Two Poems by Ricky Ray

Once in Twelve Years, I Go to Church

Once in Twelve Years, I Go to Church, read by Ricky Ray

I go to the church with the cross in it
and I kneel, because it hurts too much to sit,
and I pray, wordlessly. I go when it’s quiet,
when service is over, ideally when no one
is there. But someone is always there.

I don’t mean the priest. I don’t mean Jesus
or some deity who looks down on us.
God does not look down on us. 
God does not exist, and yet God is 
all there is. I mean I look at these walls, 

mammoth two-foot by four-foot 
blocks of limestone that could crush us, 
beautifully. And I recall that limestone 
is composed entirely of skeletal fragments, 
of organisms caught in their less-than-final 

resting places. And I hear in the stone 
a rustling, the rustling of creatures 
who once crept and bled upon the Earth, 
like you and me. Creatures still here, 
still whispering in our ears, still embodied 

and participating in the language of the world. 
What I hear is: that word—upon—is wrong. 
We say upon as if the Earth were merely 
lithosphere—the ground beneath—
and not the atmosphere, the Ecosphere: 

not the sky and why above, not the blood 
and good within. We say upon as if 
the Earth and men were not each other, 
and the lesser was merely a visitor 
upon the greater’s soils. We say upon 

but mean as one, we mean the Earth 
the rose up and lived as us, as she lives 
the creatures who whisper in these walls, 
and as she lives the little poet 
turning to limestone in this poem.

The What of Us

The What of Us, read by Ricky Ray


The idea that someone lives here 
gives birth to the illusion of who I am: 
Ricky Ray. Nigh on forty.
Broke and broken. 
Suspicious of anthropes. 
Lover of dogs. 
A muddle of music, morals and blood.

I have chosen to be human 
more days than I wish to admit.
I have chosen animality too few. 
The canary of my courage
clutches my clavicle 
and pecks at the emotions I offer its beak.
The idea that somebody 

lives here: a false coat. 
The body lives, 
and something, not someone, 
picks the spine up in the morning 
and feeds the mouth bananas 
and puts the head down 
on the pillow at night. 


Many little bodies inhabit each body like a nest.
Each body inhabits a larger body like a nest.

I hear you in there. 
Do you hear me in you?

We share what we are, 
what lives us, what is us.

It wears everything. 
It wears everything out. 

We want to name it.
Language issues from our bones 

and the ground 
and the invisible indivisible that wants to be said.

(Or so we say, 
coloring the quiet with desire.)


It warms the mouth.

It looks in the mirror and sees the ghost 
of every man, woman and child who made me.
The ghost of every animal, 
mineral and element who made them.

It sees the ghost of the last male 
in the Ray line
childless by a choice so hard 
the tears shatter my sight like glass.


One day, I will tell you why, 
but for now, this branch 
of the family tree bears no leaf 
in preparation for falling away.
Turning brittle. Breaking off.

And yet how many sticks 
have I thrown, 
have my dog Addie mouthed 
from the ground in love?

There’s hope in it 
I can’t explain.

The tree reaches toward the light
until it too falls over 
from too many riches.

That which lives us 
unselves us, unveils us:
sweet revelation impales us.

How beautiful that who 
was always a brief glimpse 
into what.

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