About this poet

In 1949, Barbara Ras was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She was educated at Simmons College and at the University of Oregon where she received an MFA in Creative Writing.

Her first collection of poems, Bite Every Sorrow (LSU Press, 1998), was chosen by C. K. Williams to receive the 1997 Walt Whitman Award. In his citation, Williams said: “Barbara Ras’s poems are informed by a metaphysically erudite and whimsical intelligence...her verbal expertise and lucidity are as bright and surprising as her knowledge of the world is profound. This is a splendid book, morally serious, poetically authentic, spiritually discerning.”

Bite Every Sorrow was subsequently awarded the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. In 1999, Ras was named Georgia Poet of the Year.

Her other books of poetry include One Hidden Stuff (2006) and The Last Skin (2010). She is also the editor of a collection of short fiction in translation, Costa Rica: A Traveler’s Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press, 1994).

Ras has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She has taught at writing programs across the country and has been on the faculty of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Ras currently lives in San Antonio, where she directs Trinity University Press.

You Can't Have It All

Barbara Ras

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam's twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother's,
it will always whisper, you can't have it all,
but there is this.

From Bite Every Sorrow by Barbara Ras, published by Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Copyright © 1997 by Barbara Ras. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Barbara Ras

Barbara Ras

Barbara Ras was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1949, and educated

by this poet

poem
There were feathers and the light that passed through feathers.

There were birds that made the feathers and the sun that made the light.

The feathers of the birds made the air soft, softer

than the quiet in a cocoon waiting for wings,

stiller than the stare of a hooded falcon.

But no falcons in this green