Tera Vale Ragan







Prague Spring

          Czechoslovakia  August 21, 1968


There was a night rumbling
as if the earth tossed in its sleep –

Red Stars pointing
gun barrels out of their chests—

tank tread along the cobbles of
Wenceslaus Square—

and they were there: Hammers and Sickles—
in case thoughts themselves had sprung twelve toes—

ran the streets rampant free and thinking!

There was a night rumbling
as if something stirred to waking –

and he was there: a Molotov cocktail—
a flag flyer until dawn—

and she was there: as silent as gesture—
stronger than language— a middle finger—

but Spring sister, my fallen rebel of the night! –
they should have told you

that stars would shoot at your chest –
that a quiet could come from protest.





          “Rusové přišli.”  / “The Russians have come.”


In the early morning his uncle woke him he said his uncle woke him saying to pack his bag his bag was a suitcase he said a suitcase of all the words that couldn’t fit in his mouth only his suitcase and the clothes on his back American khaki he said a foreigner’s cloth on his back he said the torch was in front he said the torch was attached  to the buckboard the buckboard his uncle used in the fields he said the buckboard was led by one horse the one horse followed the dog he said followed over the hill over the hill to where the trains were he said to where the Russians had stopped all the trains stopped the trains and took him he said they took his bag he said took him to the train toilet and locked him inside he said they searched his bag searched his words he said and the train had traveled for hours he said  they brought his bag back emptied of all his words he said brought it back empty except for a shirt hanging out like a tongue he said the train was filled with foreigners and no one knew why he said the train was soon full but the town signs were changed he said they stopped the train he said they unlocked the door they pushed him out he said pushed him out with their guns guns to his back they said they told him get on the bus they said get on the bus and he thought he could run he said he might have run but their guns he said and he thought he had more time there could be more time he said so he got on the bus all got on the bus all silent on the bus he said thinking it was their last thinking it was a cliff he said a cliff and a gunshot to the head Jesus Christ he said Jesus he’d forgotten forgotten how to pray he said and the bus had stopped the bus stopped and they were forced he said forced out and unloaded across the border they crossed into Vienna he said and no one knew why




Tera Vale Ragan

Torch No. 1

          “One must fight against the kind of evil that he is able

          to defeat” Jan Palach, January 19, 1969


At four     o’clock,


the pigeon stone shadow

          of Wenceslaus Square,


          more flame than the



to the felt of Natural History,


a boy


                    a human


                    by the side

          of the road


and they would not treat the body—

how easily doctors

          follow        orders.


Smell the cooked flesh,

                    how it lingers,


                                        like cinders

                              on the air,


ashy with body marks—


See how simply

                    the cells

                              blister        apart,

thin tissue dissolving,

                              pink     ravines carved

                    into hardened black.

Lick the dried crust of gasoline


from your ears

          and hear the













Tera Vale Ragan is the author of Reading the Ground (The Word Works 2014) and the recipient of the 2008 Virginia Middleton Award and the Mark Linenthal Award for poetry. Her poems have appeared in journals including  New American Writing, Rattle, Transfer, Eclipse, Hot Metal Bridge, Barely South Review, Ekleksographia. etc. She earned her BA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and her MFA at San Francisco State where she was a poetry editor of Fourteen Hills. She is currently a poetry editor for Rattapallax Magazine, living in Los Angeles assisting on the TNT show The Last Ship, and continues to spend her summers writing in Prague, Czech Republic.


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