James Ragan grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a house rich with the sounds and storytelling traditions of the Slovakian language. This world-roving poet has been Director of the University of Southern California’s Professional Writing Program since 1981. He studied at St. Vincent College (B.A. English, 1966; Hon. Litt. D. 1990) and Ohio University (M.A. 1967, Ph.D. 1971.) His vitality as a public speaker has made him a popular performer in venues throughout the world–including large stadiums. Though small by comparison, the Edith Stone Room filled up with the sound of his voice on April 12, 2011.
James Ragan: The Rivers of Paris
From Womb-Weary (Carol, 1990)
‘breast-deep in descended bone’ – Dylan Thomas
It is raining and the boulevards of Paris
are breast-deep in bones. It is usual
for images in the rain-lay of April
to merge like ascending elms
down Saint-Germain or Saint-Michel.
The boulevards are the rivers wind owes
to the eyes’ reflections, light
to the panes transparent
in the domes of air wind weaves
along Sacre Coeur, the sphered
mirrors in the belly-up
of imitation louvred upon the water
the lone gull skims, antiqued
in its art of flying.
Down the Seine, all troves
of antiquity have bones,
the fluid and the permanent,
the rock, the sea’s seed,
the hunk of air
swinging between two trees
along the banks of Quai Voltaire,
the wheeze of wind
in the clochard’s lung
shelled and fractured
by screams in the night air.
The bones of leaves along Pont Neuf seethe
when spearing the unpredictable
sheers of grass growth.
The bones of Baudelaire
have bones, timeless weights,
looms of ochre in their bethel’s shapes
poem-shadows like Norse runes
or punctuations, splintered by the bones of spider’s
In all our streams of consciousness,
the rivers of Paris run
down the escarpments of imagined time
their portmanteau of images
falling, boned together
like language or bat wings
aspiring to inspired flight.
In the single dying of a stone’s
last breath there is progress
we will all come to
in time, falling, each of us,
through the rain of our breath,
imitations of the Dantesque,
fused by the body’s currents
down the chutes of Montparnasse
birth-wet and river-deep
in bones descending.
Hear Ragan read this poem on Youtube:
Rivers of Paris retrieved on April 19, 2011 from:
See more poems at this site or request the following Ragan titles at Albany Library:
the Talking Hours, The Hunger Wall, Lusions, and The World-Shouldering “I.”