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2021 Poetry

Ricky Ray

A WALK IN THE WOODS*

Addie has a little rush in her step as we enter the woods.
She isn’t alone. Fall feels like someone has stuck his hand
in and snipped out my soul, I mean the hand has come out
wearing the most exquisite glove the weather has to offer
and is waving everywhere at me in godcolors and golds.

But there’s something missing: the chill within:
the soul’s absence calling it back. I’m not sure it should listen,
at least not yet. I’m trying to unlearn the rhythms of the city.
Maybe I can’t, but already the woods feel like home.
Humans were never a species I was given to understand.

My kind have rough barks, trunks and a desire to hold steady,
which may be a function of how poorly my legs work. Then again,
does any species understand itself? That’s a question for the ether,
not the ear. In the forest the walls of my mind come down
and thoughts stumble out of their tortured apartments to think.

The world is spacious, after all. And my arboreal friends
are busy perfecting the seven-thousand kinds of quiet.
It’s conversational, not shushes but whispers that spill from branch
to branch the secrets of the Earth. These secrets: to know them
is to live them, they spend the way a conductor moves his hand.

And the trees are full of conductors. Every time I look up
into a canopy, I see a mind at work. Whose, though?
Did the trees conjure birdsong? Or did the birds sing the trees
up and around them? Or did they meet in the middle,
treesong finding an outlet in feathered throats?

At some point the birds lift up in unison and flock out of sight.
The leaves flap and fall like waves upon the water.
The estuary of the mind gives way to the amniotic ocean
it inhabits
                   and the sensation
                                                  is no longer
                                                                       one of walking:
                              it’s one of being walked.


Ricky Ray is a disabled poet, critic and editor who lives on the outskirts of the Hudson Valley. He is the author of Fealty (Diode Editions, 2019) and the forthcoming chapbooks: Quiet, Grit, Glory (Broken Sleep Books, 2020) and The Sound of the Earth Singing to Herself (Fly on the Wall Press, 2020). He is the founding editor of Rascal: A Journal of Ecology, Literature and Art, and his awards include the Cormac McCarthy Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize, and a Liam Rector fellowship, among others. His work appears widely in periodicals and journals, including The American Scholar, Verse Daily, Diode Poetry Journal and The Moth. He was educated at Columbia University and the Bennington Writing Seminars, and can be found hobbling in the old green hills with his old brown dog, Addie.

* this poem appears in Ricky Ray’s chapbook The Sound of the Earth Singing to Herself