- Nicholas Rattner
Remember the maw of the shears
surrendered to a shake shingle shed,
which stands on the edge of a sleeve
of meadow next to the woods,
and our words like dirt stuck to shovels
that now are the quiet instruments
of the trenches we dug, and the road
clearing its throat of the day’s last traveler,
as a summer moon begins to thread
the mountain laurel, and the stars
show through the moth-eaten sky,
a weaving of darkness, a voice, a cool breeze
moving around our bodies, our gathering,
as a radio spills pomegranate seeds
of Sonny Rollins
Way Out West
for his anniversary, the purple caves
of sound overflowing with his breath
and spreading in our landscape
as your water-worded hair sweeps across
my tired chin. In your gaze,
thoughts twist like grass
that juts from a broken bench
until the mood shifts, you head inside,
and the pine chair’s back
looks like a church’s boarded window
streaked with rain in mute and humid air,
as the yard begins to unsay in darkness,
so I can’t see your mouth or the screen door
from which you praise the work we did,
a memory that will rise in flowers
I am unlikely to see because we turned
this land for the ghosts of rain,
a nameless tune, sweet and green
as mint and lime, swirling
in this cup while the tree frogs call
for their slivers of continuance.
You cut the engine on the shoulder,
and we let the mild slope pull closed
the old red Cutlass doors, flicking,
at the same time, our cherries,
like tracers into the drainage’s
collected water, somehow there
all seasons to rehearse the sky.
Town has pulled us back, you
from the Air Force and me
to visit my mother, who keeps asking
where you are. We cut across
the bankrupt fallow to an empty silo,
tramping wild ginseng and catalpa,
the purple heads peering through
the yellow mash made by the winter
of our Red Wings. Inside the cylinder,
sun splays on the dented ribs
a pollen-yellow under which the steel
seems to breath. The light shifts, and
the outlines of bales of hay go blue,
the vacant steel now flush
with the fatigue of an era.
It’s all coming back to me.
Our fingers smell of cigarettes and rust,
the edges of mistake, and upward
our smoke clears a tattered dome.
It merges with the hanging clouds,
tinged the white of the withers of a horse,
gliding into view. Below the imagined eyes,
our gazes are turned upward through
the aperture, so near that we can sense
the other’s heat. No moon tonight, and the silo
candles in the full dark, seeming
to breath a little nearer.
We know it’s time to cross the field,
to go back or maybe onward, so we stumble
over decades-old divots, hearing the other’s
grunts and laughter as the musings
of beloved if featureless guides.
Metered by a support pylon and the mesh
cradle of a planter, the cascade of phlox deflects
my grandmother’s intentions into mauve,
its lush obtrusion offering an unforeseen
pathway. The awl-shaped leaves require deference
from anyone who wants to see
the far end where recycled water and imported
rocks tell the story of a river absent
for its being said. Purple flowers of memory,
she taught me their Latin name,
which I forget, but everywhere her eye
for classical proportion lives in leafs and colors
that compliment the limits of their neighbors.
Resentment mostly given way to thanks,
I bend to tear away a ryegrass coil
and read the story of the phlox
as the space between our hands.
Talisman of Coils and Foam
My father painted these clapboards
sky blue thirty years ago,
sipping a Rolling Rock,
face growing red,
pulling a Pall Mall
from the pack with his lips.
The work has given his back
a fern- or question mark-like crook;
he appears to want to listen,
but the words I have for him
have within the decades
become reservoirs of color.
My way of speaking is to take
an old mattress, paint it red,
and fold its musty geometry
against the out-building.
It’s too much for him to lift,
and so the yard begins
to wear its heir’s artifice.
We have made each other
inside a fence of generation.
Now my father ambles
down the central path,
Pall Mall yet between his lips,
and when he bends to pluck
a strand of frog grass,
his hands are rags
soaked with turpentine.
I watch him from my window.
He stomps softly by the oaks,
witnesses from whom acorns fall,
old listeners with eyes of crow shriek
in whom smoke gathers as he expels it.
In the hour before dinner
when the sun sinks down,
it feels like all of them can see me.
The Last Castrato
The Sistine Chapel stage
gave my voice a life to amplify,
to be haunted by the body
hanging just behind, and
my body grew into its work.
My job is to sing, to never miss.
Heaven’s notes take muscle.
When it’s over, the soprano
tessitura, I take my chance
to rooster, to let clergy
and the donors know:
your applause belong to me,
not to that voice still spreading
your childhood on inner walls.
I am Alessandro Moreschi.
Who else could have held
for forty years these notes
over the fire of their youth?
Nick Rattner lives in Houston. He has taught English at Holyoke Community College and at Smith College and coached high school basketball. He is a former basketball journalist and Editor for Ugly Duckling Presse. Recent work can be found in Salt Hill, Grist, The Ekphrastic Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Beautiful Losers, Asymptote, Exchanges, and InTranslation. With Marta del Pozo, he has translated the work of poets Yván Yauri and Czar Gutiérrez. At present, he is translating the work of Spanish poet Juan Andrés García Román.