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Death mask of Pushkin

Under the Death Mask of Pushkin

 Sleeping under the death mask of Pushkin

that hangs on the wall over my head

dozing at the end of that long couch

where I crashed that very last night

in Yevtushenko's dacha in Peredelniko,

weary from the bad roads and bad food,

the two problems Russia still endures

since Gogol complained two centuries ago,

that, and Vodka na Zaftruk for three weeks,

touring from Moscow to Irkutsk and back.

Pushkin, your face, your true face they say,

when all other masks have fallen away,

the face one wears at the moment of death,

calls me to share one more last breath.


You died at 37, a romantic till the end,

in a duel of self fulfilled prophecy --

just as the avowed cynic Onegin

nonchalantly shot the naive poet Lensky,

symbolically killing off your poetic self.

I have lived to bury my desires, you wrote

and see my dreams corrode with rust,

but rose once more to duel for honor's sake.

For what is a poet without his passions,

be they love or freedom for Russia?

And though many can still quote your lines,

they also ask, who will pay the rent, Pushkin?


We all love a poet when he is safely dead.

Your statue stands in almost every village,

though they moved the one in Pushkin Square

to build the largest McDonald's in the world

where no one gave up their place in line

even when a coup threatened new freedoms.

Poet, we have no monuments in America

for weird Uncle Walt, father of our free verse

but the Whitman truck stop off the Jersey Pike.

Your mask hangs above me tonight as serene

as a full moon over a field of bloody snow

not revealing the two sides of your Janus face:

the idealist not born to amuse the Tzars,

nor the realist wary of being hung for treason,

but two lives reconciled in the mask of death ?

in the end the poet disappears into his last breath.

Ray in death mask


Link to several newer poems below:


[from Song That Fathoms HomeBooks]

In Cold Light

I used to read in the basement till dusk,
sifting through musty encyclopedias,
exhuming history, trying to breathe in
how we each thin out to nothing.

Years later, walking far, I happen across
an orchard and half-empty pond on a gray, late
afternoon in the middle of November
nothing. No chance of snow. Windless.

The water still, reflecting the sky.
If this stand of bare oaks tells of loss,

or this farmer's dam, boulder on boulder,
not another sound the rest of winter,

the place holds absence like the stone
arches of some 15
th century Cathedral in
Yugoslavia where a monk pigeon
famish-winged on a black sill,
where in the dimming light of day,
an anemic, babushka covered woman
enters, signs, kneels varicose leg, brings
hands to face and prays.

Prays for her husband and lights candles
that flicker in red glass. In this
where evening light hangs like incense,
the bare trees, like books, hold silence close.


Song that Fathoms Home

See any reviews or to order the book: 
 Song That Fathoms Home







Postcard, Ohio Valley Pear

Southern Ohio Appalachian fall unfolds,
the whole Hocking valley ripe
and repeating its colors on up near foothills,
flourished, then over a far slope.

The ground that has been holding its breath exhumes
into the smolder of things,
and a beagle yelps off on the. scent down the blue light
of a hollow, its howl falling
off but faintly lingering as I pause to eat
this leftover Bartlett pear full
and seeping the valley's yellow glow.

If I do end up in some black and white movie of a city,
it will conic down to this pear -
without its flavor I could never make it hack to carry

over, each of these hills, yes, here.


Harold?s Resurrection

Harold holds forth
about god to his friend
as they pass the bottle
back and forth on the bus.
There?s a god all right,
all over the place.
I was down in the snow
stabbed seventeen times,
hovering over my body
closing up shop big time.
I drifted a little this way
and that like a smoke ring,
then got vacuumed up.
The stars were flying by
zip, zap, zip towards a big
blur of more light 
than when you wake up
hung-over in the tank.
Then I heard my mama,
?Harold, what?s wrong?
What are you doing here??
So I come back and woke up
in the snow with seventeen
holes in me.  Here?s one
right here in my neck.
And Harold?s friend says,
you wasn?t dead,
you was only dreaming.
Harold says, Hold on
I think I know the damn
difference between dreaming
and dead since I done it
and I thank god who is
everywhere, even on this
bus for bringing me
back to this here life. 
How do you know I'm not
god then? his friend asks.
Because, and I want you
to listen close to this,
I can kick your ass.
And Harold?s friend nodded.


155 Pounds of Dead Fish  

This morning I am this bowl
of cold oatmeal,
and the spoon scraping, 
echoing the empty room.
The sunny-side up eggs
eye me like a sadistic clown.
My coffee breathe writhes
and hangs stale in front of me.
All I have for company
is yesterday?s bad news
set down in neat, 
matter of fact columns 
of ink that sticks 
to my fingertips
and smears darker circles
when I rub the crust 
from my eyes.  All the golden
light we swam 
when summer flowed always
rots inside now, 
155 pounds of dead fish
and their blank stares.
I gulp the last
of the coffee for what
little zip it shoots 
through my veins.
The clock arm sticks
and jerks.  I have nowhere
to go anyway but work
and back.  My tongue goes,

(published  in ?Dry with a Twist?,
chapbook published  by PWLGC)


Objective Postcard

The sky dead
pigeon grey
clumped against
library granite.

Waiting for you
in the courtyard
the fountain withered
and blew away years ago.

Old news sits stacked
on a chair, the words
string along dull
as a line of ants.

No place to go
today where I would be
less objective than
the last time we held,

you asleep in my arms,
breathing, a naked fact.

(from The Road That Carried Me Here,
Book or accompanying CD:
 The Road That Carried Me Here


Cleveland Winter

Cleveland winter gray
from November till May
lake effect pall every day,
one stacked upon the next
like slabs in a steelyard.
Maybe a clump of weeds
smashed beneath stays green.

Grizzled, ashen faced
old bachelor uncle waits
his cataract eyes watching
through fish-scale window,
for me to take him to soak
his Slovenian immigrant bones
in cinderblock bath-house.

Dawn?s first dull light fills
the aluminum pot he hammers
into shape to hold his daily
ration of meals on wheels.
But when he stops, heat
leaves its skin, leaving
his hands raw and dingy.

He holds them over blue 
flame of stove like the last 
blast furnace in the Flats
as the sun?s molten smile
slides out from under clouds 
before nails of  thin sleet tap
down the sky?s tin roof.

(first published in "Heartlands Today")

Letter Left on the Porch
     of the Kerouac House

   So as I sit still on the porch 
in the warm breeze cooling 
the outskirts of downtown
Orlando, gray-green moss swaying 
from this 300 year old live oak 
like American bhikku beards 
speaking the long vowels 
only the stretched ears of a buddha 
can hear, I ponder one word 
I could give at the end of the road.

one word as small as the seed 
I once spit from this porch.
Smell that orange blossoms wafting 
below the skyline of high-rise banks, 
the tallest adorned with black horns,
the white church spires beneath  
reflecting in the glass boxes 
here on the whirlpooling edge 
of the Disney vortex like the wheel 
of samsara that spins all matter out.

I was poor when I came here 
and never really made enough 
dough for more than a good bender 
though the estate sold the original 
teletype manuscript of On the Road 
to a pizza mogul for 2.6 million.
I never genuflected at the altar 
of the almighty dollar when I went
down on my knees praying at the end.

But there is no end, only the golden 
scripture unrolling and outlasting 
the teletype, the live oak, and the horned
cash cow. What is the commerce 
of eternity?  Ask Walt Disney 
who plunked down his dream 
of automated fun in the middle
of panther extincting swampland 
that became an empire so rich
he could freeze-dry his remains 
under the magic kingdom.

what would Walt Whitman say,
who praised the live oak arms 
upraised in steady ablutions,
as he hands out one flower 
with every Sunday newspaper
he?s selling at the intersection 
of Colonial and I-4 as America 
rushes by him towards Autogeddon?

The same meat wheel spun them 
both to this sense realm.
The black and white cat sitting
on the car top lives also no less, 
nor the chameleon scuttling over
dry leaves stopping to tilt its head
and bat a translucent lidded eye 
in a wink of awakening I saw
as the world refracted in a drop
of sweat dangling my eyebrow, 
catching on one lash, the oceanic
prism of light that flesh is heir to. 
Open your eyes and close them ? 
being and nothingness in a nutshell, 
but for that one drop at heart 
that booze could not blot out.
Those days I would shower 
six times a day and prayed 
rain would cleanse the ignorant 
steam of mind, listening to it fall, 
that blatting of motion and stillness.

What good that teletype roll 
of the road, or even this letter,
a goodbye as soon as a heads-up 
howdy do, going, gone -- condensed 
to a postcard of live oak and shack ?
Wish you were here.  Guess what,
dharma bum, you are! And the word 
that bubbles up from the bottom 
of Lake Adair fed, this clear bubble 
of breath bursting empty sounds?still.

(See Ray at Jack Kerouac's house
where the poem was written...)


Once You Uncover     

Once you uncover your several insane ancestors,
do you think it is ever possible to bury them all again?
They stand in those insomnia hallways and stare,
each, in turn, pointing at you wearing thin your skin.

This body is one crowded European sanitarium ?
half-saints dressed in shivers, would-be Slavic  kings,
gaudy, calico fools. Others that are only vague whims.
Mongrel hybrids, rut-smelling, tearing at their rags.
A girl who would collapse into flame at a touch.
Some collide, shudder ? - scar-tissue eyes, cavefish.

There?s an Irish monk, bald from god slapping his head,
jarred loose from his love of Jesus and Virgin Mary,
who lifted his sack-cloth, whose goat thighs pulsed
and begot fanatical lovers of gods and bodies.

And I hear that Slovenian woman mumble as she unwinds the fringe of her robe ? - strands of gold, saliva, root-hair ? -then sews a new gown, tense as skin, these scraps I wear, the crazy stitched seams and knotted threads inside.

Bone Orchard cover

Excerpt from the 3rd edition from The Bone-Orchard Conga, page 76

The Bone-Orchard Conga



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