Michael Ryan


A Thank-You Note

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.


A man who’ s trying to be a good man
but isn’ t, because he can’ t not take
whatever’ s said to him as judgement.
It causes him, as he puts it, to react.
His face and neck redden and bloat,
a thick blue vein bulges up his forehead
and bisects his bald pate, scaring his children
but provoking hilarity at work
where one guy likes to get his goat
by pasting pro-choice bumper stickers
on his computer screen while he’ s in the john,

Girls’ Middle School Orchestra

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


When did I learn the word “I”?
What a mistake. For some,
it may be a placeholder,
for me it’ s a contagion.
For some, it’ s a thin line, a bare wisp,
just enough to be somewhere
among the gorgeous troublesome you’ s.
For me, it’ s a thorn, a spike, its slimness
a deceit, camouflaged like a stick insect:
touch it and it becomes what it is:
ravenous slit, vertical cut, little boy
standing upright in his white
communion suit and black secret.


The love we’ ve defined for ourselves
in privacy, in suffering,
keeps both of us lonely as a fist,
but does intimacy mean a happy ending?
I’ m afraid of marriage.
Driving past them at night, the shadows
on a drawn curtain hide terrible lives:
a father stuck in a job, his daughter
opening her blouse to strangers.


What kind of delusion are you under?
The life he hid just knocked you flat.
You see the lightning but not the thunder.

What God hath joined let no man put asunder.
Did God know you’ d marry a rat?
What kind of delusion are you under?

His online persona simply stunned her
as it did you when you started to chat.
You see the lightning but not the thunder.

To the victors go the plunder:
you should crown them with a baseball bat.
What kind of delusion are you under?


Most of the past is lost,
and I’ m glad mine has vanished
into blackness or space or whatever nowhere
what we feel and do goes,
but there were a few cool Sunday afternoons
when my father wasn’ t sick with hangover
and the air in the house wasn’ t foul with anger
and the best china had been cleared after the week’ s best meal
so he could place on the table his violins
to polish with their special cloth and oil.
Three violins he’ d arrange
side by side in their velvet-lined cases

The Ditch

In the ditch, half-ton sections of cast-iron molds
hand-greased at the seams with pale petroleum waste
and screw-clamped into five-hundred-gallon cylinders
drummed with rubber-headed sledges inside and out
to settle tight the wet concrete
that, dried and caulked, became Monarch Septic Tanks;
and, across the ditch, my high school football coach,

Where I’ll Be Good

Wanting leads to worse than oddity.
The bones creak like bamboo in wind,
and strain toward a better life outside the body,
the life anything has that isn’ t human.

Feel the chair under you? What does it want?
Does lust bend it silly, like a rubber crutch?
Tell a tree about the silky clasp of cunt.
It won’ t shift an inch. It won’ t ache to touch.