Mar 1 2013

Featured Poet: March 2013 Vol. 5 # 6

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Nick Ripatrazone
Nick Ripatrazone is the author of four books: Oblations (prose poems, Gold Wake Press), This Is Not About Birds (poems, Gold Wake Press), The Fine Delight: Postconciliar Catholic Literature (literary criticism, Cascade Books) and This Darksome Burn (novella, firthFORTH Books). His criticism appears regularly at Shenandoah, Pleiades, Iowa Review, Colorado Review and HTMLGIANT. His writing has received honors from Esquire, The Kenyon Review, and ESPN: The Magazine, and has been featured at Verse Daily.
This is how you remove a hook
from a trout: smooth your hand down
like petting the fish, and then squeeze
so the mouth opens, like a door.
Not that you would squeeze a door,
Rachel, I am talking about the action
in different ways, since I know
you do not always like these trips
(early morning, the rubber
of waders against thighs,
claustrophobia in the current)
and I want you to know
I appreciate your participation,
but, really, that trout will die
unless you learn to move
with a mixture of speed and care.
Catch is less important than release.


Sisters of Mercy
Beneath a 1986 Chicago Bears
sweatshirt, thermals, and bleached
Polo dress shirts, I found
a folded nun’s habit.
I lifted the habit and the fabric
settled down, brown and full.
The white coif was a bit wrinkled.
I searched the box for a rosary
but only found costume necklaces.
A woman stood behind a table,
bills stuffed into a fanny pack.
Could this be? Might she
have gone from convent to cul-de-sac,
traded morning prayers and early supper
for Pilates and PTA? I wanted
to ask, but someone tried to barter
the price of a butter plate. The owner
said absolutely not: all prices firm.
Nothing left to interpretation.


This Is Not About Birds
We followed molted feathers toward the corner of the barn
where a swallow’s coffee-colored, cup-shaped nest sat
in the rafters & small, sloped heads of nestlings rose & fell.
Outside they fluttered while scuttling along the shingles &
then swooped overhead; forked, cream-spotted tails shuttering
through wind. Yesterday a lone bird stooped over the wobbling
blades before rolling away, & we followed the swoop
until it rested on the roof & promised that one day it would be
on our table, center gutted, a prize for us to eat.
So we stuffed into the pickup, NRA stickers worn to beige, &
fired wayward shots to rouse the swallows from their nest &
we spun through the field, tires toughing it out but we shook
while keeping our rifles out the window. Waiting. None of us
had ever shot anything before (anything that moved/breathed/lived)
but it was as good a time as any.
Was there ever a time that was not as good as any other times?
Was this decided by a certain group of people?
Was there a list of times that were good, & times that were not?
Was this the result of a comparison or a singular observation?
This poem should (must) end with a death. So here it is:
I, or someone with me, as we have formed a collective, raised
a rifle, waited for the swallow to spread its wings, be full-formed.
Then breathed. Then shot, a single fire, & so accurate
that the swallow dropped, wings collapsing onto the hollow
belly. Such a thing to steal flight from something. Such a


An American Werewolf in London
Six hours of early Depeche Mode in Ms. Gabriel’s Saab
was worth it to see my brother play college football.
No one knew he was dating my geometry teacher.
My parents were de-flooding our basement
so I hitched a ride and listened to her claim
that Wade was more mature than most men,
let alone other college sophomores. She brought two cases
of water bottles and pointed at each Whole Foods
we passed. I explained the rules of football
and she told me that academics were more important.
I liked bottle rockets, Def Leppard, and two-point
conversions, and watched Wade barrel through
the line while people asked if I was his son.
Afterward the teacher wanted to go out, so Wade
told me to watch a horror movie and said to close
my eyes during the bad parts. The teacher
said she trusted me to do the right thing.


Santo Domingo
Four on the pickup bed, red
shirts flushed from wind, hands
in back pockets & we follow
them past the boys shooting
at the dark backboard, ball
not bouncing but slogging.
We park at the market where
cattle hang upside down, gutted
& draining into milk cartons.
We step over the heads of bulls
& flies tickle our calves. Velocidad
maxima: men in sandals & ripped
jeans hold hands, leaning against
the pocked walls, Styrofoam cups
pitted in the holes. Carlos
walks us past them & shakes
one’s hand, skin lingering on skin,
& I kick aside bottles of Presidente
while the brothers of his lover sit
behind a sign with a white woman.
Where is he, Carlos asks, hand
on the rock (Esteban is an officer
& sets brush control fires
on the roadside–in the only photo
Carlos has ever shown of him, he
is pissing in the fire). The brothers
raise their shoulders & say,
in words I only half-understand,
what’s gone today is gone forever.