Christopher Raley's New Blog

by Matthew Raley My brother Chris has just launched his own poetry blog called Tapping the Wall. He's got two new poems up, and I hope you'll check them out. I've also added his site to my blogroll.

Chris is not a "Christian poet" in the sense that he rewrites 'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus over and over, or spins allegories about the cross. He is a Christian who is a poet -- that is, who has taken up the calling to render all sorts of experience in rhythmic and sensual language. Far better.

Poetry: "Hay Ride"

by Christopher Raley Boys on hay bales for benches, gripping rails, rocking with the wagon, squirming their rapture. Antique tractor sputter eases the anxious quiet.

No prancing horse, no joking driver, no jolly group singing. Parents rock with the wagon as if to sleep, while boys spy out green tangled humps of orange.

Boys will run when the ride is over, leaping down steps with arms raised high, running strides that crunch the gravel. They’ll fill cupped hands with cornmeal for the horse (who’s hayride days are over) and tingle at his whiskered lips, giggle at his rough tongue, listen when his half-fearing eyes speak.

Parents will linger on the rocks, kick them listlessly near ignored play things, stare off at the barn when conversations bow to the sovereignty of silence. Silence over the farm, silence over the orchards. Silence brought from the office in slit searching eyes where silent is the manager and silent is the phone.

But boys will run and laugh all the more for lack of laughter. Broken meal will spill over their fingers trailing to the aged beast, for in the wagon their restless legs flex the impatience of love.

Poetry: "Stone and Tree"

by Christopher Raley For Graham

What am I leaving him, this kind-eyed boy with the golden crown? Stone tree on a stone head? Lifeless sanctity sheltering lifeless foundation? From distance in struggle who can tell? For that is not where we climb.

We rise from shrinking lake on aged paths and search our footing a feet on scattered stones. We lose the sky when bent and clutching and stagger like forefathers on the angle.

The monkey-ed face of the lava-ed crest glares across the canyon. Too close to see threats of gaze, we breach the chin and circle forehead.

His ancient mischief is a bliss to picking and scratching through hairless cracks in his stone boulder skull till the top where we at last must forget all ridicules for what we now behold.

And what am I to leave him, my kind-eyed boy with the golden crown, who pushes my lead and pulls my will: Not a stone tree, but a tree from stone—

steady and single at the height, in view of all yet blind to view—

whose bark a warmer gray than rock, whose branches a cover of arms, whose leaves a green over death.

It sprang from where soil settled in the faults of hazard.

"Bach Plays Loud" by Christopher Raley

Bach plays loud above a-rhythmic freeway groansand jerk and gun shifts of shiny metal hulls, coffee in paper cups, sleep edged with thought, bodies within bodies, slaves of slaves.

Pop-rock plays sedation when florescents buzz and black phones swarm like angry bees spinning aggression from hive instinct. The office man yawns, the office girl grins and pop rock plays a love song none contend yet all believe.

But Bach plays loud a second world once heard never again possible to ignore. When a soul through a medium a hundred years old breathes a pitch that vibrates the spheres and builds the release of up looking down, I see aggression like cars-silent objects moving- and in the void I find that world still marked and living.

Pop-rock chastises imagination and straps with silk, black bands the erotic pulse to the image bed- get me home, get me laid, get me money, I'll be ok. Pop-rock sings a sex dirge where the stifled cubicle births a bored frustration.

But Bach plays loud above a-rhythmic freeway groans and jerk and gun shifts of shiny metal hulls. We close our eyes, we frantic speed. We sensual blind, we dream of dead stopping. Coffee back in paper cup, thought edged with sleep, body within body, slave of slave, I am ready to cut these weights and fly.

"Jazz Is the Jagged Edge" by Christopher Raley

Jazz is the jagged edge,so give me the beautiful cloth, not for edges or beauties but for threads making patterns whose colors interplay to the cut-off sharp.

Building sweetly is rarely heard, so give me dissonance that punctures the dream ahead we make when behind is blind. Hardly ever we see fully into either, and beauty is not completely born yet of frailty something beautiful.

Arguers are never solved, so give me agreers who disagree, revelers and punchy diggers who regard the soft under-belly of pose as a mother regards her child's will. They gently abuse their armor to shreds and fall tender at the tough tissue of heart.

Few things consist, so let the contradictions praise the consistent. The blind man cannot see, so let him tell of colors hidden in night. The deaf man cannot hear, so let him describe the timbre's subtle change of pain. The mute man cannot speak, so let him sign what we do not say. The dead man cannot live so let his dry bones moisten at the rain brought him by the wind.

Jazz is the jagged edge, so give me the beautiful cloth because the cloth is whole. The eyes below do not see as the Head above. So when the Head is stated, I never fear the abstractions. I already know the truth.

"Black-Out" by Christopher Raley

And then there was no light.I fingered worn wood drawers- their racket open a cringe in ear, fumbled contents an echo in kitchen- for a dim protector of sight: flashlight like modernity's heirloom.

I stepped out to night of little distinction, color a nuance, shape a shade. A point of orange raging then still shows Ron smoking and his garage, I guess, open. An inclination of dark against luminescent stucco must be Madeline's hair sliding over the baby.

Sound steps in the grass. I jerk to my right. Moving in pixilated dim, a faint white smear. You out too? You out too? I believe we're neighbors by commonality's cold comfort. The white smear leaves. I'm alone on a dead road.

Back inside children clutch their toys and wide-eyed guide the beam. Midwives of the elemental, they search wavering corners for ghosts I've grown used.

"The Healing" By Christopher Raley

I start on a gurney's white-starched sheets and layhow he says and show what he asks and then his finger through tissue and fat digs to tension and hurt the pressure of healing.

I end to a world tilted off. Every sitting now is how do I sit? Every standing now is how do I stand? But joints can neither find comfort nor return where memory loses the force of habit.

I pray to pollutions like bottled little christs: please dissolve to block the bent structures of body- faith in alchemy through water and acid.

But pain is not the devil's servant. I swallow and yet it scrapes the vision of my proud pleasure. Pain is the finger of rebuke. Pain is the grip of love.

I started on starched-white sheets and waited for the healing to come. The healing came and the pain did not go, both.

I ended to a world tilted off, not able anymore to accommodate its slouch. I stand at a slant, my hip pinches me straight. I sit at a slump, my leg pains me walk. I walk head down passing the hidden in cowering formation of chemical ignoring while numbness spreads from the crimp in my spine. His finger is pointing. I raise my knowledge and pull straight my strength, stabbed out of groveling as if all these were merely flesh and bone.

"In Another Season" By Christopher Raley

South wind shivers the leaves an anxious relief from summer's heat,and the moon fights a thin cover that might, in another season, be a storm.

Bushes groan laments against the splintered fence, and grass blades whisper a chatter so quiet you get closely and do not hear it.

The man wants sleep but wonders: do enemies yet live? Every liar is a mirror and every friend what I want, so perhaps I should wonder, do friends yet live? Is there a language more vague than friends and this wind?

She has traveled with this man where brown fields are the truth of mid-day heat and wondered how she truly knows one who smiles through words so difficult to say.

Do distant oaks stand a line of cool? Or, like thunderheads over the mountains, offer relief delivering pressure?

They live life like the gap in the stride of shoe falls, longing to hear a word so true it is substance, yearning to blanket love in the rise and fall cave of winds where close marches the beat of motive.

But the south wind blows through the screen a channel of breath between two backs in bed. The anxiety of trees is music for dreaming.

"The Liar" By Christopher Raley

The liar sat at the table drinking his favorite beer.Calloused, bloated feet scuffed the tile and the ocean air breezed through the open windows. He ranted his gravel voice his views on politics, on prisons, on children.

He stood in the entry as we were going out, elated and stamped the booming floor, growled at them, clawed the air a stained hand, man as animal in jubilant pretend and the dog barked, shivering.

We took the boys to the beach so they chased the waves in and out and screamed happy fear, a child's fear of danger that never quite touches. But of a sudden they were quiet and sat making signs with driftwood. We laughed to them the meanings but their serious faces cast mystery.

Seagulls sounded the kind of cry that pierces a pleasant dream. The dog snapped at their shadows as they passed across the sand

"The Fairy Tale" By Christopher Raley

And what poetry is there to write here?Achievement lacks the labors of time and borders the safe guard of hazard: truly the place where dreams come true.

You slide from scene to scene and no meaning takes you. Over large creatures still their faces and no words greet you.

What can I say? Not even the irony of unhappy kids and angry parents is of any value. Just believe in your heart that you are good and lo! Dreams come true.

Yet outside the castle lives an animal more demon than any fairytale. Off the road where busses pace and beyond the median of mowed grass stands a wall of tree and vine yet untouched. Look and you cannot see. Enter and you may not know. But she is there like a myth in the swampy heart of your careful footfalls: Perhaps her thick green hide once beautiful skin, her yellow eyes once blue, their narrow once innocent. Do not look and you will see. Stand too close and then you know when the hiss and the steam: It was like this that men once called her Dragon.

"How Many Times the Heroic," by Christopher Raley

How many times the heroic have gone down this roadby the same swamp of flat-tufted green and spiking palm, under the same grave yard sky where thunderheads cast their menace, to the same rockets, those beasts of a single rage, rockets.

Hear their eruption and feel you tremble. How to ride on thundering fear to severe stillness? There is no mistaking the child's will in this, for why have we gone if not wonder?

How many times the heroic have died in the blue beyond, held up and suffocated in their perch, pushed up and obliterated in the form of Y. Victorious pontificate peace on the efforts of the dead, but is not the hand of God a terrible mischief?

See its motion and feel you humble like the minds of ancients who first heard them babble. There's no mistaking the child's fear in this, for why have we gone if not pride?

How many times the heroic have dreamed off this road where once there was no road at all, where a man's leather boot first broached a world of flat and vulnerable, moist and alien horizon. He saw no familiar of sharp mountains and dusty plains, felt no weight of throne and icon comfort. He spoke to a world whose voice he could not hear, this slave of the stretched finger rule, and called it for a possession.

Hear the words and feel you disdain the proclamations of our former greatness. There's no mistaking the fall of the child. He rises above his father with a steel body and a furnace mind, sparks from which the stars themselves shine no equal.

"The Numbered" by Christopher Raley

It's easy to see sometimes why they hate us,looking up from the pit to where our mouths consume without tasting and our eyes receive without knowing. We build the world on the floor of our amusement. We watch tiny players from too great a distance to see them move. And the props of their lives far too removed to arouse concern. Shacks perch on a parched earth hillside where bruised girl clings the tough guy who's a boy. Laced tight canopy covers bone-skin child more tightly than his shirt, standing in the mouth of a hut. Drawn old city mother hocks her daughter, toothless come-on, breasts plunging red-shirt. Cathedral relentless squanders heaven's citizens inside a wall of some 800 years. There live the motionless. There live the numbered. There they soak up storms and feel the great cloud of the protected.

Have pity on us, so hard to pity. Arrogance is not the excess but the defense of a stomach that expands and is never full. We try and we try, but no hardship we create makes the having worthwhile. Children of divine warning we are sky high as good as on ground. Ears hear their satisfaction from emotion's stick. Eyes see their possession in the screen thought placed it. Where ever a man goes there he finds with him the device of his anesthetism so no comfort is too evasive, no squalor too great to draw water from the well of empathy. And the landscape orbits beneath us.

We are not a country called so by contours of earth. Day by day and night by night she tells of what she knows, of lights and signs, of chaos waters and those alien to air, of valleys fragile enough to break and mountains strong enough to shake. This before stars were gas, continents shifts of pressure and the land a prop for slogans, when no built psyche her space of three dimension evils could hazard, when gates opened only imagination could walk through and longings ached only the prophet could speak to. Do we feel? The desert is empty, the prophet is gone. He long since has spoken what long since has come. Yet even here it vibrates the ground from where it first shook.

So do not be anxious over what we have, wealth transcends nothing. No one's heart can make him a fortress of paper or a guard of digits. We are all the black and the frightened chased down by the huntsman for curse or for blessing. And yes, the numbered lie here as well. Even in the palace of our distraction where castle dreams sparkle so unnaturally grey and fear is figures of paper mache and Jamaica and Aruba are but walking distance by a pink brick path that follows along the white sand, the thick grass, the man-made lake. Even here there are clouds above us. They gather and hang and the suspended air begins to break. A man and his son hold hands when they realize they are walking nowhere in the rain.

Fifth Poem On Psalm 1 by Christopher Raley

V. You have said the righteous is like a tree planted in a garden by a river. The world passes by and they wonder: Who are these that stand like guards of no gold?

They are silent. Then they speak but not words understandable to natural ears. They are still. Then they move as if by force. They are deaf, but silence is like hearing.

The world mocks, the world laughs: the world. But Your river runs from spring to ocean and in the slow and deep You are there.

The roots of Your trees emerge from the bank to take more urgently what nurtures them, and they lean out over the river, that to revere.

Fourth Poem on Psalm 1 by Christopher Raley

IV There, a shaft of light falls on a gnarled branch cut down some time ago and left alone. And, there, the river's shallows gurgle round a limb like a claw lifeless on the bed.

A tree stands pained from the loss of its hand like a man on a corner in a world of concrete and steel, bewildered by cars that pass and people who speak without talking

because the things he called his life are gone and unreachable. Though he grit his teeth and strain to get them back, still they are gone.

And in the garden the snake rattle curses for the Gardener comes to shape those He loves. But the snake will not find one leaf fallen.

Third Poem On Psalm 1 By Christopher Raley

They speak, these of the congregation,as the wind moves unseen when it comes, only heard as each one is touched by it, and looked for when it leaves the garden silent.

Then it stirs the maple, leaves like a wave under its touch rustle down words to stillness. The wind gone again, then appears below where, distant, the anxious elm flutters.

The bird stares down from limbs not her own. The rattle snake coils up and waits among the pruned branches and starving weeds

and parched soil sifts in from out like sand until the wind, gathered up, drives these gone and the trees groan among themselves and sing.

Second Poem On Psalm 1 By Christopher Raley

You have taken them from across the world.Uprooted from their native soil, planted in this foreign sanctuary, strangers by instinct, they grow together.

The Banksia Rose creeps her sinewed vines ‘round the rough branches of the ancient oak; the gray smoothed trunk of the Honey Locust patient behind the swaying Jerusalem Thorn.

Such coexistence not found in nature You make a habitat in Your garden that enforests, for on it no bounds are set.

Where once there was barren land, the elm gently ‘clines across the bamboo straight of the ground that resonates to the footsteps of God.

"Five Poems On Psalm 1" by Christopher Raley

I. You have said the righteous is like a tree planted in a garden by a river. Your river runs its course from spring to ocean carving its slow and deep mark in the earth;

rushing its way through the wild lands, stone gorges and meadows painfully green; looping back and forth the valley like a string in frozen fall to the mouth of the sea.

Where the river is most deep and slow channels divert to water Your trees and surround them as far as they might grow.

They grow tall from Your care and their roots entangle for theirs is not to journey. But the world passes by scoffing under their shade

"Slow, Cold Heart" by Christopher Raley

We were desperate to get out of the apartment,even that late in the day. Storms roved east, disillusioned gold miners headed back into the desert, and we rode under as far as the mountains until the pines were thick and the rain fell faucets between gapping lace work of needles.

Gray light deepened. Darkness crept down the ridges, grew in soft spaces amid the trees and covered the swollen creek its mad rushing- and the pool. The mist of the water fall raised its slow, cold heart to the rain.

We walked the paths along the creek and rain ran down our hooded coats. Cold undeniable forced us in. Squares of light opened out into the night and the fire touched our faces and our clothes- those that we finally shed to the floor to feel the waver of heat set free on skin. Did we finally know what we had been waiting to know all our lives? And now? When I shiver?

"Thelonius" by Christopher Raley

Thelonious used to call life and death play things.Rocking mirth on his knee, he spoke in dissonant bursts. He led us to the night sky lake where he sent out accusations to bob on havoc-rippled reflections of the moon and to float ashore to the line of us.

I watched him like a man watches the gauge go to end, gripping the wheel and steering though he just as well stop. It will stop here or it will stop there, and here or there are both a thousand miles from towns and borders in a waste of dry words split before and behind by a long black line.

Death is easy. It paints what it has heard of beauty and then describes the painting while shadows pool in its sallow cheeks. Death's words are severed hands that scratch and scatter like November leaves on cracked and gray, forgotten streets. Death hobbles down empty halls on broken feet, calling for the doctor with a bitter back to God.

Yet hasn't my heart found definition in words? None other than the tongue can lift up this confession: I stood with him by the lake pronouncing accusations until I became dizzy from the hazard alterations of light and dark, hypnotizing into memory with a permanence that seemed not to weigh on the others. Their words were tossed about to someone else's shore, but the wind brought mine to my feet.

Death is easy, yes, but life is hard. We struggle, my friend, and always have.

"The Violin" by Christopher Raley

Your lover sits in the straight backed chairwith her old lady's shawl, draped over the green cushion, and her old lady's charms within her acoustic body.

Years ago you made those climbing notes in the dark halls of tall stone when the thousand associations held out palms of echoes and gave to thunder. You were the master facing his slavery.

Now, with the mysterious halls abandoned, with all associations left there and your mind forced into the words that people hang on for grace or for condemnation, your lover waits to speak. But when she does, will it matter what she says?