“The Bitters at Henley” by James Ragan

James Ragan


They say the Angel Pub on the Bridge at Henley
is a sinner’s site, whose centuried panes
of ancient views will bathe the heathen eye
in the healing waters of the Thames.
Above the sloping footboards, where the bar-
stool preachers sing their devilish plav
in Brixton drawl and Yorkshire brogue,
I drink religion, up-country, out of a Guinness pint.
The whisky laugh I save for the river stroll
squeals the long line of gulls away
like skiffs tied one to another along the wharf.
Down river, dark clouds punctuate
the sky’s language, and swallows circle
like spaced indentations in the postcard
shot I take of St. Mary’s steeple.
I believe I will never pass this way again
and pray beyond the promise made, that I will.
There’s a pedigree of fame in this city
that shakes me to the bitter’s core
of knowing what I can never be or will become.
Artists must have known this on their pass
down the cobbled path to the bridge and pub.
I stand at the stone buttress, transfixed
like a character in It’s a Wonderful Life
to the yacht’s bell announcing my departure.
There’s nothing more satisfying
than the knowledge in the sinner’s pint
I’ve put my mind to look forward to.

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019


James Ragan: “I write to break down borders. My sensibility has always been global, to find expression through my poetry, plays, and films to bring individuals and worlds, seemingly apart, closer in understanding.”

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