sporklet 14

Ricky Ray

The End of My Brother

He couldn’t walk, eat, and my father didn’t tell me
until after he put my brother to sleep—
a kindness I never wanted, still don’t: take it back.


There was a hole the size of a pawprint in my chest
so I went outside to give my eyes something to do.
I remember it was hard to cry, as though the news


had blown out all moisture and made of my body
Oklahoma. There was something about the sky,
the way it bled, dimming over the horizon


where my brother went to bark and never came back.

Pass me a beer, I said to someone who wasn’t there,
I just want to hold it till all the cold is gone,


and I wasn’t talking about the can. Too warm,
we call it, when the inner and outer match.
Imagine Florida and two inches of fur.


Imagine a dog who saved my father from alcohol
and despair. He was my brother, my guardian,
my teacher, my guide, and he raised me


on a savage hunger for every morsel of this world:
we drooled fuck yes at the dog biscuits,
the only food left in the house. So dry, so dry:


maybe that’s what my grief recalled.
I used to throw my head back and bark when
I was young. (Rascal and I had long late talks.)


When I was fourteen, we lived alone together
for nine months, the animal just one of seven kingdoms
we inhaled. When he was fourteen, he sniffed the woman


who put the needle in his neck. (I wasn’t there, I wasn’t there.)
I’ve yipped a bit but haven’t howled at the moon since.
The low rumble of a growl, however, has never left


the spitworn nest of emptiness in my throat.

Varieties of Help

Our dog has a nose for injured birds.
We nurse them to one version of the sky
or its wingless other. And the pups
she cannot have, and the kids we do not have,
flock in dreams that rise like premonitions:
pick something sick, feed it, and if others
see its breath curl against the winter sky,
aren’t we decent parents? In Sheepshead Bay
the ocean takes the corner of a house, promises
she’ll be back. She’s been known to lie before,
but there’s arctic assurance in her vow.
The way the sparrows fill the forest
makes me wonder what my cells are singing.
My wife saves a drowning fly, hatches a plan:
hire mercenaries to mow down poachers.
If I weren’t broken, if life hadn’t stuck its hand
into the wiring of my nervous system
and yanked, I’d join her. We’d do one better.
We’d resurrect in ourselves a cross between
the saber-toothed cat and a pissed-off mammoth.
We’d fill the air with the blood-thick cries

of men who wanted to live—and die—by the hunt.
Somewhere in Indiana
About twenty klicks east of the Mississippi, rain fills a bucket with hope, but the bucket leaks, has been sitting so long with its rust talking henna to dirt, the black dirt, that the farm it once belonged to has faded from memory, as have the forms of value that lead from seed to mouth, where generations of teeth crumble and fall out, where kids develop poorly not for lack of something to eat but for lack of nutrients in their food, and the land that used to be a farm that used to be a cougar’s valley has changed hands many times, it has passed between people that never once dug their fingers into the Earth’s body, never once felt her cool shiver as they brought her black soul I mean soil into the light, never carried her with them indoors, never spent five minutes digging her out from under their nails, they’ve never known this pleasure, they call it labor and shudder at the thought, like a filthy deed, like a punishment to be avoided, oblivious to the dullness in their eyes and their speech, where the names for things have receded into words like bird and tree and flower, they titter with self-pleasure at the dullness it takes bad sex and liquor to shine, but the bucket lives by another code, the bucket has stood still in the weeds for decades, become an elder to the malnourished children who come and kick it like a cheap headstone, or a relic, or a cup for extinct ogres, and when it rains, the hole in the bucket, so packed with leaves it leaks slowly like the sun, the hole asks the Earth to breathe up through the water, to softly sing, and she does, and for those who have the ears to hear it, her song fills the valley, and at dusk the deer poke their heads from the woods, they follow the sound, they step gingerly but surely, like hearts to hope, like children to promise, and if you saw it, the movement of their lips as they lowered their heads to drink, you might think they whispered vespers to the bucket, or to the Earth as she sings to them, some low lullaby of praise in deersong like thank you, bucket, for being here, for taking a long time to depart, we count on you to wet our lips when the clouds fail to appear, they don’t fill the sky like they used to, the sky bleeds with the barks of dogs and the shouts of men who let their dogs loose upon us for fun, men who wouldn’t even know what to do with our bodies if we died, let alone know how to bury us so we wouldn’t haunt them, and we will, we will fill them with a dread so subtle it feels like their own failure, but enough of them, we love you, bucket, and we think of you as we lose the dogs in the brush, as we approach you from across the valley, everything coated in thin white dust, and when we settle into our dens at night, we talk of you, as one might talk of a cupped hand, fading slowly, the rest of the body long departed, a rusty bucket, offering water: all that’s left of a god.

Ricky Ray is a disabled poet, critic and editor who lives in the old green hills with his old brown dog, Addie. He is the author of Fealty (Diode Editions, 2019), Quiet, Grit, Glory (Broken Sleep Books, 2020) and The Sound of the Earth Singing to Herself (Fly on the Wall Press, 2020). He was educated at Columbia University and the Bennington Writing Seminars, and his awards include the Cormac McCarthy Prize, the Ron McFarland Poetry Prize, and a Liam Rector Fellowship. He is the founding editor of Rascal: A Journal of Ecology, Literature and Art, and his work appears widely, including in The American Scholar, Verse Daily, Diode Poetry Journal and The Moth.