Today's poetry for today's world

Charles Rafferty


Charles Rafferty has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as grants from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.  He is the author of four full-length collections of poetry: The Man on the Tower (which won the Arkansas Poetry Award — University of Arkansas Press, 1995), Where the Glories of April Lead (Mitki/Mitki Press, 2001), During the Beauty Shortage (M2 Press, 2005), and A Less Fabulous Infinity (Louisiana Literature Press, 2006).  He has placed poems in The New Yorker, Oprah Magazine, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Quarterly West, and Massachusetts Review, among others.  Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College. 






Click on the cover to buy A Less Fabulous Infinity.








We regret to say that nothing you have written
has held our interest or ever will —
so long as we both speak English.  In the future
you should not consider us
a possible venue for your "poems."
Think of us as the North Korean interior,
a closet of the Kremlin — a place forbidden to all
but those with perfect passports,
big enough bribes.  You should not take this last part
as encouragement.  Nor should you try
submitting under a famous name
with the intention of changing it on the galleys.
We want you to know we are never
overstocked, that we clamor for the pause
that follows articulation of something we needed
but didn't know how badly
until at last it crossed our desks.  Understand
that if we were dictators of a totalitarian state,
we would pour molasses into your typewriter,
we would confiscate your mailbox,
we would cripple the tips of your fingers.
We do not hope to spare your feelings
by the impersonal nature of this reply.
Several of our staff would love to point out
just how and why you suck.  But that would
require effort — more, in fact,
than you put into your poems . . .  Yours
was the writing we had in mind
as we copied this note ten thousand times.




Originally published in Smartish Pace.




Click on the cover to buy During the Beauty Shortage. 




THE MAN WITH A SHIRT OF FIRE                        




It wakes him up — the glow of his shirt

hanging in the bedroom closet,

the light leaking from beneath a door

that doesn't quite want to close.

He is always thinking of a girl at such times,

the uneaten peach of her, the wetness

of where he might bite. The same light

follows him on midnight walks, a glare

that prevents him from enjoying

even the sharpest stars. Come morning

he takes down the shirt and buttons

around himself the familiar agony.

He knows it cannot be put out: The meadow

will blaze up if he rolls in the breeze

of its many fingers. The bouquet he picks

will droop and crisp before he can

make his way to her. Every night,

coming home alone, suffused with wine,

he is orbited by moths that flutter

and die beneath the million stars he has

never seen. He smells faintly of destruction,

the way a burnt-down house asserts itself

after even a misting of rain.




Originally published in Linebreak.




Click on the cover to buy Where the Glories of April Lead. 








When he gets home she is drinking

from the aquarium, and as she brushes the hair back

to give him her face hello,


he swears he can see the ragged fin

of a damselfish sucked in.  What kind of woman is this —

who eats his fish in secret, whose salty kiss


he’s starting to understand?  There was a time

when her nails were tipped with black crescents.

Days later he discovered the scoop marks


where her fingers had been in the dirt

of his potted palms.  Another time

her mouth had tasted like dimes


and he regretted the coin collection —

the little gods and Indians that lived

underneath his socks.  Suddenly he has an explanation


for his missing keys, the remote control,

the photos in the album removed like words

in a steady redaction of his past.


Could she really have been swallowing his life

while he kissed her hard

and paid the bills?  He remembers


her penchant for negligees

and dirty stories, the arch of her body

above him.  And there it is.  His breath


devoured, without effort or malice,

as if it were the plaything

of a woman grown bored


who hasn’t come round to cruelty.




Originally published in Dogwood.




Click on the cover to buy The Man on the Tower.




Writer's Tip:


1.  On lacking inspiration: The pearl diver comes up with nothing almost every time.  

     And still he goes down hugging a boulder, his pry bar at the ready.


2.  On publication: A first book is like gristle coughed onto your plate.  Getting it out

     lets you keep breathing, but nobody wants to pick it up.


3.  On rejection: It is the favor for which we never think to ask.  It is the chance to make

     things better.




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