Prose Poetry by Rochelle Ratner

Art (c) 2005 Paul Cordes Wilm
Building Mother

Little wooden beads, like the blocks she loves to play with but never remembers to put away. Circles and squares and rectangles and diamonds and octagons and triangles and things that are just sort of weird-shaped. Thread them on a thin gold chain that feels like rain on her fingers, then put them in a glass case in the clothing store that's miles and miles away, too far to walk to and her mother always walks. Take it out so the child can count the beads, see all the different colored woods. Have a father give the woman money, have another woman wrap it up with paper and a ribbon and a gold bow. Ready now? Clasp it.

Going to Bed Alone
Whenever she sleeps with her lover she doesn't wear anything, so it's just as well he's out of town. Or in town, actually, she's the one who's away for the summer. As far away as she can get from noise and drunks and streetlights. So when the speeding car leaves the road, clips a telephone pole, ruptures a gas main, then, airborne, crashes through her bedroom wall, flies over her bed, then partly out through the bathroom wall, pinning her under it only momentarily, its tires leaving deep impressions on the mattress but her body sinking even further (it's one of those pillow-top mattresses), she's virtually unharmed except for cuts here and there, but she's extremely glad she has an old T-shirt and panties on.
Art (c) 2005 Paul Cordes Wilm

Wendy's

"Finger in Chili is called hoax; Las Vegas woman Charged." New York Times, April 23, 2005

Once, just once, she gave a man the finger. She'd been on her way to work and there he was in front of her driving at that late for church speed, only slower. She had a client meeting in fifteen minutes. She honked in the no honking zone, then honked again. Finally she was able to pass him on the right. Going past, she gave him the finger. Then, wouldn't you know it, he reached up and put that red light on top of his car and turned on the siren. Which meant not just the $50 ticket, but that she was late for the meeting. She'd have sold her soul for a cell phone, but they didn't have them in those days, when she had a job that mattered. But no matter. Driving home that night she saw what she thought was the same car parked in front of a strip mall with a McDonald's and a Wendy's. She made a mental note that's where the wise guy eats, him or others like him. She lost her job and found herself eating there with what little money she could garner cleaning houses. And ever since then she's been waiting, biding her time, looking around her, waiting for the proper moment, holding her breath, calmly waiting, to give someone the finger.

The Empty Guest Room
Betsy needs a bath. And no, she didn't wet herself. She didn't, as they say, have a little accident. The girl she was given to lost her bottle a long long time ago. Before she could blink her eyes she was carted off to the attic. Then here, to the grown girl's house, where she sits in an upstairs bedroom in the rocker that had been the little girl's once. By her side is what used to be a bride doll, maybe the very doll the girl cried for one whole weekend, purchased not at the time but a year or two later.

Art (c) 2005 Paul Cordes Wilm
Gi Gives Mom Kidney Before Going To Iraq

Keep it safe for me. Keep it warm in winter, cool in summer. It's used to curling up in a place where climates change, where blood, like water, trickles hot and cold. The dust in Iraq would only clog it. Remember how I used to laugh with your heavy breath tickling my ear or neck? Breathe deeply, Mother. If a bomb goes off beside my left leg, at least you'll have part of me. Girls I went to school with are having babies for this very reason. Suicide mothers, I call them. Putting their parents through hell all over again, this time with orphans. That's not what you're dying for. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Mother, the thought of dust terrifies.

Country Living

While she brushes her teeth, the spider spins his web in a corner of the sink. It is a big sink. At first he seems paralyzed by the noise of the electric toothbrush, but then gently reaches out a leg or arm or claw or whatever it is. Meeting no resistance, he reaches out again. Halfway through her brushing his two front legs are moving rapidly, just in time to the motion of the brush, she realizes. The sound, to him, must be music. Back and forth, up and down, in little circles. She's glad now she isn't a child, to have been afraid of this.
Art (c) 2005 Paul Cordes Wilm
Summer House

—"A mother is not a dust rag." Sholem Aleichem

A mother is not a dust rag, but with her hair all starched, just back from the beauty parlor, she brushes against the low pipes in the basement apartment and are small chips of lead paint in her hair. The little girl cries to be picked up, up, up. On Mommy's shoulders she reaches out to touch the pipes herself, except she can't stay here long. She doesn't like the smell of Mommy's hair, doesn't like the feel of it. Lowered now, she puts her thumb in hour mouth and sucks the dust off.

Music by Paul A. Toth
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