A Posthumous Poetics

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