Ray's Men; This Thing I Do
By: Arthur Russell
Bakers still bake birthday cakes for little boys
who’ve died between the order and the pick-up dates.
Romance endures as a box-wine dumpster
for two, unaware of the forklift that will spear
and flip them into the day’s collection.
Guns, hounds and coastal fog are as abundant as ever;
only everything gray now comes in bubble packs.
It’s not as though angry guys have stopped
coming home from work for the last time,
or front porches with collapsed couches
won’t harbor their asses and comfort their grudges.
Because of cellphones, you can’t slam a payphone
handset on the textured black box, or rip it,
with its cabled wire, from the chrome face.
Otherwise, not much has changed from the old days,
when Carver sketched them with their heads down,
and smudged their hair with his thumb.
This Thing I Do
This thing I do when I take off my drawers
is to push them past my knees and pull my right
foot out then let them drop down to the left
and flip them up to catch in my right hand.
That little move defines me in a way
that I will miss when I no longer can.
Arthur Russell lives in Nutley, New Jersey, one town over from Rutherford, WCW's home. He is the co-leader of the Red Wheelbarrow workshop and co-editor of the Red Wheelbarrow Journal. He is the winner of Brooklyn Poet's Poem of the Year for 2015 and runner up for the same award in 2021. He is the second place winner of the 2021 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, the recipient of a Syracuse University Creative Writing Fellowship, a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship, and was a member of the inaugural class of the Brooklyn Poet's Mentorship Program led by Jay Deshpande. His poems have appeared in Copper Nickel and Wilderness House Literary Review, and have been anthologized in Bettering American Poetry.
"When I wrote 'Ray's Men' I was thinking about an incident an ex-girlfriend of mine had witnessed on the streets of NYC, seeing a man spittingly angry yelling at someone on a pay telephone and then, while continuing to yell, beating the side of the telephone with the handset. It was such a startling image, it kept coming back to me over the years, and I never knew, as a poet, what to do with it. It was so "not me," although I have certainly had some anger and resentment. And then I remembered the baker in Raymond Carver's "A Small Good Thing" an introverted grouch who leaves increasingly angry messages on the voicemail of the parents of a boy who was hit by a car and subsequently died between the time when his mother ordered a birthday cake and the pickup date. (I'd studied with Carver at Syracuse, so I knew him as "Ray"). And those images together led me to this poem about male anger and resentment and how resides and how it is depicted and made accessible through art, which is where the last two lines of the poem come in, where I depict Ray as a visual artist using his thumb to soften the portrait.
"'This Thing I Do' is the title poem of my current MS because it's about playfulness and mortality. This tiny (always) private performance is nested with so many ideas I have about myself including those that I have about myself as a poet and as a joyful person. And then the thought that old age might someday take that away from me was very sad, or maybe just rueful."