On a lifetime journey that led to the Naropa Institute and the metaphorical feet of Allen Ginsburg, and later to his present position as director of Hokoku-an Zendo in Columbia, Missouri, Seido Ray Ronci has shaped a trail of poetry and poetics as markers along the road. With the Ausable Press publication of THE SKELETON OF THE CROW: New & Selected Poems, 1978-2008, comes a map to that territory ... or at least a wide selection of those markers.
Boston poet/publisher William Corbett wrote for the back of the book that reading it from first poem to last shows Ronci's process of "shedding the impulse to tell stories while skillfully paring his poems to that he comes to say in the fewest words what is his to say."
For me, the effect of working from first to last gave a sense of reflections in a river: at first, reflections of loss, departure, grief, and pain. Here's a fragment from an early poem, "Sweet Homecoming":
Whatever is starved and looking
can never be filled
by a bullet in the head. I'm sorry.
I know people who want to change the world,
people for whom I have only respect
and great pity.
In a later poem, "For Mary," the poet writes that his sister phones "and asks if I'm getting anywhere." After lunging in several directions, he admits:
Outside, the light breaks up into clouds.
The smoke-like rain fills the eyes and windows,
glazes the empty eyes of alleys and streets
held open and stiff. Mary,
it is five o'clock in the morning,
and I am definitely
Paradoxes of body and spirit, presence and absence, follow in thick narrative blocks of poems -- that gradually thin and allow more space as the collection proceeds.
I like especially the "Versions of Ryokan," which sweeten and ring lightly:
I made this cane
from the horns of the wild hare.
I wove this robe
from particles of air.
I made these sandals
from the wool of a tortoise.
With my silent voice I sing these poems
so that everyone can hear.
When the selected poems come from the 2001 volume "The World of Difference," joy bubbles into the words and teases away a lingering self-importance. Soon aging becomes a bodily change that leans into the Buddha's shape; shoes have tunes; insects sing. In "Homage to Issa,"
My bed is a bed,
not a grave.
My hands are just hands,
The book's final section is new poems, grouped as "The Skeleton of the Crow: Homage to Ikkyu." Rather than read it in sequence after the other surges of words and forms, it's a delight to hold separate, to sample slowly.
playing jazz and blues piano.
My fingers, my arms
are feathers falling--
the price of admission:
as always, this body.
The body tells
its own story:
in the trees
The spare, clear phrases form a crescendo of release from blame, from expectations, from argument, into a willingness to merge into the flow of life's river. All this, in one volume. Ausable and Ronci have crafted a gem of slow growth and the warm smile of a loving life.