- Irving Toast, Poetry Ghost - 20100516 - Keith Ratzlaff

Keith Ratzlaff

Keith Ratzlaff's books of poetry are Dubious Angels: Poems after Paul Klee; Man Under A Pear Tree; and Across The Known World. His awards include the 1996 Anhinga Prize for Poetry, the Theodore Roethke Award, and a Pushcart Prize. He is Professor of English at Central College in Pella, Iowa, where he teaches writing and literature.

His most recent book published by Anhinga Press was Then, a Thousand Crows (2009).

What could it mean to be gentle in an era of ill omen and terror? Ask Jesus or Mahatma Gandhi. Ask the omni-genius da Vinci, of whom Keith Ratzlaff writes, "In his last great studies / Leonardo sketched the heart / as a cathedral, its vaults and arches / perfect in their calibrations." Ask Ratzlaff himself, who -- like Leonardo -- makes art "as if beauty might be / a graceful house for the blood / and so calm its turbulence." Then, a Thousand Crows brings no easy answers, but instead the steely thing we must have to face the difficult questions: a guarded hope. -- Stephen Corey, Georgia Review
Keith Ratzlaff would like some answers. Or perhaps he would like a world that didn't need so much explaining. This collection of anecdotes and meditations, despite not being dramatically questioning, still seem to present the ghost of "I don't know why, do you?" From stories of misbehaving, fighting relatives to portraits of paintings in Amsterdam, a current of surprise runs through the plain text and action that reminds us that there are things worth knowing before we pass judgment on our neighbors. -- Roy Wang (Newpages.com)

Book Cover Goes Here

Cover: photograph by Gail Mosley, with a drawing from openclipart.org

The Struggle between Plenty and Thankfulness

Today when I framed
two crows
in the notch of the ash tree,

I thought of order.
was in the forecast

and presto, rain. Then
three crows
in the field tilted the world

as if imbalance were
a blessing
dropped in the cup I keep

for blessings. Then
four crows
in the grass, five

on the wire, my plate
heaped up
with six crows.

And to give thanks,
to tell God
six crows were enough,

I lit prayer papers
in the garden --
their orange slippers,

their black, abstract
petals like
anti-confetti, like

hopeful ash, like
a thousand crows.
Then, a thousand crows.

At Fifty

I thought in the garden today
I'd reached the age of forgetting,
that country where I could live
passively, from now on,
in a rented house by the lake,
a rowboat in the basement.
My only job would be
to not remember so slowly
that I become immortal,
disappearing like radium,
half-life after half-life,
dividing forever until
I'm like the seasons,
neutral and cyclical --
like spring unconsciously
putting on its clothes,
becoming less myself
and more like my aunt,
summer-dressed and jovial.
How bad could that be?
But her memories die by clumps
and regions, by fields
and whole cities and dairy herds.
I barely remember her kitchen
where we sat before the wedding.
Out the window -- what was there?
A garden, a field? We drank coffee,
and talked, but what about?
I thought today I'd reached the age
where only the present mattered,
but for that I'd need to be
my uncle, who dresses her
carefully, corrals her at night,
remembering for both of them
all the terrible moments
of weeds and chores,
summers and flood and touch.