James Ragan

James Ragan

James Ragan’s publishing b.g. includes 10 books of poetry (Grove Press, Henry Holt, etc), poems in Poetry, The Nation, NAR, Epoch, Bomb, World Lit Today, Los Angeles Times etc. Honors: 2 Honorary Litt’D’s, 2 Fulbright Professorships, Emerson Poetry Prize, NEA Grant, Poetry Society Citation, 9 Pushcart nominations, London’s Troubadour Prize finalist, Swan Foundation Humanitarian Award, Platinum Prize: Houston Film Festival as subject of the documentary Flowers and Roots, shown on PBS. Emeritus Director of the Professional Writing Program at the U. of Southern California (25 yrs.) and currently Distinguished Professor of Poetry at Prague’s Charles University (26 summers).

Anniversary of the Triumphal Arch in Firenze

An aroma of bilberries swills along
the Arno river. Along the boulevard,
in a café beneath a canvas skirting out its visor
or is it a linden, its shade near absolute,
now votive in its blinding, you first sit and regret
to leave the city. You wait while the mist
of camphor smokes conspicuously off the water.
At a morning market, across from the Arch
you smell the swill of tiglio honey
roiling space like myrrh within a pyramid,
filling the space of years
until it passes for a prophesy. It doesn’t
repeat ever. The boulevard crosses all
that is your future. The only way
to come to inspiration is backwards,
through the senses, remembering
the city, its aroma, calling up the birth
of the Gioconda, how like the drift
of leaves through the Florentine arch
her smile could nearly stop the seasons.

Gibraltar and the Winged Moons

In a field of wild olive
on the Catalan coast,
while we dance the Sardana
in scuts of rue and chanterelle,
you ask why souls are lost.
You lift an eyebrow, think
a thought for hours
as if the question said
were skimming the corners of the sun
eternally. In your manner
of paradox you sleep
molding a swallow. Later
as we drive the coast of Andalusia
in no particular silence, your hands
fly out, releasing wings
so delicate and distant
the dark behind the sun begins to vanish.
An answer follows.
In time five winged moons
light the other half of earth;
an aureole of stars gilds Gibraltar.

Drinking Ouzo in Athens at Kolonaki Square

At the Café Boheme terrace,
I couldn’t imagine this moment
could happen at all. The rain
has lit the scarf of lamp-light
you wear beneath the canopy.

Your glance meets
mine each time your lashes
tease the eyes, fluttering wild,
not for me, chairs away,
my roweled eye brushing its comb
along your cheek.

In Greece, it’s said, when eyes meet,
a conversation ends. Only
the shell of a word remains
as I whisper low to romance your hair
like a bald man to fur on a coat.

I would rather not hear the rasp
of a tire skidding its pain
along the gravel of Agio Omirou
as I write I need you
on a note I pass to myself.
That will not be the poem.

God-proud woman with your lips
wet above the tongue’s spur,
I want to speak your language,
to tell you of the too full sky
of clouds like gods above Mt. Lycabettus,
and the child I wed to your body,

or the words I will never speak or write
down, shy, un-translated
along your thighs.
If in memory we should meet,
you will see me staring, gratefully

at your face turning
backwards across the Square
to a shot of ouzo spilling, shattered,
a man slouching backward to a bus,
anonymous as sound
in the shard of breaking glass.

The Old Roman Platea

The old courtyard, dozing in a riddled mist
of azaleas below the stone stair, has found
the nights in Rome a shade too dark for browsing,
and prefers the regal lit barometer of a torch,
igniting the wet silk of a Tuscan moon
into trellised strips along a rafter grate,
or a jasmine vine curling about the window ledge.
In its time it might have lured DiVinci
in a Gioconda mood, smile-shy, to the haze
and seeming laughter of tumbling ash leaves
or the etched gilding of a stain-glassed sill
flowering tall into Vatican vaults.
When it wakes, it likes to round its shoulders
into each sleeve of a garden wall,
groomed with lavender and blue wisteria,
and leap into a photograph or a conversation
for the rest of a day or year – or century.

The Beachcomber

I’ve seen this moon before, loitering about
the stone pines at the peak of La Concha,
a hapless loafer, indifferent to the day’s
jasmine scent of the beach girl from Marbella,
who feels the sun strain of lying back too long
and sighs. In a moment she will tease
her fawned hair from the sand, spread her tanned
legs warming down against the cool earth,
her one last thought of love like her ring
abandoned. Each day at dusk, the young boy’s
binocular eyes drift to shade the sun’s late glare.
The moon, staring back, floats free
of the night’s spray of fog, and like the yacht,
listing dry dock on the bay’s edge, guides its bow
to the shores of the sad boy’s eyes, the light
just short of fading. The moon is a voyeur,
tugging a lost cloud through the sea’s soft kelp,
scaling the trellised steps of the boathouse
where stars and compass intersect the young girl’s
eyes, and a lone gull pecks as near as breasts allow.
The night whispers, closer, come. The moon
can only stare, the thought of touch out of reach,
and shunned, as if by a truant sun, sadly turns
and climbs the stairs like a groom abandoned.

Imagine now below the same moon, a palm
is swaying tall, muscular in its song, smooth
as a Bolero sidestep dragging the sand,
or a flamenco muse clicking air between the fingers
to a sudden stomp, each foot daring to kick one beat
into a pair. Down coast the Malaga lights
dance the beaches into one, with avenues of lamps’
glaring like a necklace hanging stars along the breast
of the moon, pearled in halves above the bay.
Where the sand pools against the boat,
a ridge of water laps the bow in leaps
like a dog trained high to teeth a bone.
The same girl, a sudden presence, stares up to where
La Concha steers the moon’s glide into stone.
She bounds one way, now another,
as if some force, pulling her, were gamboling back.
There is no dog to leash, no mounds or rivulets,
no Zambra dance, no shells to necklace into Picasso beads.

What is it she seeks to find in the ballet of water?
What does she see in its translucence?
Is it the absence of stars in darkness
or the moon, breathing light into her reflection,
into the rhythm of waves, chanting
soft as wind riffling breath
into the fertile heart of the palm, dancing free?

Buying a Print of Van Gogh’s Irises

When you own this,
you will sleep in the color purple
and think it is the leaf of an iris
or a highway of membranes growing
out of an orchid’s flowering stems
in the fields of Saint-Remy.
When you own this,
you will taste the fleur-de-lis
in a wash of lavender
and think it is your blood
pumping the heart of the river Rhone
through the whole of your body.
When you own this,
you will hear the river Loire
raging in the leaf of an iris
or the stem of an orchid
or in your mind’s blood,
and begin to breathe into the canvas
perfumes of angelica
or the absinthe at the Night Café,
or a symphony you seed
in every last breath of your pores.
When you own this,
you own this, and need
nothing more.

Poetry in this post: © James Ragan
Published with the permission of James Ragan