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Poetry

Ricky Ray

Ricky Ray was born in Florida and educated at CRicky Rayolumbia University. He is the founding editor of the journal Rascal, and his recent work appears in The American Scholar, Matador Review, Amaryllis, Concis and One. His awards include the Fortnight Poetry Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize and Katexic’s Cormac McCarthy Prize. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, three cats and a Labradetter; their bed, like any good home of the heart, is frequently overcrowded. More at rickyray.co and rascaljournal.com

Someone’s Ashes

Maybe it hurts to be someone
and the sky is a lung
viewed from the inside. She smokes
because she can. She’s stupid
because she smokes. He digs
in his pocket for love
but all he has is a lighter.
There are better breaths
than truth. Companionship
comes equipped with holes
for lies. Better to be burnt
by those little spurts of steam
than boil down to dark forever.
The days drift like leaves
that no one rakes.
Our lives hitch along
like sleepy embers.
The wick of time
burns hot at our heels:
what do we expect of ash?

Ability and Restraint

after Geoffrey Hill

I

Recognize the damned
among your friends
and your friends
among the damned,
and the blessing
of the recognition
when it comes to you,
whether you looked for it
or not. Though human
is where we live and die,
it is just the beginning
of the world. Ah,
to ache and suffer through it,
and sense within the ache
the ability to enjoy,
not the ache, but being
where ache happens.

II

The heart will
have its way with you.
The mind is no match.
Keep your head down.
Ignore that stone
in your chest, beating
like it wants to break.
Force your way through
ignorance to awareness.
Kill the mice, don’t
feed them. So what
if each sprung trap
snuffs another
squeak inside you?
Though revelation may
arrive like a trainwreck,
though life may
break you into love,
let the pressure build.

Good Old Boys

A boy who lost his father
sings something
as he dawdles down the tracks.

A few notes get ahead of him
and the birds
in the cottonwoods hush.

It’s hot, too hot, truth be told,
the kind of day that makes you
pine for a popsicle,

or leaves falling,
or a great big
air conditioner in the sky.

If God were a drunk, he thinks,
this is what his breath would taste like:

sticky and foul, a naughty word
on the tip of his tongue, a cuss.

The boy doesn’t know what he’s looking for,
doesn’t know how lucky he is
not to be after something,

how much of his life
he will waste on chasing things that,
once he’s licked their salts,
won’t matter.

Who’s to say he won’t
find the right one
the first time around?

A line of men at the bar,
their wallets open
on the scratched, wet wood.

A line of single mothers
hanging up laundry,
sunny, a slight wind.

A nice day for pinning t-shirts and towels,
the kind of afternoon you linger in,
a draft up your skirt
and the pleasures of work
making you glad to be at it,
giving your life the work,
restoring the cloth to the light.

The work your boy
shows up with on his face,
hell knows how it gets there,
and you glad to see him filthy,
so full of the life his father left him,
no sense of sourness in his step,

no flinch when
you hand him his underpants
and tell him he needs
to do a better job
at washing his behind.

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