RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 28

Mary Ma
How To Stay In New Jersey

It’s a small state but there’s room.             
Make room. Bring a map to your desk
and get to work:

Run a red marker over
all the parking lots you purged in. 
Black top tucked behind  
restaurants and schools. Sometimes 
you’d stay in the driver’s seat
until you found a trash can. 
Cross out the trash cans and dumpsters 
on the main stretch of town.

Tear away the town where you were raped
and the town where your rapist lives.
Be careful with the latter or you may tear 
your own town, too.

Be gentle, the state looks smaller.

Take a pencil and circle the spaces you can

Circle every place you tried to sleep
when you couldn’t go home. Mall parking lots,
pharmacy parking lots, coffee shops, bleachers.

Erase that last one. Cross the bleachers out instead. 
They remind you of your stalker. 
Note the driveway where he jumped inside 
your moving car.

Don’t forget the Petco where your ex’s twin 
brother works. All you know is one of them
called you a whore. One of them
didn’t want you to work with other men, 
but you can’t tell them apart so assume 
both are dangerous. Go ahead and cross out Route 17.

Move your home away 
from the tear on the page 
and try again.

There are new malls here. New restaurants. New streets.
You don’t really need to use parking lots
any more.

Now look at all the state that’s left: 

You’ll fit
There’s room.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 21

Della Rowland

Maybe It Wasn’t A Golden Retriever

I was barely old enough to drive when Mom got sick in Sarasota 
on our first vacation after she divorced Dad.
I drove a thousand miles home 
in our white Chevy Impala convertible with red seats, 
straight through, no motel, with Mom slumped against the passenger-side door 
and my younger sisters and brother in the back seat 
with the top up the whole way.
During the night a blond streak crossed in front of the headlights, 
and I felt the two bumps under the tires on my side, the driver’s side. 
I slowed down to pull over but Mom, her voice dark 
and guttural, said, “Keep driving.” 

I did. But back there was the golden retriever
who was barking at the white and red convertible 
playing the chase game it was bound to lose some day 
whose face was turned toward the on-coming headlights, 
and now it was lying on the road, maybe beside the road, dead, 
I hoped, dead instantly I hoped,
not quivering in a ditch waiting 
for its owner to wake up the next morning 
and wonder where that danged dog was.

Maybe it wasn’t a golden retriever. Maybe I was remembering 
the dog I got when I was in third grade. 
I fell asleep in the back seat of our car 
on the way home from Granny and Grandpa’s one Sunday night, 
holding the puppy, my first pet, him asleep too, 
my arm over his fat belly,
my face next to his body
that smelled like a baby. 
Dad didn’t think we should sleep with our pets 
and hooked his leash to the clothesline at night.
One morning, the puppy was gone.
“Stolen,” Dad said. 
Mom said nothing.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 14

I Miss Wine  

Janet Kolstein

Red, white, rosé

Decanted and breathing or
straight from the bottle.
In plastic, in crystal.
Nose in a snifter.

With bread and cheese,
with people,
with tears.

Legs, with memories of the vine,
running down the sides of a glass.
Like rain on a window. 

Break-up medication. Artistic desperation. 
Anxiety soother, loosener of love/lust.

Sitting on the bed (the three of us) —
laughing so hard I missed my mouth
and spilled Sauvignon Blanc
all over my blouse.

Swishing it around
before it goes down,
a soft weight in my mouth —
slurring words
before they slip out.

Wine with a dartboard,
wine with reservations,
earthy, dry, complex, bright,
a tour of the world 
through the culture of grapes.

When I was young, 
wine was my voluptuous roommate.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 7

Arthur Russell 


When I started writing stories, I’d be writing a story,   
and a good line would come to me, 
And I would laugh.  In my room, alone. 
I’d be delighted; and this laughter, typically the chuckling sort, 
but sometimes I would just fall out 
from how goddamned funny I was; 
like this one story where the protagonist is complaining about the deli counter man 
getting pickle juice on his pastrami sandwich, I slayed myself so hard, I think I wept a little. 

I think Moses must’ve fallen out when he wrote Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Damn, he must’ve cried onto his chisel from that one, 
little rust spots on his chisel where the tears fell.   

Or maybe it was not a joke at all. Maybe before he went up on Mr. Sinai, 
he caught Zipporah with Aaron, and he was wroth, 
but he had to go to work, so he couldn’t confront her,  
and he just added Thou shalt not commit adultery
in with the other commandments as a kind of personal message to her that  
I see what you’re doing, girlfriend, and I do not appreciate it.

And Zipporah’s like Really?  
Like who are you, Mr. Smack The Nile
With Your Staff And Make The Waters Part?  
Smack my Nile, why doncha?
Do you know how long I’ve gone without a little staff?  
My kids are on social security, that’s how long. I’m dying here.

Oh, are you taking suggestions for those tablets?
How about this one: “Thou shalt not forget to schtupp thine wife from time to time
or else some other guy will do it for you.  
You’re giving a whole new meaning to wandering in the wilderness.”

But that doesn’t happen anymore. 
I haven’t laughed while I was writing in something like 40 years. 
I just sit here in the quiet kitchen 
with the humming refrigerator and sometimes 
the sound of the garbage truck telling me  
it’s time to stop for the day, go take a shower, 
eat breakfast, get dressed. 


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Apr 30

Frank Rubino

The Old Whetstone

My brother and I fight about the Bible,
resting on an end table in his house, no joke,
beneath his handgun. The gun’s on top.
I pick it up. It’s heavy, black metal, 9mm Glock.
He generally wears it on his hip, even around the house.
Now, I’m admiring it as a well-made object.
Never look down the barrel of a gun! yells my brother.
And I fucking am, how embarrassing.
And do not say it is just a book! he says, when we get back to the Bible.

Newark to Seattle; drive through the pines,
past an acre lot stacked with used Fisher-Price playhouses.
A guy sells them out there in the drizzle on 101,
where somehow my brother’s grown a real gun on his side.

I know the roots of it, some.

We’re in our lunch truck; he’s in the middle, Dad’s driving,
wearing his Saint Christopher medal and a white t-shirt.
I’m trying to catch my face in the passenger side rear-view.
Always the same thought, the same eldest child dream:
Am I Superman? Am I the hero in this scene?
The mirror is the size of a bread loaf,
because the steering is so bad you need complete visibility.
The struts the mirror swings on are white,
and the mirror bolts onto the struts
with brackets welded to the back.

All the things in our life are made of the elements:
dirt, wood, screws, paint, batteries,
motor oil, blue Cub Scout knife,
conic pumping motor oil can with long needle spout—
crooked at the top— making throat singing noises,
glock glock, when pressed on the bottom,
and a drop is forced out on the whetstone
where you lay the Cub Scout blade
and move it in an arc to sharpen it.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Apr 23

Mary Ma 
For a year, I smell like guava or whatever Dove has to offer 

My roommate hates the smell of cigarettes,
doesn’t know I smoke.

I shower between two and four times a day,
short bursts of hot water on my bones.

We talk to each other about calories
the way we read about them online.

Neither of us get our periods
and that’s all we have in common.

We agree to stop keeping food in the room,
agree that we shouldn’t eat after 7 pm.

We sleep through our alarms so thoroughly
the other girls on our floor have to shut them off.

We get drunk enough to allow ourselves to eat
and that’s the only time we eat together.

We dig our heels in until

Andy tells me she is moving out.
Her best friend is on our floor too and
Andy says it just makes sense.

She leaves the next week and I buy
a second set of sheets

for the bare twin bed.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Apr 9

Della Rowland

Pork Pie Hats            

We are all wearing knotted neckties and porkpie hats in the photograph,
very butch.
We are in the subway.  No flash, TriX pushed to 800
like Garry Winogrand and I’m Garry taking the shot
because I’m not in it,
just Louise, in the foreground, half turned to the camera,
her cheekbones, sharp as a cattle catcher, slightly blurred,
and Catherine, in soft focus, as she always liked, the gentle lighting,
her mouth pursed in a pithy comment, looking sideways
at Erin, who is pulling down the brim of her hat
to hide a cigarette.
God, did we know how to smoke then,
how to make the most of every cigarette gesture,
when and how long to take to light one up,
to take a draw, to blow the smoke out of our mouths
or let it drift up and out the nostrils,
very French,
how to use the cinder-tipped white wand like a conductor before sex
and stand behind the swirl of smoke like in b/w movies,
like in b/w film, TriX pushed to 800 to have natural light in subways
or dim, loud clubs, light natural so you could hear the glasses clink
or the silk lining in a jacket swish.

I found Erin again, some 20 years after she lost her accounting business to coke
and married Flora, a photographer.
Louise stopped sculpting and stopped talking to Erin and Catherine
and sometimes me, for ten years once, but always to Brigit,
who wasn’t with us.
Catherine, a designer, talks to everyone.

Where were we going on the subway? Max’s Kansas City?  Jimmy Days?
A party uptown at Brigit’s?  She rented two apartments
and removed the wall between.  Were we high already?
The only time I danced after eighth grade was at Brigit’s parties.
Maybe we were going to a play? We went to a lot of plays when they were cheaper.
We saw Langella in “Dracula” and had to run out to the lobby
at intermission to smoke and stroke our necks, he was so sexy.
Did we just have to ride the Staten Island Ferry to see some horizon?
Mid-westerners need that once in a while after moving to The City.
If we were going to Chinatown, we’d have already been to a club
and we’re headed downtown for chow fun
in our thrift store jackets, knotted neckties, and porkpie hats.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Apr 2

Claudia Serea

When I got back from the Gulag, my father says

I was so skinny,
skinnier than a thread through
a needle,

almost a fold of air,
a shadow,
a soft cough.

We were let out by the thousands:

a sudden call,
here are your belongings,
sign here,
a pressed button,
the open gate.

I walked slowly
as if still shackled,
startled by dogs
and any noise.

Through the train window,
I looked at the world, wondering
if anyone knew where I come from,
if they would let me back in.

I had no illusions:
they wouldn’t.

When I got back to my mother’s house,
I scared her more than any ghost.

She rushed to cook,
but I refused the food.

For days, I laid in the shade,
trying to forget what I’ve seen,

those hands,
those desperate eyes,
those semi-human beings,
so starved,
they risked being shot
for a watermelon rind
picked up from garbage.

I couldn’t tell my mother
why I couldn’t eat.

I just wanted to sleep
without being chased
by German shepherds,

and caught,
and brought back
each night.

I just wanted to sleep,
hidden in a crease of earth,
curl in the ground like a pebble
and forget.

I wanted rain to fall over me,
and leaves,
and snow.

I just wanted
to be forgotten.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Mar 19

Bobbie O’Connor

Maywood Memories

It wasn’t illegal to burn leaves
or have open fires, back then.

Every once in a while,
we’d rake up a huge pile of leaves
from our big oak trees on Fairmount Ave.

We’d bring them
to the end of the dirt driveway,
on the Coles Street side:
no sidewalks there.

The grownups would light the leaves
for a big bonfire.
It was usually early evening.

The neighborhood kids
would begin congregating there.

Soon, a few of the moms
would appear with lawn chairs,
one or two with a cup of coffee.
A couple of dads would meander over.

Someone would show up with a few hotdogs,
and some would bring marshmallows.

Quite a few would disappear
and be back shortly with a couple of potatoes,
which they’d stuff into the leaves
around the base of the fire, to bake.

The grownups would sit around,
talking a little.
We kids would hang around,
poking the leaves with sticks,
listening to the grownups talk.

Every so often, an acorn would pop.


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GV—POW 3 Celebration—March 29



The Magic Circle series returns to GainVille Café Friday, March 29, at 7 PM. We speak all kinds of creative this time! Our musical feature is Irish piper BRENDAN FOGARTY and Irish vocalist FIONA CONWAY in a popular St. Patrick’s Day encore. Latinx poet and prose writer REBECCA CARVALHO will demonstrate her focus on relationships/sex, wellness, food, and travel/leisure. And workshop poets from the POEM OF THE WEEK 3 anthology will share their best-in-show poetry. Also featuring the Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Bring-Your-A-Game open mic.

A $9 cover includes coffee/tea, dessert.

7 PM, GainVille Café
17 Ames Avenue, Rutherford

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