James Ryer: Poetry: April 2022

Southern Legitimacy Statement: The South is comprised of mesmerizing layers of contradiction: What people believe is true or not true. Who you choose to believe. And, what is actually true. In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter. You find that in searching for the truth that nothing is intrinsically black or white. Like the color of a person’s skin. Even right and wrong becomes murky when seen through the lens of history or through the tangled syntax of memory. I have stood on Civil War battlefields and wondered where they buried the pack mules inadvertently killed in the bloody skirmishes. I have thought about the faint but possible legitimacy of The Conch Republic being formed by the “tongue-in-cheek” secession (mixed with genuine concerns) of Key West from the United States in April of 1982. As a Southerner, I fear that the South’s most deeply intractable contradiction is that it will always be mired in a sovereign state of mind.

Water I

There are those who are born to water, to explore the oceans
The Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Pacific Islanders, and the Norse
Later, the Europeans pushing trade and colonial ambitions around the globe
Those who fish the wild oceans and the big lakes
The Coast Guard and the merchant seamen
The aquanauts and oceanographers
The fearless big wave surfing gods
The water travel obsessed dreamers
They all realize that they are at the whim of the fierce wind and treacherous currents
That the will of God often dictates their fate on the earth’s mythic waters
That their souls may become flotsam trailing in the oceans’ enduring currents

I stand alone beside a glacial lake, reflecting on my life
In these ancestral waters, I do not seek my reflection 
I see the world as I wish it could be



Water II

The M35 2 + 1/2 ton cargo truck was being used as an ambulance transport
Taking wounded Syrian civilians to a makeshift medical relief center 
A bombed out building on a war ravaged street in the city of Aleppo
It is almost impossible to imagine it now as the ancient World Heritage site it once was 
Ten years of war have resulted in unimaginable carnage with unquantifiable cruelty inflicted
Still the carnage continues, more people become refugees, more people die each day
Those who are fighting have no end game - the end may or may not be definable 
The ambulances bring a steady stream of maimed civilians in day and night
Today, the bed of the cargo truck is filled with wounded and dying children 
Rudimentary care, with only the most basic medical supplies, provided by volunteers 
Save, with God’s grace and the blessing of Allah, those chosen to live a little longer
The combat medics, using precious water, wash out the truck bed of the blood and gore
And then carefully wipe away the remaining traces of young lives damaged and lost
As they leave, I see their blood soaked boots and the unbearable pain in their eyes

In Aleppo, there is no electricity, no artificial light
In my ravaged Aleppo, I find that my soul is weary
At night, God illuminates the heavens, signaling faith
Each star a holy crypt for the souls of the lost children