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2nd generation Lebanese-Irish American

Mitch Rayes

made in Detroit

based in Albuquerque

dedicated to


five sentences about Mitch

photo by Nick Rayes

Mitch Rayes wouldn’t be here if his Irish mother didn’t leave the convent to marry a Lebanese chemist. He was born breech in Detroit, attended Wayne State University as a merit scholar, and Naropa Institute before the school was accredited.

Mitch spent many years in Mexico as a professional guide and outfitter specializing in remote areas of Chiapas. His mountain home near San Cristóbal was ultimately seized by armed indigenous rebels.

Poet, translator, musician, arts organizer, contractor, and father of two, Mitch produced four Albuquerque Poetry Festivals, published THE TONGUE newsletter for eight years, and received a Gratitude Award in 2013 from New Mexico Literary Arts for his warehouse performance space THE PROJECTS.


STIGMATA (undressed with commentary)

this poem was included in the anthology IN COMPANY, edited by Lee Bartlett, V.B. Price, and Dianne Edenfield Edwards, published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2004

the truth revealed can stop us in our tracks… keeps us going

 hands and feet 
 marked with crucial fictions
 three crosses
                carved in a young man’s back
 then forty years against forgetting 
 tracking words traced in dirt
 buried with all the first stones hurled 
 this old man 
                removes his shirt
[December, 1984. Waiting for a tetanus shot at the Northeastern Regional Hospital in Las Vegas, NM. There is an unassuming elderly gent next to me, about to be admitted, and members of the ER staff are assisting him with changing out of his street clothes. When his tee shirt comes off, we all see that his back has been scarred with the three crosses of the Penitente Brotherhood.]

 how long can it be 
 since he’s last seen his sister? 
 a steel blade bites 
                in the bristling air
 desperate to undo her flesh
 and having dared to stand and lose
 a woman raises 
                   what’s left of her hand 
 somewhere unaware a man 
 sips his cup unfolds his paper 
 unfolds his grief his rage his sister’s 
                 blood is front page news
[August 31, 1983. Members of a Druze militia slit the throats of several dozen civilians in the Christian village of Bmariam in central Lebanon. The attack is in retaliation for the massacre of Druze non-combatants the week before, at the hands of Christian Phalangists. Among those killed are the Maronite patriarch of the village and his wife, who happens to be the sister of my grandfather.  Several days later my grandfather reads the published account in a Detroit newspaper.]
 and how long has it been 
 since he has seen his brother? 
                   the lake is like a mirror 
 a boy swims out alone
 past the calls past the buoy 
 his foot brushes something makes him 
                  shiver makes him see 
 a stranger’s hand is waving 
 from the underwater meadow
[May 28, 1972. Michael Reid gets separated from his friends while swimming in Cass Lake in southeastern Michigan, and never makes it back to shore-- one of twelve local drownings that Memorial Day weekend.  My dear friend L.W. makes chilling contact with the submerged body several days later, when he stops for a dip after a long bike ride.  Both boys are fourteen years old at the time.]

 there is a place of no returning 
 where the dead will bury the dead 
 a single voice is crying
 crying for a father
                  anyone to take this cup 
 word-lashed broken waiting 
 in a street of beaten skulls 
 one is crowned in razor wire 
 one dream-dashed or angry flees 
                  to the end of a rope frozen there 
 or a glitter of glass 
                  from ten stories up 
 ten quick stories in the dwindling air

[November, 1983, Wayne State University campus. Something in the air catches my eye. It is a young woman soundlessly dropping to her death from the tenth floor fire escape of Mackenzie Hall on the corner of Cass and Putnam.]
 and one man throws a line out 
                  a filament of light 
 to hang a reckless faith upon 
 as a boy steps over another body 
 and ignorant keeps walking 
                  and walking on knows more: 
 comes upon a motorcycle
 wrapped around a light post 
                 and looking back begins to run 
[Spring, 1974, walking home from school. There’s a guy passed out on the sidewalk, which is not unprecedented. Several steps later I see a mangled motorcycle and realize he’s been thrown from the bike, maybe forty feet.]

 because we cannot know 
 what will become of us 
 and it is in not knowing 
 one man finds his hope
                 and a woman holds her grief 
 and two hands grub another supper
 mustard seed and locust bread
 a sponge 
                 soaked in drugged wine 
 water and blood a sustenance 
 powerful and brief as rain 
                 in this neon-stained Gethsemane 
 this land of fallen temples 
 that shall not rise again  
from the 2001 release FALLEN TEMPLES

LACK (with commentary)

this poem was included in the Fixed and Free Anthology 2021, edited and published by Billy Brown

it is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there (William Carlos Williams)

because I find now years later in a letter from a friend
these words     write soon we need the rain
I am reminded we are legion     on this battlefield of language

[In the struggle for hearts and minds the battlefield is language. The italics recall the original power of words in prayers and incantations designed to affect changes in the natural world.]

because time after time I return empty handed
more dumbfounded with each step
knowing the work still to do     cannot change enough
I will drop the next stone and make a pitch for the ages

you have yet to be born as I offer these words
I will be lost to your touch before they can reach you

[Words have the power to reach farther in time and distance than you can throw a rock or a hand grenade.]

because of all those nights and days when everything seemed fine
I salvage something to hold on to in the ceaseless drubbing
something paradoxical     almost self-defeating
like the deformed acknowledgement which puts a poet behind bars
or burns a book to extinguish its heat

a gust of wind raises a perfume from the bent to cracking chamisa

[Repressive societies recognize this power by silencing their poets. The italics offer an image of poetry which springs from violence imposed.]

now     when everything seems short
when the only clarities left are those which confirm the worst in ourselves
I will carry something ungovernable

a billow of birds twists in the light     sky black with rain

[The last line presents an image of utter freedom, of promise about to be fulfilled. The broad suggestion here is that poetry has the power to transcend, transform and outlast physical violence, that it operates in defiance of those who would use language to exploit or repress. The poem also embodies a refutation of the notion (peculiar to so called free societies) that poetry is somehow a form of inaction.]


waypoints 8

I have not been back here this century. It’s not on any map. Overgrown and abandoned, you can pass within a few feet of it and never even see it. A quarter mile into the woods suddenly you’re on the brink of a precipice—unexpected, immense, baffling. Out of nowhere, sheer drops reveal a vast limestone …

waypoints 7

Late August I’m always reminded of the mountains of West Virginia and a spot of two lane blacktop that turned my life upside down. In August of 1979 we were heading north on a rain slick U.S. 250 in Larry’s 1973 Mercury Comet. Larry was driving, I was slouched in the passenger seat, trying to …

waypoints 6

My old reliable truck, 276,000 miles, plucked from its parking spot of eight years—not for its monetary value, but for its dual catalytic converters and some short term scrap metal hauling.  Gone forever I’m thinking.  A week later I get a call at 3AM.  Albuquerque police found my truck in the middle of a residential …