Boyhood Coat of Mail / Reborn Old Man

An Old Man Lies Down With The Lion
by Maj Ragain

reading by James Scofield

reading by John Wright

In an old book
of Zen teaching,
I come now across a note,
written in my own hand,
twenty five years ago.                                              

The lion must slay the dragon.                      
Each scale bears the words,
“Thou shall.” When the dragon
is slain, one is reborn as a child.                        

I was delivered into this world                   
with the dragon’s egg
nestled in my breast.
I cannot remember the day
it emerged from its shell,
first a peep, later a snarl.
I have felt its hunger
since boyhood.
One midnight it moved its lair
to the lower bitter regions of my soul.
It began to feed on
what I feared and prayed against.
Neither of us knows what it guards or why.

Nights, the dragon climbs my rib ladder
to lay its head against my heart, lulled to sleep
by the drumbeat.
It is prisoner to the heavy coat of mail
which no sword can pierce, prisoner
to the weight of idle years,
the taste of sulphur and ash, the bars of bone.
Its every dream beckons the lion,
the great jaws tearing open the soft underbelly,
releasing the dragon from its troth.

The dragon’s death marks my birthday.

Thou shall lie down with the lion.
Thou shall be reborn as an old man.

Boyhood Coat of Mail
oil on linen
18 x 38”

Reborn Old Man
oil on linen
17.25 x 37.75” 

Maj Ragain. Clouds Pile Up in the North: New & Selected Poem Press 53, LLC, Winston-Salem, NC, 2017 p.4

Damen, Jessica & Ragain, Maj, Home To Sargasso Sea-A Long Journey of Loving Collaboration, exhibition catalog, June 1-July 14, 2018, KSU Downtown Gallery, Kent OH, Kent State University School of Art Collection and Galleries and the Wick Poetry Center with support from the Ohio Arts Council. pp 32-33
*The readers read the first version of this poem

Dulce et Decorum Est

Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen

reading by Garrett Underwood

reading by James Scofield

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,                                      
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! —An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. —
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Dulce et Decorum Est, Pro Patri Mori
oil on canvas
71 x 78”
2004 & 2013

Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
Source: Poems (Viking Press, 1921) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46560/dulce-et-decorum-est

Earth Falls Away

The Reader
by Janet Lewis

reading by Carole Heine

reading by Catherine Hinton

Sun creeps under the eaves,

And shines on the bare floor

While he forgets the earth.

Cool ashes on the hearth,

And all so still save for

The soft turning of leaves.

A creature fresh from birth

Clings to the screen door,

Heaving damp heavy wings.

Earth Falls Away
oil on canvas
81 x 12”

Janet Lewis. Poems Old and New 1918-1978. Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, Chicago, IL, 1982, p.23

East of the Sun- West of the Moon

East of the Sun- West of the Moon
oil on canvas
14 x 30”

The Indians in the Woods
by Janet Lewis

reading by Catherine Hinton

Ah, the woods, the woods
Where small things
Are distinct and visible,

The berry plant,
The berry leaf, remembered
Line for line

There are three figures
Walking in the woods
Whose feet press down
Needle and leaf and vine.

The Wife of Manibozho Sings
by Janet Lewis

reading by Catherine Hinton

He comes and goes;
There is no rest
While he is here
Or gone.

I cannot say
That his feet have pressed
The leaves
He was standing on.

He comes and goes
And the maple leaves
Lie still
Under the sun. 

Janet Lewis. Poems Old and New 1918-1978 Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, Chicago, IL, 1982, pp. 3 & 4

A Fisherman’s Aurora Borealis

A Luminous Phenomenon
by Maj Ragain

reading by Tom Hall

There is a spirit, a certain force,
inherent in the blood…
and the nature, yea, the soul
in this spirit and blood is identical
with the nature of the stars.
                            William Harvey
                            Seventeenth Century Physician

I sit down with my doctor,
a young woman in a starched, white coat,
who asks me how I am feeling.
I tell her I cannot jump
as high as I used to,
but I can stay up in the air longer,
that the body is nothing more than
the material aspect of the soul,
and my soul shines like
the full harvest moon
in the cloudless sky.
She reads my brave talk
for what it is: whistling
past the bone yard.
She knows I am waist deep
in muddy water.  

My blood pressure.
All my life I have been trying
to get it up, to feed the fire.
Now, she wants it down,
systolic, diastolic, the hard arterial math.
One pill dilates the blood vessels.
Another relaxes the heart muscle,
the shump shump thunder pump.
Breath is a wheezing squeeze box.                
Narrower is the way,
year by year. 

She smiles softly, takes my hands.
We bow our heads in prayer
to our heavenly father
who teaches love is the first wound,
who clears the sugar cane fields
with the blade of his hand,
who gathers the hungry children
unto him that they might taste
the sweetness of his grace. 

One night, in 1953
when I was thirteen, my father
shook me awake and called me out
to the back steps of the cottage on the lake.
It was the summer of the lights,
Aurora Borealis, the northern lights,
great spikes of cold orange fire running
up to the zenith, hot lava cracks in the sky.
My father and I sat, wrapped in a blanket,
watching the lights dance out over the water.

I wanted you to see this,
My father said.
It is caused by a great storm on the sun             

A Fisherman’s Aurora Borealis
oil on panel
12 x 12”

Maj Ragain. Clouds Pile Up in the North: New & Selected Poem Press 53, LLC, Winston-Salem, NC, 2017 p. 122-123