Major sections of Be Secret and Exult were reworked in September 2021
Be Secret and Exult - after a line by Yeats by Maj Ragain
In the ten years since
I left my home in Olney,
Vernor Lake has grown choked
with algae and duckweed,
a floating garden, leather backed,
bubble and muck.
The lake’s watershed is Illinois farmland,
pumped full of fertilizers.
Nothing can die here.
I clear a corridor to get to the deep water
in the middle of the lake,
but there is no more lingering
in the rooms of green light.
The children don’t care.
They jump right in.
My daughter Meg finds a beer bottle
and cuts her toe,
tracking blood to the house.
My mother is afraid to let he return to the
The voracious unseen things,
whole navies of organisms
with whiplash tails,
could sail through the wound
and torpedo the child’s heart.
At seventy, my mother has anchored
herself in the conviction
the world’s problems
may be traced, each by each,
to a lack of order and regulation.
The kid goes back in the water,
I tell my mother. And she does.
The water. The old city reservoir.
The earth dam built at the century’s turn.
I nearly drowned here when I was eighteen.
My father and I swam the quarter mile across
in cold springtime water into the wind,
the chop in our faces.
I was scared and so was the old man.
We finally got to the north shore
and sat in the shallows for a long time.
We didn’t say a word to each other.
I was cold all the way back
in behind my lungs.
I want my own undoing
to be ungovernable.
spilling over and through every containment.
Some thing a tetanus shot
won't keep away,
a thing I can see and shout at,
that diminishes the world’s store
of ugliness, with wings
like a pterodactyl, but meaner,
a meat eater, a dragon flyer
in a red dress.
Give it to me.
Don’t let it be made of water.
Keep it from my children.
My painting, Be Secret and Exult, oil on canvas, 88 x 36", 2003 & 2021 was painted in response to Maj's poem of the same title. This painting was included:
2002 Vision to Verse - Verse to Vision: A Visual and Poetic Dialogue with
poet Maj Ragain, Verde Gallery, Champaign, Illinois
2013 The Body Beautiful, Featured Artist,% Capitol Arts Network, Rockville, MD Curator: Judith HeartSong, Executive Director, CAN