Pirate's Song by Rochelle Ratner

Pirate's Song
Rochelle Ratner
First published by Jordan Davies 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 rochelleratner@mindspring.com

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:

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
The Mysteries, Ragnarok Press, 1976
False Trees, New Rivers Press, l973
A Birthday of Waters, New Rivers Press, l971

"The Cora Indians believe that in the west of the world there lives a mighty snake, the night conceived as water, which the rising morning star kills and the eagle, the daytime sky, devours. If this did not happen, the world would fill with water." Preuss, NAYARIT-EPEDITION, Vol. 1

"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

Table of Contents





    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.

    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--
    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.

    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--
    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,
    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
    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,
    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
    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.
    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.

    Click here to go back to the CAPA home page