Poems / December 18, 2023


Margaret Ray

I won’t tell you what literary pilgrimages I’ve tried
to take, which writer’s creaky New England floorboards
I’ve stood on, trying to conjure something, which
stone houses with informational plaques I’ve loitered near
before I gave up trying: What I will tell you
is how disappointing they were, despite
how hard I pretended to be moved, how
not up to the task I was,
or am. I’m aware this is not
a popular view. It’s not like I can see
the poems in the room. A writer’s room
is a room is a cold or dusty room, not like

when I went with my sister, a painter,
to Cezanne’s studio in Aix: Well,
you can see it, can’t you, that view
he set down forever, everywhere:
out the window, in the garden, on the road,
Bam! Mount Sainte-Victoire everywhere you look,
here in the present tense. Cicadas buzzing. Nearby,
there were some fields so thick with lavender
we could smell them on the breeze
five miles away. Do I want ghosts
like smells, so I can’t miss them?

Yes, smack me in the face, I want
to be more haunted, I want to walk around knowing
precisely what I owe my fellow living
and the dead, I want no clumsy excuses–
Most days everything escapes me and I aim
my anger at how little of ourselves we leave
in our rooms when we go. I keep
to myself too much and still can’t give up
plastic food storage, my imagination runs thin,
some days I walk in the woods with my dog
and it’s just silence, punctuated by wingbeats,
in the dark-green gloom, just out of sight.
The creek smells like wet, dead leaves.

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Margaret Ray grew up in Gainesville, Florida. She is the author of GOOD GRIEF, THE GROUND (BOA Editions, Spring 2023, winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize selected by Stephanie Burt) and the chapbook SUPERSTITIONS OF THE MID-ATLANTIC (2022, selected by Jericho Brown for the 2020 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship Prize). Her poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2021, Threepenny Review, Narrative, and elsewhere. A winner of the Third Coast Poetry Prize and a longlister for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, she holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and teaches in New Jersey. She’s on Twitter (for now) @mbrrray, and you can find more of her work at www.margaretbray.com.

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