Bio: David Ray
David Ray is author of 23 books, including Hemingway: A Desperate Life (Whirlybird Press), When (Howling Dog Press) and After Tagore: Poems Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore (Nirala Editions). Music of Time: Selected & New Poems (Backwaters Press) offers selections from fifteen previous volumes. The Tramp’s Cup (Chariton Review Press) and Wool Highways (Helicon Nine Editions) won the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, 1979 and 1993 respectively; Sam’s Book (Wesleyan University Press) received the Maurice English Poetry Award, 1988, and in 2012 has been reissued as an e-book; and Demons in the Diner (Ashland University Press) won the Richard Snyder Memorial Publication Prize, 1999. The Endless Search (Soft Skull Press) is a memoir. David has also received a Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Poetry Prize, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award from Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, New Jersey, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. David co-founded, with Robert Bly, Writers Against the Vietnam War in 1966, and his activism continues to challenge. An emeritus professor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s English department, where he also edited New Letters and founded, with Judy Ray and Robert Stewart, New Letters On The Air, David now lives in Tucson and writes poetry, fiction, and essays.
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(Photo by Judy Ray)
An X-ray of a truck, a million bananas
at least, row upon row –
and huddled within a few chosen spaces –
God knows how they breathed –
are a few dozen human creatures
packed in as tight as the bananas.
They show up on the film as white
forms sitting stiff and upright
as on choir benches – pale ghosts,
diagnostic as TB or cancer. They
don’t have a chance or a prayer
of success in their quest. With such
humble devotion many a saint
earned his time on the calendar.
In the front of this toy-like two-
dimensional truck the engine shows up
like a dark heart, and the gas tanks
appear like lungs. Viable creatures
are the bananas, unwilted, kept bright
by a misting of poison. The dead
souls are a cargo impounded.
The truck was heading North.
The drivers never know anything.
Americans eat the bright yellow bananas.
(© David Ray 2012)
Bodies of two illegal migrants were found this morning on the Southern Pacific tracks.
What they have endured, making it north
from deep in the belly of Mexico,
would make a great novel, picaresque,
the two companions trembling with hope.
After many perils they make it across
the border, manage to survive the desert,
search squads, spotlights, police dogs,
helicopters, klieg lights, and armed vigilantes.
But there is a great weariness after such
a journey, and rest is essential. Exhausted,
they lie down between rails, safe from
the hazards of snakes and scorpions.
The rotten rail ties called sleepers are like
slats of a bed, their frayed surface soft as flannel,
and perfume of the creosote is familiar,
like brush growing along barrancas back home.
If the last breath is inhaled in the new land
it mingles with pollen from home, and scent
of smog joins toxins acquired in the past
as if there has been no border at all to dispute.
As the two lie down in the night between tracks
they dream of how soon they will pick oranges
or lay tiles, trim trees and clip hedges. But a train
not expected is sometimes the one that arrives.
(© David Ray 2012)
Pero la muerte va también por el mundo vestida de escoba,
lame el suelo buscando difuntos,
la muerte està en la escoba
"Daddy, what do they make brooms of?"
my small son asked, and I did not recall,
but today his words come back to me
because it is his yahrzeit once again,
day of his death, worst on my calendar,
the one no distraction works for. I ride
along with a rancher friend in his pickup
and we stop at the general store and gas
station in Rodeo, New Mexico, are about
to pull out onto the highway as an ancient
truck roars past with a wake of swirling straw
catching light like ten thousand butterflies.
"They’re on the way," my friend remarks,
"and they’ll bring a load of brooms back
from Mexico, where they make them,"
and though there are only the two of us
in his Ford pickup there might as well
be three, and my son might ask why
not make brooms here and not in Mexico,
and if we’re too lazy to tie string around straw.
And then we would discuss the philosophy
and ecology of brooms, for Sam cared about
earth’s well being, and thus would prefer
brooms to vacuum cleaners and leaf blowers,
and Peace to War. But it’s not the big,
but little things, yellow straw and feathers
that break a man if he thinks about a son
who once in a Yorkshire zoo looked up
and begged of a peacock an iridescent feather.
(© David Ray 2012)