Acknowledgements: Some of these poems previously appeared in The Nation, Shenandoah, Hanging Loose, The Greenfield Review, Some, Dialog, The North Stone Review, Clown War, Flute, Shuttle, Telephone, Connections, Friends Seminary Review, Noise, Kosmos, Critter, Brooklyn Bridge Poetry Walk Anthology.
Other poetry books by Rochelle Ratner:
"A beach responds quickly to changes in the forces acting upon it, and provides a dynamic example of a basic concept in physical geology; the concept that all the materials in the earth are constantly adjusting to changing environments. But a shift toward equilibrium under one set of conditions is soon followed by a new situation demanding other changes." from an exhibit in The Museum of Natural History, New York
Her love for the ocean possessed her. She pierced her ears with fish hooks and often slept in bowls of amber liquid. In her sleep she thought of floating and her arms and legs would fall down, gently rising. The bed was a raft too easily, at once the floor and walls were caves she entered. Tonight the tide is in, the room rocks, held by pirates. She dries. She's jewel or goldpiece, fragment that the beach will find to dig with.
Seaweed, my arms stretch out to shells, fall limp there. I walk on the ocean's tiles, kick off the rock's crust. Waves moving barefoot across me-- soon the waters mate and I can watch them. This beach: open from 7 A.M. to 8 P.M.
I move up close to the sea because the rocks do. I sit on a couple of rocks to find the right one. A lot have a green growth, what I thought at first was moss. Does moss grow on rocks, near the water? Not a tree in sight. Envisioning myself sitting here I write a few days ago: I know that I feel what the sea feels. Only now I realize that I don't. I can sit on this rock but I can't BE this rock. I don't have green life on my left side. I'm afraid to let the water come too near me. Though I know that if birds can find food here, so can I. The call of one bird, sounding strangely human.
Step falls, is taken up. This life's uneven. Our growth here drifts in fissures where the water's held a moment, swished around until it forms the bird's foot. Makes the heat seem less and less apparent.
I realize just how far I am from all this. I say I've lived here only as the wind does-- life that scatters all it touches. I sit with my back to the water. In front of me: rocks, beach, and houses, a city that I have to be myself in. I watch how the sand takes offense at certain footprints.
All night the river's chains allowed me passage-- his seven arms were logs that flowed together. His hand held the fire, barely moved, yet his shoulders formed a cliff or ledge of sunlight... ... They say that as I jumped I gathered flowers. I felt that the air had been blooming for the reds and greens of the sea rose all around me. At my side the ground lifted up, its wings spread out to blind me like an eagle's. My hands clutched and fell, clung and listened.
They plan a city just to separate two rivers, to show how man takes pride in shelter. Look how I span my arms to spread across him. Man, as valley birds are stranded in, isn't sure what to do with all this baggage. Pigeons nest in his buildings. Fire hazard.
reflection: Upsidedown, people walk on the railings of the buildings. They wear the roofs strapped to their ankles. The woman's white hair sprawls across the pavement. No one knows quite how to walk here. They trust the water as the bat trusts darkness-- upsidedown, feet breathing, head loosed backwards. At night he is not seen. We merely hear him.
My body's what the waves could not remember. Tonight the sea's too much a child to write here. Instead I watch lights through my window, cars that stop and start at them like buddhas. I'll say the men inside them are my lovers: thin and blonde, or short with deep black eyebrows. They collect the trash along the sidewalk-- it's a fat man walking backwards or a frog with broken throat who swims where land swims.
Houses take a few steps back look on as dogs that walk us: whoever rides the bus must be a mystic. I look into the eyes of another. The tires raise me out of them, I'm washed, clean-smelling, slightly damp, and warmed through.
This room's too large for me to be alone in. I place my hands on walls saying here's a door or here's a window. Nothing opens. I can't look out at nothing. The caged leopard in the Bronx Zoo looks out and sees the ways which men are spotted. I sit here and praise him. I have more room than I need and so I praise him. I call his cage my finger. I say he's what holds me in. He's door or window.
I walk with my head bent, slightly to be sure I'll have protection when the men near. Writing this is another protection. I don't have to look at the people and always I'm more certain they'll see me. I can pause to rest in sunlight, I can say I write for you then hand you nothing.
It's enough that I walk out today, walk the streets as if they had no puddles. But I saw the rain this morning. Heard the cars splash. Having woken me too early the cars have to look in my eyes to hold them open. Each life has to wash the next life.
As people pass we hear fragments, snatches of conversation. A man says "I don't care". An old woman talks of how she won't have to work once she's married. All we can know of a person, this moment overheard isolated from all else. And yet we latch onto it. It's a glint of life of things that live as we do. Something we keep secret from each other.
A man on the subway wants to like the subway. He rubs his hands over the seat. Not many people get off here and those who do get off alone: they leave his body slumping worn out stalled a train between stations, its headlights turned to searchlights.
I'm tempted to go in the church with all the others. And yet today the river's more inviting. The gulls are more graceful than nuns and have the same thoughts, really, if I listen. The way a dog walks through the park has much more meaning. I don't even walk near the river. What I see I see from here: a tiny world of people, being people.
There's so many places to go on this kind of a day. I want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge alone, the cars against me. But too much of the past tells me not to: my dreams, once of leaping from bridges, how the water sucked me in until I died there. All refused now: the sound of a car over water the stillness of waves that competes with the harshness of engines. That place where the bridge runs above the highway is where I want most to be buried.
Closing his stone eyes a moment, the lion in front of the library hums with the wind. For twenty years he's waited. Three years less than me. He's learned to hum a song the briars sang yet his cold paws claws held in can't draw life near him. In the sky the deaf repeat his image.
or his body sails on top of me in loving. His mouth retracts as waves do. Petals, deep blue flowers not yet opened, graze his teeth. He holds them draws the colors to his taste then sips or spits them.
The old man in the sea doesn't realize he's swimming. He thinks he dreams it. He sleeps there for hours and hours. We don't waken him. We know he's as brittle as seaweed. Little old man. You aren't as fast as waves and you aren't as strong as jetties. You are resting here.
You're standing naked before me, though not what I'd hoped for. Your arms don't reach each other. To be safe, you hold them neatly at your side. Your breasts grow large as eyes. In this cold room they circle each other then, for just a moment fall upon me. We both know that eyes are to see with.
Holding you up to the light, the light drives through you. Clearly, I see all your imperfections-- your blood a shade too red, your veins too purple. With my tongue I catch the light. I feel it tickle. In the distance between us we watch it make little spots like a fish's breathing.
You're asleep in the next room and sleep's your mistress. You breathe and the walls cling tighter, they rush to see the child who's born between us (we were made as whales and mated freely). We love, embrace, and kiss without quite meeting. We give ourselves fears which the sea had.
You find me in the sleigh wrapped all in velvet: going somewhere warm today where heat makes snow a toy and ground a playpen. A short time I lie back and let the winds roar till the hills get rough and I get anxious-- I stare out through the blades at white around me. Snow gives more than I can.
We pretend to make love as the rain falls. Crying that you're warm you press against me and my body moves to be the air around us. I've got to keep you cool and close to help me. I've forgotten so much that it hurts you yet I've kept the bed unmade-- the words that we're speaking grow softer, tongues that touch a moment then curl back. One kind of rainbow.
I feel I've got to reach my dreams before you. If I can hold parts of the sea that make my blood rise then the winds will die tomorrow and rafts float smoothly through me. I stretch out to let them pass with pleasure. I fall asleep politely. Nothing to say, no spells across the darkness.
Our thoughts pass each other blindly. Yours want to take the stars apart to learn how high a man can go while sleeping. Mine find the air too cold. I only half turn toward you, making one eye seek out light from floor to window. I drape my moon of hair across your pillow. The sky is a tense place.
My body tucks blankets around it and as I sleep I say the room's my nightmare. I curve my naked back to prove I'm dying. I moan toward the daylight around me, offering it the names I'd saved for children. Through the flames of legs and arms we form a cradle. The love we burn tonight will find it cold here.
On the back of my right hand I build a city, place tiny trees and houses with streets that go up straight, come down in circles. I gently wave my arm as if to show you-- the glow between us drifts a bit, then settles. I've built a town to lose things yet find myself in sun that comes through fingers.