Our collection of Ray’s poems is frightfully small. I’m sure he wrote many poems but my only proof is a conviction that he was capable of expressing a deep and sometimes threatening aspect of his thoughts that would not find justice in direct prose.
This is an undated, lengthy poem that I tend to read perhaps more into it than he implies. But that is good poetry, no? A friend read it and called it a tour de force. It is more likely that I will never quite read enough into it and like to think that makes it better than good.
It is rather lengthy and therefore I have put in link in where the reader can stop and pick up the work later. I think one gets the best impact if it is read through in its entirety.
Hope you find it enjoyable and we welcome any and all comments or discussions.
[Every effort has been made to enter this poem with all the spacing and mechanics of punctuation etc. that appear in the manuscript. There are no dates assigned to the original but it is my belief that it was written toward the end of Ray’s life, as he had struggled for several years with inoperable cancer in his throat. Please enjoy and I hope that you will read it as I have, many times over. It is that kind of story. rdh]
Bruise your knuckles on stone walls
Hammering against truth
Or sleep and hope to dream…
In a dream of warped reality
I saw a wavering shore
Where children clutching yellow pails
Shoveled sand into inverted mounds
To crenellate the margin of the sea.
One enormous castle
With the ocean for a moat
Each busy child
Unconcerned with the meaning of existence…
Time will wash in against the fragile forts
And the Great Sea will sweep the sands.
Time, compressed against itself, brings
The beginning into juxtaposition with the end,
Alpha and omega
Folded in great accordion folds.
A life can be compressed
Between a coffin
And the child who shovels the Great Sea
Into his yellow pail.
Where did they go, those yellow pails?
And who will go down to the sea
To tell us
The meaning of
Someday, one child
The parting of the sea
Lay down his shovel
And put the world to rights.
Put down your pail, and follow me,
The voice said,
And one child went out to conquer God.
(The child’s dream)
I remember the sea…
The sea reached out with foaming, laughing fingers
And touched my feet in happy play.
I heard the foam whispering with the multitude voice
Of the drowned men
The men long dead
Who called to me.
While my mother watched at the Great Sea’s shore,
I dropped my pail and ran
To the sloping dunes, leading
To where the great desert begins.
And I wandered…
Caravans crossing in slow cadenced step
The waves of slow-cresting sands
Breaking against the buried cities
Lost with long-forgotten glories in the charnel house
On an emerald dune
I met a man sitting
Blind and ragged
In the dust
Where two roads leading nowhere
Words fell, the shallow sound of camel bells—
Empty words escaped his withered lips
Floating upward in the desert night.
While all the knowledge of the world beat soundlessly against
The star-lit emptiness of space.
(The teacher’s dream)
“In grey, stone-lined corridors
I hear again the Gregorian chant of hooded, hallowed men
Simulations in the dampness,
Whispering the mysteries of children
Who grow, like Faust,
Of what they cannot know…
I will teach you sophistry,
A noble trade for those who sell and those who wish to rule,
And for the high priests of every clan.
As if our knowing
Constitutes the truth.
As a student I was forced by life
To learn that if I sat cross-legged on the banks
Of the asphalt river, then I should not see
The wading night heron
Fracturing the moon shards into shimmering rings
Of cold fire
Fireflies hover beneath the surface
The rings congeal,
The many moons blend slowly into one
And the raven caws his nightingale song
At the edge of the Great Sea.
In all that the Great Sea taught
By the fact of its existence
It touched not on good or evil
Being but sides on a spinning coin,
Yet gleaming—good and evil—
As spinning, it arcs from hand to hand…”
Then to cities of the past, we traveled
Where the teacher gestured to
Weathered statues of men
Whose stone-hewed hearts had once made a morbid glory shine,
Statues rising from pedestals sunk deep in the whitened
Residue of bones.
We traveled to cities newly built
Where stone men walk among the monuments,
Forging swords of fire
To carve empires from the dust.
These same stone men
Walk amidst the toil
Of quiet men,
Whose whitened bones will line the fields of future
And as I grew, we talked of love
With Mary Magdalene,
And Foust’s pure love, the lady Margaret,
Venus and the Virgin,
And of the freckled, red-haired girl
Who gave us all our first, shy kiss…
And of later kisses
Fired with passion’s heat
With frantic coupling—
Two sweated bodies
Plunging into oneness in the night.
“Choose! Take!” he cried as while he watched
Of long departed beauties
Screaming with the lust of Aphrodite
Dragged me into
A carnal dream of flesh that knew
From all those golden limbs
One pair of arms reached out
And captured me, possessing,
Giving and receiving all,
In the warm embrace of love.
“Come back.” The teacher cries,
But my ultimate knowledge of
Rushes upon me…
“There is more to learn!” he cries,
“Much more have I …”
To teach…I answer for him as my rapture
Drains my thirst for knowledge
In the pounding dual thrust
Of truth’s first (last)?
From our genes – our replicators,
We carved another copy of the past.
And while we coupled
Sweating in our heat,
Loving each other…
Time came and opened another door.
And let me call on Camelot.
(The dream of empty castles)
WHERE DID CAMELOT GO?
I woke up
To find I had forgotten
The yellow pail,
The Great Sea,
After thirty foggy years,
And an equally hazy dream
Concerning a red-haired nurse,
A penguin and a porcupine
To find that I had fallen in love with two words.
One was “Cinzano”
But the other word wouldn’t bubble up
From where I had submerged it
In my subconscious.
(But I knew it began with a big ‘O’)
Not the “Cinzano” on the wine bottles
But the “Cinzano” printed on the scallops
Of a six-sided
I had to have one!
But you can’t just have a tan-gold umbrella
With “Cinzano” stamped all over it.
You have to have a round table like Arthur’s
But with a hole in the center for the umbrella
(In all of this, I thought I heard the teacher’s voice).
So I bought one. (with chairs)
(That other word with its big ‘O’ still bothered me.)
And then I bought a swimming pool
To put the umbrella next to,
And a house because a swimming pool without a house
(Still no hints on the big ‘O’ word)
Then a wife to take care of the house
And children which she immediately produced
One night, long after midnight
When the house was quiet
And the pool reflected stars,
Just light-years beyond my grasp,
I sat there under my tan-gold “Cinzano”
With the light from the dying moon
Showing through the fabric
And I suddenly saw and remembered the other word—
Like most fools,
I had the whole thing
Which can lead to frustration, desperation, and despair…
(A dream of rose-colored wine)
Then came the trash-can years.
(Figurative, of course)!
I spent them poking like
An old bag-man
Through the throw-away remnants:
The worn plastic and oxidized
Offal of the glutted consumer
Searching for the yellow pail.
After me, the flood
Of spermatici from Moby Dick’s great forehead,
The final absolution, benediction rites
From the great white brow of mad Ahab’s pursuit.
(Oh, to have pursued something, even in madness)!
While I stagger through the sea
Of swirling alleys, tom-cat yowling,
Searching for a grail
Finding grapefruit halves embalmed with coffee grounds
While Christ’s footsteps echo in the fog
Behind me a hollow
Sound as a galvanized lid clatters on
Damp stones over which the grey rat passes,
Belly low with trailing tail.
Its red eyes glowing with flickering light
From the seventh ring of hell.
The ringing sound spins itself to hollow silence, slowly,
And all the Great Sea is silent.
The flotsam: spent condoms
Stained on either side
With one half of human replication,
Footless shoes, all races run,
Wash against the shore
In the damp, low tide smell
Of human ebb.
The tide returns
And washes all this clean
In a last baptism of human desire.
Have no more quests
No grail to find,
No windmill left,
Is just a word,
And all too soon, each age has gone,
Faded into toothless-ness,
Lost in shadowed corridors
Where white-clad officers
Patrol the ramblings of
The final years.
Give me Alzheimer’s or give me…
The sun has yet to set,
Allow me, I my terminal
One final dream…
(the dream of the vacant cross)
Just before the seven-AM mass
At Saint Catherine’s by the Sea
When the early light
Moved though the rose window
Down the aisle
To approach the altar in Virgin modesty—
In this hushed silence
Out of boredom
Christ de-transfixed himself,
Stepped down from his hand-carved home,
And left the church
Without a backward glance.
Girding his loins in a three-piece suit,
Followed by a shave and a haircut at Nick the Greek’s
On twenty-second street,
Christ went off in search of another
Twelve good men
To see if they could start it all again.
Sister Mary Therese, old, infirm,
But bright of eye and mind
Noticed the empty cross, but said nothing
To Father John, who had his back to the action
(The recognition of miracles
Most often leads to ridicule).
Christ found Peter J. Almeister
In the boardroom
Of his thriving conglomerate,
Looking a lot like the last man to leave the table
At Leonardo’s banquet.
Said, “How about dropping all this and
Coming in with me?”
“So what are you?” P.J. asked, “a head-hunter?
I’m showing a profit for the first time,
And you’re suggesting I should quit?”
“Nothing wrong with profit,” Christ said
Shaking his head sadly, as he left for the doctor’s office.
“Quit smoking; lose a little weight,” Christ said.
“Heal yourself, then you and I could work together…”
And so on…
But the good doctor’s mind
With the high cost
Of malpractice insurance
Should someone sue
For failing to be saved.
Again, Christ shook his head
Then tried the docks
Where local fishermen (AF of L- CIO local 3232)
Were out on strike
“Sail with me” Christ said.
“And we can cast our nets to catch men’s souls.”
But he finally gave up
When he realized that they thought that souls
And he floundered around with the rest of us
In the Dead Sea of Uncertainty
That magic hour
When he shed the suit (Grey, pin-stripe, with a European cut)
And climbed back up on his wooden rack.
Sister Mary Therese
At the next day’s morning mass
Was relieved to see
Back up there where he really belonged
(The dream of the completed circle)
We have wandered, you and I
One and the same.
Whether we searched time’s true meaning
Or sought to mark the coursing of the stars,
It matters not
For we are all that we know of life and time.
Time folds back upon itself
In great accordion folds.
Let the dreamer sleep.
My mother’s shadow
Falls across the sand.
The dying sun warms the calm ocean
With its last light.
Tomorrow will light another child
To harmless play
Along the Ocean’s edge.
But my yellow pail is gone.
Where have all the yellow pails gone?