Barbara Ras is the author of the poetry collections Bite Every Sorrow (winner of the Walt Whitman Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award), One Hidden Stuff, and The Last Skin. She has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Tin House, Granta, and Orion, as well as in other magazines and anthologies. Ras has taught in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and at workshops nationally and internationally. She lives in San Antonio and is the founding director emerita of Trinity University Press.
In The Blues of Heaven, Barbara Ras delivers her characteristic subjects with new daring that both rattles and beguiles. Here are poems of grief over her brother’s death; doors to an idiosyncratic working-class childhood among Polish immigrants; laments for nature and politics out of kilter. Ras portrays the climate crisis, guns out of control, the reckless injustice and ignorance of the United States government. At the same time, her poems nimbly focus on particulars—these facts, these consequences—bringing the wreckage of unfathomable harm home with immediacy and integrity. Though her subjects may be dire, Ras also weaves her wise humor throughout, moving deftly from sardonic to whimsical to create an expansive, ardent, and memorable book.
To dig for quahogs, to feel their edges like smiles
and pull against their suck to toss them in a bucket.
To feel the wind as a friend, to feel its current as luck.
To ignore Capricorn and Cancer presuming to slice the globe.
To know the lie in “names can never hurt you.”
To be a gull breezing the blue, eating nothing but clouds.
To measure your ties to the past by the strength of cobwebs.
To haunt the widow’s walk, its twelve narrow windows
each the size of a child’s coffin.
To watch the harbor where the Acushnet runs into Buzzards Bay
before it was named a Superfund site full of PCBs.
To wonder if that water you swam summer after aimless summer
could get you the way something got your brother,
too fast, too soon.
To bury or burn the whole family you were born to
and talk to them only through the smoke of letters
you torch at their graves.
To see a snake with a ladybug on its back
and still refuse to pray.