Ray’s Poems

Posted November 9, 2015

Coupled No More
Couples make an entity
A joint personality
With tastes in music and food
Wine and politics
Cars and art

If the pair should differ on this or that
It only adds a facet
To the polished whole
Until, through death, that whole is no more

The survivor must create a new entity
Or not
Some fade, not able to cope
Nor caring
Gone within the year

Others opt for the quiet life
Old friends kept at arm’s length
They potter about their memories
Garden in the morning
Read in the afternoon
Then a glass of wine or beer
Or two
Dinner with the evening news
There’s comfort to be had in that

Some go for a quick remarriage
A gamble on restoring coupled bliss
With someone known for years
Or someone new
Either way it’s a risk
That might be worth taking

Another approach
No doubt the wiser
Is the gradual re-engagement
So often seen
With life

Garden, books, the TV news
To be sure
But friendships still and other interests
Travel, concerts, the occasional play
Some take courses
Enter on a faith journey
Buy a Harley

Some find intimacy once more
After a time
Or done with that
Take their joy in children and grandchildren
If there be such
Or in the lives of others

Which path will any of us take?
We can’t know in advance
We may never need to know

Posted April 23, 2015

At the Pond

This is a story my father told
Of a summer’s day long ago
At the town pond

His mother was distracted by the baby
As she often was
So he wandered out onto the dock
Where the older boys were diving

He recalled the hot gray planks
Beneath his feet
The big boys
Horsing around

He wasn’t watching where he was going
And though he couldn’t say exactly why
Found himself plunging down
Through the dark water and the eel grass

With no inkling how to swim
For he was only five
He could do nothing but lie still in the mud
Looking toward the light

And saw a froth of bubbles
As someone dove to find him
Two hands reached down and scooped him up
Back into the air

Years later, Pop took me to the lumber yard
In that Massachusetts town
To meet the one who’d saved his life

A burly red-bearded man now
The owner of the yard
His strong right hand
Dwarfed mine

They spoke of the weather and the recent flood
Not a word was said of that day at the pond
Though much was understood

Posted February 2, 2015


Martin Luther King Day always recalls
That year to me

Vietnam’s New Year, Tet, began it
Our embassy nearly overrun
Ancient Hué in flames
End to happy talk of lights and tunnels

Then came time for our own cities to burn
When Dr. King was shot
The night skies glowed
Soldiers ranged the streets

The bombs, King said, in Vietnam
Explode at home
What kind of a nation are we?
Bobby said to ask just after Martin left

Bobby. How angry we were when he joined the race
For president
After all McCarthy had done to end the war
And unseat LBJ

Then Bobby’s words on peace, race, poverty
Began to make us think
He might be the one to save the nation
In June he too was gone

We stood respectfully in a parking lot
Saluting through a chain-link fence
As the funeral train rolled past
His flag-draped casket in the final car

From the garlanded platform of that car
Edward raised an arm in solace
A good and decent man
He had said of his brother
Who saw wrong and tried to right it
Saw suffering and tried to heal it
Saw war and tried to stop it

The Poor People’s Campaign went on that month
Despite all the death
Mule-drawn wagons marshaled by strong black men
Converged on the capital
Mule wagons like the one
That bore Dr. King to his grave

Resurrection City, camp of plywood and cloth
Went up on the Mall in a sea of mud
Speeches were made
McCarthy was cheered
Humphrey derided

The Vice President — good and decent man
Also, at heart and in past deeds
We knew that
But he would not break with LBJ
On the bombs in Vietnam

A thousand cops finally cleared the camp
Foreshadowing Chicago
Where ten thousand young people went in August
Demanding peace, demanding change
Of the Democratic convention

Twenty-three thousand police and soldiers
Waited there and beat them down
Amid choking gas

In the barbed wire-ringed hall
Reporters were punched
Delegates roughed up
I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs
Cronkite told the world

Gestapo tactics, Ribicoff said
As the red-faced mayor cursed him
Even Humphrey was said to be discomfited
By the fumes as he showered
Before accepting the nomination
He’d won not a single primary

The nation wrestled with its demons
In nineteen sixty-eight
And the demons fought it to a draw
Using murder, gas, bombs, and lies

When the year was over
And the smoke had cleared
Nixon was the President
And Agnew was the Vice

The war dragged on for years
Peace had not a chance
Still today we must remind ourselves
That black lives matter
And more are taken every day


Posted December 3, 2014

Last Trip to Florida

A gecko scoots across the kitchen floor
In ordinary times, the cat would pounce
Or husband come to shoo the lizard out

But these are not ordinary times
In my sister’s kitchen
The cat is no more
Nor husband for that matter
Nor sister

We’ve cleared the house
Brought in the auctioneer
And the charities
We stand now, watching the gecko
For just a moment

This state with no topography
Came unbidden to my life
When my parents fled the cold
Four decades past

Then sister and her husband came
Fleeing Carolina
I can’t say why

The weather here too hot most of the year
The place too crowded
The elder care industry depresses me

The gecko finds his niche
High in a pantry corner
He awaits the new owners
Wondering, perhaps, if they have a cat

Our niche is elsewhere
We lock the door and leave


Posted October 28, 2014

Planting Garilc

Each clove stands like a soldier
In its four inch foxhole
Sentry against the coming cold
On this damp fall day

I cover them and gently pat the soil

Planting garlic in October
Is an act of faith
Faith that the Polar Vortex
Will keep away this winter
That spring will come
That I will be here in April
To pull the first weeds
From the green shoots


Posted October 8, 2014

Dominion: A Meditation on St. Francis Sunday

God gave us dominion over all creation
The preacher said
Snapping me from one of the reveries
That plague my mind during sermons

Poor creation, I thought
The remark was well intended
She only meant we should be kind to animals
It was St. Francis Sunday

Soon she would bless the parish dogs and cats
The dogs a wagging presence among us
The cats represented by photos
Along with the odd rabbit, bird, and frog

Has she seen the eXtreme Deep Field photo
I wondered, taken by the Hubble telescope
Countless constellations receding to infinite distance
In just one corner of the sky

I doubt we have dominion there
Rather, creation has dominion over us
It takes us one by one and will wipe us out someday
By fire, disease, or wreck of stars – who can say

I saw then, the preacher had a point
Knowing the little that we do know of our fates
While we still have them, and while we yet live
We should be kind to animals


Posted October 1, 2014

Driveway Sealer

The tang of driveway sealer
Never fails to bring him back
Shirtless in the autumn sun
Khaki shorts, brown shoes, socks black

Pop liked to do things himself
Or ourselves – old school that way
Come fall, I knew we would spend
A tar-spattered driveway day

I’d tip a five gallon drum
He’d squeegee goo there and here
We’d work like that all morning
Till time for his lunchtime beer

Baloney sandwiches done
We’d return to spread some more
And block the drive with the pails
When finished the oily chore

Decades gone since we last admired
That drive and its pitch-dark sheen
He passed something on, those times
The tang brings him back, too keen


Posted September 8, 2014

Handing Something Down

They should have handed something down
My predecessors
I might feel closer to them now
With their things around

The Coventry weavers in point
Picking ribbon threads
From scraps as they sat by the fire
The mill-day over

They made silk pictures of those threads
No thought to save one
For some future American
Seeking the lost past
Weavings of pheasant, garden, deer
All sold. Times were hard

Mother thought there were grander lights
Glowing on our tree
Like the signer, minor signer
Who forgot to send
A quill or autograph to me.

The preacher on the Mayflower
Liked a Brewster chair
Look in vain for one in my house
Elder did not share

What then of our Union soldier?
Left not a button
That one in the Revolution?
Where’s his powder horn?

My grandmother’s pipe-organ hymns
Charmed me as a child
I’d love to hear that organ now
Long since sold and gone

I’m handing down what won’t be sold
I can safely say
These poems if Cloud or paper can
Keep them from decay


Posted August 25, 2014

Scraping Time

Paint chips fly
As I race to finish
At least one of the projects
I assigned myself in April

Late August sun
Is losing strength
An advantage in scraping
The scarred white rail of the long deck

I must climb
The ladder now and wire-brush
The outside surfaces
I’ll soon be on in years for that

Paint will flow
Smoothly when I’m done
The rail will gleam in moon or sun
For two years, I hope, three at most

Scraping time
Will come again
Near my mid-seventh decade
A summer project, but for me?


Posted June 18, 2014

The Barrel Rig

I drove the barrel rig
At the chemical plant
Dad worked in the lab there
Got me the job

They made them at one end
Filled them at the other, those
Steel drums
I stacked hundreds a day
For the chloride

The full time men didn’t mind
It wasn’t the best job
That rig
I freed up the schedule
For vacations

They were mostly veterans
Anzio, The Bulge
Union men
Taking pride in their work
At that mighty plant

It had its own railroad
Connecting the nitrate
And soda, the potash
The deadly chlorine

Long trains from West Virginia
Fueled generators with their
Black coal
Car shakers and the shovel
Ran all night

Nothing’s left of it now
Nitrate, nitrite, chloride
The lab
Jobs gone, vets mostly too
Only the poisoned soil remains


Posted June 4, 2004

The Importance of the Height of Grass

I cut my grass at three and a half
Most of the neighbors cut at two
But the height gives a greener look
And damps the dandelions

I’ll steer around a daisy patch
And spare a buttercup the blade
But I suspect that passersby
Think my yard unkempt

Perhaps it is, but one day soon
Another will be cutting here
That future mower may well choose two
And please those passersby

Some kind soul from the nursing home
May drive me past to see the place
Will I shake my head, rail at change?
I think I’ll let it be


Posted March 19, 2014

A Few Remarks From the Birds?

Will the birds offer a few remarks at my memorial service?
Something from the crow would be nice. He has the gravitas.
But he always keeps his distance, taking to the sky
At any motion when I watch him
Stalk the bread I’ve tossed on the crusty snow

Then perhaps the chickadee.  Surely he’s a true friend
Perching inches from my fingers and cheeping appreciatively
While I fill his feeder with black oil sunflower seed
But the chickadee’s a busy soul. He may not find the time

The pushy bluejay, who scarfs the feed I spread for the juncos?
Not much empathy there.
The bluebirds, whose houses I sweep by hand and disinfect in March?
Or the robins, who so enjoy spring frolics in the heated birdbath I provide?
How about the red belly, who coats his bill with the fat of the seedcakes I hang?

All winter long, year after year, I feed them. But I doubt they’ll turn up
It’s not that they resent the times I spend a week or two down south or overseas
Anyway, I always put out extra feeders for them.  I strew the ground with seed
And rush to do the same again the instant I return

No, birds don’t hold grudges.  That’s not the problem
They always come back to my feeders
Within the hour, and no complaints

They would come back for anyone
Who fed them in my place
Or scatter if none came


Posted December 31, 2013

I’m Good.  A New Year’s Eve Conversation

Will you have dessert, whiskey, chocolate?

No thanks, I’m good

The year is ending. Will you be giving,
Tax deductible, of course, to the poor
The homeless, hungry, music, and the arts?

No thanks, I’m good

New year is coming, election year
Will you be working for a candidate
Life affirming, caring, friend of the earth?

No thanks, I’m good

Children have been killed, shot down in their schools
Will you be advocating for victims
Gun safety, background checks, short clips at least?

No thanks, I’m good

Will you hold up a sign for peace next year?
Perhaps take part in a march for justice?
Protest hydrofracking in Albany?

No thanks, I’m good

Let me put it to you simply, friend, this
Long December night, your soul’s in balance
Will you renounce Satan and all his works?

I’ll have that whiskey now


Posted December 26, 2013

Are We Now Too Many?

Florence, rain, October
I dash through the Duomo
I can scarce hear the guide
Keep falling out. I look
Where last judgment swirls high,
Look down, see I’ve lost the

Have you been in London’s
Tourists, shoppers, bankers
Oxford Street, Victoria
Impenetrable swarms

Johannesburg, Dakar
Too, and cities I’ve not
Austin and Mumbai

Are we now too many?
For me is rural
So easy to forget

This new age scientists
The time anthropocene
Age, age of extinctions
We are now too many


Posted December 8, 2013

At the Kennedy Grave

After President Kennedy was killed
I went with closest friends
To the lying in state beneath the dome –
Or such was our intent

We stood all night on East Capitol Street
Inching slowly forward
In the silent throng toward that bone-white dome –
Or mostly silent throng

We found ourselves among other students
From up and down the east
We talked, some may have flirted, I recall
Most were duly solemn

At each corner, tall sailors stood with ropes
Pulled them tight, no warning
To keep the cross streets clear — one misstep meant
A hawser at the neck

The dawn next day was of hue not seen since
Purple was it, or mauve?
At First Street the sailors cut off the line
With hawsers at our necks

We never saw the President in state
Nor yet the funeral
But yesterday I went to Arlington
With closest family

Trees mostly bare, a chill November day
Massachusetts granite
Covers the graves of John and Jacqueline
While Bobby lies nearby

Had John and Bobby lived, where would we be?
In Camelot, I doubt
In a more just and fair society?
Perhaps. We’ll never know

More likely, contention and derision
Would have hemmed them  in
And cut all chance of progress and reform
Like hawsers at the neck


Posted November 23, 2013

Live at Fifty-five

Fifty years ago
Listening to a Baltimore blues broadcast
I heard these words

“The President’s been shot in Dallas!
Details live at fifty-five!”

Details.  O God, the details.
They are still live.


Posted November 20, 2013

On Mount Wachusett

Forty years ago, and more
On Mount Wachusett
I wrote these lines

The Ice will grind these stones again
When winter snows no longer melt in spring
And mammoth walk
Where cities gleam

I sat on a striated boulder then
Gazing on Boston’s far off towers

Now I wonder
Boston may succumb to water
Before the ice comes crashing down
On old Wachusett

One thing Lucretius taught me recently is this:
I’ll never know


Posted November 18, 2013

From the Deer’s Point of View

Death sits above
A blaze of orange amid the bare branches
And the tattered leaves

I see Death through the tangled thorns and berries
Of the wild rose
Standing at the turn to the muddy seep
Where I drink all the seasons
Breaking through the brittle ice
In deepest cold

I will not drink there now
I will drink tonight
Death’s eye will not find me
This day


All poems at this page are copyrighted by Raymond W. Copson and may be used only with permission.


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