Wednesday 5 May 2021

5 Poems by Ray Nayler

 Delinquencies: Poems from the Sonnet Cycle Subrevisions

At night the samelike houses take new forms—
the strange and brittle forms of seashells; pale
fantastic shapes. White in the mercury vapor-
lamp wave, trembling in shadow where the
night leaves shake. In our black hoods and darkest
jeans we prowl the weeknight streets. Backpacks
full of toilet-paper rolls, eggs, toothpaste.
We wrap commuter cars in cowls of white
and maypole trees in sleeping yards. Dogs bark.
We crouch behind a pyracantha hedge,
We leap a wall of cinderblock, take turns:
I egg a garage, you watch for cops.
We form at night, live bones. Humming, tided
by red hate, breaking windows, scarring homes.


These materials, they give in easily
to anger: the hollow doors fill up with holes,
the drywall lives in fear of teenage rage
that stalks the halls. Pot-metal locks break pins,
keys shear. Particle board leaves slivers in
the knuckles. Even cinderblocks, when hurled
into the street, will shatter. The neighbors hear
the volume rise in evenings, the buckled
window screens. The front doors slammed,
the runnings out into the yellow street.
The hiding in-between the portables
outside the school, carving in careful neat
letters your name. Dogs bark behind the chainlink,
crickets bleed off anger. A distant train.

We’re the only surfaces worth seeing
after all, where every half-assed building
prides itself primarily on being
at a convenience to some dull access road.
And so, the rat and heaving of our hairstyles,
the bloody painted tone of thin white lips.
Crouched beneath the eaves of graying theaters,
floods of midnight show faux Robert Smiths.
Inside, the scrum of shouting at the screen,
vodka-tainted drinks and toilet paper raining down.
The ceiling arched with muraled, crumbling nudes—
another age’s optimistic town,
where dead folks once took care to shine their shoes
before putting tongues in someone else’s mouth.

And even though the BART trains run right out
into the city past graffiti for an hour,
they run right back to isothermal streets,
to earthworms pale and drowned in early puddles.
And you count what the city night accreted:
some punk girl’s pollen on your hands, sore teeth,
light-streaks in a microbus back seat,
mouth on mouth under a Eucalyptus tree.
Her number scrawled in Sharpie down your forearm
and dead leaves milled by hipweight to your jeans.
Dawn: sidewalks studded with shoe-scrambled snails,
a mosh-pit ring-bruise yellow on your cheek,
in your best punk-rock t-shirt, stained with sweat,
on the bus bench smoking a last, crushed cigarette.

"I met a traveler from an antique land"
She says—this the third attempt to bring
the class's volume down. "Now some of you
think this is all a joke." She reads the next
line under her breath. I move my lips along
"Two vast and trunkless legs . . ." Her legs:
pearl-nyloned stems curved from the awkward rayon
dress. Neat ankles over naive saddle shoes.
I watch her form stretch long. Arms white as chalk
the cursive title on the board. She circles it.
The witching of youth and smile won't work on them.
Now summer's come, and no-one gives a shit.
I am Ozymandias, bored in class.
Look on my high school yearbook page, and laugh.


Ray was born in Saguenay River-Lac St. Jean region of Quebec and raised in California. His poetry has been published in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Weave, Juked, Able Muse, Sentence, Phantom Limb, and many other magazines. His short stories across many genres have been published in the Berkeley Fiction Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Cemetery Dance, Deathrealm, and Crimewave, among others. Ray is a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State, and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkmenistan. A Russian speaker, Ray has lived and worked in the countries of Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the former Soviet Union for over a decade. He is currently posted to Pristina, Kosovo where he is the Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy.


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