A Posthumous Poetics

By Michael Ryan b. 1946 Michael Ryan
From embarrassment, I made statements.
My icons—tight caves and mouths—stuck together   
briefly like dry lips, like a lover’s insults.
The fact is they were ugly to all of us.
I said, How painstakingly personal!
Here are the words for this,
Relentless as insects! I was hysterical.

Every tone became artful,
the worst urges nuzzling like housepets
for someone to feel them, each real subject   
demanding more real context for remarks.   
Then abstractions insinuating their sharp edges,   
asking to pry open privacies
alone in the bathroom at bedtime
then with strangers in elevators, at stop signs.   
Even then, I knew you’d shun them,
because who would choose such intrusions?

I learned to love this isolation
as a woman who appears to listen.   
All night I’d talk about my life   
anticipating her dramatic relief,
believing her affectionate gestures filled in   
what wasn’t spoken. At those times   
she seemed so genuine and friendly,   
a voice from inside my own body   
describing my shameless surrender   
as our first kiss, perfect as gravity.

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

Source: Poetry (September 1973).


This poem originally appeared in the September 1973 issue of Poetry magazine

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September 1973
 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 Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Poetry & Poets, Philosophy

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