Selected Verses

Fall, 1991

by Ron Risley
for Quincy Troupe
Literature/Writing 102
University of California, San Diego
9 December 1991


Free Verse



Making impressions.
Trading in impressions.
The ones I make,
The ones they try to see behind the mask.
The ones they show,
Obscuring what I need to see,
Obscured by what I want to see.

Somewhere, somehow, its useful,
Something they and I can use.
Between my tailored suit
And their so-carefully phrased questions,
Between the dropping of a pencil
And the pregnant or aborted pause,
A blink, a glance, caught breath, nervous laugh
A scrap of something slips out, between the walls,
Between the social and the so-called politesse.

It hangs a minute in the stillness.
While we reach, they and I, and grab
That slippery something
On which my future rests.

Do we dare to call it truth?

For a Poet

Its hard, putting life on a page,
Three point three decades of experience,
Twelve thousand plus mornings and noontimes and nights,
Its hard to get it all on a page.

The minor aches and pains of colds or flu,
Major headaches from the IRS,
A lovers warm, embracing whisper,
Kittens at play, cats at rest,
Its hard just to remember it all.

Christmases and rain
Broken toes, television
Crying alone on a New York sidewalk,
Pressed by the throng, and so alone
Until the snow fell, and covered fears in pristine blue.
Its hard.

Riding horseback in the wilderness,
Smoking weed in dingy rooms,
Tart red wine with special friends,
Disneyland, top-down highways, beaches, sex and
Hangovers with hot biscuits, strong coffee, huevos rancheros,
And nothing to do but mix margaritas and talk, talk, talk.
Its even harder.

Squeezing ideas, condensed
From incoherent masturbation
To well-defined, just-enigmatic-enough tightness
That makes a loved one smile.
But still its hard.

Failing to capture the tearing,
Stinging cut that says its over,
Its hard to get up tomorrow, go to that same job
With the same old friends when, just today, its over.
Its hard to put life on a page.


What is this gentle heat that fills my nights,
Warmly reaching to my beings core?
In other fires dancing, flickering lights
Ive lost my chill, but this seems so much more
Than just another branch thats caught in flame,
Crackling, dramatic, in its early blaze,
But too soon quenched by wind, or time, or rain
Leaving just pungent ashes, smoky haze.
This grows from spark to roaring, searing glow
To comforting, enduring yellow flame,
Dies down to waiting coals and, with a blow,
Returns to heated, fiery life again,
    This hearthfire, as the moon or light of day,
    Might wax and wane, but never dies away.


So many poets
Apologize profusely
When reading haiku

Morning After

Natures tears drying
On the tattered spiders web
Reflect moist sunshine

Spring Break

Nervous students stare
At clocks inside, sunshine out,
Waiting for an end


The unnamed stirrings
Felt in youth as flowers bloom
Are replaced by words

Words become a shield in life
That falls only with the leaves


The first time cats meet
They will hiss, spit, snarl, swat, screech
Until they are friends

In this worlds short history
For nations to meet is new

For A Grade

I have to write this sonnet for a grade
Not for fame or heartache, for a grade
And if I get an A Ill have it made

Ive written sonnets sometimes from my pain,
Ive written them to try to ease that pain
To find the light that often follows rain

Ive written them while crying in the dark
Ive sat and written, crying in the dark
But never, never crying for a mark

Sometimes I write to try and find a voice
To give these thoughts I have a real voice
Sometimes I write because I have no choice

But what of verses written for a grade?
Would love, will time, approve the lines Ive made?


Im a hooker, goddammit, shed say, with a shout, with a slap,
Emphasizing her words as shed turn back to me from the mirror,
Voice low, and scared, and threatening. With almost a choke,
Almost a growl, shed shout Dont ever call me a whore!
Then shed stride, with her pride on her sleeve while the fog and the dusk
Closed in behind her, the greasy old clock striking seven.

Her pride somewhat thinner, next morning around about seven
Shed come dragging in, her tired old shoes going slap,
Slap-slap, the morning light fading her lips to dusk
In the morning she never would bother to look in the mirror,
Afraid all shed see was the face of a tired old whore.
Instead shed just light up a cigarette, and with a choke

And a cough, shed turn to me, blowing out smoke. With a choke.
Shed count out small, blue balloons, Bag number seven,
Ill split it with you, shed say, I aint a whore
Whores just give it away. I sell it. and slap!
Shed throw down the works on the table, next to the mirror.
You do the honors, shed say, and I would until dusk.

Im a hooker, goddammit, shed say while she walked into dusk
While behind her, bloody needle still in hand, Id choke
Back a laugh, looking down at a face in the dusty old mirror
And scrape up two piles, a brown and a white, ball seven,
Into a spoon, and heat it, and draw it, and slap!
Itd land in my brain like a freight train -- but who is the whore?

Then after a while I wouldnt care anymore: whos the whore.
And with a salty metal-taste tongue, my own dusk
Would creep in. I would forget where she was till the slap
Of the door would remind my nodded head with the choke
Of a start: the first of, Id guess, about six or seven
Shed have that night, so Id glance toward the hall where the mirror

Would show her back and her dates, as they walked past the mirror
Out of sight where shed do whatever it is that a whore
Would do with whoever she could maybe six or seven
Times each night if shes lucky, then dawn until dusk
Spending all that shed earned from each bump, every insult, each choke,
Every fantasy, asshole, corrupt cop, each whistle, each slap.

Then shed come home to the mirror, to a chemical twilight till dusk
(With _her_ whore, I might think with distaste) but Id soon somehow choke
It back seven or eight times before Id fight back with a slap.

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