RIP, Rochelle Ratner, 1948-2008 (Plus two poems)

rochelle susan don.jpgI learned recently that my old and dear friend Rochelle Ratner died at the end of March. I have a piece about her posted at BlogHer, but I want to share these two poems I wrote for her on this blog.

I didn’t send her this one–

Cancer Patient in New York

“There is no cure,” you tell me and I think years, not days,
But I answer you calmly and say “It’s just too soon to know.”
Rose called it a black dog, Simic a plague, but it’s cancer that’s come
To live in your house, in your lungs and your brain, like a mildewed-streaked mold
That won’t fade, no matter how hot the soapy water gets.

I listen to your voice on the phone, the tired edge and the dull complaints,
And I want to say this totally sucks, but instead I offer to visit next month
And I hear your voice brighten and you say “That’s great,” but we both know there is no assurance that when I get there you will even have the strength to walk down the block.

Old friend, friend of my youth, friend of my early middle age
I know you watch, perched high in your window above the city,
As the black hawk wheels above the park, the falcon poises its wings to dive.

Do you see the kestrel fly through Central Park on their way to nests in high towers?
See the lone eagle circle the meadow, his sharp eye looking for prey,
And the little starlings hop and scatter in the leaves as the school children parade?

On the phone to you in your room, I think of you, waiting,
Your ghostly reflection in the windows as you write of your own vanishing,
And how the city glimmers just beyond you in the looming darkness,  the night
(All rights reserved, Susan Mernit, 2007)

I did send her this one–
The Young Poet (At Twenty-Two)

You always wrote poems
At your desk, glasses perched at the
End of your nose, squinting down at
The yellow pad you’d pulled out
From the surface where it lay. Every few minutes

You read to yourself, images, metaphors, similes
Blooming between the lines
Like automatic writing your hands poured out.

You wrote every day, you told me, reaching for those
Stories just out of your grasp, the reconstructed tales of the past,
your grandmother in Leeds, your grandfather pulling a cart in
Atlantic City, your youth at the Steelcase Pier listening to
Frankie Avalon croon. You wrote and wrote,

Poems every day, binders and binders of them: tough-minded,
Confessional, archaeologies of what you learned and lost, precise,
Poetic hymnals that showed clearly the life you had escaped,
The dancing language in your unschooled brain,
The determined writer you would damn well become
No matter what your parents said.

(All rights reserved, Susan Mernit, 2007)

Rochelle,  I miss you. And thank you for everything you gave me.