I Had A Tapeworm

By Michael Ryan b. 1946 Michael Ryan
I had a tapeworm, and imagined it   
flat—paper-flat—like a strip of caps,   
pallid red, a quarter-inch wide   
with bulbous BB bullfrog eyes   
peeking out of my asshole as I lolled   
in a crowded fetid basement swimming pool   
(the kind that used to be in inner-city Ys:   
windowless; steamy; concrete-block moldings   
chalky-cracked), and you whom I’ve neither   
seen nor heard of for thirty years   
were saying I’d give everyone in the pool   
my tapeworm, which you knew had eaten   
my insides and now had threaded through   
both my intestines and was trying to get out.   
Where were we? Everyone was old, old—   
gray, infirm; flaccid and thin   
or fat and bald, all ill flesh drooping—   
the women in rubber-flowered bathing caps   
and black one-piece suits as if we were all   
on an outing from a nursing home.   
I couldn’t see myself to see how old I was,   
but you were thirty, at the peak of your beauty,   
as when you knelt naked on the motel room bed   
brushing out your thick dark waist-length hair   
after cheating on the lover you were cheating   
on your husband with, who was at that moment   
waiting for you in another motel room   
from which you had slipped to meet me secretly:   
a secret inside a secret, buried, encased,   
as if if we dug deep enough into it   
we’d find what we were trying   
to get or stop.

Source: Poetry (February 2009).


This poem originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2009
 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 . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Men & Women

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.