Posts Tagged ‘workshop poem’


RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – November 14

November 20, 2017

Poem of the Week 11/14/17

Elinor Mattern

Cardiac Nurse

The doctors say she’s very good at it,
she tells me in her South African lilt. A skill that’s rare.
Is called on when surgery requires someone who can stand still
and hold a heart in her hands without moving for hours.
No food. No water. Little breaths. A sacred trust.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – November 7

November 8, 2017

Poem of the Week 11/7/17

Addie Mahmassani

Lead Hostess
El Tovar Dining Room
Grand Canyon, AZ

Her eyes were cracked cakes
of black
and blue-silver powder,
shimmering in the dusty light
of the laundry room.

Everyone there talked too much
or too little, and she
was the too-much type.

Just got here,
got laid off my last job
down in Phoenix.
My boss was a bitch,
but I tell ya, this,
my God,
this is worse.
I’m gettin’ out of here
soon as I can.
I can’t stay here.
You know what I mean?

did I know what she meant.

I thought
for the thousandth time
of the bedbug bites
running up my stomach
to my neck,
a dazzling constellation
of big, bright red welts,
hidden beneath the pressed white shirt
and choking bowtie
of my uniform,

and the clear yellow-brown desert beetle
that had unearthed itself
from my last piece
of cafeteria cake.

I’ve been here a while,
and I’m leaving soon.


If you get that piercing,
you will be telling me
you don’t love me.

Mommy said
the nose ring was a sign
of disrespect.
She never said why.
She just said
in the most chilling voice
I had ever heard,
I didn’t raise you this way.

I set my GPS
to the Flagstaff piercing parlor,
put my head down,
and drove.


You can’t have the nose ring,

the ID lady grumbled
forty hours later
when they were taking my picture
for my employee card.

Up in the bathroom of the HR Building,
blood smeared across my face
and mixed with tears
as I twisted and
ripped the silver stud out.

I gazed at the mules out the window,
kicking dust around their stable,
and tried to rub off
the purple-black smudge
of the guiding mark
the piercer had made
the night before.

I wanted it
to be a good picture.


Ah, it’s the quiet one tonight.
Hey, where are my tables?
Why’d you give Stevie that five-top?
Givin’ Stevie all the Italians tonight.
He your boyfriend now?

Stevie was not my boyfriend.
Leni from Bulgaria had recently
fallen in love with him.
Every night she came to the podium
wearing new pairs of clay earrings
he was buying her
at the gift shops.

I shuddered, thinking of
tiny, pristine Leni
under the naked, rough weight
of Stevie, who had taken a Greyhound
from a jail in Philly to
employee orientation,
whose myriad scars crinkled
into one big one
as he winked at his love
from his tables.

The other men,
high on coke,
ready to kill
for tips,
hated me
for not loving them.

They knew something
I did not:
fall in love
or leave.

I could not tell them
I could not love
or leave.


In the middle of the night,
when the menus were cleaned,
and the hostesses had gone to bed
with the waiters
in dorm rooms around the park,
I sat under the piercing stars
in the endless openness,
the Canyon a silent monster,
invisible before me,
and cried.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – October 31

November 3, 2017

Poem of the Week 10/31/17

Arthur Russell

How To Replace A Toilet

First, have a father, one who owns a car wash
where he employs poor black men,
preferably those who have come North in the Great Migration,
but any poor black men will do,
as long as they have historical disadvantages
that have translated into self-destructive behaviors
that make them the target of disdain and predatory labor practices.

Grow up at his kitchen table,
hear his precise mimicry of their accents,
mockery of their foibles,
his weirdly intimate knowledge of their weaknesses
and hopes bordering on, and even bleeding over into,
affection that never reaches all the way to respect.

Go to work for your father.
Start off drying the cars at the exit end,
and gradually learn all of the jobs
while imbibing his attitudes
towards the men you work beside, although you,
made differently, or is it just youth and naïve sympathy,
appreciate their struggle.

See them come to work still drunk from the night before
while you are spending your summers at summer camp
learning to smoke pot behind the bunkhouse.
Get paid the same net $1.25/hour the men get,
with the difference that they are living on it
and you are saving up to buy a Sony stereo music system
so you can play Carole King’s Tapestry.

Take out Pete Watson’s oozing head stitches
at the lunch table with a fresh razor blade and tweezers
so he doesn’t have to leave early to go to the ER and miss work.
Learn to send men home with no work on slow days,
how to absorb their abuse, their special hatred
of your father, blooming when drunk,
transferred to you, and how to resist their requests
for new uniforms to replace the worn ones
that you send to the local dry cleaner for patching.

Lean over their shoulders as they vacuum the cars
to stop them from sucking up the change in the ashtrays.

Follow them around the corner to stop them from buying beer
on their 45-minute lunch for which your father charges them an hour.

On a Saturday morning at 7 AM, when Jerry Howard has used his one call from jail
to call your father, go to the Brooklyn Mens’ House of Detention on Boerum Place
to bail him out after he got arrested during a fight with his wife,
because Jerry is the best entrance driver and it’s Saturday,
two days after a messy snow, and you may wash 1000 cars.

Another time, find Irving Hyde hiding inside his locker after closing
hoping to burglarize the place if you locked him in.

And listen, always listen, even when you argue against him,
to the embattled logic your father uses
to justify stealing from the men’s tip box,
withholding pay they’ll never get back in taxes
because he pays them off the books,
and giving them alarm clocks for Christmas,
but only if they come to work that day.

So you are ready one morning
when someone tells you that the men’s toilet
is broken, and you go into that cubicle to see
that it’s not the flush valve or the toilet seat,
but the commode itself, the vitreous bowl,
that has cracked with an obvious fissure from base to rim
where someone has jammed a liquor bottle
upside down in the drain and evidently stepped on the base of it
hoping that the bottle, not the commode, would break apart and flush away
so that the bottle would not be found in the trash
and raise suspicions that he had been drinking on the job.

Go to your father where he sits behind his grey steel desk
making tea, and tell him what has happened.
Wait while he squeezes the teabag against the spoon
and swings it deftly by the string into the wastepaper basket
before he looks up at you over his half-moon reading glasses,
and says, “Well, fix it, Sonny.”

Admit you don’t know how to change a toilet.
Watch your father take a stubby pencil from his back pocket
and draw a schematic diagram of a toilet on a writing tablet.
Listen to him explain, with the same patience and easygoing charm
he used to talk to your teachers on Parents’ Day,
the two bolts, the wax ring, the pipe wrenches, the Teflon tape,
then make up a list of parts for you, and send you in his Lincoln
to Davis & Warshow to get what you will need,

then call you back at the door to remind you
to put a board across the toilet before you go,
or they’ll use it while you’re gone
and you’ll have to clean out their shit by hand.

Keep the schematic diagram for future reference.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – October 24

October 27, 2017

Poem of the Week 10/24/17

Della Rowland

Trade Winds

One day it rains in Indiana,
the next in New York.
Weather winding from the Pacific across the North
follows the wind’s drop down,
down to the boot toe of Indiana where I grew up,
where the Ohio encounters the Wabash,
where Indiana knees Kentucky and elbows Illinois.

Then the weather heads back north and east,
courses up invisible banks
over ordinary Ohio,
endless Pennsylvania,
industrial New Jersey,
to the stop sign at the Hudson
where I live now.

The Ohio curls up in the armpit of my hometown,
curves against flood banks on the Kentucky side,
slides under pastel and fluorescent sunsets
to meet the moonlight on the Wabash.

Humidity hangs heavy in that river basin,
a damp blanket on everything,
even tree leaves’ undersides.
It clings to your skin,
even after you’ve left.

My angry sister snows on every road I drive to reach her.
My sad sister sends me rain and autumn leaves by the rake-fulls.

My dead father’s disapproving voice blows north wind cold,
cold as his marble monument,
his children’s names on the back,
hieroglyphs depicting servants buried with the pharaoh for eternity
under a stone sunset.

The smell of Mom’s roses and laundry on the line
crosses state lines and years,
travels the wind stream and veins.
We scattered her long ago in the Pacific with roses.
She and their scent flow under our bridges,
up our rivers, in the rain,
lie like soft humidity on our skin.

My Indiana won’t send its historic thunderstorms
or infamous tornado tunnels north.
It’s waiting for its earthquake fault line to finally fall in.
You’d think it was LA where my brother fled
to escape that weather pattern.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – October 17

October 19, 2017

Poem of the Week 10/17/17

Mark Fogarty

The Love Song of J. Donald Trump

I did try and fuck her.
I moved on her like a bitch
but I couldn’t get it done.
And she was married, too.
She’s now got the big phony tits and everything.

I better use some Tic Tacs
just in case I start kissing her.
You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—
I just start kissing them.
It’s like a magnet. Just kiss.
I don’t even wait.

When you’re a star they let you do it.
They let you do everything.

Grab ‘em by the pussy.
You can do anything.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – October 10

October 13, 2017

Poem of the Week 10/10/17

Mark Fogarty

At the Grave of Meriwether Lewis

The monument is too tall for the clearing.
There was no one there to remember,
The day I came, no one to remember
But me. I have just come from the cabin where he died
One black night on the Natchez Trace,
The postal road through Chickasaw land.
There are only two rooms in it,
A little too confining for my taste.
He had one. He paced up and down it
All night, his soul calamitous,
Thinking at the last Captain Clark
Would come to rescue him, to partner
The calamity of depression doused with laudanum.
Shit, you might as well throw gas on a fire.
He talked to himself, the others say,
Until the dawn came and he took out his gun.

He was a Hero of the Revolution,
Calm and resolute in the woods and the wild,
Nervous and done for in the cities.
He was the very hand of our democratic spirit
Reaching across the big unknown of the continent.
Chintzy Congress made Clark
A Lieutenant to his Captain, to save a few nickels.
Lewis never told his men Clark was anything but
His co-equal, since he knew that to be true.
Only one man in his charge died,
Of a burst appendix. Only one Indian died,
Stealing horses. And when it was time to choose
A winter camp, Lewis looked around at those
Who had rowed up an irritable river
And portaged over a spot that was blank on their maps,
Two hundred fifty forlorn miles of mountains,
And decided each had earned the right to vote on it.
The men all voted. Sacagawea, the Native woman,
Was the first woman to vote in America.
Clark’s slave, York, was the first black man
To vote in America.

They got to the Pacific at a place so bleak
It was called Cape Disappointment.
I followed them there, and wept to find
The end of the road was a gun-gray ocean,
A bitter wind that used the drops of rain as a whip.
It’s called now, I kid not, Waikiki Beach,
To prove that the god of liberty has a sense of humor.

Sacagawea died young. There’s no place to mourn her.
Rising waters washed away her sturdy bones.
Stouthearted Clark brought up her orphaned son.
Of the stories of York, I like best
The one of how he got his freedom,
Went back upriver to Indian Country,
Got him four wives.

I make out America as bipolar as Meriwether was,
Swinging from the grand to the odious,
From a Hero of the Revolution to the Antichrist.
We cut deals with the Indians and burned them every one.
We prospered on the backs of the abomination of slavery.
Sacagawea was the only woman to vote for a hundred years.
We badly need a few more Heroes of the Revolution.
You can still sign onto the captain’s manifest, venture to the lands
Where the Indians need houses to live in.

My mother was born in a year women could not vote.
She lived long enough to vote for a black man.

Lewis was thirty-five when they buried him
In a small clearing near the cabin where he died.
He died of an insanity that I understand.
I followed him across the country and back
To an empty spot in the woods.
I guess he’d have liked the woods,
Guess he wouldn’t mind the loneliness.
It would take a lot to confine his roving spirit.

Once I thought I caught a glimpse of him,
In a daydream, in the corner of my eye,
In Oregon, near the Dalles,
In a boat coasting down the Columbia,
The current finally in his favor for a while.
I wish I’d had some laudanum to pour out on the ground.

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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – October 3

October 5, 2017

Poem of the Week 10/3/17

Russell Francis

More Steam

In the “Heart of America-66” I, the brigand, tell my tale
in Pirates Cove; near Robins Reef, they sing to Valhalla.
I, brigand, tell my tale of you.
Those were times told by few here; I toiled.
Sweat-stained hands hard on course and stay the helm.
America, you sweat me hard those years. Heat.
The heat is hot, your engines roar, more steam!
If this place be Hell, if Hell I live, more steam!
Boilers pant and mud plates scream, and the capt’n rings down.
More steam! I hold the helm and answer true, more steam!
Men go mad, and death takes its due, and engines roar all pride
taken to Valhalla.
For pride, I broke your back; I broke your heart; I stole your soul.
More steam!

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