Big City, Little


The Hunger Wall
James Ragan

James Ragan

Ice Storm
Viktor Tichy

Maureen Holm

Praha Photo Exhibit
Kimberly Burwick

The Hunger Wall
James Ragan

After walking to the bridge at Karlova,
we found the river where at dusk the swans
dipped their beaks into the falls for sanctuary.
The trees closed in for shade. We gazed
through willows to the opposite hill, a single
light from a room growing thick with sadness.
Solemn smoke now cooked the evening meal.

We were just about to treat our hunger well
when, out of sunlight, undeclared,
a shaded mass of stone began to stretch
its neck along the slope.
It would scan the water for a quarter hour
before the foliage rubbed its throat,
some internal hunger now assuaged 

for only moments, then again, the impulse
thumbed like whalebone on a drum.
The poplars began to rustle. A hawk
spiraling, like an aspen deep in chatter,
betrayed its nest to block the sun.
The dam below rose up to boulder water
as if to show how easily wars are won. 

The feed the hunger wall, the waitress points,
the fingers in her skirt rubbing coins
her hand is shoring up to feed the past.
I don't want the poor to endure me, she says
King Charles said to those he paid, as he watched
their faces, building borders, hunger for a wall,
as she faced the smoldering Vltava, watching hunger well. 

(Prior pub. Trafika and The Hunger Wall, Grove, 1997) 
Pulitzer-nominee, James Ragan, has read for four heads of state, including Václav Havel.
He was born in Slovakia.

James Ragan

for Jan Zajic (1950-1969), the second human torch to protest the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague

There goes the night not knowing what
it is seeing. A boy has cut his lip shaving
and rinsed the basin free of blood
his hand had salved into the mind for no thought
in particular. At dawn he shot a heron.

He must have forgiven the debt his teacher
owed, perhaps, the promise of the moon
above his head forever, or a noun
his erratic tongue had failed to annunciate.

He might have counted as redemption
each lace of breath the girl had stroked
into his wailing hair at St. Vitus Lake.
He must have known. There ring the bells

he must have known were saved at Ty'n
for Palach, for the first to run; the pact
to torch imagination remembers only one,
no matter what the name, what the home.

He believed it is the found wisdom of an age
not to forgive the sins of a nation,
how the catacombs at Staré Me?sto
age with molding chalk of poets' bones.

Here comes the imitator echoing stolen words.
Here runs the conspirator across the cat heads
of Karluv most, every rib of stone
a memory of loss, a birth into the every tongue,

saying there goes the wind not knowing what
it is hearing. There crawls a leaf, a moon,
and flames. There trips the clock's second hand,
which every moment tumbles deeper
into everywhere like a cough into a lung.

There goes a noun, unpronounced, into obscurity.

(Prior pub. Bomb and The Hunger Wall, Grove, 1997) 
Pulitzer-nominee, James Ragan, has read for four heads of state, including Václav Havel. He was born in Slovakia, where he lived until the age of five.

Ice Storm
Viktor Tichy

A salvo of cracks every five minutes. Do the trees suffer
when they fall?
I recall the barking Soviet carbines in Prague, August '68
only this time, the casualties don't bleed.

Incorruptible poplars bow their foreheads
lamenting the frigid bite of frost.
The lightest breeze plays a requiem on glass xylophones,
as I stride through the zircon land,
a hooded knight in a white parka.

Waterfalls of light cascade off the cedars.
Heaven spilled into the lake
and froze. The adolescent sun conceives
a million babies skating on inch long crystals.
The red bud longs for the yellow bud
in the prophylactic ice. Instant Christmas ripping overnight
out of an empty box.

The tether ball with four icicles looks like Sputnik.
The pine trees are lathered by my father's shaving brush,
but God, look at the birches I planted with my children!
Their trunks bent to the ground, freeze-frame fountains.
My whole generation grew up bent or crooked.
Is this the fate of any disposable nation?

My neighbor grimaces like a frostbite amputee,
a Nazi surgeon in Siberia cutting bones with a chain-saw.
Even the ancient cedar in the cemetery
broke its trunk in half over a granite gravestone.
Is all beauty a deadly freak of nature?

An enormous maple by the pond split in half,
a squirrel den in its crotch turned inside out.
"That was their home, Dad. Are squirrels useless?"
My son stares at the nest in the maple corpse.

"A squirrel will plant fifty times more trees
than the average human, but will not cut any down."

"Are we worth less than squirrels?"
I sense the first-grade god behind his eyes shrinking.

"For sure, if you ask an oak tree;
probably not, if you ask a general.
And I would eat squirrels alive
before I would let anything happen to you.
That's why your tree has roots in America."

A native Czech, Viktor Tichy lives in Iowa.

Maureen Holm

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

-- T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men", III

Prague, castled hilltop,
the floodlit haunt
of wanton and ascetic.

The flag flutters up
to show the president home,
pouring over Sanskrit love poems
or the belly-felt polemic
of peasant sons,
who cinch their pants up
once they’ve delivered,
and grope themselves
when left alone.

I submit to the stones
at Hradc?any,
the Slav-façaded romanesque
of cheekbones,
the chiseled lips of pebbles
sloughed off the chests of boulders,
the heel-eroded, toe-dipped steps,
the sloping shoulders
of wrinkled drainpipes,
the rain-bent royal windows
of indigent third-floor lawyers
left unlatched and flapping,
furloughed and unattached,
in Budapest or New York.

There should be a bridge here closer on,
hard on to this wistful, windy bastion,
but there is none.
There should be a kiss.

Is it silk or is it wool,
that quivers along the shoulder seams,
the button-stippled ribs and wrists
of this tilting pillar, half-erect,
I hold flexed against my knee,
leaning into me, willing me
to bend it to my whim?

I run my nails 
over the mortared tongues of bricks,
the cornerstones, the hipbones,
that tip to me like redwood chips,
yearning for singe and fire,
for flicker and collapse,
in the slowly embering aftermath,
whetstones cast
for treacherous renewal
in the urban-burgeoning overflow
of a random river’s three-year burst
of early estranged desire.

The mouth withheld,
its martyred tongue still flicks,
spits out the hearts,
eager and once true, but too young
of couples,
still aches to lick and split
the long-limbed shafts
of seasoned, imported lumber,
awkwardly caressed, then left
to warp and wonder,
to anguish and reflect,
under the sudden, too-narrow marital bed
of the circumspect adulteror.

Was it silk or was it wool?
I should have known by now,
known by the feel by now,
by the feel, by the drape, by the fall,
by the shimmer and sheen,
by the imperceptible shuddering
nap of it,
the bias, the weave, the wrap of it,
that closes like teeth
around a shoulder blade.

I should have known, 
being practiced in the art;
I should have known,
being skilled in the design,
of fabric,
that best suits willful men.

Maybe I’d know if I touched it again.
Maybe I’d know.
But grim-façaded Hradc?any
breathes a Slav-erotic moan
and crumbles bodily,
as I turn and walk away,
fingering the lint,
the unintended, open-ended questions,
remnants from this precipice
of yes or no,
the tilt of pillars
in monogrammed sleeves,
the tip of hipbones 
under pocket seams,
the wisps of love,
the wisps of greed,
that willful men deposit,
when faced into the wind,
into the vented mesh,
the lace, the texture,
of my breath-embroidered skin.

Praha Photo Exhibit
Kimberly Burwick

Someone has staged a Russian death
and the only path the iris takes
is the attempt to define patterns.
Les fauves, the ones who stood in the path
of the carnivore at the kill.
This is not a European poem.
This is not a European death.

It is memory in transition
a country's path of the iris,
the camera swept debris,
the virginity of a photograph
black and white and blue with bruises.

It was the thrill of revolution
that made me swell,
my swollen belly in flames.
It was the need to be swollen
with something other than ex-patriotism,
something so human,
half-eaten and raw
shocking the American out of me.

(Reprinted unedited from Paris/Atlantic, Fall 2000)