Ricky Ray

Redeeming the Invitations

So little snow it felt like bouts of dandruff salting the ground.
The lake froze, but even Addie's sixty-eight pounds broke through.
She sensed it happening, leaped from the cracking ice and landed

on the bank, tail wagging. Seeing it, someone pulled the string
on the lightbulb in my chest. No wonder the ticks love her.
No wonder I follow her lead and rub my face in the snow,

would-be spontaneous but I'm selecting the medium: I don't have
the courage to rub it in dirt. She wakes me in the middle of the night
and I get up, groggy but glad to take her out. I’ll complain in the morning

but I'm storing these moments as presents for when she's gone.
I'll take them out, sniff them over and cry. Who else would greet
the 3am wind like an old friend come to visit, throw herself into its arms?

Sleep is for the dead, she says, there's more to this day than poems
and pie
. She's approaching eighty in dog years, but lives as if
she's thirty-five. I think it's partially for my benefit: she sees me

in her rearview, unsteady at the wheel, and knows she still has a lot
to teach me about aging, about ignoring it, about how to throw my body—
even when it fails me, even when it hurts like hell—headlong into joy.



We Carry More than We Can Tell
for Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

Some days, my hands tell me what they've done.
They speak quietly. They show me eleven scars
and remind me that I drove a car, blacked out.

The left lifts his pinky, or what’s left of it,
and I wince again at the time
I tried to cut bread and missed.

He healed himself and learned to live
a little lighter on the wrist.
The right, well burned, the cooking hand,

pinches turmeric and saffron from their pots,
but ask him for a measurement
and he’ll lift his empty palm and scoff.

Some nights, when I watch the stars,
on television or in the sky, I can feel them
under the covers, holding each other like lovers—

I sneak a peek but it’s too tender,
so I look away, embarrassed to watch.
But don’t let them fool you.

They’re brawlers. They’re killers.
I’ve seen them take a knife to a fish
and gut it in thirty seconds flat.

I’m grateful but it scares me.
Where’d they get the knack?
They learn quicker, master better

than anything else I have.
Should I trust them when my lover
prefers them in the sack?

Am I cruel when I remember the blizzard
and they shiver, pale as two forget-me-nots in my lap?
Should I offer them comfort when the bed

is empty, when the sheets are cold,
when their knuckles crackle with arthritis
and even their old magic won’t bring her back?



Ricky Ray is a disabled poet, critic and editor who lives on the outskirts of the Hudson Valley. He is the author of Fealty (Diode Editions, 2019) and the forthcoming chapbooks: Quiet, Grit, Glory (Broken Sleep Books) and The Sound of the Earth Singing to Herself (Fly on the Wall Press). He edits the journal Rascal: A Journal of Ecology, Literature and Art, and his awards include the Cormac McCarthy Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize, and a Liam Rector Fellowship, among others. He was educated at Columbia University and the Bennington Writing Seminars, and can be found hobbling in the hills with his old brown dog, Addie.