Rochelle Ratner

700 kilos of mud stolen from bankrupt mine

Her mother never let her play in mud. She wore a
dress to school, and sometimes went down the slide
in that same dress. Despite those detergent
commercials that showed mud going in that came
out white, she never wanted to soil herself. She
hung back from the others in camp, and then in gym
class. But she enjoyed the music the others liked,
even went to see North to Alaska because it starred
Fabian. She knew the Johnny Horton song by heart,
though her singing out loud ended in 4th grade with
The Star Spangled Banner. Besides, it was just a
movie. Real life was the Vietnam War, but she didn't
dare protest. In her sixties, having raised their
children, she and her husband traveled to Belgrade
with a tour group of retirees. She saw the flecks of
gold and silver in the abandoned mine, stood back as
others filled jars, bags, sacks, even their pockets.
Back home, their little house still had a mortgage,
but she wasn't even tempted to touch the stuff.

Cheerleaders Use Chant to Help Police

She has bumped her head. She has a vague sense of having been pushed. Boys in high school shoving her aside, anxious to get to class and sit next to the dumbshit pretty sorority girls. She hears their voices now, off in the distance. Airhead girls jumping up and down in skirts that show their panties, practicing sexual moves in front of their grandparents. She is 54 years old. No, she is 16. She has dropped out of high school. Steady now, a man says, trying to coax her out through a bashed-in car door, his sweaty football-player hands groping her.


A woman takes her fluffy toy schnauzer in for grooming,
brings him home, gives him a little pink treat, sits him on
her lap, pets. She feels some crud around his ear, picks at
it, and his ear falls off. She curls up in bed, in cancer,
tearing her hair out.

Turtle Ashes

This little turtle went to market, this little turtle stayed home, this little turtle had roast beef, this little turtle had none... She was afraid of pigs, their huge, round bodies. Every time the wind blew she feared the wolf would blow the house down. Silly childish fears she sometimes confided to her large stuffed turtle. He wasn't cuddly, but his back was soft, embroidered like a shell, and hers alone. He moved at his own pace, while parents and teachers always yelled at her to stop dawdling. I want a man with a slow hand...

She thinks it was the turtles, and not his gentle smile, that first attracted her. Scattered throughout his living room, den, kitchen, bedroom. His eyes seemed to rest on her, half-closed like a pottery turtle's. He spoke of his late wife sometimes, in a way that stirred a bond between the two lucky women. Other times, the turtles seemed to crowd her out. There were things of her own that she hoped to collect someday. Music boxes, perhaps, or tourist snow globes. And he accepted this.

This little turtle went to market... It was all for charity and he sold for fifty cents to a woman who needed a cookie jar. But you can't eat ashes. And that was his wife, he says now, taking her in his arms, his eyes wet, trembling, holding on for dear life. His wife's ashes. Luckily turtles walk slowly, and tend toward circles. Like children believing in fairy tales, they always knew she'd be returned. This little turtle cries we we we all the way home. And even the wind calms down.

Doctor Admits Implanting Screwdriver In Patient

Do you have any idea how many times he's been screwed –
by insurance companies not even paying enough to cover
costs, by people with no insurance who promise to pay in
installments and then leave town, by his wife angry when
he's not able to spend even a holiday with her, by the god
damned idiots who work in the supply room? They run out
of titanium rods in the middle of surgery, the patient's
under anesthesia already, neck cut open, spine unstable,
and frankly he doesn't have another two hours to spare so
he just has to improvise.

Abandoned typewriter at Wal-Mart creates bomb scare


She was seventeen when she bought her first electric typewriter B a big old IBM, heavy as hell, years before Selectrics. She paid $50, brought it home, plugged it in, and it didn't work. Her father bent out the plugs slightly and it was fine. She thought of herself as a writer.


Touch typing evenings. In summer school. This is what her parents say will give her the chance to get ahead in any office. She attends. She types. She cuts class one night. She walks the Boardwalk. She plays Fascination.


She types envelopes for a penny apiece, from home. The office where she later works has a newfangled memory typewriter. She moves to New York and later buys a Selectric. Her father talks about people learning word processing. That's something she'd be good at.


Computer. Commute her.


She's a writer, that's how she got the studio apartment. Her parents put plexiglass panes in one of the casement windows so she can have an air conditioner. Turn on that typewriter when the air conditioner's on and a fuse blows. The fuse box is down in the basement. Her apartment fused to the one below it. Another neighbor coming on to her when she asks if she can use his phone.


There are three phones in her living room. Her uncle picks one up, tries to dial, then puts it down and picks up another one. She's been doing dishes, barely looks around. He can't get that other to work, he says. The buttons don't press. She shuts the water off. It's an old princess dial phone. Eighty-four years old. And he's forgotten dials this quickly. He's her favorite uncle. She's become closer to him than to her father.


She writes. She travels. She watches the 9/11 events on tv, as if it's a world away. She watches unattended luggage blown up at a Paris airport. A flight from London is delayed because baggage has been checked by an absent passenger. She's nearly sixty years old, and she never shops at Wal-Mart. That strange square box containing something suspicious has nothing whatsoever to do with her.

Rochelle Ratner passed away on March 31, after suffering with advanced cancer (both of the brain and lung) for about a year.

Her books include two novels and sixteen poetry books, most recently Leads (Otoliths, 2007), Balancing Acts (Marsh Hawk Press, 2006 — a finalist for the Binghamton University Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award, 2007), Beggars at the Wall (Ikon, 2007), and the e-book Toast Soldiers (Vida Loca Books). An anthology she edited, Bearing Life: Women’s Writings on Childlessness, was published in 2000 by The Feminist Press. A novelist as well as a poet, Coffee House Press has published two novels: Bobby's Girl (1986) and The Lion's Share (1991). Her new novel, Mother and Child, will be published in 2008 by Hamilton Stone Editions.

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