“The Jack Pine,” oil on canvas, by Tom Thompson, 1917.

by Bill Ratner

after Brendan Constantine

I’d be a baby without skin, a parrot
without a little soap-shaped food cake,
a truck driver out of a job. I used to envy
those guys, name on the side, tools in the back.
If it wasn’t for you I’d be cake, old, stale,
baked out, dirt under a mat, a neon sign
that isn’t pretty. I’d be that smell of rot after a rain,
the hostility of the locker room, the sting of the pool.
I’d be a pool cue wrapped around a stranger’s head.
I’d be dead, or at least without significance.
I’d be a salad without dressing. I’d be a bug
with no special genus, untraceable, alone,
sitting on a body island. I’d be corn in teeth,
shit on mushrooms, nylon on Saran Wrap,
string between lovers, teeth between stops,
teen angels, old ’78s I could spin out the window
and crack against the neighbor’s clapboards.
I’d be memories without sense, as in a dream
driven by dialogue, sentences that make sense
in class but of no context, adding things up,
tearing things out as if they were coupons,
bald, dry, seated, in only mild pain. Is this
what you expected? Don’t answer…
until I’m out of the room.
Then you can be alone with your thoughts.
Private, not at home, unplugged, unburied.

Bill Ratner’s poetry is published in Best Small Fictions 2021 (Sonder Press), chapbook: To Decorate a Casket (Finishing Line Press), full collection: Fear of Fish (Alien Buddha Press), Rattle Magazine’s Rattlecast, Missouri Review Audio, Baltimore Review, Chiron Review, and other journals. Bill is a 9-time winner of The Moth StorySLAM, 2-time winner of Best of The Hollywood Fringe Extension Award for Solo Performance, a certified volunteer grief counsellor, and earns his living as a voice actor. https://billratner.com/author • twitter.com/billratner • instagram.com/billratner