I live with my family by the sea in Northern California where we try and balance our time between music, books, movies, the outdoors, working, playing and being present for each other's lives. My poetry has previously appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including California Quarterly, Wilderness House Literary Review and Firefly Magazine. More on my published works can be found at www.facebook.com/RyanWarrenPoetry.
Editor's Note: I asked to Ryan to tell me about his two poems below. Here's what he said:
“Not Why” was first written after the Bataclan attack in Paris. I have a close friend who was in one of the cafes that was attacked that night, and I actually saw her on the news speaking about it. Quite a shock. Since then, however, I’ve updated it a couple times after subsequent attacks. The ending is a reference to the Wendell Berry poem, which is a work that I always find myself coming back to when I'm in need of comfort. To me it signals how powerfully restorative nature can be for us in times of crises. “Not Why” is a bit of a catharsis poem, to be sure.
The second, “Augury”, was the first poem I wrote after Trump got elected. It took me a while to get pen to paper in response to that travesty, and this what came out. It’s also rooted in nature, and is about how it feels like nature has something to say to is in the midst of human-made calamity, if we could only hear it.
Both poems feel, somehow, elementally related to me; related by this common thread of nature, and also the terrible things we’re capable of as we exist in this state of tension between the twin poles of compassion and justice.
I pick the black news
apart, sorting, meat from bone,
tearing it into
a pile of gristle,
fat, tears, lives destroyed, asking
not Why, we know why
sadly, so many
of their own lives destroyed, bombs
falling on children
the solace of a clean
and ordered worldview where God
on the evil of
corrupt western infidels
from angry young men
with no more prospects
rewarded with the gift of
Not Why, we know why
a Gordian Knot
of Muslims and Jews
and sides and land and
power and elections in
of bombs and more bombs
and books and mandates from God
and justice and ash
and airplanes and towers and
Not Why, we know why
though there is no single thread to
the source of this knot.
Why gives no solace when
the covered bodies of kids litter streets
London, Istanbul, Tel Aviv
Boston, Manchester, Cairo, Paris,
cities of light, of love
streets named for poets
and I saw a friend on tv, across a sea
of tears, telling how she hid
thought of her children.
So then not Why. What
in the world can we do now
how can we react
adding more to the legions
of angry young men.
In my gut, I want
to send our own bombs, invade
crush them with armies of justice
in my heart, I want
to send our own peace, crush
them with compassion
but in my head—it's
never that easy, is it?
Compassion, justice, armies
it never goes as
you intend, nation building
it's all butterflies
flapping and windstorms.
We'll react, and so will they
more legions, more blood
and we'll all be left
drying each other's tears and
sorting meat from bone
and holding our kids
and returning, perhaps at least, to
the peace of wild things.
Delicate, three-pointed northward star.
Prints of a piper, all elegant arcing beak,
stick-like legs whisking toward inswinging water.
Cutting quickly across the impression
of soft, blunt, deep-set heels, the arc also
of arches, the five round divots dug.
All orthogonal to the compact pads bounding,
joyously sharp-toed, fur-smelly, smiling.
Three tracks, tossed like chicken bones. Runes.
Like leaves left swirled in the bottoms of cups.
Like patterns of birds in ancient skies.
Augury that's almost read, almost language.
But just this second, slipped from the tip of my tongue.
Then, here comes again the salty slick to lick
away another one. No different than the great
arcing lid of night: the moon and Orion chasing
each other across the dark and Pacific,
almost legible skies. Star spattered.
Scattered portents to fill my lungs
with inspecific resolve, clear my head
with cool dark. And with every dawn,
erased. Replaced, by manuscripts of golden
clouds. Hunched monk of the ascending sun,
breaking across my back like a book of hours
of ancient Saxon, of muscle memory,
of exposed roots. All of it—
tracks, stars, clouds—some language
gut knows, unsharable to mind.
Some language to calculate trajectory,
tell us what matters,
what doesn't, why we elect
to do terrible things to save ourselves.
Some language to describe
how small we are, how endless, how
we should feel, where we should fight. How.
Some language that translates
our suffering into joy, bridges
our most treacherous chasm:
between compassion and justice.
I can nearly hear it, sounding something
like wind in leaves,
something like waves.
What I wouldn't give for a bite of that original apple.
After all, the knowledge that was promised,
would deliver our downfall, was never delivered.
Left us instead with the unsolvable mystery
of hardness, of gaps,
our unshared tongues of righteousness.
Again, the waves are rolling in. Rewriting
the sand. Breathing careful instructions
I just cannot make out. And yet I know its not
enough. To only listen. Watch them recede
to the horizon—which I've only just realized
always rises to the exact level of our eyes.
© 2017 Ryan Warren
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell him or her. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is the beginning of community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -FF