By Michael Ryan b. 1946 Michael Ryan
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,   
then gathers a group into the next cubicle   
to watch when he comes back.
He has talked to his minister and to his wife   
about learning how not to react,
to make a joke, and he has tried to make jokes,   
but his voice gets tense, they come out flat,   
so even his joke becomes a joke at his expense,   
another thing to laugh at him about.
He has thought to turn to them and ask,
Why don’t you like me? What have I done to you?
But he has been told already all his life:
self-righteous goody two-shoes, a stick up your ass.   
They are right. He has never never never gotten along.
He says nothing this time, just peels off the bumper sticker,   
crumples it gently, places it gently
by his mousepad to dispose of later properly,   
comparing his suffering to Christ’s in Gethsemane   
spat upon and mocked (his minister’s advice),   
and tries a smile that twists into a grimace,   
which starts the hot blood rising into his face.   
This is what they came for, to see Dickhead,   
the bulging vein, the skull stoplight red,
and indeed it is remarkable how gorged it gets
as if his torso had become a helium pump,
so, except for him whose eyes are shut tight,
they burst into laughter together exactly at the moment   
cruelty turns into astonishment.

Michael Ryan, “Dickhead” from New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2004 by Michael Ryan. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004)

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Poet Michael Ryan b. 1946

Subjects Friends & Enemies, Relationships, Social Commentaries, Jobs & Working, Activities

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 Michael  Ryan


Poet and memoirist Michael Ryan was born in St Louis, Missouri. He studied at the University of Notre Dame and Claremont Graduate School, and earned an MFA and PhD from the University of Iowa. Ryan’s first volume, Threats Instead of Trees (1974), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. His second collection, In Winter (1981), was selected by Louise Glück for the National Poetry Series. God Hunger (1989) won the Lenore . . .

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SUBJECT Friends & Enemies, Relationships, Social Commentaries, Jobs & Working, Activities

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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