It started as baseball cards and candy bars.
Money from my father’s wallet. Protein bars on a health kick.
Eventually my friends and I walked into a grocery store,
loaded up on beer and ice cream and walked out,
calm as day, as if being alive,
in need of sugar and stupefaction was payment enough.
When I drove across the country and ran out of money,
I’d approach a state line, fill up and haul ass,
believing the trooper couldn’t book me on his neighbor’s turf.
I was lucky, never arrested. Never shot. Never killed.
Once or twice I stole a heart. That fucked me up—
as soon as I had it in my hands I wanted to put it back,
but you couldn’t do that without hurting the person you took it from.
Later, it was clothes from thrift stores,
a book from a writing center inscribed by one of my holy influences—
monsieur Valery—a theft I’m most proud of, I’ll never repent.
A girlfriend goaded me into my lowest:
CDs from my father’s truck,
which I pawned for a couple of bucks a pop—music,
the one thing in my father’s life that wasn’t drugs,
depression and skull-crushing drudgery—
the theft I wish amongst my deepest wishes that I could take back.
A little time on the clock, you bet.
Then karma played her hand:
my identity was lifted one night from my pocket,
drunk, asleep on the train.
My reincarnation was a bastard,
stole a dog and a car, got slapped with a felony,
used my social security number to tarnish my good name.
As long as he had good cause and took good care of the dog,
I wish him good health.
If not, may an intestinal parasite gut him to death.
I worked and I stole, more of one than the other.
Which? Depended on the day.
Somewhere along the way I formed a philosophy:
earning is good, finding is better,
sharing the best, belonging the bestest:
nothing I ever loved was purely the product of money or theft,
and nothing I ever touched belonged to me more than I belonged to it
and it to the belonging in which all things fight and make up.
To be at home in the Earth’s pocket, where I’ve always been,
a unicorn nugget, collecting lint, casting sparks,
to realize that, and feel it—
what else could an old thief want?
Ricky Ray is a poet, essayist and eco-mystic who lives with his wife and his old brown dog in the old green hills of the Hudson Valley. He is the author of Fealty (Diode Editions); Quiet, Grit, Glory (Broken Sleep Books); and The Sound of the Earth Singing to Herself (Fly on the Wall Press), a finalist for The Laurel Prize. He was educated at Columbia University and the Bennington Writing Seminars, and he lectures on poetry, animism and integral ecology. Follow his travels at rickyray.earth.
© Variant Literature Inc 2022