Posts Tagged ‘workshop poem’


RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—June 24

June 27, 2019

Susanna Lee
Trusting Detritus

My favorite log of all time had pale green lichen over almost all of it
but was basically solid and dry.
I could find it every time I scavenged for firewood behind our campsite at Stokes.
It pointed the way back.

It had fallen on level ground.
I could trust it not to fall apart or teeter when I walked the length of its spine.
It would always be a pirate’s gangplank for me when I needed one.
Bits of lichen would break off under my sneakers, but always grew back.

My kids laughed at the ridiculous notion a person could get lost in the woods,
or would come to love the peculiar way detritus gathers meaning over time.
Trusting detritus seemed like crazy talk, I guess,
easy advice to discard.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—June 11

June 13, 2019

Arthur Russell
More On Cash

If you take a nickel from every person you meet,
you will soon be rich, and if you give a nickel to every person you meet,
and if you give a nickel to every person you meet,
you will soon be poor.
—A rich guy

We were a mercantile people, not honest per se,
not even significantly honest, 
but not completely lacking in honesty.
We were honest as plunderers,
fair as pirates, transparent as three-card monte dealers.

We stole from our employees. We stole from our customers.
We stole from the city, state and federal tax man,
from the water company, the electric utility, 
the telephone company, from our vendors, 
from our banks, from passersby, from the future, and from the past.  
We saw ourselves as street-smart operators.
We saw ourselves as even-handed merchants, buyers and sellers, 
but there was no one from whom we did not take.

We took stuff from people’s garbage.
We took stuff from their cars.
We saw the dishonesty of the world
and we wanted to be successful in it.
We did not strive to better ourselves 
or to better our neighbors.  
We only wanted the world to go on 
as it always had, with all of its beauty
and injustice and to leave us to our business.
We didn’t see what we did as evil.
We simply saw it as business, business, business,
and the rule of our business was simple and monolithic:
Everything is ok, as long as at the end 
of the day, we go home with all of the money.

All of the indignities we suffered—
the dirt, the cold, the working when sick,
the men who cursed you, the customers
who rode you, the arrogant cops 
and the filth in the pit, the patience
that was required and required and required—
were tolerable as long as we got the money.

The “everything” that was OK as long
as we went home with all of the money 
included the injustices of the world, 
the callous way we became with it,
the upside down and inside out,
the hopeless, the useless, and the bleak.
All of that, according to us, according to our creed, was OK, 
as long as we got the money, as long as we went home with it,

and when we got home with it, we would lay it out on the table,
folded, marked with pencil in the open spaces,
wrapped in rubber bands, packages 
of $450, $900, $800, $600, 
packages we made when we cleaned out the cashier,
tucked inside our tucked-in shirts
and carried to the office, and put in the safe 
and at the end of the day, after closing,
in the same way — tucked inside our shirts
or in supermarket bags folded to look like a newspaper 
you might carry under your arm.  

Cash and cash and more cash,
night after night, that we would take out
and examine at home, behind the curtained windows,
in the formal dining room with Early American furniture,
with blue on white tree-design wallpaper 
that was copied onto the curtain fabric;
we would empty out our shirts and inside pockets 
onto the dining room table, our fingers still dirty, 
our fingernails still dirty, our pants and faces set from work, 
and look at and count and flip the bills
so they all faced up (my dad) or down (my brother)
and count them down (my dad) or up (my brother)
and pick a clean bill for the top of the pile
and write on it with a pencil (my dad) 
or a pen (my brother) in the blank space how much,
and then stack it and separate it,
and stack it and pile it and pass some out 
and put the rest into hiding places in the ceilings and the floors and the walls 
and the floors and the walls 
and the pockets of coats in the attic
and in the cookie tin 
that was under several inches of dirt 
in the crawlspace under the front porch, 

or actually, sometimes, we put it 
in the safe in the closet in the master bedroom,
though not that often, because the safe
was more or less reserved for my mother’s jewelry 
and my father’s gold coins and little packages of diamonds,
one each, folded into doubled paper,
folded the same way cocaine used to come folded, 
each folded package with writing on the outside, 
saying the exact weight in hundredths of carats 
and the color and the clarity with letters like VS and VSS.

And, until they were outlawed, there were bearer bonds 
you’d keep in a safe deposit box where you also kept a pair of scissors,
go upstairs and cash in coupons with the teller.

Money was the family business. 
This fixation on making and keeping money,
in small amounts of cash, cash, cash, 
had been our family heritage for a hundred years.  
We were people who got into a thing and stayed with it for a long time.
We didn’t borrow money except from ourselves
and bought things from which we could make more money,
whether it be adding machines or real estate.

We ridiculed people who spent money on leisure and luxury:
watches, cars, vacation homes or trips abroad.  
We didn’t ridicule the fine things themselves, 
but we ridiculed the people who strove 
to have lobster 
because lobster 
was vanity.

We bought our cars standing on a street corner
or in some guy’s dirty little office just like ours
with the cash in our pockets.
We sent our kids to college with tuition money
from the cash register.  We took mortgages to buy houses,
but only to avoid the suspicion of the IRS,
then we paid the mortgages off as soon as caution allowed.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—June 4

June 8, 2019

Della Rowland
The Undertaker

If you were 22, newly married, uniformed, and ready 
to ship out with your unit but found yourself 
under a clean white sheet coughing up TB blood, 
then rehabbing with your bride at your bedside
in a slim skirt and fuck-me pumps, 
her photo in the wallet you meant to take with you to the front,
the one of her with her dark wavy hair swooped up off her forehead, 
wrapped in a snood at the nape, a gardenia behind her ear like Billie, 

you might feel the living’s guilt when three quarters 
of that bonded unit was killed right off the boat ramp.

You might think you were always lucky 
and you’d have been the heads side of that coin flip 
to see who goes and dies, or stays and lives.

You might believe, having tricked death once with TB, 
that you could stay in that good grace 
by selling life after death in your three funeral homes, 
where a body is brought to look natural again, 
where the family would pay someone to take its bones back to earth.

You might hope that the grieving living would never forget you, 
your vividly empathetic eyes, your sudden chivalrous gestures 
as if to save a swaying vase from shattering on the floor,
like when you bolted from a chair to grab a tissue
and dab a mourner’s eye with the familiarity of kin.

You might wish to hear everyone who crowded your wake 
and gravesite proclaim their love 
and recount their particular memory of your kindnesses,
as if they knew how carefully you placed their dead 
on the porcelain table with a drain at one end, 
how you patted their hands after massaging the blood out, 
preserved their modesty with a white sheet.

As if they knew you saw each car-wrecked body that came to you
as a boy from off the battlefield, 
uniform in tatters,
whose smashed-up face and bloodied hands 
must be restored.


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RWB Workshop Poem of the Week—May 28

May 30, 2019

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

May 23, 2019

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

May 16, 2019

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

May 10, 2019

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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