Disabled poet, critic and editor Ricky Ray lives on the outskirts of the Hudson Valley. Author of Fealty and the forthcoming chaps Quiet, Grit, Glory (Broken Sleep Books) and The Sound of the Earth Singing to Herself (Fly on the Wall Press), he's also founding editor of Rascal: A Journal of Ecology, Literature and Art. Ricky's awards include the Cormac McCarthy Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize and a Liam Rector Fellowship. Ricky was educated at Columbia University and the Bennington Writing Seminars, and can be found hobbling in the old green hills with his old brown dog, Addie.
My Favorite Sweater
The moths have come and gone again another season.
Left portals in my coats and sweaters. I hope they
had a good meal, that the relics of sweat didn't cause them
too much indigestion. They even supped on my favorite,
a third-hand green the color of pine, thick as a blanket,
the goats right up against me as the cold tries to stick
its hand into my chest. I hope they ate well enough
to bear another generation without the hunger
and suffering too many have known. Another hand
would hunt them down and smack the light
from their lamps, but today, as the Christmas sun
makes its five-minute visit through my north window,
where the cut flowers gave up their color in a month
I can't recall—today, I wish the moths no ill.
I finger the holes they made in their service to hunger
and say to myself it's all down to pattern, a shifting
pattern, a thread of wool raveling into a thread of moth,
the moth’s wings the stitchwork of the hand that knits us all,
the hand itself a stitch along a seam my mind unravels
attempting to recall. So I ponder the sweater, its genesis,
its journey, the unseen influence of the bodies that bore it
unto the spinner’s loom, and the bodies that bought it and wore it
before me. And I thank the goats and I thank the grass and I thank
the knitter whose brow furrowed over the intelligent design,
roomy in the shoulders, where my joints tend to complain.
And I thank the moths for their generosity, leaving plenty
of the forest-green cashmere to keep me warm.
I thank until I run out of things to thank, and the candle
burns low, and the whiskey disappears, and the night
calls me down. I take off the sweater and leave it,
hanging, uncovered in the closet, quietly inviting
the moths to come, to settle, to unhinge their mouths
and let the Earth knit their soft bodies again.
Withers on the Vine
Electricity was a luxury in that clapboard house—
three rooms and ten thousand fleas—
flowed as scarce as running water
because crack was more alluring than the bills.
25¢ mac and cheese, every night for years,
a burn the size of a thumb on the dull-red plastic bowl.
Hand-me-downs, barefoot in ditches, my finger
tracing the edges of ringworm’s beautiful bruise.
For baths, we ran a hose from the neighbor’s faucet,
and through the window, by the dim light of the lamp,
I watched Mrs. Morrissey take off her bra.
Once, three hits into the pipe,
my father’s friend set candle after candle
in the center of his palm,
lit it and stared until the flame went out,
wax spilling through his fingers onto the floor.
I sometimes wonder what he saw
in that dance of light, and sometimes,
I don’t have to wonder—
I see it, too:
the shiny forehead, the hollow eyes,
my mother's chin, my father's jaw,
my lips moving soundlessly
while the ghost of the ghost
of the living body makes his rounds,
peering into each version of my future,
where nothing happens,
and the only thing left to do
is turn out the light.
Walk with Addie
Addie found the strange scat full of fish scales again, found it on the peninsula where the beavers murder the trees, eating the bark, the sap rolling down the exposed wood like tears. Addie found it and, unlike the deer and goose poop she gobbles faster than I can say no, this she wanted to roll in, to embed herself in the scales, the scat, the scent. Imagine being a creature with a nose so strong you could smell a piece of crust two hundred yards away, and being so enthralled by the waft of shit, your instinctual response is to enter it. She rolled and rolled, sneezing irrepressible sneezes of joy, then she stood and shook, briefly, and all of it fell.
She trotted on and I felt fortunate to be taught by her. To witness the embodiment of an infatuation one dives into like a second skin, then leaves behind, head down, already on the scent of the many infatuations ahead. I think I live in my head the way she lives in her nose. The way I roll around in the perfume of an idea, which slowly fades, the faint aroma lingering in my thoughts throughout the day. An idea like: we're helping the Earth know herself, and in exchange, she's gifting us intimacy, consciousness, the experience of being everything in sight. And in smell.
I'd like to live in the part of Addie that processes smell for an hour. The part that can read the air the way I hear the Earth thinking my thoughts, revealing the shape and scent of comprehension. The size of the beaver. The fish become scales. I close my eyes, wanting only to linger in this communion while I can. Addie and I climb a hill and sit on a rock overlooking Eureka Lake. Geese honk their little notes of gruel from the water. The Earth hands me a heartbeat and I hand Addie a treat and the way she eats it is gratitude. The way I watch her eat it is gratitude. The wind speaks and we nod. We talk of our hike and our fondness for each other without saying a word.
My Favorite Sweater / Walk with Addie:
exclusive first publication by iamb
Sometimes Vision Withers on the Vine: Forklift, Ohio
(published in an earlier version as A Crack in the Railing)