Moving forward
for no apparent reason
by Ryan Ragan

(for the hitchhiker)

You know the guy. The one you most often
         see                         walk away,             holding an anchor chain,
his gut stuffed                         skin like a water balloon.
                         You’re sure he’s done the same.  Let this phone             

Although it’s been years since the accent walls
in your stillborn son’s room were colored
robin egg blue,             in the empty paint can’s
                                 dull tin knocks you still hear                         
                                 sudden breathing.

You know the guy,             the one you disregard
as he clamors around with five             curled
fingers gripping an ink pen,                         demanding
you stop and study each             of his sketches.

You’re at the helm. And no one is concerned
         that the soaking winter fog thickens blue
         under wintering spruce.             It’s like the dream
you often have,             where waves are

The dream in which you walk slowly away.
You know.                         Waves come forward                          
with a shadow
      face,               toothless.        And they scream like lighthouse bells.
And you know by the way a shifting blue wind
                                                      opens pages,                         

                                 that even the Harbor Master’s rule book
                                 like a stranger’s


Ryan Ragan is a first year MFA student at the University of Alaska
Fairbanks, and his poems have appeared in
CutBank, Booth, and
Spillway.  While his poems tend to focus on elements of the naturalistic
surreal (Sasquatch encounters specifically), his non-fiction work is
centered around studying people’s pursuit and attempts to comprehend
the patterns and life of the wolverine.  Aside from being a fulltime student,
Ragan runs a trapline in winter and fishes for salmon during the short
Alaskan summers.    

On “Moving forward for no apparent reason”:
      Seeing hitchhikers along the roads in Fairbanks, Alaska,
during winter is nothing out of the ordinary.  Occasionally I stop.  
I enjoy the random stories of the vagrant wanderers who are trying
to make their way in the North.  A lot of the stories I hear are the
same.  Several times I’ve picked up guys on their way to work, other
times I have driven out of my way to drop some random drunk off
at his house after he spent the night with a barfly.  I relate to most
hitchhikers in some regard.  But I doubt I’d be brazen enough to
expect a ride from some stranger even at minus 40 degrees
Fahrenheit.  I figure if I get drunk and wide up in strange place,
it’s my fault and I’m willing to accept the consequences.  But I’m
married with two kids now, in my early 30s, and I don’t make bar-
hopping a habit any more.
      On one particular occasion, I rounded a sharp bend in a
fairly well-travelled road and noticed a hitchhiker turning to face
my oncoming vehicle.  I wasn’t really in the mood to pick anyone
up, so I merged over to the adjacent lane and indicated I did not
intend to stop.  What captured my attention most was that on seeing
me do this, the hitchhiker turned his up-risen thumb, extended his
arm and flipped me a very passionate bird.  I’d not been flipped off
like that since high school.  At first I was a little offended.  I even
considered pulling over and confronting this hack for pulling such
a gesture.  But I drove on.
      Later that day at school, I had a few minutes between classes.  
I couldn’t help but think about the morning drive in, and the vulgar
hitchhiker.  So I started writing a poem.  The first stanza came easy;
almost without thinking.  I wrote the first few lines, which I thought
worked well.  Then I continued on, focusing on imagery of loss and
torment.  In a few short minutes I had the first draft of what would
become the poem now published in the
Apple Valley Review.
      I passed that same guy a few more times after completing the
poem, and each time his response was the same.  Fairbanks is a
beautiful town with a lot of great people.  But it is also home to
some pretty rough people.  I can’t help but believe at some point
his action landed him in the ditch with a fat lip.  Who knows.  But
then again, maybe everyone along that busy stretch just passes him,
gets flipped off, and makes of the experience what they will.

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 6, Number 1
(Spring 2011)

Copyright © 2011
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.