August 2000

Rochelle Ratner


Rochelle Ratner Rochelle Ratner lives in New York City where she is Executive Editor of American Book Review, on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, and reviews regularly for Library Journal and other magazines. Her books include two novels: Bobby's Girl (Coffee House Press, 1986) and The Lion's Share (Coffee House Press, 1991) and thirteen poetry books including Practicing to Be A Woman: New and Selected Poems (Scarecrow Press, 1982), Someday Songs (BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1992), and Zodiac Arrest (Ridgeway Press, 1995).   An anthology she edited, Bearing Life: Women's Writings on Childlessness, published in 2000 by The Feminist Press, won the Susan Koppelman Award, given by Women's Caucus of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association.
Nor'easter Morning    Click to hear in real audio

She wears the blouse she bought
nor'easter morning

after the dentist appointment
after she cancelled class

after, in the waiting room,
she read about this quirky store

and it was just two blocks away
and she didn't find it quirky

after she made it home
on what turned out to be
the last bus

after he called to tell her
he'd made it to Brooklyn by subway

and could get a ride home
but had work to do

and the scaffolding around their building
blew off and broke three windshields

and she called him back
to ask where her Christmas presents
were just in case

and later he took the first subway
he could get

and ended up on Lex
and tried to get a bus crosstown

and finally he and others
discovered a cab

and the transverse was closed
and it took nearly four hours
and really it's one of her favorites.



Conversation Piece    Click to hear in real audio

In that old apartment
it took me years to learn
you can't turn the radiators
half-way on

so the water leaked
between the plywood floor
which cracked and splintered

a bandaid covered a hole
in the kitchen window
from before my time

there were stains on the rug
I never tried to lift,
we never dared to paint
behind the bookshelves

Nobody really
ups and says the words,
how I've let my life run down

but Julia
who I sublet to
last summer
says maybe it will be good
I left that place

she thinks of how depressed
I must have been:
curtains drawn over windows
that haven't been washed
in ten years

all I can say
is I got into that habit
when I lived in my parents' house
while everyone in town watched
knowing I was crazy

it's better now

even so
my first country winter
I spilled cold water
pouring it into a pot
and the woodstove cracked

I yanked open the back door
and the lock came off

taking a desk upstairs
I had to chip away
at the molding

I patched the molding
put the lock back on myself
and bought a new stove
saying how it's easier
to cope with things here

but Julia, thanks
for cleaning the apartment,
as two men I work with said
it never looked so good

I'm better now

I won't bother to mention
the windows in this new apartment
overlook an alley
and it's mostly pitch dark
even with the curtains open

and these are the same curtains
I brought from the old place
and no matter what we say
it doesn't change things.



Unfinished Elegy    Click to hear in real audio

for Bernie Solomon, 1946-1995

Punch-drunk from driving all night,
we read the billboards
all through North Carolina:
South of the Border

a motel
a gift shop

I forget what else
just as I forget
what those billboards said
I only know what we read into them,
all of it sexual

things like South of the Border
standing for below the belt,
the little man in his sombrero

almost as good
as Burma Shave

We stopped there to buy your kids
a huge stuffed bear to share
then continued south

If there was only the sensual
between us then, over the years
we grew too close
for even that

Nineteen years
and we never drove south
again together

Every Christmas, flying over
on our way to Florida
I described those billboards
to my husband, and every Christmas
he said I was crazy

Then there was the year
we drove and I pointed out
those signs and he saw nothing
and we had dinner with you
and your wife also saw nothing
and I saw ...



Kibbutz Yad Mordechai    Click to hear in real audio

They couldn't wait for trees to grow.
For houses, they used the gold stone
we saw in Jerusalem.
Along the hillside life-sized statues
of Egyptian soldiers in the attack
they held off offer all the shade
they've need of.



Rochelle Ratner: Poetry
Copyright � 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 12The Cortland Review