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Rochelle Ratner

PERSON WITH A MASK ON | ATLANTIC CITY BOARDWALK:
THE THIRD ATTRACTION
| TASTE

Rochelle RatnerRochelle Ratner is a poet, novelist, editor, and critic living in New York City. She's published 13 books and chapbooks of poetry, including -Practicing to Be a Woman: New and Selected Poems (Scarecrow Press, 1982), Someday Songs (BkMk Press/Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City, 1992), and Zodiac Arrest (Ridgeway Press, 1995).

The poems included on this site are from Sea Air In A Grave Ground Hog Turns Toward, 'Gull Publications, 1979 (o.o.p.), a book retracing the steps of her childhood in Atlantic City. She's also written two novels (Bobby's Girl and The Lion's Share, both published by Coffee House Press). Bobby's Girl, published in 1986, takes the Atlantic City of the 1950s and 1960s as its internal, as well as its external, landscape.

Most recently, she edited the landmark anthology, Bearing Life: Womens' Writings on Childlessness (The Feminist Press, 2000) which won the Fifteenth annual Susan Koppelman Award. She's executive editor of The American Book Review, a former board member of The National Book Critics Circle, and reviews frequently for Library Journal and other publications.

On the Internet, three of her o.o.p. books (The Tightrope Walker, The Mysteries, and her translations of the Belgian/French surrealist Paul Colinet) can be found at the CAPA site.

A longer photo / poem project based on her 1980 collection Hide and Seek can be accessed off the Light and Dust site.

PERSON WITH A MASK ON

I.

I tell you I'm from Atlantic City.
Then I go on to explain
that I'm from Margate,
a suburb where most
of the richer people live.

Already I've given
more of myself
than you realize.

You should visit here --
you'll understand me,
you'll know why I'm shy at times
and bold
almost arrogant
at other times.

You'll find traces of me
in alleys behind buildings
or vacant lots
where buildings were torn down.
You'll find traces in the traffic lights
each corner.

Laughing,
I say again
this is where I came from.
Always past tense.
I speak as if this town and I
were separate.

 

II.

Look for what's missing.
You'll see the weeds
that I picked
as a child
and gave my mother

the weeds
that I kept for myself

the weeds I didn't pick
one year
because I found
a building had been built there --

the yellow brick school
we lived next door to.
It was a part of me also.

They promised my parents
when we bought
our house
they didn't have plans to build
for at least ten years.

This was four years later.
No more weeds left.

 

III.

Look at those waves
out there along the ocean.
Since you can't take one
and hold it in your hand
you say it's not real.

We speak of the ocean
as calm today.
I speak of myself
with a headache or an earache.
Like the wave
it won't be real without me.

You see a pigeon
rushing toward the food
I offer up.
But what if I didn't throw it,
just made motions,
my arm
reaching toward my pocket
emerging fist closed
gesturing to air?

He would still dart against me.
And the other birds
would think I'd fed him.

Everyone complains
about those pigeons.
Nests on buildings.
Crap around you
everywhere you look.

 

IV.

I speak of myself as a bird.
But you understand what I'm saying.

Bird, city, me.
The old lighthouse
now painted red
where it used to be blue

my grandfather's house
so large I can't remember
all the rooms,
with a third floor
that I've never even seen
(he lives alone there now
ever since his wife died)

my father's office
which he keeps expanding

the boat ride we took
around the island
and the men who begged for coins
along the boardwalk.

I show you my grandfather's house,
my father's office.
Nothing more.
I give you my hand,
bent at the wrist.

I brought you here
to show you parts of things.
Like a jigsaw puzzle.
Only this time
nothing fits together.

The city stays the same.
It's we who change it.
We tear down an old hotel
to build a new one;
we call an old place
by a modern name.

We never think about landmarks.
Or if we do
we want them to be
the way that waves are.
Distorting shape and form.
Always of interest.

ATLANTIC CITY BOARDWALK: THE THIRD ATTRACTION

 
Searching for the man
at Planter's Peanuts
who, when they were kids,
shook hands with them

his costume
like a straw balloon
around his torso.

This new man
isn't the same:

not tall enough,
and look how that skinny suit
fits him.
Even his jet black arm
shoots out too quickly:
a boat caught in the marsh,
its oars for rudders.

Peanut shells
tossed into water
drift off slowly, floating.

TASTE

 
Ingredients thrown together
with nothing in common:

I want to scream
to the baker in the window
that his cakes cannot succeed
because too many people watch him.

He smiles and stirs.
He pours the mixture gently.
It took him thirty years
to learn to do that.

Slower than him,
I've spent my life relating.
Always through a showcase window
on the Boardwalk
where the man who makes taffy
tries to stretch his life out.

I've been going away
for four years
and coming back once a summer
on vacation --

all the different flavors,
shapes, and colors.
Let me get the candy off my fingers.

Copyright © Rochelle Ratner. All Rights Reserved.

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