Feeds:
Posts
Comments

A Diptych:

Doing Without and Having Too Much

Doing Without

’s an interesting

custom, involving such in-

visible items as the food

that’s not on the table, the clothes

that are not on the back

the radio whose only music

is silence. Doing without

is a great protector of reputations

since all places one cannot go

are fabulous, and only the rare and

enlightened plowman in his field

or on his mountain does not overrate

what he does not or cannot have.

Saluting through their windows

of cathedral glass those restaurants

we must not enter (unless like

burglars we become subject to

arrest) we greet with our twinkling

eyes the faces of others who do

without, the lady with the

fishing pole and the man who looks

amused to have discovered on a walk

another piece of firewood.

 

Having Too Much

shows in more places, not

only the face but the belly and

the polished leather. Wher-

ever you go, round every port

of call, folks who practice

this custom walk with cameras

knocking their knees and

genitals. Like busybodies

they have so many friends to

look in on they never quite

catch up. They must use

boats, planes, rockets, upon

which they distribute

cigarettes like tickets that

will glow and take you

anywhere, even to the

moon when it opens up

for the season. What they

have learned is certain lessons

which they are fond of

citing, e.g. money talks

and they appear to be in despair

from never absorbing quite

enough electricity.

Two Poems

One Grenade

“There will be many poems written
in the shape of a grenade”
—John Haines

They’re in a helicopter
or a Hummer
or a plane with an open
bay for the firing
and dropping of weapons
and a soldier accidentally
drops a grenade and it rolls
across the floor
and explodes taking both
legs and an arm
of another soldier and
it is a cause for lifelong
suffering and grief and
concern and expense
and therapy and trauma
again and again inflicted
and revisited and subject
to retelling only within
the context of patriotism
and heroism, and yet
that same grenade, had it
been used for murder
domestic or personal
back home, there would
be universal condemnation,
although to be fair to that
grenade it was like a pet
pit bull, and did only
what it was made to do.

Copyright 2015 by David Ray http://www.davidpoet.com
First published in Thorny Locust magazine

Even As Birds

“We all die, even birds….And so I went out into the world.”
—Maxim Gorky, My Life

You were two years old—or ten, or twenty, or fifty—
the first time the world opened before you as if

meant only for you, your advance into the green
or the blue that was like a sharp gong sounding

on the air, or perhaps a swarm of molecules busy
as bees stung your eyes, and after that the clouds

seemed to part just for you, not the jet plane in which
you were a passenger, and never again could museums

compete with scenes of such gold and glory as you
beheld by strolling the earth. Since that day when

you first saw or heard the strange message of nature
you have had an odd faith that nothing is quite

random or not designed by some divinity. You
have honored as many gods as a Greek or Roman,

yet rarely have managed to believe in the light
within you, the one others claim they see in your eyes.

Copyright 2015 by David Ray http://www.davidraypoet.com
First published in Pilgrimage magazine

Death Penalty

THE DEATH PENALTY

by David Ray

The following was published as a Letter to the Editor in The Arizona Daily Star, July 13, 2014:

I don’t know anyone who thinks capital punishment deters crimes, and it would be difficult to see any gain accomplished by most wars you might name, ancient and modern.
We execute a criminal at great expense while accepting daily carnage by people with “gun rights.” Those who lied to kick off the Iraq and Afghanistan sequence (longest war in our history, no end in sight) live in exalted luxury, never indicted.
Psychiatrist Karl Menninger in “The Crime of Punishment” wrote: “The inescapable conclusion is that society secretly wants crime, needs crime, and gains definite satisfactions from the present mishandling of it!…We have to confess that there is something fascinating for us all about violence.” Yet he hoped, in 1968, that “the public will grow increasingly tired of its cry for vengeance and blindness to the expense, futility, and danger of its penal system.”
In our State it is the Arizona Executive Clemency Board which recommends action to the Governor. However, that Board has never recommended clemency, not once, so I think the focus should also be on the Governor, with appeals to her Christian conscience. I believe the Governor’s influence would be definitive should she weigh in against the Death Penalty.

Desolations

In Hopper’s desolate scenes the streets are deserted
and only all-night diners offer a retreat for the lonely.

Deep in the woods few customers call at the gas station,
and they stop only because they are lost. The couple

who live behind the pumps seldom speak to each other.
Back in the city, rooms are little more than rented cages

for the near naked who stare out all night, only the breeze
and touch of a thin curtain responsive to their longing.

Josephine posed for such pictures, but lived in them too,
confiding to her diary that Edward had “nothing whatever

to offer the normal human female.”  She had been model,
mistress, shopper and cook, bill payer, warder-off

of intruders who sought only his autograph, never hers.
She could not “humanize” this man, whom the public

saw through rose lenses. Her hunger strikes left Jo
ever more defeated, scorned, ignored. The merest request

gave him a chance to deny her. She dressed in thrift
store rags and had modeled naked for three decades,

letting him depict her “as tall, short, fat, lean, old—what
a collection!” Yet she rebelled and one day withdrew

her hands, telling him to go copy the Old Masters. When
he died she sat by his body, his large hands dangling.

“No waiting for me,” she wailed, “that’s just like you!”
In Chicago, nighthawks of a new millennium

gather around the painting of a silver diner that will never
close, as if one hour with a cup of coffee might console.

[from december magazine, Winter, 2013
Copyright David Ray, 2013]

Wallace Stevens Walking

Wallace Stevens was often observed
by his neighbors in Hartford.  Oh,
yes, the man was noticed each week-
day morning as he passed in front
of houses where Venetian blinds
with slats tilted for the looking out
offered a view of this familiar sight—
the insurance executive strolling
toward his job, almost always with
his right hand held in front of him
as he tapped thumb and forefinger,
a seeming twitch or obsession
as he mumbled about who knew what.
Could it be just the monotony of life?

His neighbors knew quite a lot indeed
about monotony, or they might not
have been excited to watch Mr. Stevens
as he strolled daily toward his job,
tapping fingers as steadily as the sea,
each little wave advancing in its turn.

They knew naught about counting syllables.
Nothing in their lives was more exciting,
and they never came right out and asked him
why he tapped or why he now and then stopped
and gazed into the distance, his hand stilled
for a few minutes before starting up again.
This ritual never changed, a mystery.

[from december magazine, 2013
Copyright David Ray 2013]

OUT OF THE SILENCE IN A QUAKER MEETING

On First Day a man stood up and said
“Our task, Friends, is to be worthy
of what we were spared for!” That’s all

the man said, and failed to explain what
he had in mind or provide any context.
I have heard lines like that in the street

or in bars, and assumed they were uttered
by those who were half insane, perhaps
some bearded fool muttering to himself.

But then again, there might be a context
one does not speak of, for it’s odd how
life and light waver, how one is spared

or is not – the diagnosis outlived or war
survived or the dread nuclear nightmare
delayed far beyond probabilities although

there’s nothing on earth not hostage still.
The man rose to his feet on First Day –
a morning that had somehow arrived

as promised, grace enough. But another
war was in progress and each day’s evil
more than sufficient to balance its blessings.
_____________________________
Copyright 2013 by David Ray
[from GATHERED: Contemporary Quaker Poets,
edited by Nick McRae, Sundress Publications]
_____________________________

SKELETONS FOUND NEAR RAVENNA
“All then is full, possessing, and possess’d,
No craving void left aking in the breast…”
—Alexander Pope

They’ll exchange no hearts
as Elizabethans did,

but bones are now and then
so devoted to embrace

that they are near eternal,
reliques of love long lost.

Or could it be that these two
locked in each other’s arms

so lusted for infinity
that they could not take less

than this five thousand years?
Perhaps they were inspiration

for Romeo and Juliet
or Tristan and Isolde

or Abélard and Héloïse
escaped from all restraints,

who knows? Not you, nor I,
who each night cling.

But if in five thousand years
we still embrace, we will be

aglow, since atoms leak
from both bones and bombs.

___________________________
Copyright 2013 by David Ray
[from I-70 REVIEW]

SEEKING KNOWLEDGE IN “ARCADIA”

Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, directed by Cynthia Meier, presented by The Rogue Theatre, January 9 – 26, 2014 at The Historic Y, 300 E. University Boulevard, Tucson.

An arts reviewer has a relatively easy task these days because any internet search will instantly (actually, in less than an instant) answer one’s quest for facts – plot, characters, a playwright’s history (education, awards, bibliography, height, weight, dates of marriages, children’s names, languages spoken, record of travel, color of hair, high school photos, etc.).

And with this play, Arcadia, the quest for facts is significant. It lies at the heart of conflicts and rivalries, mutual interests, gossip, literary sleuthing, and genuine intellectual curiosity. With the very first words, spoken by Thomasina, an engaging young teenager, we hear curiosity as well as the humor of Tom Stoppard’s text: she asks for a definition of “carnal knowledge”, and in his embarrassment her tutor, Septimus Hodge, diverges to a Latinate response about embracing “a side of beef.”

It is fortunate that the play opens with a focus on Thomasina Coverly because in this production Gabriella De Brequet gives a stellar performance in the role of the young genius who is studying mathematics and physics while also observing the nuances of relationships and sexual play among the adults. The portrayal here is a charming balance of naïveté and awareness.

Time plays a significant role in Arcadia, which takes place in alternating scenes both in early 19th century (the time of the Romantics) and in late 20th century (our modern times), but in the same physical space—a room in an English country house. The same themes—as mentioned above—are played out in overlaid variations.

The simplicity of the set—a long library table before a large opaque window—allows focus on the lively dialogue, for these are characters enamored with words. Its simplicity also invites imagination in response to discussion of grand plans for the gardens with a “hermitage” centerpiece, reminding us of changing aesthetics of formal design vs. natural wildness.

Some dialogue between Hannah Jarvis, a character whose interest is literature and who is played with appropriate verve and self-confidence by Patty Gallagher, and Valentine Cloverly, a young man absorbed in mathematics and played by Matt Bowdren, is reminiscent of the famous lecture by C. P. Snow called “The Two Cultures,” in which he pits knowledge (or ignorance) of science versus the arts. Perhaps Stoppard had Snow’s theories in mind, since he mentions some of the same tropes, such as using the Second Law of Thermodynamics as an example, and peopling his stage with poets and literary researchers as well as mathematicians.

In the 20th century scenes, Bernard Nightingale, played by Joseph McGrath in yet another fine performance, provides entertainment and counterpoint as a rakish, self-aggrandizing scholar who has a slanderous theory he is trying to prove.

Stoppard’s plays are much about the interplay of “objective” and “subjective” experience, and in the tangled mesh that is Arcadia, cosmic and comic scenes collide. As elsewhere, the playwright employs the device of absence, for two characters much talked about never appear on stage—Lord Byron (the poet) and Mrs. Chater (wife of a minor poet whom she cuckolds).

But the characters we do see are well cast and all bring a high level of energy that sustains the literary and intellectual dialogue as well as flirtatious banter. Several of the actors are regulars in The Rogue Theatre company, and have appeared in previous productions in this “Season of Lust”. In addition to individuals already mentioned, these include Ryan Parker Knox, David Morden, Lee Rayment, David Greenwood, and Kathryn Kellner Brown. It is good to see three fresh young actors joining the troupe—Gabriella De Brequet, Holly Griffith, and Dustin Rieffer.

Music performed on the piano by Sara M. Tobe provided a mood-setting prelude to the evening, together with a warm welcome from Cynthia Meier, managing and associate artistic director of The Rogue Theatre and director of this fine production.

Reviewed by: David Ray and Judy Ray
http://www.davidraypoet.com
© copyright 2014

Seven Pieces of Meat

SEVEN PIECES OF MEAT

for Franz Kafka

               Published in The Irreal Reader: Fiction & Essays from The Café Irreal,
edited by G. S. Evans & Alice Whittenburg, Guide Dog Books, MD, 2013

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t love my husband, but I’m so sick of seeing them come up the walk again, all stiff and formal in their dress uniforms that I’m tempted to get Jake’s old pistol and start shooting before they make it to the front door.

It’s not that I’m unpatriotic either, but I don’t see the necessity of their coming around every time, repeating the same sorry lines each time. “We have some very bad news to tell you,” as if I hadn’t heard it before. It’s all nonsense and play-acting, those silly medals they’re so proud of and that absurd salute and folded flag and all the nonsense to come at the ceremony and graveside and firing squad as if they’re shooting invisible ducks in the sky. They must think I’m a collector of flags.

I’ve even lost count of how many dynamic duos have been here. After the first one I assumed they had collected about all of Jake that the roadside bomb had left, and they were pretty delicate and prissy about how they talked about it, as if they really were talking about a human being, the same kind as themselves.

Then they got a little more casual about referring to another “body part” found, and I kept visualizing fingers, maybe because I don’t want to think of some of the other things. Maybe they’re just hunks of meat that were Jake. Or, God knows, what we used to make love with.

After we’ve had the little formal chat in my living room I offer coffee and pie and they turn it down like cops in movies, but when I assure them nobody will know, they sit down for a while at the table. Sometimes they forget to grimace, and seem to have forgotten why they’re here, then they’ll glance at each other and put on a grim face.

That’s usually when I give them the hug they’ve obviously been expecting—one for each of the poor boys, and they remind me that it’s against regulations, and I smile and reassure them that I won’t be reporting them for misbehavior.

It’s premature for me to start feeling like a Mom for grown boys. It’s enough of a problem to come up with enough maternal blessings to my own two, who still have a long time to catch up with these guys. But I’m afraid this war will never be over, and they may both be taken too. Maybe I should be glad for these guys that they’ve got this softy and perfectly safe job. I wish Jake had drawn that assignment.

Actually, and I was reluctant to tell this, even in the privacy of my journal, where I work out my feelings without having to justify them, one of the men doubled back one night. I answered a rap on the glass, not the doorbell, and there he was, not in his dress uniform, but looking like a clean-cut kid just out of high school. He shoved a dozen yellow roses at me so fast that I jumped back and sneezed. On their third visit I realized that these boys had a technique for getting me to feel sympathy for them. Maybe that was a psychological trick, I don’t know. It was all in little things, like saying they were breaking the rules about accepting coffee. Then it was not to tell that they broke the rule against traveling in separate cars. Bit by petty bit they were getting me to feel sorry for them, though I was the one that needed the comforting. Who could ever trust anything that comes out of their mouths, armed with talking points. They probably take lessons on how to control their faces and gestures.

They nurture fantasies, who doesn’t? Here we are, all the fresh widows, and they get to be the first to break the news. Women will do anything when they’re in shock. Maybe they’ll never want another man to touch them. But some may be so desperate for comfort that if one of these smartasses—forgive me, Mr. President, but that’s how I feel about them after seven or eight of their visits, one for each body part turned up—should double back after dark I swear I might let him make love to me. If he asked politely, I should say. Like a gentleman, I should say. I’m not saying these guys aren’t cute, but dammit, I never want to see another one. They probably salute before and after they make love.

They travel in pairs like nuns, though instead of white with wimples it’s their dress uniforms and neckties with the regulation knot. Maybe the pair business is so they’ll not take advantage of the situation. Some new widows probably simply collapse in their arms. They’re perfect gentlemen, though. One of them actually mentioned the five hundred thousand dollars I’d be getting, and how if Jake and I had had any children they’d be getting their piece of the federal pie too and a monthly allowance of a thousand and free college educations. That’s what they promise to bribe the innocent to join, stalking them in high school hallways. I’ll believe all those promises when I see them. Of course it’s true that they keep one promise, the recruits get to see the world all right. Before they wind up in a casket.

If they gave me five hundred million, though, I wouldn’t trade one of Jake’s fingers for it. And I still don’t get the logic of all this nonsense. If I have to get a visit from the survivor notification team every time they discover another body part—a finger or a toe—shouldn’t I get another half a million every time? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I never thought this war made any sense. If Jake were here maybe he could explain it to me.

I suppose he’d tell me that the war was worth throwing his life away for, not caring enough for me and another baby or two we still might have if he had figured out a way to come back, anything to escape that goddamn roadside bomb in Iraq. I wake up seeing him breathless, as if he ran all the way, even over the ocean, to let me do a running jump, my legs around him and my lips on his before he can say my name.

Call it AWOL, desertion, if he had managed it during one of his leaves, when he thought it was all over but then got called back. Call him a coward, unmanly. Call him a war criminal or whatever they call people who won’t be a part of it. We could have gone to Canada. I’d have gone anywhere with Jake. I still would. This could all turn out to be a big mistake. All those body parts could be for someone else, a guy with a different number. They make mistakes all the time. Maybe they’re too embarrassed to admit this one, but when and if they do Jake will come back. And even if they don’t, and he’s in some horrible prisoner of war camp, he’ll get back. I know a lot of things like that happened back in Vietnam. If Jake has to claw his way back he’ll make it. Damn the dynamic duos and their smartass ceremonies.

I think a lot of my fellow widows must be as mad as I am. Maybe they only get one visit from that pair with their cute folded flags, and maybe like me they’ll permit a non-regulation hug. I guess it would be okay if you were a flag collector. But even these guys must have some mixed feelings about their buddies or comrades or whatever they want to call each other throwing their lives away for a crazy war. Don’t they know it’s crazy?

The newspapers quote the widows saying how proud they are that their husbands have made the ultimate sacrifice, but I know damn well they can’t really feel that way, no more than I can. Maybe one in a hundred who’s playing around wants the blood money, but it’s hard to imagine even the worst bitch I ever knew in college who would trade a man for five hundred thousand dollars.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said.

“Not another body part?” I said. “Where’s your pal? Why aren’t you in uniform?”

“I thought you might need some company,” he said. “I know it’s not regulation, but I just kept thinking of you all alone here, and thought maybe there’d be no harm…  I’d do about anything to make you feel better.”

“I don’t,” I said, “really, I don’t,” but I could tell he was watching my face for my response, not my words. I can’t even say how I felt toward him. I knew I could get him busted by making a phone call, but what satisfaction would that give? Maybe it would save his life by assuring he’d never get sent overseas to meet Jake’s fate.

So sure, dear diary, I was outraged. But here he was, a man, and he wanted to make love to me. And he did ask politely, very.

Stranger things have happened. But even my patience has its limits. When I heard the same rap on the glass, or so it seemed, a few nights later, and opened the door, assuming it was Thomas, the name my seducer had given me, it was the Other One, the other side of the dynamic duo.

Like Thomas he was apologetic. But unlike Thomas, he would get nowhere. If there is anything more insulting than taking advantage of a woman’s grief it’s passing her on to another man afterwards.

Maybe they don’t realize how they have become nothing but delivery boys for butchers, informing widows about the pieces of meat the war has made of their husbands, then treating the widows themselves as nothing but pieces of meat.

One more piece of meat, be it a head or a finger, a toe or a chunk out of Jake’s heart, even mentioned in this house and Jake’s pistol will take care of the problem. There’ll be two pieces of meat on my stairs, and a 911 call will get them picked up and carried out feet first, because I’ll have declared my doorstep an extension of the war zone. Mr. President, what the hell would you do about that? I can see the headlines now: WAR WIDOW DOWNS SURVIVOR NOTIFICATION TEAM ON DOORSTEP.

And Jake, if he’s in heaven looking down, will just have to forgive me. I don’t care if they find his other three fingers and all ten toes, I’m not going to open the door to any other pair of blue-uniformed ghouls. And as for that decision they’ve asked me to make time after time, what to do with the newly discovered piece, cremation or a little bronze coffin and burial, they can damn well make it themselves, because I don’t give a damn. Jake, I don’t give a damn, I want you to hear that. And of all the men in the world, I know you’re the only one who would understand.

***

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.