By Michael Ryan b. 1946 Michael Ryan
Reading in the paper a summary
of a five-year psychological study
that shows those perceived as most beautiful   
are treated differently,

I think they could have just asked me,
remembering a kind of pudgy kid   
and late puberty, the bloody noses   
and wisecracks because I wore glasses,

though we all know by now how awful it is   
for the busty starlet no one takes seriously,   
the loveliest women I’ve lunched with   
lamenting the opacity of the body,

they can never trust a man’s interest   
even when he seems not just out for sex   
(eyes focus on me above rim of wineglass),   
and who would want to live like this?

And what does beauty do to a man?—
Don Juan, Casanova, Lord Byron—
those fiery eyes and steel jawlines   
can front a furnace of self-loathing,

all those breathless women rushing to him   
while hubby’s at the office or ball game,   
primed to be consumed by his beauty   
while he stands next to it, watching.

So maybe the looks we’re dealt are best.   
It’s only common sense that happiness   
depends on some bearable deprivation   
or defect, and who knows what conflicts

great beauty could have caused,
what cruelties one might have suffered
from those now friends, what unmanageable   
possibilities smiling at every small turn?

So if I get up to draw a tumbler
of ordinary tap water and think what if this were   
nectar dripping from delicious burning fingers,   
will all I’ve missed knock me senseless?

No. Of course not. It won’t.

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

Source: Poetry (February 1984).


This poem originally appeared in the February 1984 issue of Poetry magazine

View this poem in its original format

February 1984
 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

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.