Ricky Ray

Pain: 8 on a Scale of 10

Salt-toothed, bone-shearing, the wind whips off the peak screaming
down into the valley to wither what's left of my love for days
that never made it out of my head, that coal-eyed melon where
all the dreams crumble and drift and settle into the weeds of Styx.

Some nights, when breath chains me to the pain of consciousness,
scoliotic, herniated, the impinged nerves crack their whips
within my animal pelt, my tongue plays dead in my mouth
and my voice is too cold to cry out against the summer evening.

The sleeve of me seizes, and once again, writhing is the devil's laugh—
I want to close the eyes of my eyes, stuff the blown world in a sack,
throw it over my shoulder and slip between two ticks of the pulse,
leaving all the arguments of the flesh to burn down like a house on fire.


I still recall counting pennies,
rolling them to buy cookies
when I should have bought
vegetables and milk,

and it seems those days
could be tomorrow,
hunger gnawing
at the lining of my gut,

the grass in the yard
calling the horses
back into my limbs,

my neck growing
long with weakness,
my head drooping

until my nose
brushes the blades
and all I can do

is lip the green graces
into my mouth
and nip.

What’s Left

I set desire
on fire
and she screamed

I couldn't tell
if the scream was agony
or ecstasy

what's the difference
my back
probably wants

to stop hurting too
but having killed
for years

and years without relief
just one moment
of comfort

and by that I mean
pain that relents
from a knife-twist

to a dog gnawing
an old old

just one
primal grunt
of ache unshouldered

blood unholstered
and I swear

would be nothing better
than bending

to pick up
left of my life.

Ricky Ray

Ricky Ray

Ricky Ray was born in Florida and educated at Columbia University. He is the author of Fealty (Diode Editions, 2019) and the founding editor of Rascal: A Journal of Ecology, Literature and Art. His awards include the Cormac McCarthy Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize, the Fortnight Poetry Prize, and a Whisper River Poetry Prize. He lives in Harlem with his wife, three cats and a Labradetter. Their bed is frequently overcrowded.

[Image Description: Picture of a 39 year-old white dude with salt-and-pepper hair and stubble, wearing a dark-blue plaid blazer, a brown v-neck sweater, a light-blue dress shirt with white stripes, and a few fresh flakes of dandruff on his right shoulder.]