Friday, September 12, 2014

sax

i hear the sax
coming up the
ladder from hell
i hear the sax
swerve and
stretch the scale

i hear the kid
awake and crying

all the kids
with sewn up lips
becoming what

i hear the sirens
ambulances
cop cars on the move

i hear the
calliope of games
kids play
to forget
to get anger out
to be alone
with others

i see the
sad eyes
and the
lonely sax

i feel the guilt
that wants
to be punished
and courage
to face
bitter truth

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The American Child

The American child has never been able to be more powerful. Why are they struggling so? Why is this puzzle unable to come together and assume the birthright for which it was born? Who is to blame?
When we look for blame we are further fragmenting and thus becoming weaker. The answer is that we must accept our differences. There is no need to integrate all these disparate parts; just we must not continue to try to carve ourselves into the pieces that are only part of who we are!
In the spirit of poetry on the eve of the advent of Modern & Contemporary American Poetry 2014, I will be Whitman and Emily Dickens for a moment. We are many like the leaves of grass and we are fiercely individual in our aloneness. There is great power in this!
What we must do is to be accepting of our differences and not say I am this or I am that. Truly we are fragmented beings in a fragmentary world. The only path back to our own natural power is to accept our own incompatibilities as normal and, in turn, find the ability to accept others who are just as different to us as we are to ourselves.
The old “divide and conquer” has got us in its gnarled grip. The American Child has got to accept its many variations and find its true power. It is the power of poetry. It is the power of acceptance.

Russell H. Ragsdale,
Author of Book of Aliases, Dragon Scales and Fireflies,
Almaty,Kazakhstan/Paris, France/Tucson, Arizona
September 5, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Five Days of Gratitude – Day Five

Fifth day of gratitude:

1. I am grateful for music. I grew up singing. Yes I studied the piano for a while and after that I took up the cello but, all through this time and long after when all my instruments were gathering dust, I was singing. I sang in the choir at church and when I started high school I was able to go to classes in the school choir as well. It was the school choir that gave me an introduction to musicals. My voice has great volume when I want it to and I suspect even when I didn’t want. I sang baritone and, because my voice had a lot of force, I was always getting cast in the stage productions at school when we would put on musical theater pieces. Most of the really good parts were often given to tenors but just being in the cast was always lots of fun. I never really thought of myself as a leading role however until I got invited to audition for the Los Angeles City Choir. Whereas the high school choir might have 60-80 kids in it, the L. A. City Choir was to have 400 of us. They just assembled that group for a single performance and I was excited to be part of it. I still didn’t have any inkling of what that could mean to me but it was a lot of fun getting together to sing in this huge group of kids. We rehearsed a lot of pieces of music but all by the same composer and it still hadn’t dawned on me yet what the program was to be. After a few rehearsals in really big music rooms they cut the group down to the last 400 of us and we were told we would perform in the Hollywood Bowl. It was going to be Family Night and Meredith and Rini Wilson were to be featured along with some big name famous singers. As we got closer to the performance time I was selected to be part of the group that would sing the opening from the California Story. Then they told me that I had been selected to sing the opening solo. Wow! An audience of 25,000 people sat staring at me as the lights came up on opening night. It took me about four gulps but I finally got the first note of the program out. It was a fabulous experience!
2. I am grateful for Skype because it lets me connect with people I care about even though I can’t be with them at times when I travel. When somebody is missing you and just wants to say hello just the sound of a voice can be so comforting. It is a fact of my lifestyle that people I have come to know and care about are scattered all over the globe. You can’t replace a dear friend, you can’t always even be where they are, especially if you are far away somewhere and feeling lonely as writes almost always must. I have a friend in Birmingham who I have known for 20 years but I can’t reach him lately for some reason. I know he travels too because he has told me about his sister in Spain and a brother with a pub in Ireland so I guess he is just like I sometimes am and that is something I above all people should expect to experience. He is a little younger than I am but still that doesn’t make him a spring chicken either and I confess I worry a little because we are so far away from each other. I will be very glad when I turn on my skype next time and see his smiling face among the available contacts.
3. I am grateful for television not because I like to watch it because there is little I would like to do less than watch the news. My apology to any broadcaster who is reading this but I am just too sensitive for such a concentrated diet of unhappy information. I do understand that they have to serve the public and that, as far as they can tell, is the thing that most interests most people. I however am grateful to TV because I got to be on it. I was part of a weekly cooking show here is Kazakhstan for seven years and have met a lot of very interesting people, some of which are friends of mine to this day. It took me from daily life and gave me the opportunity to speculate on illusion from an interesting perspective. I have long speculated on the illusory nature of dinning because I was in the restaurant business, as many of you know, for about 20 years. Doing this show I was able to ask myself about the illusions people have about food preparation. Audiences watched the show I was on because celebrities were making the food and that poses an interesting question. People tend to regard celebrities as different from ordinary folk and thus they reason that they may be better than most at everything. How far does talent extend and moreover, how can one convince the viewer that, even if these people don’t necessarily possess special skill in the kitchen, they can still be considered special and maintain that star status? A lot of showmanship goes into that because often times that is the only distinguishing quality they have in the kitchen. These people were talented and attractive and a lot of times that was more interesting to the camera than the food they made. Also food can be visually attractive but not tasty. Ah illusion, we gobble you up as if you were tasty.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Five Days of Gratefulness – Fourth Day

Day Four

1. I am grateful for my chemistry teacher who was wise enough to let me utilize physics in my experiments. I wish I could remember his name but I can still clearly see his intense, happy and energetic face as I look backward into the blurry mists of my long ago days in high school. In my mind I was combining those two disciplines already and he was able to let me design my own experiments so that I could pursue the way those two work together to make the world all around us. Sometimes minds just need to be let to be curious and adventurous and the high mark he gave me has stuck with me all of my life. I was a bit out of the box for a basic chemistry class but that didn’t seem to bother him any and it was so interesting and fun when he would come over to see what I was working on and offer suggestions from his superior store of the knowledge of chemistry. It left me with a great good feeling about the physical sciences.
2. I am grateful for my high school literature teacher whose name I still well remember. Robert Newton had a great passion for reading and literature and was also wise enough to recognize that I was an unusual student. He did a number of things that were not strictly allowed because he recognized that I loved to write. While other students were laboring away at essays (which I also love) he would let me turn in short stories if they matched with the assignment in some way. He had animated discussions in his class and my interest in literature was starting to take a philosophical turn at that time. I would want to discuss very modern stuff such as Tennessee Williams’ plays while the rest of the class was working on Melville’s Moby Dick. I always tried to keep with the theme but already my vocabulary was far ahead of most of my classmates and that, plus my bringing up material that the rest of the class had only possibly heard of, put me in a position of some considerable suspicion with my peers. He was kind enough to treat me as if all this was perfectly normal and not to make such a big deal of it that the other kids would get jealous or treat me as some kind of weirdo. He great sense of humor kind of wrapped us all in a blanket of happy tolerance. It was the first time I had ever had the courage to be publicly the person that I was in private. I am deeply indebted to him for this.
3. I am grateful for my university literature professor. I first met Christopher Carrol when I was taking one of those survey of world literature courses. It is one of those courses most professors dread because it is a kind of forced march through bits and fragments of things that would make wonderful reading, in entirety, under some other circumstance. Trying to piece all that stuff together kind of makes it almost a history course rather than literature. It is the kind of course that often inspires appalling apathy. Chris, as I came to know him, however filled the classroom with such energy and love for each piece that you would think it was his favorite thing to teach. You couldn’t help but get swept up in the enthusiasm he brought to everything we read. By the end of that class he had helped me get such an enthusiasm for Chaucer that I would eventually take that as the period I would immerse myself in for the rest of my time at the university. He became my friend and stayed so until he died last year. I can’t think of a university professor that has had more impact on my life than Chris Carrol and I will always be grateful to him for the many things I learned because of his influence and the example he lived in every moment of his long and happy life.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Five Days of Gratefulness – Day Three

Third day of gratitude:

1. I am grateful for Sherlock Holmes. That may seem a bit strange to you but if A. Conan Doyle hadn’t created this character I would have had to find some other reason to obsess about that old consciousness question: what is going on around us? In the stories about Holmes we learn that nobody really knows what has happened when something a bit mysterious is taking place except for dear old Sherlock. If he hadn’t appeared from Doyle’s pen we all might sit complacently thinking we have a pretty good grasp of things. Wrong! Post S.H. we are forced to accept that the world is a place of mirrors and smoke and it takes careful attention to detail to sift beneath the illusion to understand what has really taken place. Disinformation is everywhere and everything seems to have the extra motion of somebodies “spin.” I was a 13 year old kid, sitting for three weeks alone in a sort of dormitory in Nyborg Denmark when I read the complete Sherlock Holmes. I read both books from cover to cover as I immersed myself in the dangerous and desperate Victorian world and the mysterious crimes they detailed. That book changed my life because I decided that I had better start noticing things, particularly details, if I didn’t want to stay a part of that group of people who really didn’t have a clue. Sadly the fictional world of that book can’t be lived in this real one and I still struggle to understand what is going on around me but, as a result of paying close attention to details, my conscious awareness expanded and I discovered I was living in a richer and more varied world than most people. I already knew I was different when at age 11 I started writing plays instead of playing with the other kids. Now I was even more different (post S.H.) and the only option that remained available to me as an adult was to become a poet. Thanks Shirley!
2. I am grateful for Falstaff. Taking a step further back in time to Shakespeare, Falstaff is a fictional character that I sometimes write poems to or about. He was rather loveable and a real hedonist but he was also amusing, not only with the considerable wit given him but also with his foibles and his humanity (not in the noblest sense of that word). I have always felt a kind of affinity to him even though he was a coward and a cheat. I hold him up to myself like that convex mirror the Dutch artists and philosophers used to gaze at themselves in to try to see into their own souls. So far I understand that his life was comprised of nothing serious or noble and a kind of “let’s have fun and enjoy ourselves until we need more money” type of existence that gave word service to more meaningful interests but was actually poorly motivated to do anything about them. That is clearly a danger for us all in this modern world, with its consumerism and its massive interest in convenience. Falstaff was also terribly self-absorbed. That is a much more personal danger as I am a writer, which means I must spend much of my time alone. People who are sick and people who must spend much time alone tend to structure their thoughts around and about themselves in the end result. A common form of punishment for mankind is to force the person who is to be punished to be without the company of others, ostensibly, I would assume, so that they will contemplate their wrongdoings. I find I must be alone so that I can write so I also must avoid thinking too much about myself while I’m creating. But I think the biggest lesson I learn from Falstaff is the one about courage. It seems to me that it was his cowardliness that really made him the victim of living a meaningless life. I learn from him that I must have the courage to create or else I must personally slip into that misty realm of “What is for dinner? Do you have any wine?” and thus avoid the danger of an empty life.
3. I am grateful for brave Odysseus. Thousands of years ago Homer gave us the story of a bunch of soldiers and their quest for revenge. It seems the motivations of mankind haven’t changed much in the intervening millennia. The most remarkable story for me is the Odyssey because it seems so personal to me. Sure Odysseus is brave and he is able to overcome some terrible dangers because he is also clever as well as an excellent fighter but scary monsters aren’t the only thing he has to face. Homer cleverly shows us two kinds of dangers and Odysseus is finally trapped by the second type. The first kind of danger is the type that scares you. Mythological dangers require that you be fearless, clever and an excellent fighter and not many could survive the dangers of the Minotaur, the Cyclops, and Medusa armed with just a sword and shield. The second type of danger is first shown to us as the Sirens who don’t frighten you at all but rather lull you in so that you can meet your demise on their perilous coastline. In this case, our hero’s cleverness is enough to save him and he makes his crew put wax in their ears so as to not be enticed by the irresistible song of the Sirens. Now let me say that I also am a traveler and thus feel a lot of affinity with Odysseus. Especially when he meets Circe who is finally able to hold him prisoner without any bars. She welcomes him and offers him food and drink. She is beautiful and love is an agreeable pastime. Hey the food is good, there’s plenty to drink, she is beautiful and has a talent with music and no matter how clever he is he is stuck for years on her island. You see the secret to imprisoning someone is to not make them feel like they are a prisoner. That is just so modern that I can’t believe it can happen to me... but it certainly can! How does a traveler know when he’s stayed too long and had too much fun? How do we know when the comfort of our lives has become a prison without bars? Thanks Odysseus for making me think!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Five Days of Gratitude – Day Two

Second day of gratitude:

1. I am grateful for memories of speed. The past is made up of the gamut between pleasure and pain but fortunately we tend to forget unpleasant things that are not associated with strong impulses such as regret. So, with the exception of an occasional twinge, when I turn to the things I remember I find myself experiencing the pleasure of running like the wind and nobody can catch me. There is raw power in that because they all knew I could easily catch them but, even as a group, they could never catch me. I also remember another “wind in the face” experience from the days when I worked as a young cowboy. The town was small but you could get on your horse and ride there if you wanted some amusement to break up the long, hard work of living on a ranch out in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes my pal, the “Portuguese” and I would saddle up and ride to town. I especially remember racing across the meadow just before town laughing and feeling unbearably happy. Again on the “wind in your face” theme I also remember my beloved “wheels” from my college years. I had a sports car, an Austin Healey 3000 convertible (of course) and riding around it was as sweet an experience as driving any Porsche or Maserati. Years Later I would own a Triumph 650 motorcycle (that was bored out to 700) and my love affair with speed would continue. Speed is the power I can remember and as I turn 70 in a few months it is only a memory. In the last 20 years I have broken my ankle twice and shattered my right knee cap. I have experienced the challenge of pinched nerves in my spine that control my legs and the strength that once empowered my legs is no longer available to me. But still in my memory is the glorious wind in my face.
2. I am grateful for memories of travel. When I was thirteen my parents took me to Europe with them. It was 1958, the year of the World Fair in Brussels. Ah, the London, Paris, Heidelberg, and Rome I saw on that first trip don’t exist any longer, nor does the West Los Angeles I had grown up in. I go to those places today and realize what a treasure I have stored away. That trip started a pattern for my life in which I would continue to this very day, and hopefully for many years to come. I am planning to go to Paris again in the fall and read poetry with the spoken word group that is active there. I have an old friend living in Paris as well and I haven’t seen him for over a year now. I’m missing seeing him and hearing his poetry. His kids must be all grown up now and I can’t wait to see them too. The truth is that Paris has become part of me now and I already feel as if I live there part of each year. But that’s the thing, you see, I’m always traveling and the dust on my shoes from that first trip has become a perennial thing. Take your children traveling when they are young, your mailbox will always be full of interesting postcards.
3. I am grateful for memories of food. In the 50’s the food in England and America was pretty “homey” but the food in France has always been French in its soul. Yes, over the years the croque monsieur has gone through some evolutions and yet, still at its heart beats the creaminess of béchamel against the tanginess of Gruyere. Mornay, Hollandaise, bernaise, diable, there is such magic in the flavors to be discovered from time spent enjoying France and its wonderful food. I remember being shocked to discover what food could taste like. It was as if reality had an earthquake and suddenly everything was different. From the first meal in France I would never be able to look at food the same again. The taste of that complex cuisine has never left me and that is probably why I eventually became a chef which was indeed a labor of the love of my life. You see, I look at the Statue of Liberty from a different direction. I know where she was born and, although I love New York, I’m so at home where she started from that I often long to see her from her derrière side.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Five Days of Gratefulness

First day of gratitude:

1. I am grateful for the happy child that is inside me. It is often regarded with suspicion by adults that I spend time like an older friend with children. Truly, as an older person, I find myself also in need of the intellectual stimulation of mature conversation with friends but it is the simple joy of play and the genuine laughter of children that I also sometimes need. The adult world can be notoriously disingenuous and cruel and this is not to say there isn’t a touch of cruelty in the play of children but by comparison the amusement and laughter of children is so much more kind and sincere that it provides me with the checks and balances I need to cope with general adult contact and still keep that happy child alive and well inside me.
2. I am grateful I live in a place where my native language is not so common. Certainly it is difficult to pick up another language as an adult (I started learning Russian when I was 48) but to not only learn the language but also become familiar with the culture that it carries is a real privilege. Another language is a portal to another world really and because I have lived in the former Soviet Union for the last 22 years, that world and the language that opens the door to many strange and interesting cultural intricacies now feels as if it is mine also. I have become more comfortable and tolerant as a human being as a result.
3. I am so very deeply grateful for the internet that it would be difficult for most people to understand. This magic kingdom has literally saved my life because it was the mechanism by which I started to write poetry again. That may seem pretty insignificant to many people but it has saved me from a sad and unfulfilled early grave. Poets are odd, there is no more sophisticated way to put this simple fact. Normal people don’t write poetry. In fact, normal consciousness does not perceive the rare wonders and odd truths of the world around us. The real reason people are moved by poetry is that through it they can get in touch with the strange beauty of the world which they don’t otherwise see. But, just as poets are those odd interpreters of the language of the otherwise unseen, they also need to be able to speak in this tongue to others to break the isolation which has given them this ability to percieve. We are lonely people. When I stopped writing poetry in the 80’s it was an unacknowledged suicide but the print world in which I had published had left me even further isolated. Twenty years of drug and alcohol abuse followed my unobserved demise and I am now trying to restore my health from that time in the coffin. The internet lifted that coffin lid for me with the coming of the second millennium. It led me to connection and community and the strange and wonderful occurrence of getting to know and love you all.

I would love to know what you think of what you just read and also to hear what the first thing that comes to your mind as the thing you are grateful for.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A poem on Bloomsday

Here is my contribution for the 24 hour period around and about June 16th 2014:

bloomsday

what a thing to feel
to wake up before dawn
at the end of bloomsday
babbling like coleridge

and know that penelope
is considering marriage
of the second kind
and realize we have

been away for too long
that we must
sack our own halls
pretty much in disguise

and slay the traitors
who have sprung up
amid our own cobbles
like weeds without the gardener

are we brave ulysses
or just some overindulged
fool that has been
negligent

so long that we
realize home however humble
is still worth
fighting for

and we
tired dirty and disheveled
still have the key
which opens that door

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Things are not what they seem

Here is the text to accompany the video for this poem. I hope you find this entertaining.


dart

there is a
dart in your dress
just a dark dart
sewed in a dark dress
thats all

what did you want
a fold in the
space time continuum
a place fluttering
with the moths of
memory

where you and
i struggled
with this dark obstacle
maybe stretched
a stich or two
tugging on that
dark darted dress

no
nice dress
cute darts
thats all

Here is the video where I talk about this poem and read it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

pretty

walking into the yard under blue sky
in mid day warmth feeling a whisper of a breeze
and stepping arms wide into a picture of a day

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Book of Aliases Updated Opener

Here is the update of the book description I just put on my Amazon author page:

Book of Aliases is the history of too much possibility within one person. It is an attempt to deal with the fragmentation of a puzzle where the pieces don’t all go together yet we somehow still manage to perceive ourselves as a cohesive single individual that other people should be able to understand just as well as we seem to think we do. All this is in spite of the fact that there are moments where we say to ourselves “wow, where did that come from” or “what did I do that for?” The best I can tell you is that it might help to understand that we are much more fragmentary then we think. Maybe if we can think of all these separate and, in fact disparate, parts of ourselves as dolls that all live in the huge mansion of our lives, we can quit the futile task of trying to make sense of ourselves. As you read the poems in this book, you can forget the questions and begin to focus instead on each of the parts, seeing each one of them as a kind of answer that we can grow to be comfortable with as we live in the now of the magical realm of poetry. It is important that we become comfortable with our parts and we forget about the necessity of making it all make sense because the truth is that we are fragmentary beings who live in a fragmentary world. It is my hope that this book will help you to do that!

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

laundry

I rarely write 5-7-5 haiku as that is such an artificial standard that was once imposed on writers in English but here is one anyway:

window ledge snow falls
sprinkling its white on the fresh
steaming sheet below

Sunday, February 02, 2014

win

I've been exploring the themes that come under the heading of win at all costs. Here is my latest addition to that collection. This one explores the idea that changing our blood (doping, et al) is good and maybe even necessary from some kind of perspective. I hope you will enjoy!

win

i rise to a contest
its in my blood
years of sports training
starts with running away
starts with fear
as i get more confident
it becomes a taunt
you cant catch me
but theres still danger there
pumping new talent
through my veins

give a beating to
whip
stab defeat
leave staggering in the dust
incapacitate
knock out
but competition makes me better
with violent ways
but it brings out my skills
by being better than others

why cant we look within
for the one that we must best

Friday, January 31, 2014

blood work

Here is my last small stone for the January challenge:

there is a history in my blood
but also a hope that burns
to write one more poem today

eulogy

Here is another small stone, the last one of the month perhaps:

this month i promised myself things
things in limbo floating like clouds
things undone and this is their eulogy

calendar

Here is another small stone for today:

the year of the horse is
already here but im still
doing last year gangam style

trying to forget

Here is another small stone for today:

(for Kim Addonizio)

Sisyphus goes into a bar and
orders a shot which he immediately pounds
the barman asks want another

Thursday, January 30, 2014

questions

Here is the small stone for today (hopefully just the first):

lovers want to know if you feel it too
the hungry and the poor ask for what they lack
what is your question today

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

to write

Here is a pretty formal and rather large small stone for today:

if i ever try to write
a song to sing
like a wing in the sky
if my little words to write
touch somewhere
like reaching out at flying birds
i hope your day to write
just like lovers say

wind pushing air everywhere
pencils pushing thoughts to write
a job of catching moonlight
cascading across this chair
free to lightly tint my hair

if i ever try to write
the light of dawn
like a candle nearby
if my little rhymes to write
are on your hands
like sunlight coats morning chimes
i hope your day to write
just like lovers say

wind pushing air everywhere
pencils pushing thoughts to write
a job of catching moonlight
cascading across this chair
free to lightly touch wish-bound hair

dairy-free diet

Here is a larger small stone for today:

I’ve got ben gunn stuck in my mind
something he said tells me about
shiny shells on the ocean bottom
and the rippling sand of the shore
sifting through the hourglass of
too many robinson caruso days
running to meet an unlikely falstaff
in a crowded rain forest hallway
and so tentatively asking him if he
had a bit of cheese in his pocket

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

perspective

Here is another small stone for today (I have a lot of catch-up to do):

let us love summer for all the garden’s color
and let us love today for the
rainbow from a sunny ice sickle

comparisons

Here is today's small stone (sorry I have been away with an illness):

“I’m in hell” is intolerable
to say “I’m bedridden in hell”
is far worse

Monday, January 20, 2014

Video Rock and Rap

Here is yet another small stone for today:

tawdry and bawdy
a home cam stripper on a pole
needing fireworks

bottle

Here is another small stone for today:

I pull the cork
on shared memories
and we begin to talk

lonely

Here is today's small stone (probably the first of several):

predawn’s unlikely fireflies
texting or playing on a small blue screen
not broadcasting for love