Ricky Ray

Sometimes the Work Comes to You

A herd of horses gathered outside my cabin, their hoofbeats steady as a bonfire crackling green logs. At the same time I could hear them bent to the earth, nipping the young grass. It was the wrong season. I wore two sweaters. In my dream, from across the lake, a wolf howled to remind me of a wound left open in the soul. My blood flew with his howl. Then it turned in the air like a flock of pigeons and came back. The wolf sat beside me and watched. I asked to borrow his nose.

Caught the scent of decay and followed it to my heart.
A ruin of promises I never kept.
Lifted a lie and a pup with my eyes looked back.
I knew which poem he was, and lowered my hand to feed him.

He said it was time to stop writing poems and start living them.
A crow cawed in agreement.
A squirrel dug up a nut and brought it for courage.
I ate it and my eyes became light.

When I woke I could still hear the horses grazing. I went out to look and an angry wind blew leaves that bit the ground. The mountain dropped rocks, click-clack, into the valley. No birds at the feeders, ice on the day's tongue. I put on another sweater, thick gloves. My last piece of oak in the woodstove. It was time for work. I sat in the lap of the earth and closed my eyes. The wolf howled and I could feel it in my throat.



In America We Long For

A savior because countries die,
because death drags
her shadow
through the soil

and no one knows her name
or what she wants
when she sings the bottom
of the heart to sleep

and blows two quick
darts of breath
that snuff out
the candles of our eyes.




My dog bit a bee,
spit it out,
no sign of stung.

A lesson for the poet
who bites at life
eager to be bit back.

Contrary to no one’s belief
the bee's wings were not spun
of marigolds and mead.

But something is,
I've heard the rising
bread it breathes,

the dying wheat
that smells
of hunger—

my dog, I watch her
nose apart
the blades of grass

and catch the scents
that fall like petals
from the heels of wind,

a woman she tracks
like an old,
restless friend.




Why I left paradise? The people were none too friendly. This should come as no surprise. I mean just because you put people in idyllic situations doesn't mean they behave ideally. They still have stomachs and brains, private parts and the tendency to poorly use them. They still stink. They still strive to be better than they are, and fail, and strive again. They still give up. They still succeed. I'm right alongside them, a face in the crowd that only a handful could ever pick out. I see children dashing toward the playground, the wind in their hair, the joy on their faces turning sour when the ball doesn't spin their way, something all too spoilt taking the place of joy as a boy yanks ponytails left and right. He needs a good kick in the balls.

I see men and women with humility in their veins and happiness in their hearts watching children play, and I see men, mostly men, watching young girls and wishing they could play with them. I see people with hearts in their heads feeding pigeons, and people with hearts shriveled up telling them they are wrong to feed. The admonishers have nothing better to do. Life, for them, is an avenue that smells like piss and an alleyway full of bums who shouldn't exist. Good whiskey and a bad heart. Good intentions and a bad lot. Why should they let the world be at peace? Why shouldn't they expect bouquets in return? Something tells me if they had the guts to get down and peck amongst the pigeons, they would, and they wouldn't be nice about it, either.

Some days, I would join them. Some days, I would run at them with my arms spread like a hawk to scare them off. Nice, not nice, it's a matter of moods. It's an alternating current. The blood boils, the blood cools. Sleep prevails, passion falters. The life-weight etches. The life-force erases. We attempt to matter. The matter we are thwarts us. We get it and forget it. The eyes open and close. They look out and look in. We know what we think and don't know what to make of it. We hurt and want anything else. Here, my life, one day, I'll trade you. I'll probably regret it. So will you. I'll hope it isn't true but prepare to accept the hopelessness of the situation.

How does one make such preparations? We're ready for whatever happens. We have no hand in it but the hands we have. I'm trying to feel something and put down the feeling so someone can come along and pick it up. I leave off at the fingertips. I must. I must because I choose, because the choice is made. Act is passage. It goes both ways. Intention is given to take up. I look at you and see myself. You look at me and see yourself. The heart races. Vibration rises. The air becomes palpable between us. We both sense it and then we are, we're touching. We always were. We need only remember how.