stones :: michael ryan

They don’t change, or change so slowly
only the dead could notice.
Because the dead don’t feel death pulse

inside the body like a wild ocean
that consumes all possible attention,
an ocean whose quiet bottom cradles

the odd undersides of stones, while
hard wind shakes up everything above.
If stones won’t feel even the final storm,

if the dead really notice nothing,
how will you feel yourself becoming
something else when the only thing

that ignores the crash of waves is stone?

a thank-you note :: michael ryan

For John Skoyles

My daughter made drawings with the pens you sent,
line drawings that suggest the things they represent,
different from any drawings she — at ten — had done,
closer to real art, implying what the mind fills in.
For her mother she made a flower fragile on its stem;
for me, a lion, calm, contained, but not a handsome one.
She drew a lion for me once before, on a get-well card,
and wrote I must be brave even when it’s hard.

Such love is healing — as you know, my friend,
especially when it comes unbidden from our children
despite the flaws they see so vividly in us.
Who can love you as your child does?
Your son so ill, the brutal chemo, his looming loss
owning you now — yet you would be this generous
to think of my child. With the pens you sent
she has made I hope a healing instrument.

insult :: michael ryan

Before you went out I asked you
in no uncertain terms to button
the next button up your shirt
that showed your naked breast
from the right angle when you twisted
and bent, an angle admittedly rarely
reproduced in real-world space
and then what would need to be in place
is the mythical irresistible male
whose lust could flare furiously
(like mine) and push you ecstatically
beyond where you sexually go
with me. Obviously I don’t know
what would be possible for you
with another body than mine,
but I love you and yours so dearly
the thought’s too much for me
despite your saying your love for me
makes the idea preposterous
from the get-go. I’m sorry
I spoke harshly. My jealousy
is a jealous companion.
It wants me alone.

via the new yorker

girls’ middle school orchestra :: michael ryan

They’re all dressed up in carmine
floor-length velvet gowns, their upswirled hair
festooned with matching ribbons:
their fresh hopes and our fond hopes for them
infuse this sort-of-music as if happiness could actually be
Their hearts unscarred under quartz lights
beam through the darkness in which we sit
to show us why we endured at home
the squeaking and squawking and botched notes
that now in concert are almost beautiful,
almost rendering this heartrending music
composed for an archduke who loved it so much
he spent his fortune for the musicians
who could bring it brilliantly to life.

the past :: michael ryan

It shows up one summer in a greatcoat,
storms through the house confiscating,
says it must be paid and quickly,
says it must take everything.

Your children stare into their cornflakes,
your wife whispers only once to stop it,
because she loves you and she sees it
darken the room suddenly like a stain.

What did you do to deserve it,
ruining breakfast on a balmy day?
Kiss your loved ones. Night is coming.
There was no life without it anyway.

outside :: michael ryan

The dead thing mashed into the street
the crows are squabbling over isn’t
her, nor are their raucous squawks
the quiet cawing from her throat
those final hours she couldn’t speak.
But the racket irks him.
It seems a cruel intrusion into grief
so mute it will never be expressed
no matter how loud or long the wailing
he might do. Nor could there be a word
that won’t debase it, no matter
how kind or who it comes from.
She knew how much he loved her.
That must be his consolation
when he must talk to buy necessities.
Every place will be a place without her.
What people will see when they see him
pushing a shopping cart or fetching mail
is just a neatly dressed polite old man.

listen and read about the process

reminder :: michael ryan

Torment by appetite
is itself an appetite
dulled by inarticulate,
dogged, daily

as Chekhov put it, “compassion
down to your fingertips”—
looking on them as into the sun

not in the least for their sake
but slowly for your own
because it causes
the blinded soul to bloom

like deliciousness in dirt,
like beauty from hurt,
their light—their light—
pulls so surely. Let it.

hear him read it

airplane food :: michael ryan

Compressed chicken product, festive succotashed rice,
dead iceberg lettuce with a pale cherry tomato
hard as a mothball, and the coup de grâce: a baby bundt cake
I expect will taste like my passport
but to my delight is not bad,
half-bad, or even sort-of-bad: it is good.
Good good good good good all good
this plain sweet baby bundt cake like much else
I shall never taste touch hear see or smell,
baked for the heavens in its own fluted tube pan
for every blessed one of us ticketed passengers,
purely for our pleasure and then only briefly—
ingested, enjoyed, absorbed, and fading from memory
since we lack the capacity to retaste baby bundt cake
unlike the many childhood wounds I experience
half a century later from the faintest reminders.
This same baby bundt cake might seem scandalous
to the incognito Michelin Guide reviewer
in a three-star restaurant in the south of France.
It could cost the owner-and-chef all his stars
when losing one drives such men to relentless self-torment.
It could cause his wife-the-hostess to cease loving him
instantly, if she had worked eighty-hour weeks with him in concert
painstakingly perfecting the desserts they were known for.
“Marcel, have you lost your senses?”
she’d scream (in French, of course),
“this bundt cake tastes like Michael Ryan’s passport!”
All right, she wouldn’t say like my passport
but some untranslatable invective for culinary blasphemy
such as “this bundt cake tastes like duck drop—
the underside of a sink-reduction of pig bristle—
your incontinent mother’s bidet brush holder”—
a local invective for premeditated betrayals
like secretly developing and serving a recipe
based on the winner of a Pillsbury bakeoff.
God knows what happened after their disgrace
to the couple, or their employees, much less their children,
especially the boy who loved nothing more
than working in the kitchen alongside his parents.
He certainly wouldn’t touch a bundt cake for the rest of his life.
The sight of someone enjoying one could make him furious
and the aroma of baking bundt cake wafting from a Paris apartment,
unidentifiable to the other strollers among the aromas of the city,
could make him weep automatically as if he had turned a faucet.
He would never discuss the bundt cake episode in interviews
after he had revolutionized the national pastry
and become famous for his supernal puffy Napoleons.
Bundt cake could mean only his father’s sudden dementia
and the years of grief and poverty suffered by his family,
but, since my experience and circumstances are so different,
I thought this bundt cake was really good.

the others :: michael ryan

They slept and ate like us.
Feral they were not.
The intricacy of their handiwork
bespoke a fineness we’d be taught.

Yet we wiped them out.
It was eerily easy to do,
although they knew we were coming
and knew we knew they knew.

Not only did they not resist
our guns like bloody hacking coughs
in their libraries and hospitals,
their bedrooms and their schools—

they would not acknowledge us.
We felt like fools. There was no keening.
Even the children did not cry.
It was as if meaning

inhered so deeply in their daily
lives we could not touch it;
nor would they quit living to be
slaughtered, it was so inviolate.