Friday, March 18, 2016

Poems that Count

On January 6 of this year I attended a wonderful poetry reading (sponsored by The Word Works) that featured the work of poets Tera Ragan and James Ragan (Tera's father). Their poetry is rich in imagery of their birthplaces -- near Pittsburgh -- and Czechoslovakia (where James' parents were born and a place they visited often).  Please enjoy these lovely and varied poems that include a few well-chosen numbers:   "Alcove" by Tera Vale Ragan; "Beckett Had Only One Student" and "The Eskimo's Twelve Expressions of White" by James Ragan.
       Alcove     by Tera Vale Ragan

       Brick upon stone, a growing
       he builds a new family home up
       from the ground
                                        cement and marble
       tile to ceiling
       beam and red oak
                                        he paid for with cash.

       As the children grow
                                         in numbers
       to thirteen, more boys
       than girls, the rooms seem
                                         smaller with time.

       Upstairs, a bed of boys,
       five bodies—toes to a nose,
                                         an elbow
       in a face—and in the winter,
       a warmth they’ve earned from breath,

       the youngest makes a bed
                                        in the alcove,
       its space, a darkness
       lit by silence, by vowels
                                         in a poem he whispers.

The poem "Alcove" first appeared in Reading the Ground (Word Works Press, 2014.)

Beckett Had Only One Student     by James Ragan

As a tutor, Beckett taught only one
thought to a farmer who had pushed
a stone up pasture with a log,
                                 how to add
a syllable to the name of God
and reverse direction in the space of letters
from the dauphin to to the expanse of ot,
and to skip the space that followed
as a symbol of regret.
                                And to wait
like Job before all meaning
doubled worry to a hundred ot.
How to push by only breathing,
                                to and ot, to and ot.
Until his death the tutor
had only one thought to direct,
and the student one syllable to suspect.

This poem was first published in Lusions, Grove/Atlantic, 1997).

The Eskimo’s Twelve Expressions of White     by James Ragan

Iced on the bone
bridge of the eye,
one tear glances at a fire.

An ibex sleeping
on the steppes
of the great Siberian snow
becomes the moon’s horizon.

Fog crawls in
at the lip of a lake.
Two Aleutian dogs have laid down
their steaming breath
to praise a mountain.

In the eye’s reflection
stalactite, seeding water,
drips down the hanging scarf
of a cave, now warming.

The twenty spears
of a reindeer’s horn
bleed before the fish man
whittles bones to eyelets.

The harpoon towing
the whale’s white fin
across the Bering Strait
stiffens to track the marmot.

To outrun the elk,
a snow hare lunges deep
into the throat of a glacier.

A snow bank drifts in the wind.
The bear’s tracks limp
back to the lost logs of fire.

The starved harp seal,
moled to higher ground,
laps at the light of the Aurora.

Water soaks the fur of the stoat.
His weasel coat browns
to ermine in winter.

Within the spined
avalanche of hair,
a woolly mammoth sleeps,
frozen in the mountain’s skull.

The fire
at the bone bridge of the eye
glances at a tear, now warming.

This poem was first published in Lusions, Grove/Atlantic, 1997).    

At this link you will find an interesting documentary about James Ragan -- his travels, his celebrity, and his poetry.

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