The Mysteries

The Mysteries
Rochelle Ratner
First published by Ragnarok Press, 1976, copyright by Rochelle Ratner

For permission to reprint contact Rochelle Ratner, 609 Columbus Ave. (Apt. 16F), New York, NY 10024; phone/fax (212) 769-0498; e-mail

Some of these poems previously appeared in Ironwood, The Seneca Review, Dialog, Clown War, Mosaic, Friends Seminary Review, Women: The New Voice, Zahir.

Other poetry books by Rochelle Ratner:

Zodiac Arrest, Ridgeway Press, 1995
Someday Songs, BkMk/University of Missouri Press, 1992
Practicing To Be A Woman: New & Selected Poems, Scarecrow, 1982
Hide & Seek, Ommation Press, l980
Sea Air In a Grave Ground Hog Turns Toward, 'Gull, 1980
Combing The Waves, Hanging Loose, 1980
Quarry, New Rivers Press, 1978
The Tightrope Walker, The Pennyworth Press, 1977
Pirate's Song, Jordan Davies Press, l976
False Trees, New Rivers Press, l973
A Birthday of Waters, New Rivers Press, l971

Table of Contents

The Mysteries

In my life are all the mysteries
of breathing. Secret doors
into my spine
that holds a river.

He who fishes here
must keep his spear point sharper
than all others. He pierces the fish

as it passes, letting other streams
flow on unbroken.

He then gives that fish to my mother.

I watch her thin hands
dig into its entrails.
This is the life she must open.

Mystery One

Since coming out of his phallus
the cat's grown wings
which are really leaves.

She roots in the air that is earth.

Below her
an ancient pot
as used with the fire lit beneath it.
Witch's pot.

If what is earth will ensnare her,
then what is sky
grew hard at touching woman.

Mystery Two

The mating cat
struck by the pelican.
she drops her litter
in the sea.

The waves swell
around them:
a license.
Their claws dart like tiny flies.
Their bodies merge.

I play on my flute in the sandbox
and my music loses
two front teeth.
From shipboard
I watch her case me

or I take her in my arms
to stroke her fur.

Mystery Three

The stars of last night
and the wind of last night
wake me early,

as I rise I'm more a tree
than leaves around me --

once every twenty-five days
I exchange light for water.

All day, uphill and down,
wind surround me.
Wind is a cloud in the sky's groin

and the stars half blind behind it,
bored of cycles.

Mystery Four

Again today I find the gods deceived me.
It seems what I thought was my child
will be my tomb.

The men take off their leopard suits
and hunt me.
I make my way into the pit,
take leaves as head-dress.

Leaves as a roof for the smoke
stones come to life in.

Mystery Five

After the hunt I am
placed in damp grass
and the sun falls across me
with a bear's eyes.
On his hind legs
he's taller than I am.

I turn to let my skin
give more to fire.
Honey seeps out of my breasts.

I feed these children.

Softly I lift the heat
out of the water.
Softly a paw's held beside me.

Mystery Six

As the sap bursts from the tree
kites glide on water.

I put my hand in the tree's stream.

Something, I did not know what,
had come between us.
More vast than current.
More vast than berries. More shaded.

A third force, nameless,
holds trees upright.
Yet branches shoot out all directions.

We can eat the branches,
drink the sap.
In drought or desert, anything suffices.

Mystery Seven

I lie in the dung of the rabbit.

In your hands
you hold the arrow
that denies me.

Or your left hand is
the arrow.

With your right hand at my side
I help you string it.

I am wounded.
On my hands and knees
I cross the stream.

I know this same stream
took the rabbit from us.

Mystery Eight

The last time you told me the world spun
I put out my hands to try and grab it,

something inside me
wants to live as the sun
on the turtle's back.

He and I shed the earth that grew
in stillness.

By placing our legs in the air

our bodies dry out
calmly, like the slow, calm reptiles
blind at birth.

So too, you say you want to feast on me.

Mystery Nine

There are red spots on the sun.
It leans across the sky
instead of rising.

Lightning dies.
The stars, that were a guard,
have drawn their arms in

like sharp thoughts
born in water.

I wipe the shadow from my face
and learn I've wakened.
The world will flood today.
The plants will reach so far
that arms are useless.
There will be leaves in the water.

I am blown about the heavens,
a deep red, deep as floating.

Mystery Ten

As if slicing pieces of fruit,
my hands obey me.
I feel the juice peck at my fingers.

Now I know the dragonfly
has landed. I watch his wings fall off
in darkness.

These rinds and pits tie me
with threads. This pulp is hollow.

Still there is a tenseness at my elbow,
a pain shooting down through my arm.
My wrists shake to be loose
from what they harbor.

Mystery Eleven

At dawn I come out
of the water plant.
I feel earth piled high
on my shoulders,
one side mud
and one side cooled by fire.
From the leaves above my head
I draw my shadow,
let it run
and run beneath me.
It seems where men walk slow
a woman hurries.

Mystery Twelve

You look up at the sun
so you'll breathe well.

Fish die in glass.

Though the beaver chewed its tail
the dam existed.

The water, like honey,
finds its level.

It is rising.
It is climbing.

It is more alone than you and I.

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