Archive for the ‘Poems’ Category

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Dec 17

December 18, 2019

MARK FOGARTY

I BECOME A CHARACTER IN A CHEKHOV STORY
(for Fiona Conway)

In the first story I ever read by Anton Chekhov,
A young boy moves away from his grandfather in Moscow
To some unfathomable part of Russia six time zones away.
The boy misses his grandfather, so he decides
To write him a letter. Once he does,
He addresses the envelope “Grandfather.”
But before he puts it in the mailbox, he thinks again,
Maybe that isn’t enough for the postman,
And adds “in the city” underneath.

The woman who is going to marry my nephew
Sent me a note thanking me for an engagement present.
She must have been interrupted between name
And address. The address is correct, and her note
Was promptly delivered to me. But she addressed the top line
Only to “Uncle Mark.”

I’m old now, officially, and I hate it
When people move away, when the Dirt Club
Is replaced by a place that sells cleaners.
But I’m also the kid, age 5, being driven away
From the house where I lived with my grandfather,
Which had a breakfast nook and a delivery hatch
A small child could easily wiggle through,
An attic full of wasps and a sharp Knights of Columbus sword,
And an empty lot behind the house which in the Murmansk winters
Of midstate New York could sustain a snow fort for weeks.

My grandfather ran a furniture store.
The doors in the house were solid wood, he knew about wood.
He hung a Tiffany lamp in the breakfast nook,
Which was narrow enough you had to like the people you crowded in with.
It was only after I moved away I learned to be claustrophobic.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Dec 10

December 12, 2019

Frank Rubino

Like Jack Did

The level of conversation all the workday long 
is tech, tech, tech— it just opens a void in me.
The sad distance I first saw drawn 
in the comic book panels of Jack “King” Kirby
has been my sorrow throughout my career.

Across his galactic splash page in Kamandi 36, 
and throughout his work in Fantastic Four
he spread mural-like, between one planet 
and another, the apartness I now recognize 
in the black windows whose candy-colored computer code I write.

On my dark Samsung monitor, 
my typing looks like Christmas lights from Mars. 

If I could see across space and time like Jack did, 
I would see Kolomatsky’s young clean face on Second Avenue, 
outside the bodega where we talked. We talked
on the church wall about our girlfriends one spring afternoon,
and the way one can hook one’s arms around their thighs, 
while one’s face is in their muff. We loved those girls 
for letting us hook our arms around their thighs, 
like wheelbarrows we were dumping.

(Wonder if I was drinking my usual Tropicana orange juice.)

Whenever I break from work, and feel as empty as code, 
I wish I could kneel down in front of my woman and hook my arms
around her thighs, and when she lets me, and when I do,  
I have the feeling I’m crossing space and time, 
like Jack did.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Dec 3

December 5, 2019

Janet Kolstein

Isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?


At twelve tons and 77 feet tall, 
this year’s Christmas tree is estimated to be
in the same age group as me —
a Norway Spruce in its brilliant final stage
with 50,000 lights and a crystal star.

Who would agree to be cut down in maturity
for a death blazing with glory?
65-75 in tree years is not that many
compared to the Giant Sequoias
who’ve been one with the earth since before the time of Christ,
maybe Moses too,
and have never been the type for tinsel.

The cacophony of a crackling, never-finished city 
whooshes in a rush of energy
with the thronging, milling guests around Rockefeller Center
where the evergreen holds court,
so far in spirit from the tree’s last address.

Most Manhattan dwellers are transplanted from somewhere else,
I’d venture to guess,
and I was once one of them,
unburdoned by the ghosts of Christmakkah past
when both parents were alive and fairly well
in our house in Halcyon Park,
and the plain tree in our backyard stood healthy and tall.

Adding to this season’s poignancy
is an awareness that the glorious conifer’s destiny 
will soon be the lumber mill —
a humbling fall from splendor.

“Spruce” spent its early years on a coffee table in Florida, New York, until being planted in 1959. Admired for its Grecian symmetry, it was cherished as a friend to many. Whether bird or squirrel, it welcomed all who sought rest or shelterin its generous limbs, garnering international fame in its last few months.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Nov 26

December 2, 2019

Rachel Wagner

Dirty Money


Who touches more money throughout the day 
than the dude running the corner store? 
I think not a single person in the world. 
Probably not even a banker. 
Passing around quarters, pennies, dollar bills 
that have been around the block already themselves.
He barely even thinks about the prices,
his mouth just knows it when he sees each product.

I remember one time a kid was trying to trade me 
hella coins for cash so he could go buy a fake $2 gun.
It was the one that all the kids were buying that night.
I was like why don’t you just go buy it if you have the money? 
He said he didn’t want to look broke at the store.
I was like dude, you’re like eight years old. 
And why would I want all that dirty ass money 
ya’ll been scraping out of nowhere? 

It’s basically the same materials getting gathered by local fiends
then getting passed between bags of dope hopefully.
Same dollars needed to hold the powder in a hammock, 
on the curb lookin like they might just be breaking down a bag. 
But they also got another dollar rolled up to inhale.
And those are two of the bills that will get fumbled around later, 
gathered together searching for a dealer,

who’s with me in my car. 
They look over at him to see if he got it on him. 
He’s sitting there telling them he doesn’t have shit. 
Already passed out the last of it.
Already tossed the plastic baggy it was bagged up in, 
which, in another world, 
could have maybe held a little sandwich.

Meanwhile, 
he’s been dipping into his pockets and stuff all day. 
Organizing everything. Taking money in. 
Taking it in singles, fives, tens, pennies. 
Doesn’t matter. Taking whatever. 
Then trading the liability he got on his body, 
stuck to his balls or sitting behind him sloppily 
tossed back, using underwear as a pocket,
like a cotton wallet.

The money slips into his actual pockets. A big wad of it. 
With me, he takes out the whole thing to pay for everything. 
Even if he just needs to peel a dollar off it. 
And as he’s doing that, I remember back to my babydad.
He would have me hold all his money just to get it off his body. 
But even when you got nothing on you people think that you do. 
You get harassed by the cops, or else you got junkies coming up to you 
to see if you got it or else who got it?

Then at the end of the night, me and that guy 
could be found around the corner on my couch. 
His hands on my body in the warmth of the house. 
Got his arms all around me as if I were a fat stack of cash, 
but I’m small, so his arms still meet each other behind my back. 
Touching me gentle as hell like he’d been waiting to see how I’d feel.
Then he stopped like wait he gotta wash his hands,
there’s black shit on his fingertips from touching money all day. 

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Nov 19

November 22, 2019

Rachel Wagner

Carrie’s Blood


There was this one time I fucked this dude 
like a week after taking a Plan B pill for this other dude. 
I mean, who hasn’t been there, right? Well, we had a wild night, 
then we woke up the next morning to a fuckin bloodbath. 
I mean, both of us covered in blood on some Carrie shit. 
Like straight up blood not period glops that are thick. 
This was thin red blood all over the bed, his legs, my butt. 
It looked like we were sacrificing a goat or something,
blood all over the place. 
Or maybe it was some pseudo virginity thing—
you know how people wanna hang up wedding sheets.
It was like that. 

I had to buy a new bed set,
and, actually, you know I never had my hymen cracked. 
Like the first time I had sex, there was no blood at all. 
A young tenderoni on my boyfriend’s cousin’s bed 
while his other cousin slept on the floor. 
It was the middle of the night, 
no one was supposed to know. 
But his cousin turned out to not really be asleep,
and, when I wrote about the experience, 
my father found the Word document. 
Then he kicked me out for it. 
And I was only over there cuz I had got kicked out my mom’s.
All that shit going on but no blood stains, at least. 

Anyway, this time, you know after the Plan B 
effectively forced my uterus to pour itself out, 
I remember the dude woke up before me,
well, fake-before-me cuz I was actually up. 
But he sat up, and I felt him looking over at me, 
so I pulled the sheets over me. 
I opened my eyes, then he was like, Wasup with all this blood 
you know if you were anyone else I’d probably run.

Whole time reading Carrie lately, 
I keep thinking of that drunk dude Carrie dated on Sex and the City
He comes to her window in streetcar-named-desire style,
pops up drunk the night they broke up and strips and calls her name.
Carrie!
All she can’t help but think is, Hmm maybe I do have good pussy, 
when, in reality, a dude like that is scary. That’s a real horror story. 
Dating a guy in recovery and he wants to fuck too much and jump into a relationship and relapses right outside her spot, naked? 
She’s lucky the episode ended there. 

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Nov 12

November 13, 2019

MARK FOGARTY

NOW YOU KNOW ONE OF THE MISSING

During the time that Misty was gone, she was one of more than a thousand indigenous women missing in North America.
—The Guardian

Misty Upham’s drama coach
Told her to find another line of work.
Despite that, she became a professional actor.
You’ve seen her in August: Osage County
And many others. I saw her in a movie called
Frozen River, where she gets involved in a scam
To smuggle people in from Canada
Through a tribe’s right to move unimpeded across the international border.
That’s real, guaranteed by the Jay Treaty of 1794.
The white woman was the star, but you’d remember
Misty in it, her persistence, her push
To cross borders. She would catch your eye.

Misty Upham was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award
For her work in Frozen River, and for a joint cast award
From the Screen Actors Guild for August: Osage County.

Now you know one of the thousands who have gone missing.
Now that you think about it, you remember her, too.
Oh yeah, the quiet one. The one who played the Indian girl.

Misty achieved what she did
Despite perpetual agony and anxiety.
Misty was gang raped as a teen. And she was raped
At the Golden Globes the year before she died.
She used alcohol and a whole formulary of drugs
To push on; she tried to kill herself several times.

When Misty went missing on the Muckleshoot Reservation,
Local police declined to search for her. She was just out partying
With other drunk Natives; she’d turn up.

Nothing fucking happened until eight days later
When CNN asked why no one was looking
For this notable young actress.

Her family, not the police, organized a search party for Misty.
After she was missing 11 days,
They found her dead, at the bottom of a ravine near the White River.
Her blood was full of alcohol, but the coroner ruled
He could not come to a conclusion as to why she died.

The treaties don’t protect you from shit.
You lived near a border of relentless indifference,
Near something inside that’s gone grossly missing.

And when they found you,
Your family touched you through the body bag,
Your arms, your legs, so you’d know
They came looking for you.

For Misty Upham, 1982-2014, and advocates for MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women). A detailed article from The Guardian about her is at https://www.theguardian.com/global/2015/jun/30/misty-upham-native-american-actress-tragic-death-inspiring-life

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Nov 5

November 6, 2019

Frank Rubino

Deserted Corridor in the Airport

When I passed the duty-free shop there with its perfumes,
it smelled like you, after you’ve left a place.
I’ve read the sense of smell is plastic, 
physical pattern matching:
an airborne particle’s molecular shape 
sifted through the olfactory matrix,
or whatever they call it. I am sure
this jigsaw puzzle conception is simplistic
and like most things I think I understand,
incomplete, and the product of childish curiosity
I long ago set aside for business.
I remember before I got in an Uber
in 2003: the flex of your hair 
gathered in my hand, the smell that arose
from your scalp of fine shampoo from Soon Beauty
on 22nd street, and the way your brain
seemed so Edenic cased inside your head.
So much marvelous stuff you think all the time,
I’ll never know! And loving you,
even, I still don’t know, and it’s come back
now that I walk this bleak terminal, that curiosity.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Oct 29

October 30, 2019

Susanna Lee

Dear Anton, I Borrowed Your Last Line
But, Here, I Brought It Back
Oh, No! Now It’s Wrinkled, Sorry

Every morning I go outside to fetch the newspaper from the box.
Birds are already lined up on the telephone wire between the poles,
waiting for Anton’s last line to lead them in song.

Paterson Falls is dammed; it splutters and jams;
its water piles up, an ocean ladder reaching to the moon.
The river refuses to fall, waiting for Anton’s last line to drop first.

Five-year-olds at the neighbor’s birthday party swing bats,
but their swats cannot break the piñata.
It refuses to share its sweets before Anton’s last line shows up.

The sun cannot cast a shadow
without Anton’s last line to offer its silhouette.

Everyone is drowning in tears.
Anton’s last line is missing.

Lawnmowers go to sleep, unneeded,
as grass rends itself, distraught without Anton’s last line.

The earth opens up and swallows its own dust
in fear that Anton’s last line has come to a bad end.

Arctic glaciers bob fiercely on the roiling sea,
pleading for the safe return of Anton’s last line.

The heroic printer revs up—
it shoots out one black duplicate of Anton’s last line!

Please, Anton, here, take it back,
reunite this copy of your last line with the body of your poem.

Hold tight to your poems, Red Wheelbarrow Poets, hold tight.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Oct 22

October 24, 2019

Frank Rubino
Big Shoots

Timmy’s baby-mother overheard me in my drinking 
and bullshitting around the campfire, 
and got in my face in her leopard-spotted jacket 
to attack my politics. She was so exercised,
I had to ask her to withdraw some paces and get rational,
and finally she calmed down, 
and we sat talking in the fishing chairs. 
It had been my first time shooting a handgun
that day, and Timmy had called me Big Shoots.
She revealed that she and Timmy were separated 
though they had flown here together on his father’s dime
and raised their boy together in his house 
near the base where he was stationed, 
and he was taking care of her other kids too, 
from her previous relationships. 
This had been the arrangement for a couple of years. 

I had been thinking all that time 
they were a nuclear family, 
and I looked through the campfire at Tim 
where he sat in hearing range 
the whole time she’d harangued me: 
he’d not moved, 
and looked inward in a wry, long-suffering way, 
just as he sat now and endured her 
divulging all his business, 
that he slept alone on the sofa since Afghanistan,
and was drunk and so forth. 
He didn’t say anything to stop her: 
he had told me earlier 
about his low point, and she was not it.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—Oct 15

October 17, 2019

Mark Fogarty 
BLUE PLATE

Brian Burrows was a shrimp. 
I mean, we were ten, eleven, twelve years old 
In 1965 but even on a team of guys 
Not yet ready for puberty, he was small, 
Tiny as a mascot or an honorary batboy. 
We had to sell Critchley’s Candies for the Little League, 
Good stuff, sheets of green-colored mint 
Surrounded by thin skins of chocolate, but no one 
Was buying, even though we were canvassing 
House-to-house in our Flash Cleaners uniforms, 
Which you could get washed for a discount at Flash Cleaners. 

When we met back at the corner, no one had made a sale. 
“They’re all cheapies,” Brian declared. 

So, my father drove us across the river 
To Rutt’s Hut, where we waylaid the Saturday workers 
Coming out after a couple of dogs and a beer. 
The parking lot at Rutt’s was huge, 
A wraparound on three sides built 
On an abutment over Route 21, 
A kind of luxurious balcony over the Passaic River. 

Business improved. 

I guess real estate was cheaper in 1928 
When Rutt’s opened, allowing a parking lot 
As generous in scale as the ones at Sea World or Disneyland. 
It hasn’t changed any, either. Neither 
Has the roadhouse, a ram shack 
With no windows, odd for a restaurant, 
Unless it had originally been a whorehouse 
Or a speakeasy, which it could have been in those Prohibition days. 

Inside, Rutt’s sprawls through several environments. 
There’s a bar with a bunch of tables, in case you need to be close to the booze. 
Then a dining room behind a porous wall and, separately, 
A to-go operation where they shout back your order 
In some strange jack-tommy argot and there are more tables, 
Tables to stand at this time. Linoleum floors 
And fakewood walls complete the décor. It’s cash only. 

There’s a logic to Rutt’s that predates credit cards and 911. 
A sign by a bell says if bell sounds, call the fire department. 
Since there are no windows, it still smells like 1965, 
A static waft made up of old farts 
And the fumes from ancient shots and beers. 

Rutt’s lives on for its fried hot dogs, 
Called rippers because they rip in the hot grease. 
If you want to go long you can ask for wellers, 
Which are even better acquainted with the grease. 
Milk for the coffee comes in an oversized shotglass 
And is rarely filled more than halfway, waste not. 

The place won best hot dog in America three years running. 

I had a blind date at Rutt’s once. This was back 
When you had to answer personals by mail. 
I’m a writer; I did pretty well at this. 
When I called, the woman she said she was from Clifton. 
The only place I know in Clifton is Rutt’s, I said. 
I love that place, she said. Let’s meet there. 
And we did. And though I didn’t make the sale, 
She told me she had gotten two hundred letters, 
So I guess getting to meet her was like 
Being nominated for an Oscar, an honor 
Even if you don’t win. 

Rutt’s is the kind of place where people always tell the truth. 
The glimpse of the river from the parking lot balcony, 
The sweetness of the mint, is why I keep coming back. 

If you don’t get the rippers or the wellers, 
You can get one of Rutt’s Blue Plates. 
Corned beef and cabbage, boiled potato. 
Brisket and red cabbage, potato pancake. 
Soul food from 1965, a blue-plate year  
When no one had yet conceived of 
Tiny portions of food designed into geometric shapes. 

My Mom, God bless her, taught me not to play with my food. 

Flash Cleaners sucked the three years Brian and I played, 
But the hard Passaic winds that buffeted the field got us ready to be men. 

Critchley’s Candies is still in existence. Started in 1957, it is located at 812 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge, NJ. A box of chocolate mints is $12.98. Flash Cleaners is still at 43 Meadow Road, Rutherford, NJ. Jack Tommy: short order argot for grilled cheese and tomato. Jim DeLillo sent me some Critchley’s Mints after we had lunch at Rutt’s; this poem is dedicated to him.

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