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poet Steven Ratiner

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:



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





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:



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.





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.