Visiting Poets

Barbara Ras

Barbara Ras
Photo Credit: Anna Rucker

In her most recent collection of poems, The Blues of Heaven (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021), Barbara Ras approaches the common— yet utterly world-changing— experience of the loss of one’s family of origin with a mix of candor & knife-sharp intellect that has been described by the Rumpus as “the personal and the mythic slapped side by side.” Ras is the author of numerous acclaimed books, including The Last Skin (2010), One Hidden Stuff (2006) and Bite Every Sorrow (1998), which was selected by C.K. Williams for the Walt Whitman Award. Ras is the recipient of many prestigious awards for her work, including the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Founder and former Director of Trinity University Press, she currently lives in Denver, Colorado.

Select Poems

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorry until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another toward joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd,
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.

From BITE EVERY SORROW (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)

The sadness of fruit is like the sadness
of scissors, their blue handles cerulean on the white counter,
appearing suddenly at night, when the child’s hands
that wanted them are asleep, maybe pressed together
under a cheek in the body’s sidelong mutation of prayer,
and then someone throws the knife switch and the AC of dailiness
stops alternating, goes like a monster bolt through my body
and I am all heart, pumping the BFG of mother love,
a solo performance of big oafish sentimentality, wasted
on this angel, more angelic because the mosquito netting
honeycombs her into ever-smaller windows of vulnerability,
because earlier there was a scorpion in her room,
because one teddy bear earring is up, the other down,
because awake she is a center of gravity toying
between sun and black hole, crayoning out an orbit,
part of which I hate traveling, into the darkness
that is darker in its innocence.
Because some people spend their whole lives with their mouths open,
because she asked about Siamese twins
in the Nova special and whether they make clothes
for those kids, because her life happens at a run,
because she tucked a packet of sugar into her ID wallet
and rice into a Ziploc bag with her mouse
to keep the mildew from spreading, because I have no
unselfish answer to why she has to sleep alone while we
big bruisers get each other and try to pawn off
stuffed animals, creature comfort, the same dumb
bunnies she’ll bring along when she wants to crawl
into bed with us, because where in carnation is it,
because asleep we don’t know if sadness is softening
this fruit into the color of sunset, this angel
whose wings beat us into gods, lavish in our love,
who will fall into another day and our deals to get her
to live with less.

From BITE EVERY SORROW (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)

Up there, squirrels, teasing and clacking.
Birds, up there, away and away.
Up there, plum flowers, petals falling
everywhere too fast.
Down here, my nose can’t stop.
My tail nearly levitates my whole behind.
Down here, once in a while, a tongue on kid tongue,
often a tongue on skin the color inside my ear when it flaps
open and one of them refolds it,
but no one licks back.
Down here, first teeth drop out on the floor.
Down here, feet I like to lie on, warmer.
Up there, she says, “Puppy love.”
Up there, squirrels.

From BITE EVERY SORROW (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)

Poetry Center Reading

Spring 2005
Spring 2022