Founding editor David M. Harris published three issues of Rat’s Ass Review between June 11, 2009 and March 11, 2011. I was fortunate enough to have been published in two of those issues.
All three of the issues which David published appear below:
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I don’t know yet how often I’ll be posting new issues — monthly, quarterly, occasionally, or what — but I have decided that I won’t just post individual poems as I accept them. So here is the first batch of poetry to come out of the Rat’s Ass. (Actually, none of this qualifies, in my opinion, as ratshit; I think it’s all pretty good, in fact.)
I Need the Dawn
My body wearies of bed.
The moon rabbit cares
nothing for sleep,
with mortar and pestle,
following no recipe.
When rose gold
suffuses the east,
earth bound rabbits
track the snow,
dig under the unpruned
apple tree for a taste
of late summer spice.
The gray owl spills
down, silent on wings
ruffled for such work.
A spray of red
blossoms, the last trace,
becomes part of the legend.
Excuses Being Considered When Not Writing a Poem
The toilet needs cleaning,
cleanser is on the shopping list.
The sheets need washing—
they smell like one night too many.
My husband is still wrapped
in them, rubbing his winter dry feet
together like a sandpaper cricket.
The grocery list looks like this:
birdseed (it has been a hard winter)
cleanser (aforementioned toilet)
kitty litter (the slut cat’s in heat and wakes me in the night, yowling)
limes, chicken, tortillas, red and green peppers, cilantro, shredded cheese (a dinner of fajitas)
coconut cake (reminds me of my childhood)
Clementines (still in season?) maybe bananas?
How can I write a poem
when I have never found an arrowhead?
I have dug up toads, wireworms, pale grubs,
red spider mites like tiny drops of velvet blood.
I have husked sweet corn, found a caterpillar still chewing,
and cut it out, but I can’t put that cob
on my plate, so it goes to the person
who wasn’t there to help with peeling
and silk brushing.
The poems I inherited from my grandmother:
a shadowbox of dead butterflies,
a catalog filled with pressed flowers,
On the news today they report
more than a thousand World War II veterans die every day.
I don’t know a single one to name
in a poem.
Late spring, the mist is almost fog
in the headlamps driving home.
Halos surround farm lights with damp
dogs lying in the dim glow.
Swamp spreads out from the Sugar River
filling ditches, edges of fallow fields.
Climbs up the tires of an abandoned
tractor, put to pasture years ago.
This is where the geese gather,
the sandhill cranes dance mating.
Red winged blackbirds puff
and chatter, painted turtles bask.
In this weather, leopard frogs,
filled with strings of black spotted
eggs, leap across the blacktop.
Pops like gunfire, too many to avoid.
Lisa J. Cihlar’s poems have been published in Word Riot, Qarrtsiluni, Frogpond, Tipton Poetry Journal, and other places. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2008.
In the first three minutes,
nothing to say,
I’ll breathe, seek aspiration, hope
to pass as somewhat loveable.
About minute four
will gather a certain trepidation
(since words — given time-scheme
– must shortly arrive)
and so will stir, strive
through two full minutes of my Fifteen Minute Poem
how I grew, studied, married,
God-awful stuff scored through at once…
and in the next six minutes
write furiously, as dark chords resound,
fetching up with my
default Fifteen Minute Poem
which yet again will praise
wu wei, guys, doing
living in my socks, no
faking of enlightenment
in my act-as-if way.
Barry Spacks has brought out various novels, stories, three poetry-reading CDs and ten poetry collections while teaching literature and writing for years at M.I.T. & U C Santa Barbara. His most recent book of poems, Food for the Journey, appeared from Cherry Grove in August, 2008.
She uncradles the phone with a lyric
for someone who might be calling
if I weren’t calling again from work,
who would be calling, she says,
if five years ago I hadn’t
promised her me.
Five years ago she believed me
and now she has children, four,
a house, my calls each noon.
Five years ago she lied to herself
as I napped on her parents’ porch,
silent yet shouting the truth.
Donal Mahoney has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. He has had poems accepted by Commonweal, Orbis (U.K.), Revival (Ireland), The Christian Science Monitor, The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey), Poetry Super Highway, WOW (Ireland), Public Republic (Bulgaria) and other publications.
Not willing to pay contractor prices
to pull my aging deck apart,
I slam the sledgehammer
into another stringer.
This time a two by four detaches
and cracks me in the shin
so hard I might as well
have just driven the sledge
directly into my leg.
A week later the swollen shin
is still too tender for me to wear socks.
In my Dad it was a ground ball
that caught him halfway
between second base and third.
X-rays showed a dark grey circle
just above his ankle where the bone died.
Forty years he walked with a piece of death
holding him upright.
As I rub the swollen area,
compare today’s pain to yesterday’s,
Has Death moved into me
as he did my Dad?
Is he even now assessing his new digs,
hanging his calendar on my ivory wall?
Roderick Bates is a Vermonter and Dartmouth graduate. He has published poems in VT Folkus, at Poets Against The War, and in Naugatuck River Review. He also writes prose, and won an award from the International Regional Magazines Association for an essay published in Vermont Life.
Orbit, the Mother, Thermometer
It revolves around the sun, the earth
so here binding us with its gravity
we rarely see it for what it is.
How can we, can we see our eyes
in their sockets, they are too much with us
gravity and blood, the force the flow
but once they stop, beyond is
the eternal zero of space
the chill of blood congealed in the vein.
One frigid earthbound day I watched my father
hold the hand of death and knew, mother gone
that he would always keep orbiting
the star gone cold
Harry Calhoun’s articles, literary essays, book reviews and poems have been published in magazines including Writer’s Digest and The National Enquirer. Recently, his online chapbook, Dogwalking Poems, went live at The Dead Mule. His trade paperback, I knew Bukowski like you knew a rare leaf, is now available from Trace Publications.
Staring at Beer in the Refrigerator
in this light—something
to eat, something to drink,
but none of it does the trick.
My dad could coast through
often—and if Ed
joined him under the hood
of the Mustang to split more,
then leaving, Ed was warned
of the Greenwich Road cops,
offered coffee first.
You drive careful now,
boy. The same he told me,
the same he cloaked himself. No
avail. It’s time to shut the door.
Andy Fogle has three chapbooks of poetry, teaches English at Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar, NY, and is a doctoral student in Educational Theory and Practice at SUNY Albany.
Again? They’re knocking, knocking. The two of them
don’t blink as dawn escapes. I’m barely there,
not yet awake, and trip on my loose hem
again. They’re knocking, knocking. The two of them
stand straight and one relates, “Sorry, Ma’am.”
The details end in “high-speed chase.” I stare
again. They’re knocking, knocking, the two of them.
Don’t blink. As dawn escapes, I’m barely there.
My poetry has been published or is forthcoming in: Measure, 14 by 14, Soundzine, The Raintown Review, Two Review and The Worcester Review, among others. My work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and once for The Best of the Net. I was a finalist for the 2007 Philbrick Award.
The Great War
It’s you and me and we’re fifteen and hysterical
on the train and our classmates dangle from the overhead compartments
and we can’t think with the noise and all this information and the need,
this need to protest something, something. We saw a movie once
where a girl who could have been your mother or my mother
flashed a peace sign at a busload of soldiers on their way to Vietnam
and it was a sign of protest, and they returned obscene gestures,
vicious, sexual. It’s you and me and a busload of soldiers
on an empty road by Arlington Cemetery and all we have is this need
to climb out of our own bodies and we’re protesting the world
and our parents for creating us out of chaos, and in defiance
we flash angry peace signs at the busload of soldiers with their guns
and their uniforms and their following of orders, in defiance we flash peace signs,
and the soldiers smile and flash hopeful peace signs back at us.
It beckons from the pastry shop window,
lovely ripe bananas, cherries, apples,
and though you know it will prickle your tongue
with the cyanide flavor of almonds, you go in anyway
and let the man who thinks he’s in love with you
kiss you over a plate of fake fruit.
Heather Kamins writes poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in Alehouse and The Peralta Press. She enjoys long walks on the beach and reading about quantum physics. You can find her online at heatherkamins.com/.
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Our first review!
Thursday, May 14, 2009
“Perhaps the most refreshingly honest set of guidelines I’ve ever read.” — Valerie Fioravanti
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Sunday, May 10, 2009
Welcome to the Rat’s Ass Review, yet another online poetry journal. I’ll be presenting my personal view of poetry (for details, see our guidelines), looking for new and established poets whose work I enjoy. Look around, read, and feel free to leave comments.
David M. Harris, Editor
© 2013 RAT’S ASS REVIEW. WORDPRESS. XHTML. CSS. VERYPLAINTXT BY SCOTT. DESIGN JOANNE MERRIAM. RATS JOHN PIERRE.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
One for the boys, one for the ladies,
he works at the mirror for hours
learning to sneer and smile
at the same time. And thank god
for Levis with your hands in your pockets
and a road house drawl—
’cause every country boy can sing
out a half his mouth, and baby
every town has a two bit mason-dixon
where us country boys dangle lines
from the ends of our Marlboros
’til it’s back in the saddle again.
Grace Wilson Rouke (1911-1963)
In that kitchen with the cheap linoleum and chairs that didn’t match
she was still almost young—
a little harsh around the rouge and cigarettes, a look
I now see as from the war years.
The heart attack that dropped her to the floor was mercifully quick
and she disappeared from our lives.
But death is not a disappearing. It is an arresting, a putting
away of the unresolved and never known—a gap
so dense it bends the light and the way we walk
long after we have forgotten the brand of the cigarettes,
the putting away—even the absence.
Tim Hunt’s collection, Fault Lines, is forthcoming from Backwaters Press. His poems have appeared in Tar River, Epoch, Cut Bank, Alehouse, and other journals, and he has won the Chester H. Jones Prize. Originally from northern California, he currently lives in Normal, Illinois, which is a place, not a state of being.
When the glaciers bulldozed Vermont,
pushed our topsoil like so much snow
to form Cape Cod, Long Island,
we gave good farm land, and got
bare-assed ledges, hardscrabble
and Canadian rocks.
With water at eight pounds a gallon
and maple syrup at eleven,
there’s just over three pounds
of Vermont in every can,
filtered up through maple roots,
boiled down, graded, weighed,
gone south to Hartford or Boston.
Now, at sixty bucks a gallon
for Grade A Medium Amber,
we get twenty dollars a pound
for the dirt that heads south.
It seems they’re beginning to pay off
the mortgage on the Cape.
Roderick Bates was also in Issue #1 of Rat’s Ass Review.
“She imagines herself and Odysseus
walking through a field in November,
licking melted snow from each other’s mouths,
stopping to examine the still unfrozen track of a deer”
From Margaret Atwood’s Circe/Mud Poems
Circe is secretly a child of winter.
She has always preferred the clarity of it
to the raspy dying breath of her humid island.
Each afternoon sleeping by her pigs’ muddy bath
she sweats and tosses in dreams
eyes sealed shut against the gnats
she lets herself think of snowforts and siege.
Drifting out of range of so much sadness and dust
she imagines herself and Odysseus.
He is teaching her to tie knots
but she keeps climbing to the eagle’s nest
because the salt air reminds her,
is cold and bitter
like frosty grass that they melted footprints into
feet coming away patterned white from sharp cattails and thistle barbs.
But mostly she recalls the shock of breathing
and his body beside her.
It can be difficult to remember
walking through a field in November.
Low clouds caught in the treetops
and Odysseus’ breath was lemongrass
cooling her skin and giving her goosebumps.
His hands too, like dry icicles
so smooth and cold
so she couldn’t concentrate on anything
not standing or speaking
all her heat finally released in shapes that spelled his name.
Without realizing it, they turn south
licking melted snow from each other’s mouths.
When Circe has all but burned away the field they move on.
So this is what love must be like.
The other’s voice floating over the prairie like a moon
you only have to turn your face to the sky
to realize that he is calling you.
“Circe, over here.”
He has fallen back and calls her near
stopping to examine the still unfrozen track of a deer.
Annik Adey-Babinski is a student at McGill University. She has previously been published in the Scrivener Creative Review.
The Choteau County Trilogy
Remember when you were the
tallest thing in sight until the
sheriff of Choteau County
clanked out on our wracked,
warped, leaning porch and stepped
down with his carbine in one fist
and Tommy in the other?
Can I shoot the rifle? He looked
at my father and then at me.
Said, you see some big deer out
there or somethin’ worth shootin’?
I looked at Tommy. His head was
down to hide the tears. No cuffs
because you didn’t run from the sheriff.
No, but there might be something I
missed on the first look.
He walked over and stuck Tommy
into the Dodge on the shotgun side.
He said he believed there was a
big jackrabbit out there and silently
gave me the gun. See him? Right
where I’m pointing. So I held it up
and fired. The stock hit me in the
shoulder like a ball-peen hammer.
I wasn’t going to cry about anything.
Let’s go get him you said. Son, I think
you missed that ol’ boy. It was the
sheriff talking so I guessed he was
probably right. He shucked the shells
out and handed me the empty gun.
You keep this for me while your dad
and I go into town for awhile.
I’ll be back shortly to collect it. Keep it safe.
I don’t have any bullets. I know, he said.
But that don’t mean you might not see
more game out yonder. You have a pretty
big back yard. I’ll be back shortly, now.
He reached into his right trousers pocket
and pulled out a silver dollar then handed
it to me. Keep this for the movie of Saturday.
They let preacher’s kids in for free, though.
Well, just keep it anyway and don’t go
pointing that gun at anything that ain’t
between you and out yonder.
Then you were the tallest thing in sight
Sugarbush (Choteau County II)
There were times I’d sit out on the
back porch and look a thousand miles to the
Rockies, straight across Sugarbush like
it wasn’t even there.
I was a dumb kid and didn’t even notice
it until the sheriff came by one day and
decided to sit out there with me for a while.
Lookin’ back, that ol’ boy was pretty fuckin’
smart, although he’d have beat my ass if he
ever heard me cuss a lick.
This time he was here or there for me and
not my daddy. The Mennonites said I’d
raped one of their daughters.
I’d heard about it and halfway expected ol’
John, the same man took my Daddy away.
Looks to me like sheriffs never die, not even
fade away. They are just always there like
dust and the echo of a lonesome song, say
“Red River Valley.” And we sat there looking
out across the thousand mile back yard
toward the desert and all I could see was
tears, say I didn’t do nothing to Candace,
we were friends fer Chrissakes, John.
So he asked me what I could see between
the boards and the mountains and I said:
Shit, John, sand and sagebrush! what the
hell can you see? He says: “Sugarbush”
and spits a wad of RedMan into the sand.
Well, it starts right there at your boots
and goes about as far as the tree-line on
them mountains, there. I don’t know if
it continues on beyond for sure.
I ain’t never been that far.
You can’t see worth shit can ya, Wendy?
No further than the day I took your daddy
to La Junta and left you with my rifle
to shoot rabbits in the Sugarbush.
No sir. I figured there must be a rabbit
out there somewhere though but
you didn’t leave me enough shells to hit one.
Laughed and says, It’s Sugarbush! You
either hit one or you don’t. I couldn’t
afford the shells to keep you occupied all day.
Besides, your daddy got ornery on me.
I’m going to walk down to the Mennonite’s.
You stay here at the house while I’m gone?
Yes Sir. So he walked down the back alley
if it was that. To your right was the sorry little
town. To the left was the Rockies all that clear
distance far away. In between was something
I had never seen before the sheriff pointed
it out to me: Sugarbush.
I flat stared until he ambled back, kicking
rocks like a kid with those fine boots. Whatcha
lookin’ at, Wendy?
Don’t call me that John!
Awright, whatcha lookin’ at?
Yep I thought you’d see it.
The Mennonites don’t want no trouble.
Did you cause any trouble?
Candace and I went skinny-dipping in
the Hollister’s cattle tank. We didn’t do
nothing but that, I swear!
That’s what Candy said too. I been wastin’
my time on kids like you. ‘Course now
that you can see Sugarbush, I better
keep my eye out for ya.
Sheriff, come by again when you can,
willya? It gets dull out here with daddy
gone and momma in La Junta at that school.
Wendy, you are one of my regular stops
now that we can both see Sugarbush
from your back porch. That’s all there
is. And that’s all there was.
Suppers in Choteau County
They don’t matter so much to me
as once they did. Mama always
kissed me on the head and Papa
was a Preacher so he always said
One parsonage was pretty much
the same as another with sparse
standard deviation but somehow
we carted this huge round oak dining
table from one end of this heathen
fuckin’ nation to the other and then
Musta weighed a ton but the
Methodists always paid the
freight and if they didn’t Tommy
would call up Bishop Phillips
to straighten it out.
The bishop had a way of persuading
people I didn’t understand but he
usually got the job done. He was my hero,
longside the Choteau County sheriff.
Those two ol’ boys were my heroes.
Saved my ass in a lot of ways I never
understood ‘til later but they never
told me why.
Each one sat with us at that supper
table by turns and intermittently.
The bishop taught me how to pray
and the sheriff taught me why.
In the long run, they died of course
but both of ‘em had made their points.
Now, I can’t pray and I can’t shoot
worth a damn but I pray to learn
to shoot and that I will never have to
and I shoot so as to distract myself
from the fact that I can’t sit down
to supper with ‘em anymore and pray.
Wendell M. Tomlin, Jr., 59, male Caucasian. I take myself pretty seriously, except when it is just too hard to keep a straight face while doing so.
The Girls in Steno, 1970
When it’s break time
the girls all walk together,
clasped between their index
tapers and their thumbs.
On each girl’s fingers glow
When break time nears,
they peek at each other,
twinkle, giggle, nod.
When break time comes,
a bell rings and the girls rise
like Lazarus. High on heels
they click in couples down the hall
to fill an elevator.
They get off at One. There
they float across the cafeteria,
(Is he the one?)
When a new girl’s hired
the old girls
put her to the test:
Will she join them
for the coffee break?
If she does, she joins them forever,
even after she marries,
retires or expires.
Donal Mahoney was also in Issue 1 of Rat’s Ass Review.
My neighbor’s been asking for this.
The police cruiser pulls into
her driveway. An officer
gets out and walks through
the snow to her front door.
Small arms dangle like dead fish
from his belt. He kicks his boots
around a bit, making a show of it,
and pulls the storm door open,
sweeping an arc of snow
off the stoop. Without knocking,
he shuts it and returns
to his cruiser. He kicks the snow
from his boots and sits down
behind the wheel, pulls away,
leaving tracks in the snow
like a Christmas card in the mailbox.
This fantasy comes once a year,
bringing the fiction that someone
is always home, even when my
neighbor visits family in Indiana.
It’s a favor between the like-minded,
written with words that flurry
like snowflakes, evidence that melts
on their tongues, their ears.
It’s an intimacy only skin deep.
Andrew Rihn is the author of several slim volumes of poetry, including the forthcoming chapbook Foreclosure Dogs (New Sins/Winged City Press). He has lived in one city his entire life, but thinks that could change any day now. Track him down here.
Moonwalk, July 1969
We had our own mission every month—
three and a half hours across the interstates,
the tolls, one beltway, and a long backroad.
We would arrive late Friday night
to parents waiting, table set,
kitchen steaming with dishes we’ve never
tasted since. Afterwards we’d sit
amid the questions, stories, up-to-dates,
nothing too long, nothing demanding silences,
the talk propelled along the sides
in minor arabesques. What did we know?
Our troubles curled like wisps of dust
under our feet, puffing just ankle high,
the jabber of small tongues turning us
from the deep fissures of those days,
one small step between the Jersey scrub
and humid Philadelphia blocks,
the bright reflective faces changing
with each latitude but the arrivals just the same,
inevitable, unfeigned glows of bright interiors
we always knew. And even on the sullen
drives, the barren landscapes would dissolve
once we approached the journey’s close,
our motions stabilized, the spins surveyed,
deflected, and drawn out of us, then fixed
amid familiar furniture and family photographs.
And the moon, that adamant, steadily blazing
its sands, its powdery basins probed by alien gear—
was there ever such luminance, such perishable
light in that vast and ageless sky?
Askold Skalsky, a retired college professor from western Maryland, has had poems in numerous small press magazines and journals, most recently in freefall and The Dos Passos Review. He has also published in Canada, Ireland, and Great Britain. Earlier this year he received a prize for his poetry from the Maryland State Arts Council.