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Monday, April 6, 2009


Rhett Trull is one our rising stars on the NC and national poetry scene. Not only does she write splendid poems, she also edits a spendid little poetry magazine, CAVE WALL, featured on this blog a while back. (See side bar for link) She has the energy of youth and the poetic insight of maturity. That's a pretty enviable combination!

Rhett grew up in Winston-Salem, NC and now lives in Greensboro, where she and her husband edit Cave Wall. She received her BA in English from Duke University and her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was a Randall Jarrell fellow. Her first book of poetry, The Real Warnings, won the 2008 Anhinga Prize and will be published by Anhinga Press in 2009. Other awards include recent prizes from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals and anthlogies, including After Shocks: the Poetry of Recovery, The American Poetry Review, Best New Poets 2008, Convergence Review, Prairie Schooner, and Waccamaw.

The Real Warnings Are Always Too Late

I want to go back to the winter I was born and warn you
that I will flood through your life like acid
and you will burn yourselves on me.
On my sixteenth birthday, I will use the candles
to set the basement aflame and run out laughing,
wearing smoke like a new dress.With a pocket knife,
I will try to root out that life you so eagerly started.
I’ll dent the garage door with my head, siphon Crown Royal
from your liquor cabinet, jump from a gondola in Venice. I’ll smash
my ankle with a hammer, drive through stopsigns
with my eyes closed, cost you thousands
in medical bills. Forget about sleeping.
I’ll dominate the prayers you keep sending up
like the last of flares from an island no one visits.
For every greeting card poem, I will write four
to hurt you. Some will be true.
Other people’s lives will look perfect
as you search the house for its sharper pieces.
And when they lock me up I’ll tell the walls
I'm sorry. But these warnings will come like candles
after a night of pyres. I already know
how you will take one look at that new life screaming
into the world, and open your arms,
thinking, if it looks this innocent,
it cannot be so bad.

“The Real Warnings Are Always Too Late” first appeared in Explorations.


He has learned to love the loneliness of night,

The possible hauntings, faraway sirens, the silver
Of the sky. He used to follow all the advice: hot baths, warm milk,

Soft jazz, no caffeine. He tried sleeping with socks and without,
In silk or cotton sheets. He even took pills, which made him feel
Upon waking, as if he’d slept through a play’s second act.

He would rather let the rare half-hour naps come when they will:
After a midnight plate of celery sticks and peanut butter, perhaps,
Or in the middle of a cricket serenade
Accompanied by dogs barking across their fences.

He’s never tired, but he can’t help feeling left out,
As if he’s the punch line to night’s only joke, as if the dreams
He could be having are piling up like unclaimed luggage.
By four a.m. even his west coast friends are asleep. He turns
His clocks to the wall. He dances in the empty

Street, swings upside-down from the trees.
He rescued a kitten, named her Lady, likes to watch her sleep
On his windowsill or curled up purring in his popcorn bowl.
He croons Elvis into the handle of his garden spade
While standing on his coffee table, dressed in tails. He juggles,
Stitches, makes categorized alphabetized lists of the movies he’s seen,

Books he’s read, each pet he’s owned from Amadeus to Zephyr.
But mostly he plays solitaire. Decks of cards, stacked in multiples of five,
Rise like towers of miniature cities in the corners of his apartment.
His goal: to collect enough to play with a new deck
Every night for the rest of his life, however many that may be.
He tries to welcome them, to imagine them being dealt out:
New stars turning over beside each fat ace of a moon.

“Solitaire” first appeared in storySouth.

Nobody’s Goddess

The fat girl at the bus stop who bleaches
her mustache and still wears jelly shoes
that went out of style years ago, pretends
as the other middle-schoolers snicker
at her yellow slicker and closed umbrella
slung like a rifle over her shoulder.
She pretends the rain has just begun and she alone
is protected, all the other girls trying to hide
their see-through blouses, perms frizzing,
the boys inching away for fear of static
shock. They come to her
for shelter, call her smart—no,
ingenious—for always thinking ahead.

On the bus they will vie to sit by her,
in the back, the popular section. And anyone
who dares throw pencil stubs in her direction,
will have to contend with her new defenders.
With admirable humility she’ll protest
the attention, the friends suddenly
everywhere, bearing love notes and roller skating
party invitations. She will list what in the past
worked against her: straight A’s,
teacher’s pet, no fashion sense, and
of course, the non-symmetrics of her face.

But that’s why we love you, they will say.
Your face is puckered like the sea, the thick
lenses of your glasses greenly glowing
when the science lab is dark: burners on.
We watch you for the formulas.
You’re a goddess we’ve misunderstood. But now
we know: the split ends of your hair are wishbones;
your freckles, cities on a map. Please condescend
to come to the cool girls’ slumber parties.
Allow the cutest boys to walk you home. Please
let us hang our dreams on the hook
of your nose. Let us launch our hopes
behind the talisman of your unibrow.

“Nobody’s Goddess” first appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review.

for Harry Lee

Today has been hollowed out by your death
like a thrown-away fruit rind rotting in the fairgrounds
in the off season, between a gum wrapper and a torn ticket,
beside what used to be The Ghost Train.

The sky is the color of dirty rain, and nothing
flies in it. Skeletal trees rasp their limbs together
like a witch’s ready fingers. And I am glad.
What I can’t say, the tipped-over shopping cart outside Wal Mart

says for me. And the hub cap rusting in the ditch grass, the bent
candy-cane decoration losing its grip on the streetlight
downtown. The world is a tied-on fender, you once said,
then winked, But the rope is strong. When the doctors

moved you from home, your lawn was kept mowed,
and even now someone remembers to plug in your tree, the one
your best friend strung with three thousand lights
while your lungs worked against your bucking heart.

Tonight: no moon, no stars. I never realized before
how noisy the planets are. I praise their choice
to be absent. I praise the protruding ribs
of the stray ducking under the crawl space. For I know

there will come a day when the trees
are a kelly green belly-laugh in a sugared breeze, dogs
with meaty voices will frisk under a rekindled moon,
and I’ll fall asleep without tears, traitor to my grief.

“Signs” first appeared in American Poetry Journal.

The Bells in My Skin Still Ring

Jim dares me to touch the wire that runs along the horse fence,
and staring into the stallion’s wizard eyes, I do. Every wild thing
of the field perks up to sing in my orchestra.
I conduct the cricket strings, the horse hoof percussion.

When I come to, flat on the path, Jim is bent
above me, terrified his sister’s been electrocuted. And he, too,
becomes part of the music, the moment surging through us,
his eye like the Magic-Eye, the Cat-Eye, hot green
with the signal’s strength. Something inside each of us

must sense the changes, the curse taking shape: bipolar.
Next year I’ll try my own cures, diagram my suicide
down the margin of my physics notes,
trajectory and weight of gravity invoked like magic spells.

And in the long season of pills and silence to follow,
we’ll look back to this day as a lesson in the power
we hold over each other.
Jim, exhausted by cautious speech,
will lock himself up and swallow the key like Houdini.
And I’ll soon forget the language of the stars,
the anthem of the beasts.

But right now heat from the pavement ignites
the fuse of my spine, my palms throbbing like a metronome
where they held, so briefly, the electric wand
of the fence. Jim stops asking if I am alive.
He steps back. Each blade of grass tenses beside his sneakers
as a mare in the field leans low with her blue whistle.

“The Bells in My Skin Still Ring” first appeared in RUNES.

Instructions on How to Leave Me

Tell me again about that dream where,
in my lace skirt, I’m stealing your blueberries
faster than you pick them. Tell me how that day

for decades has spread its sweet dark stain
inside you. Remind me of our feet swinging
from the church pew, good shoes knocking together.

Any old memory will do: my Indian-head nickel
flattened on the train tracks, the bad
haircut I got to match yours, you winning me

the onionskin marble from Rush the Crusher.
Or our panic every time we couldn’t find
Bob, your dad’s retired firedog

that Crazy Miss Robins used to take into town
without asking, letting him ride shotgun,
buying him cheeseburgers at the drive-thru.

Tell me the stories the grown-ups told on porches
as they shelled peas and we organized
our army men, adding up our casualties

in little piles of pewter soldiers. Kiss me
the way you did that first time
in Dr. Harper’s office after hours as we waited

for your mother to come out crying with the news,
so sure we were the snake was poisonous
and you were going to die. Kiss me like that,

as if to say you’re sorry you’re about to leave, sorry
for the unpartnered square dances, ungiven presents
of kittens and decoder rings, undedicated

late-night radio songs. No. Don’t
say anything. Just look at me the way you did
that first time you thought you had to go. And go.

“Instructions on How to Leave Me” first appeared in The Greensboro Review.

The Streets of My Heart
for Jeff

What a display. The light chromed off the ornate lamps and signs,
brass bumpers of the Cadillac Sevilles,
spatulas sterling-gripped and forks gold-tined
that swung from every balcony’s smoking grill.
Girls half-undressed came masquerading, frills
on sale to the debonair boys. Parading lines
of pigeons, curbside, puffed like helium-filled
balloons no one saw deflating. The shine
must fade, the city still, to gleam, to escapade anew.
The streets of my heart while sun-licked, well-trafficked, amazed,
hosted a previous traveler or two. But none until you
paused to point out beauty I missed: loves taxiing away;
the saxist on Oak, case open for coins, blue kiss at high-noon;
jay-filled sapling in a slip of leaves, some stenciled to the walk by rain.

“The Streets of My Heart” first appeared inAmerican Poetry Journal.


Gary Carden said...

WOW! It has been a long while since I read anything this fantastic. I don't think I'll make the mistake of trying to say something clever, except....WOW!

newzoopoet said...

SUPERB choice! Rhett is amazing.

Nancy Simpson said...

Congratulations to Rhett Iseman Trull for being chosen Poet of the Week. Fresh and alive, for sure. I enjoyed reading them thoroughly. The Real Warnings Are Always Too Late stands out.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Thanks to all three of you for proclaiming Rhett a WOW-poet! I totally agree. She's a pretty good editor, too. CAVE WALL is a fabulous poetry journal.

KSnow said...

Rhett you are and always have been so talented!!! You truly have a gift!! I love reading your poems.

Susan Kirby-Smith / Unmoveable Feast said...

A wonderful poet and friend, and so glad she's been featured here. :)

Please view more of her work in Unmoveable Feast.