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Steven Ratiner

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Vulvae

by Steven Ratiner

 

The plural, tongued by Latin.

Tight-lipped like oysters,
a muscular desire holding fast
to their brined solitude.

Just the tip – the pleading of
ten thousand thousand smooth-
cheeked boys – but, with a quick
thrust and twist, the fervid blade
shucks the universe.

And where does that leave us?
Sun horned like a minotaur, still tethered
at the center of things.
The wavery desire of revolving stars.
And homeward sailors with
full sails on turbulent seas,
longing to sleep again in their own beds,
leaning into the Pleiades.

Vulvae is what the Roman gods
murmur, pretending to say love,
preparing to rain down
disaster via bolts
of priapic lightning. Vulvae,
the weary sigh of those open vowels,
that oldest of mortal odes from which
all worlds, sacred and profane,
are ushered into being.

Vulvae, I am old now and
seasick with fever. I close my eyes,
let memory slip its moorings,
and count them like sheep.

 

 

Old Satyr in a Second-hand Tux

 

I don’t care to belong to any club
that would have me as a member.
He’d cribbed Groucho’s good line,
made it his gospel. And copied,
as well, the black smear across his upper lip
as if he’d been gobbling darkness.
Like it or not, Member in Good Standing of
The Fraternal Order of Breathers and Weepers.
Late night – his breath a miasma of
good scotch, bad snatch, rancid tears – he’d
mope by the wrought iron gate of the cemetery,
thinking: look how damned pristine their
marble pillows! Mossy beds laced in moonlight,
how goddamned beautiful! I’d
lay my head there in a heartbeat if only
that tight-lipped quiff would let me in.

 

 

King David

 

wielded both harp and sword, and guess
which did the most damage? Which
one’s flourish yielded the most tears?

As sovereign, he could make love his guest,
conscripting the loyal husband for a sandy ditch
beside a battlefield. (Psalms have tongues but no ears.)

Between rivers, between a woman’s legs – the surplus
by which kingdoms flourish and kings touch
history’s bloody hem. The old gods are buried here.

 

 

 

BIO

STEVEN RATINER has published three poetry chapbooks and his work has appeared in scores of journals in America and abroad including Parnassus, Agni, Hanging Loose, Poet Lore, Salamander, QRLS (Singapore) and Poetry Australia. He’s featured in the new anthology Except for Love – New England Poets Inspired by Donald Hall. The poems appearing in The Writing Disorder are part of a new full-length manuscript entitled The S in Sex. He’s also written poetry criticism for The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Washington Post.  Giving Their Word – Conversations with Contemporary Poets was re-issued in a paperback edition (University of Massachusetts Press) and features interviews with many of poetry’s most important figures.

 

 

 

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de Kooning’s Women

by Steven Ratiner

 

 

pink black and azure smear maw leer
smile puce-and-seasick-green come
hither gesture neck breast belly sex
swell squeal enveloping ochre and gun-
metal-gray pubic tantric flesh eruption
I stare and some naked horror in me wants
to kiss embrace submit to her engulfing
hunger but I fight the urge thought
surging in the brain insisting aloud
lover lover lover lover and beating back
that forbidden that breathy raw-nerve slip
of the tongue between pressed lips:
mother.

 

 

The Sixties

 

“I never do this” she gasped – beginning
to buck, biting at my neck – “two men.”
Looking around in the dark, wondering
what she meant: two in one week?
In one night? Me and the man I might
become? Me and the dead beloved
she partnered with wherever she went?
Waves breaking on moonless Pescadero.
Black sand scouring the skin. Aching
at the outset, still aching at the end – we
hungry, heedless un-knowable men.

 

 

Her Lament

 

he fucks like he’s trying to tear
the skin from my bones or to climb
the hell out from his own animal
guttural bountiful pitiful as if I
were finally the woman who could
pluck the black thorn from his
weathered heart flailing gasping
his cry coming from my mouth
my tears from his eyes until every
damned thing comes undone as if
he wants me to mother him back
into oblivion and gathering him up
in aching arms easing down and
rising up believe me baby if I
could’ve I would

 

 

Morning

 

Black tide recedes.
Two nestled oysters.
The shovelful the rust-
nicked edge of a knife blade
prying just a
crack salt light flicker
of morning: my eyes
squint open dream brine
draining away along with
the last ferric taste of you.
Blue distance.
Stranded the love-
stung brain commands:
begin
again.

 

 

She Told Me Love

 

She told me love was
a fishhook, the steel-barbed
secret under slack skin so that

you won’t feel the strike until
after you’ve swallowed, knowing
that very instant you’ll be

swallowed in return. She spoke
(the lightless depths of her own
unblinking eyes) from experience.

I took in as much as a ten-
year-old could manage (whose
only chance at love was

the haphazard grace of inexperience) –
and yet the memory stuck.
Years later, in the emergency room,

I saw a young man with a mis-
cast fishhook neatly looped through his
ruddy cheek. I studied his pond-

green eyes, the pall of his grimace, and
wondered whose love had trawled for him,
and why had he escaped.

 

 

 

BIO

STEVEN RATINER has published three poetry chapbooks, the most recent of which – Button, Button (OpenEye Press) – was a collaboration with artist Marty Cain. His work has appeared in dozens of journals in America and abroad including Parnassus, Agni, Blackbird, Hanging Loose, Poet Lore, Salamander, QRLS (Singapore) and Poetry Australia. He’s written poetry criticism for The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Washington Post. GIVING THEIR WORD: Conversations with Contemporary Poets was re-issued in a paperback edition (University of Massachusetts Press) and features interviews with many of poetry’s most vital talents including Seamus Heaney, Mary Oliver, Charles Simic, Bei Dao, Maxine Kumin, and the last full-length interview with Bill Stafford before his death.

 

 

 

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