Poetry from Nick Ripatrazone
followed by Q&A
Here in Texas
we’ve got two problems:
you know the first,
now hear the second:
Hispid cotton; cotton
yellow-nosed; marsh rice
and southern plains
and Ord’s kangaroo,
shifting sand. Norway
rats are the worst.
After police found
one woman in her kitchen,
dead at the table,
they tested the molded bread
and called us in: we
ripped up the floorboards
and the smell nearly
turned me (after
fifteen years of breathing it).
Burrow like I’ve never
seen: tunnel like a vine
with chambers the size
of my torso, nests
packed with Marlboro filters,
attic insulation, rubber bands
and horsehair wigs. A few
feet down we found the source,
nearly twenty of them piled
like carp at the bottom
of a drained pond, brown,
white and black, dappled
into one color, eyes
closed, hair flittering, alive.
After watching it for the third time, Donna wants to play the part. I’ve always wanted
to be Dreyer, leaning forward, deliberate, but she had her own ideas, kneeling
on the slate outside, rolling up her jeans so skin touches stone. I thought we would joke
around, hold onions out of the shot to coax tears, make a hat of twigs and a sparrow
feather for a pen, but she had all of this planned, telling me where to stand, steadying
the camcorder on my shoulder. Zoom on her face, make it so wide there was nothing
else in the yard, town, world, and keep it there while she produced real tears above
her shaking throat. I looked to the side of the viewfinder to see her hands collected
against her stomach, turning the bottom of her shirt up and out. She told me the camera
is shaking, so I stayed focused, documenting. She pulled this from somewhere;
was it last week, when I left the bed, or this morning, on the phone with my brother,
laughing. What will we do with this? She will replay the video after dinner, together
on the couch, lights off. But where are her accusers? Should I turn the lens toward
my face? We will be together, then, in the shaking film, black edges pushing us closer.
Salem Falls Board of Education: Minutes for Monday, January 12, 1991
Ellen walks in first
wearing that beige baize
sweater, collar scratching
her pale neck
next is Alan, hands
pocketed, smothered in cloth
you can watch the clock all you like, Ellen, but the tick
doesn’t care about your violet-eyeshadow stare. even
if you pulled over a chair, knocked the clock down, wound
the hands forward, you would be changing your own time,
not ours, so you see such effort is useless. ask Alan.
why do you think his hands are stiff in his pockets?
and what I am worried about most, really, is the quality
and not the quantity?
of education in our district. we should teach books
that speak to the human experience, books about death
and farming and sex and kaleidoscopes and cherries and
Ellen, your eyeshadow is obnoxious
purple should never come that close to your face
the librarian wishes to speak
we had no idea that she could
I most certainly can. And I resent
any accusations to the contrary.
please note that the principal has left the building.
Nick Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations (Gold Wake Press 2011), a collection of prose poems. His recent work has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review, Sou’wester, and Beloit Fiction Journal.
Q: What was your inspiration for these poems?
A: These three poems were drafted during the same afternoon. I’m not aware of any connection between rodents, silent film stars, and school boards, but perhaps one does exist.
Q: Poet as filmmaker: How do you set up your shots?
A: I think phrases are the lifeblood of poetry, so I try to position a narrator who can catalog those brief images with specificity. If phrases could equal shots, then I'd love to reach within a mile of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven.
Q: What direction do you face when you are at work on your writing?
A: I have two answers for that: we're in the process of moving. At our old house I faced a stream--part of the Paulinskill. Our (hopeful) new house faces woods: perfect place to look at night.
Q: Other than rats, do any other creatures haunt your poems?
A: Pigs (if you count them) have made a few appearances. I credit Sylvia Plath's "Sow," Flannery O'Connor's "Resurrection," and Breece Pancake's "Time and Again."