Field Notes, Week of 01-26-21

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of January 26, 2021

We got the news yesterday that Mark Fogarty, the Editor in Chief and the Publisher of the Red Wheelbarrow Journal and the MC of the Gainville Café sessionss, and a stalwart member of the RWB workshop since its beginning, is retiring from his posts after work for the last 13 years at least on the journal, many excellent Friday nights of love and music, including his bass playing and singing.  Losing both Mark and Jim Klein to retirement in one year is a big loss for the group, so I just wanted to shout out our gratitude to both of them for their work, their spirits and their love of poetry.

Brendan McEntee’s poem, “A Last Act” is a fifteen line narrative piece of free verse in two stanzas, each of which presents the facts of a different part of the day of a burial.  The poem begins when most of the mourners have left the gravesite and “the men moved in” – the men who do shovel the dirt.  The speaker’s family, including girls who “played hide-and-seek among the monuments” remain behind.  At the center of the poem a strong declarative places the day in the context of a survivor’s life: “It’s the last, firming act of adulthood when your parents die,/ though I don’t confuse it with maturity.”  The poem never tells us whose parent died, which gives the voice a certain internality and adds to the sense of stillness that the poem generates from beginning to end. 

The second stanza, of four lines, brings us back to the graveyard later in the day, “after dinner and recollections,” as the speaker drives by, looking through the green gate, looking for the grave, taking note of the flowers that the men had set on the mound “nicely,/ a momentary reminder for anyone who might pass and see.  Tom B said that the speaker of the poem was hiding their feelings. The way the speaker doesn’t tell us the relationship between the decedent and themselves but declares the place a parent’s death takes is one example.  And look at those last two lines again: the speaker, driving past the cemetery sees the grave through the gate and declares, in a very third person way that the flowers are  “a momentary reminder for anyone who might pass and see.”  Well, there IS a person passing and seeing right at that moment, and it’s not “anyone”— it’s the speaker.  So whether they are hiding their feelings  as Tom says, or presenting them through the filter of distancing effects (and through the green gate), it gives the poem its enduring sense of stillness.  (Frank didn’t like the title.  Neither did I, and there were a bunch of other editorial comments on syntax and word choice.)  I for one would love to see this near-sonnet again.

Speaking of maintaining a distance from emotion, Raymond Turco’s poem “Nilde Iotti” brings his book of Italian heroes more deeply into the twentieth century that some of his others.  The subject was a lifelong member of the Italian Communist Party, who (spoiler alert) had an affair and child with a married man.  As always, in this collection, Ray works in free verse, does not eschew archaicisms, and addresses his subjects as “you” while maintaining a third-person-ish distance that frequently, as here, creates a jarring contrast of familiarity and anonymity.  Like Michelangelo’s slaves, they only emerge halfway from their stones. 

Speaking of poems written in the second person that maintain an emotional distance from their subject, Susanna Rich’s poem “e-ro-teme/ n. 1. A mark indicating a question” is a lyrical love poem in free verse stanzas of three lines each that magnifies the adoration of a loved one’s hair curling around their ear.  The magnification is achieved through lingering on the possibilities of the moment, and the distancing is achieved through a kind of intelligent coyness, allowing the fascination of the peculiar word – eroteme — that describes a question mark, to dominate, even going as far as presenting the word, separated (in the title) into its syllables in a way that sneakily calls out the “eros” lurking in “eroteme.”  Tom thought the poem digressed. Jen must’ve agreed because she said to take out the comparison to “yin and yang,” and Claudia Serea asked in the politest way possibly, why the heck the poem needed three-line stanzas.

Shane Wagner, fresh from three consecutive rewrites of his last photo-based poem “Retouching” (about the broken bond between father and son) brought “Polaroids” a love poem (also in the second person) in which the love is shared between those old-fashioned Polaroids with a white border, and the subject of the poem, the “you” who is nude in the third stanza and pregnant in the fourth (talk about fast developing!).  The poem evoked a lot of nostalgia for the old technology (and Don said there’s an app that can make any photo look like it was taken by a 1970s Polaroid, and a lot of editorial comments. 

What would our work as a workshop be if it wasn’t about trying to fix a poem?  When we edit, we erase what we don’t like or don’t understand to make the poem conform to our norms; we substitute ourselves for the poet; we say, if I were writing this poem, this is how I would do it.  Well, hooray for that, and no doubt that can be helpful.  I’ve been an advocate in workshop for reading the poem twice and even three times before we say anything about it, because it keeps the poem in front of us in the poet’s words, allows us a chance to enter the poet’s intentions as hidden in a condensation of syntax, diction, line breaks, assonance, metaphor and a dozen other strategies.  Gives us a chance to say what IS happening in the poem instead of what SHOULD happen in the poem.  And that can be helpful to everyone, not just the poet.

Mike Mandzik, the inside of whose mind is a pinball machine, brought a poem called “RED FLAG” about an unfortunate misunderstanding in love, in which, as usual, the guy doesn’t know what went wrong, only that he’s not getting any pussy for a while.  Mike, want to come over to my place for the Super Bowl?

Carole Stone brought “Somewhere Else” a good poem (with a shitty title) where her plainspoken mid-century voice tallies the facts and artifacts of age: hurting legs, a bit of kindness from the guy in the liquor store, a beloved book on her desk, and hair getting long during the pandemic.  And remarkably, the poem is overtly about the very sort of emotional distancing that we talked about in Brendan’s, Raymond’s and Susanna Rich’s poem, except this poem records that difficulty as the turn that ends the poem:  “I think I’m closer to putting my emotions/ on the page.  I’ve almost stopped longing/ to be somewhere else.”

Yana Kane’s poem “Tai Chi Teacher” is a re-write of her triptych about a tai chi master whose lessons survive him.  It’s in four sections now (Quad-tych?) of varying length and uneven stanza lengths, still in free verse, and even more clearly now an elegy to this mentor.  It starts with the highly formal address: Our Tai Chi teacher,/ Master Yu,/ was in the eighty-first year of his life,” and as the poem proceeds, it adopts several forms of address all typical of the elegy form: narrative of an incident in which the aged teacher showed openness to learning, strong declarations of inviolable truths (“Life does not make bargains…”) and expressions of personal grief (“Now I gaze at the blank pages…But the pages remain empty”); grief in ritual (“Looking at a snowy hill… I see the shaven head of the nun/ Who recited the sutras”) and the consolation of memory (“Ten years have passed . . .). One of the traditional moves of the elegy form that this poem does not engage with is the effort to place the life and loss of the beloved in the wider context of the world. (see “Lycidas” by John Milton).    

My poem was a haiku:  “The cardinal ate/ the suet cake into the/shape of a cardinal.” In the hands of most haiku practitioners I’ve encountered on the dusty road to hell, the form has, until recently, been a mystery of shallow ironies to me.  But then a few weeks back, I conceived of the form as a three-line poem with two turns, and then I saw the potential for doing some real damage in it.  Hopefully this is just the beginning.

Don Z’s poem, “The New Ideas in Chess,”  Susanna said, recognizes chess’s role as a metaphor for life. 

Frank said it was about endless conflict.  Brendan more or less agreed. 

Moira’s poem, “Twitch, No Twitch” is about that whole suburban obsession with the animals that dare to live near us, and the fight for survival and the confrontations that come from it.  It’s free verse, seven uneven stanzas long, narrative, prosy, and concerns two different denizens of that suburban cosmos: squirrels and hawks.  The squirrel bit lets us see one in the jaws of a fox, confirming that the game is for keeps, but also wonders what the heck these rodents want, including the possibility of flirtation.  The hawk portion tells of today’s confrontation, which is almost surreal, between the speaker and the bird, who stare at one another, one with god’s standard ocular equipment and the other with binoculars, which leads the speaker to conceive of them as dueling snipers. 

Janet K’s poem “Starz Who’ve “Sadly” Died” is a rewrite of her poem “Gone This Year TCM Remembers” and like that draft, it wades into the questions of reality and fantasy that celebrity and movies always prompt, and those questions tie back to our own of mortality and memory.  It’s free verse, prosy, meditative, and as in the first draft, it takes place in the automobile, American home of such meditations (remember, Brendan McEntee’s speaker driving past the cemetery?).  What Janet handles so well is the way crossing currents of belief and cynicism cross, never better than in the lines:

The car radio sings step into eternity,

and I’m cushioned in a moving shell,

an intimate place to dwell on the passing of stars and time,

as the Subaru’s odometer marks mine.

I’d thing, get lost, nostalgia,/

even as I summon it.

Note the assonance/rhyme of shell/dwell, and time/mine.  What are they doing?  Is it the lyrical work of elaboration, stopping time? 

See you all next week, and don’t forget on Feb 3, 2021, Wednesday night at 7, to leave some time for the RWB monthly reading and open mic, with this month’s feature, Kyle Brosnihan!  (Zoom link forthcoming from Frank).

—Arthur Russell

Field Notes, Week of 12-29-20

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of
December 29, 2020

I was reading Anselm Berrigan’s introduction to the book WHAT IS POETRY? (JUST KIDDING, I KNOW YOU KNOW) – INTERVIEWS FROM THE POETRY PROJECT NEWSLETTER (1983-2009) this morning when I encountered this passage that seemed so important to what we do at our workshop and WCW readings:

“The Poetry Project in the 1960s and ‘70s wasn’t just a place to go give a reading and cross off some list of desired venues.  The point was to be exposed, to expose your rawest risk-taking work to a discerning audience, one that would let you know right there whether it’s working or not, and to participate in that as communal process.”

Always, there is that sense that we are getting the news from one another, that we are reading/hearing what is freshest, what is newest and most urgent, what we have an inkling about, what exposes us to “a discerning audience.”  Even the stuff we get into books or magazines isn’t as fresh as the stuff that shows up every Tuesday.  The poems we are so anxious to publish that we are so anxious to get into books and get those books published, they’re like canned or frozen vegetables, yesterday’s news, while the workshop and our monthly readings are, in comparison, like a farmer’s market on a Saturday in July:  “Look what I just pulled out of the ground!” “Look what I just pulled down from a tree!”  “Look what I just harvested from my cheese cave!”  

Claudia Serea’s poem “On a street in Long Island City” had just such an inkling; you could feel the image forming and turning in the first stanza:  “When it gets dark, someone turns on the lights,/ someone who lives alone/ as the moon lives alone.”  And then, in the third, “And the lights send a message/ to the visitor at the end of the street: Hi there, here’s the light/ to guide you to the door.”  And you could feel the whole workshop brighten with the surprise of the light talking.

Lan Chi Pham’s poem, “Deathbed” got the whole group going too, a lyric that sought to squeeze the essence of a dying father’s life into the last words for each of his family members. Frank was a little leery when people started playing with Lan Chi’s poem as though it were made of refrigerator magnets, asking, and getting the chance to change it from centered lines to hard left lines, to remove the quotes, to indent the quotes, to re-order the quotes, but Lan Chi was game, and whether or not she agreed with all the suggestions, she got to see her risk taking poem in the hands of a discerning audience, succeeding.  (the attachment shows some of those changes).

Susanna Rich came back for a second week of abuse with a poem in the form of an email message: “To: loneliness@rejects.ord; cc: solitude@whoknew.org; Subject: Thanks; Attachments None.”   What was so lovely about the title of the poem was how it turned the form of an email into content, and gave us a clear idea of the tone she was trying to evoke; even the last 2 lines of the poem “It’s my way of saying…/send” brightened with the joy of making this tired medium new.  

Shane Wagner brought “Retouching” which was a more than a retouching of his poem from last week, “Explicit”  It was a re-visioning of the driving emotion of that gnomic, enigmatic poem about lost trust in his father (who wasn’t named).  Here, the elided heart of that poem was bodied forth in the two photos that the poem/poet is trying to reconcile: “If I could fold the two photographs in the right way, look at them edge on, peel the layers, subject them to immense pressure . . . could I collapse the distance between us?”  It’s a poem about a son wishing for a kind of superheroism.  

Speaking of bravery, Jen Poteet brought her first ever attempt at a sonnet, “Sales Girl” and for all its rough edges, its abandoned rhyme scheme, its raw beginning, it was arresting; a vision of the titular sales girl plying her trade with this little bit of salesgirl wisdom at its center:  “And what she has been trained to know: retreat./ Let the shoppers wander for a while and choose/ on their own the goods they want. She is nearby/ but hangs stock still….”  It’s an original, deeply observed character study in the works.

Raymond Turco brought “Samantha Cristoforetti” a poem about the first Italian female astronaut, which he said is scheduled to be the final poem in his project about Italian heroes, most of whom are warriors, while this one is a hero who sees a world without borders and possibly without the need for war.  Ray said he’d consider circulating the completed MS to the group when it’s done.

Carole Stone brought a rewrite of her poem about being a teacher and being a student of poetry with Stanley Kunitz as her teacher.  Kind of a memoir in form, it recalls her “aqua Plymouth … whose starter buttons took forever,” and the poems she wrote “in imitation of T.S. Eliot, the poetry god…”  As Kunitz is her emblem of a teacher who rewards the speaker with praise, a boy named Nicky Van Herpen becomes her emblem of a student, whose mother praises the speaker, as a teacher.

Frank brought a courageous poem called “Terence” which dives headlong into the challenges of suburban step-parenthood, a poem about an extension cord, a garage, and animal tracks in the snow.  And nature supplies the raw materials for a détente between stepfather and stepdaughter, Vy or VeeVee: “Our yard is bounded by a holly bush and a number of liberal fences/ that afford free passage, and the animals are all very busy/ gaming the system, and VeeVee shared with me/ her pleasure discovering that, per their snow prints,/ they live here with us, doing things in groups, at night,/ like bunnies in families…” 

Myself, I wimped out and brought a piece of short fiction called “Two Cops Come to the Door,” a kind of frolic, or as Susanna called it, a comic monologue.  

Goodbye to 2020.  It was rough on the world, that’s evident, and I think it was rough on a few of us, but looking back over the year in RWB workshops, I am very happy with how things turned out; it was another year of the best darned poets in northern New Jersey slinging hash. 

Thanks to Frank for co-leading the workshop with me since Covid moved us onto Zoom in April.  And thanks to all our regulars and the new members we gained through the ease of Zoom. Next year in Jerusalem. 

—Arthur Russell

Field Notes, Week of 12-22-20

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of 
December 22, 2020

The best dream poems don’t announce themselves as such because that would be like announcing a balloon with a pin.  Like the dreamer, you need to find yourself at the top of a narrow stair before you realize something’s terribly wrong, and that’s what Janet K’s poem, “The Narrow Staircase” did:  “Men in felt hats/ shuffle through the little gate/ that separates the office space,/ and in the time it takes to catch my breath,/ they are whisked up the staircase,/ the dark, narrow staircase.” Is how it starts.  And then comes the inside out part:  “I need to go up the steps;/ I believe I was slated to go up the steps,/ but the faceless woman at the desk/ cannot find my papers,/ and I can’t find the means/ to voice the request.”  And then, at last, in the third stanza, the beginning of the realization: “Something terrible has happened,/ but I cannot fathom what.”  After that, it gets even more complicated, but you’ll have to wait for that because Janet doesn’t like to circulate her poems in the Notes till they’re further along.  She did not say it was a dream of hers, but she did say that it was a death experience.  However, Tom Benediktsson pointed out two excellent qualities of this poem, “no color” and “great verbs.”  And Don thought it had a good bit of Kafka in it, while Rob Goldstein thought it had some Lewis Carroll.  I prefer to think that Kafka and Lewis Carroll have a bit of Janet in them but more on that later.  

Moira O’Brien’s poem, “Celestial Convergence” took its inspiration from the astronomical alignment of Jupiter and Saturn last night (that was obscured by clouds, damnit) which seems only to occur every seven hundred years.  Personifying the planets, she had them talk: “What’s your hurry?” and “It’s been centuries since we’ve been this close.”  A kind of missed love story emerges as one says to the other “Stay the night and/ defeat the darkness/ with me.”  Frank loved the “permissiveness” of the last lines: “In the morning,/ begin your drift.”  Yana and Lan Chi had some minor edits.  I liked the love story better than the astronomical occurrence that inspired it, and suggested taking out the title to liberate the poem from the tyranny of the metaphor, then see where it wants to go.

Shane Wagner’s poem “Explicit” worked through some emotional baggage to get to the point where it could admit that speaker didn’t trust the ‘you’ of the poem, but when it did, the line, “I don’t trust you.” Isolated in its own stanza separated by triple spaces from what came before and after, rang out.  Frank liked the “meta-ness” of the drifting beginning.  Moira thought the poem could take advantage of that drift by ending after “I don’t trust you.” On the theory that what came after was just an elaboration on that.  Yana thought the poem didn’t take its own metaphor – of the speaker as a ‘court jester’ – seriously enough.  Shane said the comments were helpful.

Don brought a poem called “Springtime for Truth” a re-write of last week’s poem.  It’s a dramatic poem, which is to say, a poem written in the voice of someone other than the poet.  And this speaker appears to be someone who either subscribes to the theories of QAnon or seriously considers them.  The poem is filled with aphoristic or epigrammatic statements like “The letter Q is a cross hugging itself.” And “The truth lies on a bed of facts more numerous than spark plugs”  and “Disappointment is surrender.”  Tom thought all of the aphorisms “build meaning.”  Brendan thought the portrait was “Orwellian” although Rob thought it was an “inverted 1984.”

Tom’s poem, “The Outhouse as Literary Critic” is also a dramatic poem.  The speaker is an outhouse, hectoring its customer/visitor, a poet, concerning his shallowness and neuroses, but also encouraging him to write.  Janet and Moira thought it was “Howl-like”

Yana Kane (who never got an appropriate welcome to the workshop: Hi, Yana!)  brought a poem called “Invitation” in two parts, “Day” and “Night.”  The “Day” portion answered the title directly, beginning “Let us walk side by side…”  and going on to describe coming inside for a pot of Earl Grey tea, and two friends inhaling “the scented steam” of the tea.”  The “Night” portion has a different, more mysterious tone that is an invitation to a story with this lovely abbreviation: “Tree.  River.  Road.  Traveler.”

Paul Leibow’s poem was called “Used Tires,” and it was a landscape poem, a meditation on the view from a car of a graveyard with a used tire shop, one of those urban landscapes you can see in Queens where the BQE bisects a graveyard or near Newark, where the GSP does the same thing.  Paul’s bisected graveyard was on Route 1 near Elizabeth.

Rob Goldstein brought a rewrite of his poem about a domineering neurologist and his relationship with the doctors who followed him on his rounds, including the speaker.  At its narrative heart the poem recounts a kind of contest or test that the neurologist subjects the speaker to, having to do with memory.  Rob’s question for the group was whether the good/charming side of the domineering neurologist managed to be evoked.  The vote was one yes and one no with nine abstentions.   

Frank Rubino’s poem was “My Daughter Saves for College” and it worked as a kind of triptych, showing the speaker’s daughter eating a burger while the family waited in Warsaw for her adoption visa, then again in her crib (in the US) biting her own hands, and finally as a young adult working in the garment district in Manhattan, in pissing rain, “emptying her company’s goods out of a bankrupt factory.”  The poem is an ode of sorts to her resilience and inner strength, which ends when the speaker urges all of us to “surrender to her like I have, let her through” 

My poem, “Exile’s Letter” was an imitation of Ezra Pound’s ‘translation’ of Li Bo’s poem full of longing for an old friend and a friendship.  Frank said it was like a Saul Bellow novel.  Later, Don wrote: “for a couple pages there it just felt like i was being cornered at a party while someone tells me about how they used to play basketball”. It sets up the ending well but if I came across this in a magazine I would never get to the ending.”  

I don’t see the utility of saying that a poem sounds like Saul Bellow, or Kafka, or Lewis Carroll or Ginsberg’s Howl.  What does it do for our colleagues, the writers?  That sort of comment replaces the poet in front of us with a cardboard cutout, and lures us away from the individuality of the work we are reading.  We should be sussing out what we think the poem is trying to do and how it is trying to do it and whether we think it achieves the goals we think it had.  Then the poet will know if they were seen, and if they succeeded, and if not, how they might conceivably think of revising it.

—Arthur Russell

Williams Readings on Zoom—Susanna Rich—Dec 2

Join us on Wednesday, December 2, 2020 at 7 p.m. to hear the poet and performer Susanna Rich read from her work. Please come early and wait in the waiting room for the host to let you in.

Susanna Rich is a bilingual Hungarian-American, Fulbright Fellow in Creative Writing, and Collegium Budapest Fellow—with roots in Transylvania and family ties to the vampire known as the Blood Countess, Elizabeth Báthory. Susanna is an Emmy-Award nominee, and the founding producer and principal performer at Wild Nights Productions, LLC. Her repertoire includes the musical Shakespeare’s *itches: The Women v. Will and ashes, ashes: A Poet Responds to the Shoah. She is author of five poetry collections, Beware the House, Television Daddy, The Drive Home, Surfing for Jesus; and, in celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment, recognizing the right of United States women to vote, SHOUT! Poetry for Suffrage. Visit Susanna at www.wildnightsproductions.com.

Tune in to listen to poignant poetry and participate in the open mic. NJ’s best and most vibrant reading series is alive and well on Zoom!

Please see instructions below. To avoid issues at the reading, please don’t share the Zoom link on Facebook. We are instructing people who want to attend to DM Claudia, Don, Arthur, or Anton to get the link.

Zoom instructions:
If you’ve never tried Zoom, please download it from zoom.com and get familiar with it. It’s pretty simple, and tons of people use it. If you have the zoom application but haven’t used it in a while, it’s not a bad idea to upgrade it to the latest version.Please note:
1. The meeting has a waiting room. Please come early and wait in the waiting room for the host to let you in.
2. People can’t join before the host. Our host on Wednesday, December 2 will be Frank Rubino.
3. To avoid issues at the reading, please don’t share the Zoom link on Facebook.

When you get into the meeting, everyone will go on mute and the MC will kick off with introductions. Use the Chat button to open the Chat panel. For the open mic sign up, we’ll type our names in the Chat panel of the zoom meeting. We will remind you about it at the break. The MC will call off your name from the chat, and you’ll read your poem.

RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Mar 10, 2020

Janet Kolstein

Conrad Heyer (1749-1856), The Earliest Born Man to be Photographed (in 1852)


He’d heard of the thing
and eyed images born of the contraption.
It wouldn’t take long for his own aged self 
to replicate on the silvered plate.

The man who’d crossed the icy Delaware 
with the Father of Our Country
had orbs reminiscent of the General’s.
His great, beaked nose had grown craggy with years,
his mouth indignant at the loss of teeth.

Maybe, it had been enough to see himself
in the mirror of clear lakes,
or to face his murky reflection on grooming.
He’d looked inward, and knew his character
forged with the gravitas of nationhood.

Changes come to those who live long lives,
some small, some monumental,
some bringing awe and trepidation.
As a farmer, he knew how crops grew from seeds
with the sun and the rain that nurtured his fields,

and that all living things are pitiful
when Death comes calling,
but this new machine, a camera,
miniaturized and memorialized
the very shades of his being,
and, in the beam of his eyes, 
brought forth a new way of seeing
and remembering.

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Blog – http://redwheelbarrowpoets.org
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RWBPoets
Twitter – @RWBPoets

RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Mar 3, 2020

Arthur Russell

Fellatio Salon


I used to think Japanese porn,
with its pixilated penises,
wasted the strengths
that this ethnic type 
perfected,
the ultra femme
squeaky female voices 
no other nationality
could do as well.
Pixilating the cocks,
the coitus, as well the uniquely
directional pubic hair 
of the actors, 
was a shame.

But tonight, I grazed
on a long video
about a sex worker
in a fellatio salon
giving head to five 
guys in forty minutes.
There were no booths.
The guys sat on a pair
of wide banquettes,
both facing the same direction,
waiting their turns
while the others
got sucked off
one at a time.

The sex worker gave 
each of them her full, 
coquettish attention 
for seven or eight minutes.
She started them off
with a bright caress 
of the face, but no kissing.
She’d help them 
get their pants and unders off
then enthuse
as though she’d
spontaneously come up
with the most delightful idea:
oral sex.

She’d entered the room
with a miniature
riding-hood basket
stocked with 
individually wrapped
moistened cloth towelettes
dangling from her fingers.
When she struggled 
to tear the wrapping,
her smile twisted a little.
She’d clean the guy’s groin
before, and again —
more gently —
after he’d come.

She opened 
a second towelette
to wipe her lips 
between patrons.   
What I particularly liked
about her blow jobs
was that she’d
bring a guy off 
in three, four 
minutes tops,
then, after lingering
on the display and swallow
of his cum in her mouth,
which did not appeal to me at all,

she would go back 
to sucking him off
while his dick 
was sagging down 
to limp for nearly 
as long as she had 
on the run up, and, 
for at least one guy,
the second round of sucking
had more impact
than the first.
He turned his head aside and shrieked
into his own shoulder.

The last guy
she blew 
had this cool 
bass baritone grunt,
and a short, thick dick
she seemed to like,
and she made 
a Tootsie pop sound 
each time she popped it 
out of her mouth.
She giggled 
in a slightly more 
delighted way for him
than she had for the others.

All the guys 
were super grateful
and kind of happy,
as though they’d 
just gotten 
a free car wash.
No money
changed hands.
They must’ve
paid outside,
like
a movie ticket.
Inside, they faced forward
and accepted her joy.

The big surprise
for me 
was that after 
the first few minutes, 
I didn’t mind
the pixilated dicks at all.
I didn’t 
need to see 
the lip-on-dick contact.
I could follow
the obvious progression
and read 
the implied emotion
in her courtesan face. 

Pixilated
dicks show modesty.
Her spaghetti-strap 
satin top—
which she hardly 
paid attention to 
for the first 3 guys— 
dropped off
one shoulder for the 
fourth guy. Her tit 
came out, 
but it was an accident.
She lifted it back 
with her thumb.

On the last guy, 
the one with the thick dick
and the baritone grunt,
both straps came off.
Her whole torso,
with its lovely clear
skin and her youth 
intact 
came into view.
You might have caught 
an accidental glimpse of her 
as you walked
past your teenage daughter’s
open bedroom door.

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Blog – http://redwheelbarrowpoets.org
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RWBPoets
Twitter – @RWBPoets

RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 25, 2020

Frank Rubino

We Love Sad Songs
 
I play the songs she listens to over and over.
They help me get into her mind
because those songs are playing in her mind too,
and the voice they take is her voice
inside her thoughts.
 
The voice she hears in the songs in her mind
is resigned to loss.
So much, she hears that voice
that’s sad, that’s yearning to be soothed,
and it makes me think that,
within her private experience,
she feels this yearning, and needs someone
to reach her.
 
Anyone you’re talking to,
anyone you’re standing next to,
or walking up the stairs with,
on their way with you in the meek herd
through the iron passageways
under Penn Station, across the iron gangplanks
hanging over the underground tracks—
anyone with their devices in their ears like networked robots,
all of them, also, have their sad songs.

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Blog – http://redwheelbarrowpoets.org
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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 18, 2020

Jennifer Poteet

Family on Stone Harbor Beach


If only I could have joined them, 
the clean-shaven father 
in madras shorts who strained to manage 
both umbrella and cooler in the sand. 
He reached for the freckle-faced 
woman beside him. 
Their boy tugged at the towels 
slung over her left shoulder. 

They chose a remote spot near the dunes 
but I saw them from the dock. 
The boy helped his father secure 
the beach umbrella with a hammer. 
Soon, he ran, laughing, toward the waves. 
The father produced a ball, 
joined his son at the water’s edge 
and threw it to him. 

Boats bobbed in the distance 
like bathtub toys; 
a lazy airplane banner touted Goodrich tires. 
The mother put on a straw hat 
and started to read the newspaper. 
This was the family I might have had. 

My own father let my mother and me 
drag him to the seashore once, 
but wore a sports coat and dress shoes. 
He wouldn’t go anywhere near the ocean. 
My mother’s wet bathing suit 
dripped on his oxfords. They argued, 
then we endured a long car ride home, in silence. 

Now, the mother removed three sandwiches 
from the cooler and waved. 
Father and son, bodies bronze, 
stood in the sun and waved back. 
Only one thing was missing, 
it would have made them too perfect— a dog.

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Blog – http://redwheelbarrowpoets.org
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RWBPoets
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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 11, 2020

Bill Moreland

Buy a Book Ya Bastids!


I sell reference books.
I’m a jockey in a cubicle
galloping across state lines 
and time zones.
My wobbly wagon is overloaded with
multi-volume, hard cover 
carcasses,
vetted by academics.
We offer it online free with the print 
and without that
digital ghost riding shotgun,
I’d have been extinct 
some time ago.
The Librarians I sell to have sentries;
Patience with fangs,
Fortitude with no budget.

I call them all,
and their names sometimes suit them;
from Somerval Linthicum 
at the Savannah Arts Academy
I can smell gardenias.
Tanya Faucet runs at the mouth.
Toylanda is a spoiled librarian.
But I will not cross 
Sister Loretta Marie Schollhamer
(assassins also have multiple names).
In the fall I like to call
Jennifer Two-Axe 
from Ichabod Crane High School.

I have a rambunctious librarian whose hobby 
is as a jammer 
for the Bay City Roller Girls
in the local Roller Derby League;
she elbows her way through the pack – 
on her back is stamped her pseudonym,
‘Sigourney Cleaver’.

Their breed, their kind is fierce and territorial.
The librarians’ heart beat as a pair of lions.
The American Library Association
were the first to push back 
against the Patriot Act and
“…opposes any use of governmental power 
to suppress the free and open exchange 
of knowledge and information 
or to intimidate individuals 
exercising free inquiry…”

Integrity like that you won’t get at Google.
In fact, they’ll sell it, they have a government contract.

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association
threatened to boycott our 
Notorious Lives set
if we did not expunge O.J. Simpson 
from its cover.
Editorial replaced him with Barry Goldwater,
and Barry Goldwater High School in Arizona refused to buy it,
a worthy exchange.
Our reference title on banned literature 
was itself banned
from a school district in northern Virginia 
of all places.
That is a ribbon we don with pride.

Once, a librarian whose building
was demolished by Hurricane Katrina
admonished me.
I told her our donation of a large set 
“was nothing, 
just books.”
And through tears she politely, 
firmly, as a librarian might,
sir-named my ass;
“When you scoop up books
with a flat shovel, 
and dump it 
in a muddy wheelbarrow, 
it’s more than ‘just books’, 
Mister.”

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Blog – http://redwheelbarrowpoets.org
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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Feb 4, 2020

Frank Rubino

DJ


I walked out the 33rd street side of my building, 
across the street for lunch, and felt, “We’re all soldiers.”

I see more and more homeless people in Penn Station camped in the passageways,
behind the departure board near track one where there’s a wall they go behind.
Maybe the cops are letting them stay. The cops are an army.

One homeless man, whose stomach is bare even in winter 
because he wears a skimpy cropped shirt, 
lets us pass around him in coats and gloves.
Are we an army, too? 

I know the Amtrak cops in Penn Station because I hit my head
on a fire extinguisher, and we chatted while they waited to see if I had a concussion.

I met DJ waiting for the Boston Amtrak. 
He was just out of Rahway jail serving twenty years. 
“I am not that kind of person,” he said, “but I will kill you if you fuck me.” 
I said, “DJ, if you always react like that, you’re going to be ruled by anger.” 
“You’re right,” said DJ. He asked could I help him get a train ticket to Camden, 
to get back with his ex-wife.
I don’t know if she knew he was coming.

Later, I considered whether I’d done a good thing 
giving DJ twenty bucks.

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