Biography
James Ragan is an internationally recognized poet and author of seven books of poetry including THE HUNGER WALL, WOMB-WEARY, LUSIONS, IN THE TALKING HOURS, SELECTED POEMS,áand TOO LONG A SOLITUDE. Translated into ten languages, he has read for six heads of state, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Czech President VaclaváKlaus and at Carnegie Hall and the United Nations. In 1985 he was one of three Americans, including Robert Bly and Bob Dylan, invited to perform at the International Poetry Festival in Moscow. Other venues have included Tokyo, Beijing, Bangkok, London, Paris, Athens, Stockholm, Prague, Sao Paulo, and Udaipur, India.áááHonors includeáthree Fulbright professorships, the Emerson Poetry Prize, eight Pushcart Prize nominations,áan NEA,áaáPSAáaward andáthe Swan Humanitarian Award, among others. His plays include THE LANDLORD and COMMEDIA, the latter produced in San Francisco, Moscow, Athens, Beijing, andáscheduledáforáParis, Warsaw, and Sao Paulo in 2010. He has worked in production and writing capacities on THE BORDER, THE VOYAGER, and the Academy Award winner THE DEER HUNTER. He served as Director of the USC Professional Writing Program for 25 years and as Distinguished Visiting Poet at Charles University in Prague for sixteen years.

MANTIS

- by James Ragan

MANTIS

I.

Now that the desert war tires into autumn
and the sky reins up its dusty atoms,
a mantis crawls above the ropes of weeds
the wind has hollowed out of the sward's brown lace.
My sin-son says, it is hypocrite to a leaf
and feeds on the world's live pillage.
We pose, still as porcupines, watching its fang
above the beetle, ambivalent gray
against the needled spokes of dandelions.
Mushrooms give us pillowed breasts on which to lie.
 
My son says, the mantis has taught us order
in a spool of space. So we fall,
embrace the earth with body rolls,
the ground as wet as the sky we tumble toŚ
each insect crossed, a carcass of our battle-dead,
a thresh of bones or bloated sac.
We are hypocrite to the mantis. We eat our own
with blinding faith on prayered knees,
our welted eyes, bleeding, scrub-brushed
by the world's dementia,
by the long lash of our trust snapped back.
 
II.

At dusk we crawl in the high stalks' webbing,
our bodies shaping tunnels, kicking
out our toes through fronds and stems
to where no marching boot has breached,
no rising flare could lead us
back to our crawl journey's birth.
At night we lie, a-sweat
in the drape of the earth's gray shawl.
 

From the sky, I say, a missile's gut
has dragged its print as if for miles
of acres down a velvet cloth,
or a mantis, wading through the puddled dross,
has ground its mate to bony scraps.
I say the warring world is criss-crossed
into tangled maps, and lacking destinations, straight
and full of promise, we could round
the belly of the globe by simply rolling in circles
to arrive at the point of understanding
the scorched sod of memory
my son says I'll finally learn to leave.


READING POETRY AT THE BRAILLE INSTITUTE, I WILL SING
 
now of words with wings, and winds grown weary,
of ice that warms and air that's thinning,
of dust blown rinds along the wilting spinney,
of penumbras and pendulums and pulleys on twines
of spindles and scarves and winters in rime,
of dancing to drums in the rhythm of one.
 
I will sing now of etudes and blue notes
and skirls of all kinds, of absinthe that raptures
and incense that blinds like spring moths
and sparrows through the veins of the mind,
whose spirits I've raveled in the forest of eyes
and where the earth one imagines is really the sky.
 
Suppose we keep dreaming of sunlight and doors,
and suppose we are imagined, that we go unborn,
that we are horizons for the migration of doves,
that we smell only the fragrance in the worry of words:
pitoule, burnt umber, religion and lime,
each image an emotion, each sound its own mind.
 
I will think white at midnight, green leaves in the fall,
of railroads and raindays, and crickets with lungs
and delight in all creatures, as songs in one breath,
the dog, the log, and the languishing sloth.
There are in all sounds a language unread.
Their words are predictable. Their darkness is not.