Ricky Ray, Rascal

So Long as There Is Light, There Is Song

Safora, Addie and I sit in a field, at the edge of tree-shade,
where Addie chews an ice-lolly made of frozen sweet potatoes,
cool to the tongue, cool to the grass as it falls from the sides
of her mouth, refreshes the blades, refreshes her throat,

as seeing her refreshed refreshes us. We take a moment
to thank the tree and the sweet potatoes and the soil
for their succor, and we take several moments to admire
the ants while they march in and out of their little tan hills.

Blessed by the mess, we study the grass that keeps
throwing itself like little green-bodied supplicants at the sun.
There’s another one here. The one who lives us.
In whose breath we are held. In whose voice we are sung.

Sometimes gently. Sometimes throat-swole
with the rasp of the storm. You could call it continuity.
You could call it the field itself. I like to call it what calls.
And I like to live in her song. For when the birds dry up

and the trees choke and the grass drowns,
when the soil washes away and the oceans burn off
and the bare rock stares back at the bare light,
the Earth will still be here, singing her duet with the sun.


The rooster entered the circle of dirt
ceded to my dog on his chain.
All that remained was a few stray feathers.

Later, we fenced the yard and he rushed
the fool boys who barked at him,
knowing he would make them bleed
as he made my father bleed
when he raised his hand against me.

Later still, the fence came down
and he roamed the neighborhood,
fucking and fighting like a lord
until I stood on the porch
and called out to him—

Rascal, Rascal, Rascal—

pausing after each incantation to listen:
at first the faint jingle of his collar,
and then the full force of him
tearing down the middle of the road,

as if daring the cars to come between
him and the boy who called him home.

Day of My Death

The ghosts we carry sweep ahead of and behind us,
the flapping of wings we’ve forgotten how to feel—
each death a feather, a shiver, a swallow. We keep it down.

I talk to the air, might be mad, but since when is talking
to someone crazy? I have a whole lifetime’s worth of people—
friends, lovers, family, foes—who live inside me.

People I never spoke to. People I never want to speak to again.
I’d kick some out if I could, but the landlord has no address,
and the terms of the lease stretch out further than I can trail,

all the way down to where the river revels in its return
to the ocean, and the body bleeds heat like a sun
close to the end of its fuel. I imagine that day, gusty,

sharkfins visible from the shore, a seagull circling
something dark and tasty in the water, a violent storm
moving in, the worms rejoicing, the crow flying low

and cropping the hair on Addie’s head, who lifts
her nose to test the air then lowers it, the scent of her life
a little emptier than the last time she checked.

Lamb’s Lung: Addie’s Favorite Treat

Breath of lamb in my pocket
I break its days into thumb-sized pieces,

press the brown communion
onto Addie’s pink tongue.

Each treat is a pick-me-up
but ten lungs isn’t enough to sate her—

she’d eat until she spewed
and eat again.

I’m making this up
out of what I know of the truth,

how it hurts,
how desire leads us astray,

how this treat was once a lamb
in love with its pasture,

how I want the pleasure in Addie’s eyes
as she eats

and asks for another
to be enough,

but nothing is.

My Favorite Time of Day Is When the Light Begins to Dim

I have two suns, one on either side
of my nose. They light the way.
They deceive me. They apply the thin
film of desire to the world as it exists
and show me the world as I wish to see it.
I have tried to break them of the habit,
but it’s like cleaning windows:
by the time you’re done they’re already
filling up with impurities, distractions,
the warp of one’s will distorting the view.
I mean I lie to myself
to take the sting out of hours.
I put the stingers in a pile.
When it’s about the size of an impossible
cherry, I eat all the honesty
at once. So bitter you can imagine why
the universe wanted one
of its constituents to be honey.

I hold a gallon of it up to the light
and could spend hours lost in the labyrinth
of its imperfections, which don’t exist.
My ophthalmologist, in his southern
drawl, calls me honey, orders
unnecessary tests to make money,
his honesty about as discernable
as the morning’s hint of evening’s
heat. He says the suns on either side
of my nose may be dimming before
their time. My trusty lanterns, the bastard.
But he might know of what he speaks.
The way his mind drifts, his speech slows,
and the words fall apart in his mouth,
I think he has dimmed before his time.
Which is a terrible thing to say,
terrible the way truth is a weapon:
one we must use or die.


Somewhere on a boardwalk in Rhode Island,
as August drops every pooch
in a state of stupor,
the boiled ocean condenses
on the glass ceiling
and falls into the mouth of the man too drunk
to rise. What drove him there,
where the worms push
out of the wet earth
and the man burrows
so far into himself
his liver shivers as if afraid
to acknowledge where he’s gone?

(In that far interior, the cocktail
of blood and bourbon
crashes like waves
against the bruise-colored rocks.
What’s left of the man—
a faint light hovering in Irish mist—
approaches the limits of the body’s music:
hearing itself becomes pure tone.
He watches a robin weave
a strand of plastic into her nest;
she finds comfort
in the rustle it makes
while the wind tries to tear her apart.)

Meanwhile, the clouds clear
and the sun splits the man’s lips
until the knife of light
cuts too far
and he stumbles back
to the windows of consciousness,
vomits on the fact of himself,
blood on his hand from the attempt
to wipe the sting away.
Instantly the tongue greets
its old friend iron
and the man begs them all
to keep quiet.

No whistling for weeks.
Wheezing enough to dance to.
Who says sin isn’t sexy?
Or a reliable rhythm?
Do it right
and regret’s merely
the slow-
tide of fate
reversing as the hand
reaches towards the dice
and fingers them into its palm.

His last ten dollars on the line,
which he doesn’t have,
which he’ll pay for
with a blowjob if he loses,
the man sucks on the vine of breath
as if in preparation for prayer.
He speaks to the dice
as into the ear of God,
calls them his wooden tadpoles,
kisses their six eyes,
thinks of them as the eyes of flies,
their wings
the weight of wonder
if he could dig it from his bones.

He shakes them twice
and blows for luck,
lips burning with a taunt
as he snaps his wrist and rolls:
come on God—kitty’s hungry—
baby’s burning—
we need a little sign of forgiveness—
tease the trout—
place two more dollars
on the eyes of the oracle—
sew her mouth shut—
get off your great invisible ass
and provide.

Ricky Ray is a disabled poet, critic, essayist, and the founding editor of Rascal: A Journal of Ecology, Literature and Art. He is the author of Fealty (Diode Editions, 2019), Quiet, Grit, Glory (Broken Sleep Books, 2020), and The Sound of the Earth Singing to Herself (Fly on the Wall Press, 2020). His awards include the Cormac McCarthy Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize, and a Liam Rector fellowship.

Ricky’s work appears widely in periodicals and anthologies, including The American Scholar, Verse Daily, Diode Poetry Journal and The Moth. He was educated at Columbia University and the Bennington Writing Seminars, and lives on the outskirts of the Hudson Valley, where he can be found hobbling in the old green hills with his old brown dog, Addie.

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