WORD OF MOUTH
A poet I know said he once read an interesting insight about the difference between poetry and prose.
His discovery went something like this:
There is poetry, and there is prose. Within the genre of prose, there is fiction and nonfiction. In poetry, however, there is neither fiction nor nonfiction. There is only poetry.
This month’s featured poet, Rochelle Ratner, pulls another nail out of the coffin of literary categories like these by offering four prose poems. Not exclusively prose or poetry, Ratner’s prose poems take the best of both forms to create this hybrid style of writing: the paragraph block form and standard punctuation of prose containing the plein-air imagery of Pound’s “petals on a wet, black bough.”
Everyone in this edition of Identity Theory takes the world’s oldest verbal art form and breathes newly created life onto the page and computer screen.
The format may be prose poetry or free verse, but the spirit is the same: Wordsworth’s “emotion recollected in tranquility’’ speaking loudly to anyone who takes the time to listen.
Charles H. Johnson
A poem by Dellana Diovisalvo
Looks like a tourniquet
tied around that telephone wire
to mend a spot where words
something said either
too hot or too cold
to be contained.
So someone came
and tore a strip of cloth
off the clothes on their back
to mend the broken line,
to keep the words
Dellana Diovisalvo –- firstname.lastname@example.org — grew up in Vernon, N.J., got her B.A. from UMass-Boston and a scholarship for her MFA from Vermont College. She is a bookmobile librarian in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Several of her poems were published in The Boston Poet from 1996 to 1997; two of her poems can be found on the Web site Poets Against The War.
FEATURED POET: ROCHELLE RATNER
Four prose poems by Rochelle Ratner
First of all, this is not a flying carpet. She lies on
her back, without a pillow, and thinks of Grandma
fluffing down the feathers in their grey striped
ticking. Grandma bought this carpet, grandpa’s dog
left his mark on it. She reaches up one hand to
scratch her nose. See, she’s getting tired now. The
little man in the Zenith insists it’s going to snow
tonight. The carpet’s blue and gold, colors of the
camp she hated. Sleep-away camp. It’s a floral carpet,
and she just breathes in the scent. Now she counts her
breaths, now her arms move with them, up and down, the
palm turning over as it nears her side. She feels a
slight chill. If she closes her eyes she can hear the
There was snow in Canada. I started to slip and you
grabbed my arm, saving me. Wives aren’t supposed to
fall, I said, only girlfriends are. It had been
raining in New York earlier. Your father, driving us
to the airport, almost missed the turn. I checked my
watch. You reminded me there were planes every hour,
if we miss this flight we’d catch the next one. But we
caught the plane. Or it caught us. Plain geometry, the
two wings spreading out, a quarter to three, nine
fifteen. My arm locked in yours. And then to be
cheated, deprived, tricked, stolen from, scammed,
deceived, bamboozled, ignored, ambushed, betrayed,
duped, taken for granted, made to look like fools.
Married one hour less than we’d planned to be, we
The helicopter lands outside your window, just like
the man in the other bed said it does. The same man
who told you, three days in a row, he’s going home
tomorrow. All the lights sinking past the window. He
saw it twice last night, while you were sleeping. With
the curtain drawn between your beds, you circle your
finger at your temple and smile for our benefit. And
it’s true most hospitals have helicopter pads, but on
a third floor roof between ten story buildings? The
helicopter whirls and spins and circles right in.
Ninety years old and you can still see something new.
You’re the one supposed to go home today, then they
say one more test, then another X-ray. You watch the
propellers stir up light snow on the rooftop, see a
flash of red, get sucked into the sudden stillness
before doors fly open. Never thought you’d live to see
— In reality, he never failed to witness air spill
when she unclenched fists. – Eileen Tabios
When he clenches his fists they suck up all the air.
Her throat tightens, as if she’d just eaten shellfish.
Her fingers move frantically along the hem of her blue
floral blouse, searching for some small thing to hold
onto. With one swipe, fists unclenched, he rips that
blouse off her. Now her body has room to breathe, at
least, the air around her stirred for just a moment.
She inches toward the door. He grabs the doorknob in
his fists. Turns it. Locks it. Some day she’ll go to
the hospital. But not now, it’s not what you think.
The anger will dissipate, he won’t ever hurt her.
He’ll spend half a week’s earnings on a new blouse.
She’ll discover other times when it’s hard to breathe,
her heart lagging behind her. Her body’s raised by the
bed in the hospital, while he sits there, stroking the
back of her hand. Three times a day they come to take
her blood. Make a fist, the nurse says. Then, seeing
how hard that is for her, offers a little floppy-eared
pink rabbit beanie baby to squeeze instead. One from
her daughter’s collection.
Rochelle Ratner -– email@example.com — is executive editor of American Book Review and reviews regularly for Library Journal. A New York resident, she has published two novels: Bobby’s Girl (Coffee House Press, 1986) and The Lion’s Share (Coffee House Press, 1991) and fourteen poetry books, including House and Home (Marsh Hawk Press, 2003). An anthology she edited, Bearing Life: Womens’ Writings on Childlessness, was published in January 2000 by The Feminist Press. More information can be found on her home page: www.rochelleratner.com.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: HOW MEMORY WORKS
A poem by Mark Hillringhouse
Memory is a closet,
a bedroom window splashed with rain,
a girl’s face looking up at the sky.
Memory is a wastebasket,
notebooks filled with forgotten details
that work themselves into drafts
of silent, crumpled poems.
Memory is the first taste of sex,
the animal smell of the body,
that reflects like light
in the stained glass of your mind,
the neon suffering of an ancient child.
Mark Hillringhouse — firstname.lastname@example.org — was editor for the New York Arts Journal and founding editor of the American Book Review. He lives in New Jersey, and his poems and articles have appeared in the American Poetry Review, American Poetry, Columbia, Hanging Loose, the Literary Review, the Little Magazine, New American Writing, the New Jersey Monthly, the New York Times Book Review and others. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won the Chester H. Jones National Poetry Competition, and several fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. He teaches creative writing and is a
member of the National Book Critics’ Circle.
A poem by Dave Grill
Sometimes this is all it takes:
the nut splitter
the true board
the tin knocker
gently swaying home
sharp oiled plane
an old saw for
an organ grinder’s monkey wrench
Dave Grill — email@example.com — is a poet living in Central Pennsylvania. He is a co-host of Poetry Brew in York, Pa. He has been a featured reader from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and in Maryland.
NO ONE SLEEPS
A poem by James R. Whitley
At least not soundly,
at least not with eyes fully closed.
At this hour,
the darkening sky is a sacred fresco
with its silent choir of stars staring down,
its coruscating secrets and deeper meanings.
Outside my bedroom window,
the lithe arms of the dogwood trees
sway in an impromptu mime show,
their liquid shadows spreading across my walls
in chiaroscuro splendor.
And still I can’t sleep.
But who wants to risk dreaming about love anyway?
Love, the flea-bitten stray at your front door,
the frigid Principessa, the cicatrix,
the as-of-yet-incurable infection,
the blind coxswain, the sine qua non,
the desiccant, the crippling toxin,
the timely tocsin, the trendy coat,
the flawed theorem, the butter slathered
on your otherwise ho-hum popcorn,
the open window, the closed door,
(I need to take a breath here,
but you are my punctured lung.)
I really need to sleep,
but my damned self-pity is howling much too loudly.
So instead I pop in a DVD and I’m thinking that
all I ever needed to know about loss
I’m learning right now
from the eminent Sir Ben Kingsley
who’s playing a distraught father
whose only child has been shot in the chest.
And with his arms wide open,
his trembling fingers splayed as if to catch something
that might otherwise float past him
“like hope or a loose thread of fate”
the father races to the emergency room
where his barely breathing boy lies.
And with terror fueling his stricken pulse,
he chants his mantra
“I want only my son. I want only my son.”
as if such repetition might wake some napping God.
Through my window’s dark frame,
piebald victim of loss herself,
has grown disturbingly paler,
she knows all-too-well
the tumult that dawn can bring,
like a delayed answer,
that one is not wholly prepared to receive.
And though I’m bleary-eyed and unclear who,
in heaven or in the apartment above,
might hear this shrill pleading
and unsure who would even care,
I admit this now:
I want only you.
I want only you.
James R. Whitley -– firstname.lastname@example.org — lives in Massachusetts and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in several publications, including Gargoyle, Mississippi Review, Poetry Midwest, and Xavier Review. His first book, Immersion (Lotus Press, 2002), was selected by Lucille Clifton as the winner of the 2001 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. His second book, This Is the Red Door, won the 2003 Ironweed Press Poetry Prize and will be published in 2005.
THE ALAMO EFFECT
A poem by Claudia Grinnell
The judge had been a frightened man
Assessing in his final days
What would become of the books
The walls and walls and rooms and rooms of books
Some were first editions
A discriminating mind might consider worth more than a
When they found him, he had been dead
Three days. When they found him, a .22 Derringer
And four knives lay on his bedside table.
Enough food to keep him well a considerable time
I might as well be Jim Bowie. People say
I look like him
(his favorite saying)
Time was we counted on Fannin
Too many days, not enough men
(the old men say
those who have been around, have taken
their show on the road, some of those
the same roads, crossed time
and again and again and again until these random atoms
strike against each other and so-called magic
The Derringer goes off, strafing
A bailiff, a picture
Perfect afternoon: people gathering, anticipating,
Whinnying. Some caught a whiff
Of the carbide, ran back
To this place, this place
Where every possibility had been collected
A house at the corner of 6th and Bres
An office for a lawyer but a house
And that is okay
Because he once was a judge
And there was a shed outside
And a canoe —
The canoe was priced right
Claudia Grinnell – email@example.com — was born in Germany and now lives in Monroe, La., where she teaches English. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous print and online magazines such as New Orleans Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Exquisite Corpse, Minnesota Review, The Greensboro Review, California Review, River Oak Review, Logosjournal, Fine Madness and Diner.
A poem by Ashok Niyogi
In the femur,
A rod gone in
With the opacity
Of muscles and skin.
Translucence of blood
But I want my tea.
From my Lord
On the Cross,
Dialysis of life,
In catheter pouches,
Femur, muscles, blood, urine
Alone like my occult,
All is alone,
But I want my cigarette
To burn to the filter
Before I light another one.
I count beeps that change
I practice language,
In delirium, I have to meet
Mark Twain on the moon.
Ashok Niyogi — firstname.lastname@example.org — was born in 1955 and graduated with Honors in Economics from Presidency College, Kolkata. He has been and will be published in magazines (print and on-line) in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe. He has two books of poetry –- Crossroads, and Reflections in the Dark — published by A-4, India, and Tentatively (iUniverse).
A NAURAL GOSPEL
A poem by Greg Braquet
The unison of one hundred onion-skins
Turning over the good news
That sound, that chime of heaven
Descending over the pews
Like an angel’s heartbeat
That is what held my ear
Not the sermon
And what was being said
Was raising the dead
And all that jazz
Would I have been the goat herder
On the far mound in the
Crowd’s hind, playing it safe, only
Catching a glimpse of a rebellious
Jew heaven bent on self-destruction
Perhaps, though the wind in the olive trees
Ascending over loaves and fish and
Stirring the sense of kingdom come
May have been enough to convince me
This son could shine like three
Greg Braquet — Deb42@cox.net — lives in New Orleans, La. His poetry has appeared in such publications as The New Laurel Review, THEMA, The Tap Root Review, Lucid Stone, Desire Street, Poetry Life & Times, The Breath Magazine, Red River Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Pierian Springs, Tryst, Side Reality, The Adagio Verse Quarterly, The Little Green Tricycle, The Junket, Tin Lustre, L’Intrigue, Branches Quarterly, Exquisite Corpse. He was a recipient of the Delirium Journal’s 2003 Choice Award.
for Leonard Peltier
A poem by Laine Sutton Johnson
No one really knows you, Leonard, except some old-time
AIM or Lakota people like you, or some who hate you.
And people like me who happen to find your poetry book
on the shelf of a modern bookstore.
When you were free there was no modern bookstore
with coffee, tables and countless shelves.
Like clerks do with unimportant books they file away,
you’ve been put in Leavenworth Prison
with rotting teeth never to be fixed.
There would not be an extradition
with one witness, mentally challenged, frightened for
and proved later absent from the scene.
Too many checks and balances today in a world of
Martha Stewart’s arrest
and a president being allowed to stay in office
through perjury over his sexual indiscretion.
Leonard, it is a different world.
But you are locked in time and place.
You are the dirty secret kept far away from OJ
and Robert Blake’s murder trial.
Even Jeffrey Dahmer had a side
and barely anyone remembers little Lisa Steinberg
and how her beating, killing father now walks free.
One day you will have a hearing,
though early ones were all denied
as we were chasing steroid use in athletes.
Why did Clinton fail to pardon you?
What happened at Guantanamo?
The Mayo Clinic was not allowed to fix your rotting
but PITA spits at people who wear fur.
I see you sitting in a cell,
and no one’s voice is loud enough to save you.
Death will cover all the lies
and one day someone brave will face the press.
“Leonard Peltier was an innocent man.”
No one needs to look into your eyes
and say, “I’m sorry” and deal with what’s reflected
Sorry we took 30 years from your existence
from your children and your family,
your friends and your Lakota Nation.
At least you weren’t killed!
No one really knows you, Leonard.
And yet you represent the truth of our hypocrisy.
The symbol of man’s inhumanity to man
because he doesn’t have the dignity to say,
“We made a big mistake, but someone had to pay!”
Let’s just pick the softest voice,
the smallest threat, the cowboy enemy,
and never let him go so he can never tell it like it
and that way no one else will ever know
that sometimes cowboys really were the bad guys.
we are still a cowboy nation.
Laine Sutton Johnson – email@example.com — has had poetry published in the Edison Literary Review, Paterson Literary Review, and the anthology Paterson: The Poets’ City. Living in New Jersey, she is a playwright, Equity actress and a drama teacher for the N.J. Arts in the Schools Program and other free-lance programs. She received the N.J. Governor’s Award for Outstanding Teacher of Speech and Theatre in 1998.
I COULD TELL
A poem by Nilsa Mariano
You read about me
I could tell
In a book
About mi gente
Watching from the beach —
Kiskeya … Borinquen
As men covered in cloth
Came out of the sea
The ones already there —
called themselves Tainos…
Did you know about their language?
The softness of their words
The songs they sang
The strength of their bodies
The faith in their Gods?
You read about my family
In an old essay
Broken lives picked
in lurid detail —
Did you know about
The ones sent to
Your Indian schools
Listed under the tribe
Called Porto Rican
Did you hear about
With names that linger
In our memory —
You read about my friends
I could tell —
A class — you took a class
You know about my men
My lovers —
My mother —
Someone told you
In a lecture
In a film
In living color …
Or black and white
It was a graphic story
You saw someone who reminded you of me
The hair — the earrings
The snap of juicy fruit
From across the room —
You didn’t see me on line
At the bank
In the grocery store
At the opera
Or mowing my lawn —
You didn’t see that.
Butttt…You read about me
So…You think you know me
You saw me in a book
Written into the margins —
A space so tiny
It only got a toe note —
You think you know me —
You know my demographics
Better than I do
You know where I live
How I vote
You Know …
What I signify …
You read about me …
I could tell.
Nilsa Mariano — firstname.lastname@example.org — lives in New York and has been published in Poems Nierdengasse, Shadow Poetry, The Primrose, Multicultural Storyteller (The Taina Storyteller) and Performance Poet.
I WANT YOU TO LOVE ME LIKE THE ANGELS, EAGLES,
FALCONS, FREAKS, AND PHILANTHROPISTS DO
A poem by Jason Huskey
Her request in Braille
raised like the goose-pimples
on her arms when I touch her.
Her mother died in stirrups, leaving
her born this way. Baby birthed
black, though neither of us
is/was. I wanted to run
away from the hospital, hide
somewhere ’til death; but
she grabbed for my hand and
cried through her shriveled
face the moment I touched her.
Her request sits in Braille,
dots like the bumps of her misshaped
spine sticking through her thin skin,
when I lie next to her at night,
putting her to sleep with slow strokes
and simple hums. I know I would like to
love her like they do, but I just
don’t think I can.
Jason Huskey — email@example.com — has been
writing fiction and poetry since his youth, and has a
B.A. in English from Longwood University. Living in
Virginia, he is currently writing an interconnected
collection of short stories as well as an
interconnected collection of poems. His work has
appeared in The Dos Passos Review, Love’s Chance
Magazine, and The Nocturnal Lyric.
ON PARKES’ PAINTING TITLED “GARGOYLES”
A poem by Sheila Duane
What is there to fear in leaping?
The painter asks.
The gargoyle breaks from his marble station
To chase the soap bubble sent forth
By the little girl, and she, eyes closed
Unconscious of the suddenly animated stone being
Whose rough body bolts into blue air.
The gargoyle leaps,
The breath of life cast
By the siren music of the soap bubble.
He pushes off the edifice,
Pushes off the marble globe
Upon which he has spent
His inanimate life balancing.
Defying stone gravity for one unhurried moment
The gargoyle’s intermission
In the laws of time and space
Then begins to fall … slowly at first
Then more and more rapidly
Until the velocity draws blue air
From his cavernous chest.
At the end of his single moment of life
His metamorphic hand still attempts
To close on the fleeting
Sheila Duane — firstname.lastname@example.org — has a B.A. from the University of New Mexico and an M.A. from Rutgers University. A New Jersey resident, she has been published in college journals (UNM, Rutgers, Monmouth University — were she taught) — and SUNY’s Phoebe). Her chapbook, Hands, received an honorable mention from Five Fingers Review.
(For Gloria Emerson, 1929-2004)
A poem by Jan Barry
Some people show us
how to die.
Some people show us
how to live.
In dying for others,
people are called heroes.
What do we call those
who live on in us?
Jan Barry — email@example.com — is a reporter for The Record in Bergen County, N.J., and teaches journalism at Rutgers University. His most recent book is Earth Songs: New & Selected Poems.
WHAT I SAID WHEN MY SON ASKED ME IF I GREW UP POOR
A poem by Svea Barrett
I remember a chipped, milk chocolate house and
a cocker spaniel who bit a passer-by so my dad
had to shoot him. I remember a green pedal car
and a big tin washtub, which was our pool in summer.
I remember Dad pushed the mower hard and not often,
its silvery rust-flecked blades spun and spiraled as
dad wiped his sweat with a stained white handkerchief.
There was no smell but cut grass, no sound but the
of the blades. Bees bumped against the screen in my
my sister and I held rabbits under the kitchen sink
and our big front porch with its broken white wicker
rockers made the best seat in town for all the
Svea Barrett – firstname.lastname@example.org — teaches creative writing and literature at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Bergen County, N.J. and has been published in LIPS, Samsara Quarterly, the Journal of New Jersey Poets and Paterson Literary Review. Her chapbook, Slipping, received honorable mention in the Morris Memorial Chapbook Contest and will be published by the Alabama State Poetry Society. Her chapbook, Why I Collect Moose, won first place award of $500 from the Stocton Arts Commission.
POINT OF CONTACT WITH GOD & LOVE
A poem by Nitin Shroff
Everything held my gaze
Telegraph poles, silver birches
Dog excrement looked back
The Sky looked back at me
I stared into the sun
I looked at the palm of my hands
Suns spun around my hands
Just like nothing on earth
I had a camera
I photographed it all
The benign sentient things smiled for my lens
I photographed the sun on f22 & 2000th of a second
I photographed the crushed but still smiling green
It pointed at me and the river swirled into my head
And out of my mind
Nitin Shroff — Nitinshroff@aol.com — is a poet of Indian and Seychelles origin living in Southern France.
A poem by Amanda Berry
The mail never comes before four anymore,
Frequent-flyer statements from previous residents
keep slipping through. But your back ached
and the job downtown promised relief for your feet.
The new guy is eager enough, but he doesn’t remember
the blue ribbon tied around the maple when my son was
doesn’t ask about the baby. You used to stop to chat
in the yard,
mail pouch cradled against your hip. Yours no longer
your eyes glistened at how big they were getting.
When a package came, you watched for my eagerness,
pleased to deliver. And when the neighbors moved,
you reported on the family from over on Orchard
who were about to move in, warned me about their dog.
You’d figured she was gone at last
when you saw the moving van,
but they just moved across town,
still on your route, and you, ever the diplomat,
whispered “nice doggie” and kept your distance.
Amanda Berry — email@example.com — teaches at Kent Place School in Summit, N.J. Her poetry has appeared in Edison Literary Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and in Poetic Reflections of Monmouth County, and is forthcoming in English Journal.