hold, heavy
as black ink in the Chinese brush
of the mind, and thinking grumpily
how the background story of anything
is almost never what it seems.
But when I turn the page over for more space
I see it’s the last veterinarian invoice
for my ancient cat, printed the day
before she died, the record of her failing
kidneys somehow colliding with my mother,
who dies again each autumn,
though she’s been gone fifty years—
everything from my one, small life
illuminated by a Chinese “painting”
that isn’t really one at all but a box
of light that fools the eye with shadows
of found things become something
other than themselves when lit by LEDs,
our ephemeral world limned
real in black and sepia and pearl.
I don’t want to write about sadness
or try to fit the word “synchronicity”
into a poem. I want to be the one figure
in the painting’s huge landscape, staring
into the distance from a grass hut
at something only the artist sees.
But it’s all done with shadows
and this is what I have—loss invasive
and beautiful as the branch of bittersweet
at the bottom of the light box and the silhouette
it casts—this paper I write on shining
like a receipt from the dead.
The truth is nothing lasts.
Not this installation,
which will be taken down
and scattered to the wind,
its beautiful particulars—ferns,
corn husks, hemp fabric, paper,
plastic bubble wrap—never quite
the same, no matter how carefully
they are reconstructed.
Not my cat, beloved familiar,
lying in her grass-lined grave on the back
of our Wisconsin hill. Not my mother,
dust for most of my life, or the girl
I once was, standing at her grave, a clod
of cold earth clenched in my hand,
Not even the shadow that memory casts
on the radiant scrim of my life.
Nothing lasts.
And I wouldn’t have believed it possible
to paint with light if I hadn’t
seen my cat’s grave glazed
with gold one afternoon, last leaves
sifting down, piebald over its surface,
or if I didn’t remember my mother’s face
outlined once by sun when she tilted
her head back and laughed, savoring
the heat of living. I wouldn’t have believed
the dark can tell us so much because of how
it shapes the bright, or that I’d be standing here,
seeing this painting as the act of magic it is,
dazzled by how many places
light unexpectedly lands.
The phrase ‘how many places / light unexpectedly lands’ is from Eloise Klein Healy’s poem, ‘Finally,’ which appears in A Packet Beating Like a Heart.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Alison Townsend: “I write poetry to make discoveries, to articulate what feels (at least initially) beyond words, to find out what I don’t know I know. ‘The Beautiful Particulars’ began as a kind of assignment, when I was invited to write an ekphrastic poem in response to Xu Bing’s exhibition, Background Story: A New Approach to Landscape Painting, for a local museum reading series. At first, contemplating the magnificent lightbox landscape, I drew a blank. But then I started jotting notes on what I observed, resorting to the back of the last veterinary invoice for a beloved cat I had recently lost. One loss calls out to another, and as I wrote the poem, my mother’s death (which occurred when I was nine) wove its way into the poem, as did the autumn season. Poetry, for me, always emerges from the physical world, so the details of the exhibit and the personal imagery in the poem guided me to the larger understanding that (I hope) it reaches at the end. During the writing process, I was most pleased (and surprised) by the way the poem gathers a lot of different details and experiences, and then holds them all in relation. It’s a meditation on impermanence, as well as a celebration of how that impermanence is also illuminated in so many surprising and beautiful ways. I couldn’t have written the poem (one of the most meaningful for me in the last few years) without the assignment or the exhibit, for which I remain deeply grateful.”

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“I’m Sorry, Moon” by Jill Talbot



Jill Talbot


The pope is sorry, Mark
Zuckerberg is sorry, Starbucks
Is sorry. Hell, even Obama
Is sorry. The ocean’s sorry,
The sun is sorry, the polar
Bears are sorry, the otter
Living under your house is
Sorry. The hairdresser is
Sorry, the window cleaner
Is sorry. The spider who bit
You is sorry. Skeletons in
The desert are sorry. The NRA
Is sorry, the Titanic is sorry.
Justin Trudeau is sorry. The
Plastic surgeon is sorry,
Barbie is sorry. Killer
Robots are sorry.
The spider you
While you were
Is sorry.

from Poets Respond

[download audio]


Jill Talbot: “This is a response to the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg.” (web)

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“Legend” by Scarlet Esparza-Pasos



Scarlet Esparza-Pasos (age 9)


The secret of my heart
is my own legend.
I could tell but I won’t,
not even for money.

from 2018 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Scarlet Esparza-Pasos:: “When I was little I was so small my brother thought I was a doll. When I’m writing I feel like I’m trapped in a tube with a bunch of ideas and I like that. Where I live there are bobcats and mountain lions.”

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“Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body” by Kirk Schlueter



Kirk Schlueter


They lashed the nine-year-old to the plow.

This is not a metaphor.

His older brothers knotted the reins across his skinny shoulders.
Their horse was dead and the field had to be planted,

and the brothers, though some were six years older,
were lazy. So they made the youngest do it,

only five days after watching his favorite brother
lowered into the small grave: stamp of shovel onto dirt.

No cross, no prayers. Just the corpse

he wasn’t allowed to hug goodbye for fear of typhus.
And he did it, the boy. He plowed,

sucking his own breath in hard hour after hour,
cutting row after row of earth for corn seed,

his knobby legs and narrow shoulders the only weight

dragging the blade through rocky Illinois clay,
until the sun crawled into his stomach

and he collapsed, not even unlashing himself
but taking care to avoid the seed as he threw up

the day’s long work, all the light within him.

He did this all summer and when the harvest came in,
no one said a word of thanks—not his brothers,

not his father too sick to leave bed. But still he plowed

the next summer unasked, and the summer after that,
to save the money for the horse, and though no one

ever once offered a word of praise or even that old standby,
a gruff pat on the head, he never once complained.

If I tell you that boy was my great-grandfather,
can you understand what I learned those candy years

I was a boy—that your face is a mask you never take off,

and only men broken on the earth’s dark axis
let their trials conquer them? No one ever said it,

but I took it in each time I woke at four a.m.
to my father’s boots tramping up and down the driveway

to break the ice with a shovel,
each time my grandfather pulled his own weeds

until he had to slump in the shade and fan his head
with a faded St. Louis ball cap.

A man endures what must be endured, a body’s toil,
the cringing static of the mind, and if he ever feels

he’s falling, that he can’t take another damn step,
well, he sucks in his breath, and endures that too.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Kirk Schlueter: “For me, poetry is an escape. No matter what the subject matter, I think there’s something inspiring and powerful in how the poet shapes the words and delivers the emotion. I try to always read poems on my lunch break for the small shivers of wonder and beauty they give me in the middle of the day. For me, poetry lives between the hum of ordinary moments, providing a spark that lifts us momentarily to something greater. And the best poems I read, the poems I try and fail over and over again to write, embed that spark so deep it stays with you for hours and days and years afterward (think Charles Wright, think Vievee Francis). Enjoy all these poems as you would your favorite snack: cheese and crackers, apple slices, vegetables dunked in ranch. And then smile! Because whoever you are, you’re really great, and I appreciate you reading. Now go be awesome.” (web)

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“Still Life” by Anne Pitkin



Anne Pitkin


for Emily

You made a photo of his favorite cap,
dark blue, “Jamie” on the bill in white.
Set carefully on the porch rail, emptier
than anything I’ve ever seen, it argues with
the hydrangea blooms just opened, their airiest blue.

I don’t want him frozen
in one minute, you said. I want something larger.

When your friend was dying,
we talked of the Mystery, how close you felt
to the other side, how alive he was
as he moved toward the border.

You read physics to learn about matter,
Jung to learn what we don’t know beyond matter.

I thought finally his death would free you
from the travail of his care, the pain of watching him
evicted, loss by loss, from his life:
the long walks, then the thrift store shopping,
the car, the work.

Can’t I get in my wheelchair?
he said near the end, too weak to leave his bed.
Can’t I get up? Then he was gone.

What can I have been thinking!

Your face plunged in his favorite blanket,
you rocked and sobbed. I heard you keening
in the shower where you used to sing.

He danced, you told me, seated, in the car.
You can’t visualize or imitate it.
You can’t bring it back. He loved doughnuts.
Spoiled cheese? he said once,
when his sister spoke of inner peace.

The cap is posed at a jaunty angle.
The sun-dapple-leaf-flight-into-sky around it
says Alive! Spring is here!

And it was,
the day you spun him around the lake in his wheelchair,
the last day he went out.

There’s no filling the emptiness
you tumble through, unable to find the ground,
so alone no one can reach you. Let her go,
I tell myself. She can only follow him so far.

You’ve propped it by your bed,
Still Life with Cap. How skillfully
you’ve filled the frame—no white space,
but vivid greens and blues, a lattice of shadow,
the cap drawing it all together.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007


Anne Pitkin: “I cannot say just when or why I started writing poetry. I read a lot of it during and after college, and I responded, I guess, by trying to write it, initially piqued by the tensions between words. My first submission, to The Saturday Review, was an exuberantly awful attempt. For weeks, I awaited a phone call from John Ciardi. In the years since then, I’ve done a bit better.”

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“Bobby’s Story” by Jimmy Pappas



Jimmy Pappas


I. Bobby: Food

I was a jungle fighter. We had to eat
cold food because we couldn’t have fires
or we would give away our location.
I liked to eat snakes. They tasted pretty good.
I ate insects: spiders, centipedes, grasshoppers,
anything I could find to survive.
Here’s what I’d do: I’d take my pot,
put in a centipede and lots of grasshoppers.
Then I’d mash it all together, cover it
with tabasco sauce, close my eyes,
and pretend I was eating something else.
The hot sauce took my mind off what
I was doing, so it was like eating Mexican food.


II. Bobby: Rock ’n’ Roll Gunner

We’d fly over the jungles
in helicopter gunships
playing rock ’n’ roll music.

We had our guns ready
for when Charlie came
out to shoot at us.
Charlie hated rock ’n’ roll.


III. Bobby: The Jungle Fighter

I fought in the Ashau Valley,
the site of the last major Marine
operation of the entire war,
so I made very few friends.
I didn’t need to think about
crap like them dying on me.

We went into Laos, Cambodia.
The NVA would attack us and run
across the border. They didn’t care
about no Geneva Convention.
Why should we? We set up quadrants
across the border. All secret stuff.
We’d sit in hiding for a day or more.
Then we would ambush them.
It was very effective.

When I was fighting, I felt bad
for the women and children,
but never for the men because
their objective was to kill me,
and mine was to make it home.

Sometimes I volunteered to support
the doctors who did not carry guns.
I kept lookout while this one medic
helped a family in a village
when a mortar shell landed
right on the hooch, killing
the whole family and the doctor,
but I only got blown twenty feet
down the road, and couldn’t do
nothing to save them.

I joined the Marines for all
the right reasons, but when
I came back, I was pissed off
for quite a long while.
People called me a baby killer.
They thought they knew more
about Vietnam than I did
because of what they saw on TV,
so I just took the insults
and said, Screw you.


IV. Bobby: Guns

You know that gun that was advertised
in VVA magazine? I bought it.
I love guns. I can’t tell you what it’s like
in the evening when I’m cleaning
my guns. It helps me find peace.
I have AK-47s, M-16s, tommy guns,
you name it, I got it. All legal.
Then I get up in the morning
to come here, and a guy gives me
shit in the parking lot.
I wanted to kill him.
Don’t worry. It’s been forty years,
and I haven’t shot anybody yet.


V. Ron: Joining the Group

I met Bobby at the Vet Center
when I went there for help.
He was in the same therapy group.
The first day, when I heard some
of the things he said, I knew
he was in his place. That began
my indoctrination into his bulldog
side. He was hard core, and I
liked that. He asked me to join
this Vietnam Veterans of America
chapter. He said, Bring in twenty
dollars and your DD214 next week.
I kept making excuses, so he said,
Just bring in your DD214, and I’ll
pay the twenty dollars. I didn’t really
want to join, but the thought of owing
him twenty dollars was worse,
so I came in the next week
with my paperwork and dues.
I am truly grateful to him for
caring enough to get me involved.


VI. Ron: Hurricane Sandy

Bobby and I went to New York
to help veterans after Hurricane Sandy.
One rainy day, we spent an hour
in the parking lot discussing
the problems of jelly doughnuts
hoping no one would show up
before the doughnut issue
was resolved. Even when
he was doing something
serious, he did not have
to be serious all the time.
When it came time to load up
the truck, Bobby was in the storage
unit and Jack was in the trailer.
I was in the middle getting wet
in the rain passing boxes.
I asked, Why am I the only one
getting wet? Bobby said,
Because you were the only one
who was late. How can you
argue with that logic?


VII. Bobby: The Roofer

I went to the VA for help.
The lady asked me what
I could do. I told her,
I got a fifth-grade education.
I fought in the jungles
for the Marines.
Then I spent 39 years
as a roofer before I
fell off a roof
and broke my back.
You tell me, What
do YOU think I can do?


VIII. Jimmy: The Cane Battle

I try to sit near Bobby at events.
Very few others seem to want to.
Bobby has been committing
suicide by food. He stuffs himself.
Between injuries and obesity,
he can hardly move.

I have Bobby on one side,
Peter on the other.
They each have canes now.
Peter hates Bobby.
When Bobby interrupts,
Peter swings his cane
at Bobby over my body.
I put my arms up to break up the battle.
Bobby toddles out like a child learning
to walk for the first time.
In the corridor, he cries.
Melvin has to go out to calm him down,
but Bobby quits the group.


IX. Melvin: In the Corridor

Bobby stood out there and cried like a baby.
He swore at me up and down,
telling me I’m always taking sides
against him. I tell him I’m not taking
any more shit. We lost two good
potential members that day.
They came to check out the group.
You blame them for wondering
if it’s always like this? I don’t want
to be disrespected like that again.


X. Larry: Respecting Women

Bobby swore in front of the women.
I grew up being told you don’t
disrespect women. He shouldn’t be
swearing in front of women like that.


XI. Peter: The Toilet

I don’t want Bobby
coming to my house
for our next meeting.
He’s so fat he might
break my toilet
or something.


XII. Melvin: Late Night Calls

Bobby calls me up at 11:00 at night.
It takes me 45 minutes to get there
and 45 minutes to get back home.
Then I spend a couple of hours
at his home helping him out.
I can’t keep doing that.
You know that dog he has?
Armani? He’s a comfort dog.
He’s there to take care of Bobby.
You know how Bobby hurt his leg?
He couldn’t get Armani out of the house
to go pee, so by the time he finally
got the dog out, it had to go so bad
and pulled so hard that Bobby fell over.
So I teach Armani how to go in Bobby’s bathroom.
I set up some paper there.
I even put a diaper on the dog.
I can’t keep doing this.
I’m through with Bobby.


XIII. Bobby: Armani the Comfort Dog

Armani’s my friend. My only one.
He’s family to me. Look at him.
He’s got his head on my foot.
You put on his vest and he becomes
a comfort dog. He begins working.
Take it off and he’s a regular dog again.
You know he can take clothes out of the dryer?
Press buttons on the elevator for me?
It’s incredible what he can do.
We even made him a member of the group.
And he’s a great chick magnet.


XIV. Bobby: The Return

I came back to the group again.
I really need to be here.


XV. Bobby: The VA Hospital

You know they won’t let me
keep my dog Armani here?
What’s that all about!
You know, I’m not doing real good.
And they’re doing nothin’ for me,
nothin’. Let’s go have a cigarette.


XVI. Melvin: Life Support

I got some bad news I need to share.
Bobby’s in Boston at Brigham
and Woman’s Hospital.
His family’s going in today,
and the doctors are going
to take him off life support.
I know you loved him.
That’s why I called you
personally to let you know.


XVII. Ron: The Funeral

When I was having problems,
my wife told me to either get help
or get out. I love my wife so I
went to the VA to find assistance.
One of the first guys I met was Bobby.
He’s the only guy who can say
I love you to my wife.
He used to help me pick up flowers
for all of the veterans’ funerals.
This morning, the lady at the flower shop
asked me, Hey, where’s your friend?
I told her, These flowers are for him.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Readers’ Choice Award Winner

[download audio]


Jimmy Pappas: “One of my last conversations with Bobby before he died went something like this. Jimmy: I’m going to make you famous in a poem, Bobby. Bobby: I don’t want no lousy poem. Jimmy: No, it’s not going to be a fancy poem. It’s going to be a good poem. Bobby: Okay, but I don’t want no rhymes. So rest in peace, Bobby. I made you famous in a poem with no rhymes that I wrote over a three-year time period. And it’s a good poem.”

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“The Man Kissed the Letter” by Erik Campbell



Erik Campbell


The man kissed the letter slowly
Before dropping it in the mailbox.

It felt awkward dropping
My gas bill in after this.

Even my packet of poems
Couldn’t help, whittled down
To imprecise love letters,
Photocopied for any and all comers.

And I felt suddenly as shameless
As a man in a bar teaching
A pretty woman to shoot pool.

This is nothing new to you.

You’ve seen the man
Kissing the letter.

Perchance you’ve been the man
In the bar. As for me,

Anymore I’ll take any scrap of shame
That the Greeks left us.

from Rattle #22, Winter 2004


Erik Campbell: “One afternoon in the summer of 1994 I was driving to work and I heard Garrison Keillor read Stephen Dunn’s poem ‘Tenderness’ on The Writer’s Almanac. After he finished the poem I pulled my car over and sat for some time. I had to. That is why I write poems. I want to make somebody else late for work.” (website)

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