Half Mile Down

My sick heart and my sick soul
I'd gladly fasten in a bag
and drop into an ocean-hole
to float in darkness as a rag.

Would it learn to make its light?
Maybe in a million years.
A million years of constant night
in which it can't stop its fears

flaring their nightmare tentacles
and bioluminescent eyes
as cold and sharp as icicles
under moonless, starless skies:

medusae, spookfish, cephalopods,
jellies with no eyes or brains,
lethal and beautiful as gods,
locked in endless predation chains.

How seamless then the world would seem,
which life on earth never did,
the living water like a dream
crowded with prowling vampire squid

that want only to stay alive
among other monsters innocent
of all but the pure drive to survive
without self-judgment.

More by Michael Ryan

Outside

The dead thing mashed into the street
the crows are squabbling over isn't
her, nor are their raucous squawks
the quiet cawing from her throat
those final hours she couldn't speak.
But the racket irks him.
It seems a cruel intrusion into grief
so mute it will never be expressed
no matter how loud or long the wailing
he might do. Nor could there be a word
that won't debase it, no matter
how kind or who it comes from.
She knew how much he loved her.
That must be his consolation
when he must talk to buy necessities.
Every place will be a place without her.
What people will see when they see him
pushing a shopping cart or fetching mail
is just a neatly dressed polite old man. 

Poem at Thirty

The rich little kids across the street
twist their swings in knots. Near me,
on the porch, wasps jazz old nesting tunes
and don't get wild over human sweat.
This is the first summer of my middle life.
I ought to be content. The mindless harsh
process of history; with its diverse murders
and starvations, its whippings, humiliations,
child-tyrants, and beasts, I don't care for
or understand. Nor do I understand
restlessness that sometimes stops my sleep.

Waking, those mornings, is like being thrown from a train.
All you know comes to falling:
the body, in its witless crooning for solidity,
keeps heading for the ground.
There is no air, no sound, nothing
but dumb insistence of body weight
coming down, and there is no thought of love,
or passing time, or don't want to be alone.
Probably one hundred thousand impressions
wrinkle the brain in a moment like this,
but if you could think about it
you'd admit the world goes on in any case,
roars on, in fact, without you, on its endless iron track.



But most mornings I ease awake:
also a falling,
but delicate as an agile wing
no one may touch with hands,
a transparent wing like a distant moan
arriving disembodied of pleasure or pain,
a wing that dissolves on the tongue,
a wing that has never flown.

Because I've awakened like this,
I think I could love myself quietly
and let the world go on.

So today I watched a pudgy neighbor
edge her lawn, and heard the small blade whine;
I saw her husband, the briefcase man,
whiz off in his Mercedes without a glance.
I believe I'm beginning to understand
that I don't know what such things mean:
stupid pain or pure tranquillity,
desire's dull ache or conquering the body,
the need to say we and be known to someone
or what I see in myself as I sit here alone.

The sun glares most mornings
like an executive's thick pinky diamond,
and slowly the dark backs off
This is one reason this morning I awakened.



No one can tell you how to be alone.
Some fine people I've known swirl to me
in airy forms like just so much hot dust.
They have all moved through in dreams.
A lover's smell, the gut laugh of a friend,
become hard to recall as a particular wind.

No one can tell you how to be alone.
Like the deep vacuum in sleep, nothing
holds you up or knocks you down, only
it doesn't end in waking but goes on and on.
The tangles of place, the floating in time,
you must accept gently like a favorite dream.

If you can't, and you don't, the mind
unlocks the mind. Madness, with his lewd grin,
always waits outside the window, always
wanting to come in. I've gone out before,
both to slit his throat and to kiss his hand.
No one can tell you how to be alone:

Watch tiny explosions as flowers break ground;
hear the children giggle, rapid and clean.
It's hard to care about ordinary things.
Doesn't pain expand from lack of change?
I can't grasp exactly the feelings of anyone.
No one can tell you how to be alone.



At thirty the body begins to slow down.
Does that make for the quiet on this porch,
a chemical ability to relax and watch?
If a kid bounces her pelvis against a chain-link fence,
bounces so metal sings
and it seems she must be hurting herself
how old must I get before I tell her to stop?

Right now, I let her do it.
She's so beautiful in her filthy T-shirt
and gym shorts, her hair swings with each clang,
and she can do no wrong.
I let her do it as background music
to storm clouds moving in like a dark army.
I let her do it as a fond wish for myself
I feel the vibration of the fence
as a wasp feels voices on a pane of glass.
The song in it I can't make out.

This day, then, ends in rain
but almost everyone will live through it.
Tomorrow's thousands losing their loved ones
have not yet stepped into never being the same again.
Maybe the sun's first light will hit me
in those moments, but I'd gladly wake to feel it:
the dramatic opening of a day,
clean blood pumping from the heart.

Sex

After the earth finally touches the sun,
and the long explosion stops suddenly
like a heart run down,
the world might seem white and quiet
to something that watches it in the sky at night,
so something might feel small,
and feel nearly human pain.

But it won't happen again:
the long nights wasted alone, what's done
in doorways in the dark by the young,
and what could have been for some.
Think of all the lovers and the friends!
Who does not gather his portion of them
to himself. at least in his mind?

Sex eased through everyone,
even when slipping into death
as into a beloved's skin,
and prying out again to find
the body slumped, muscles slack.
and bones begun their turn to dust.
Then no one minds when one lover
holds another, like an unloaded sack.

But the truth enters at the end of life.
It enters like oxygen into every cell
and the madness it feeds there in some
is only a lucid metaphor
for something long burned to nothing,
like a star.

How do you get under your desire?
How do you peel away each desire
like ponderous clothes, one at a time,
until what's underneath is known?
We knew genitals as small things
and we were ashamed they led us around,
even if the hill where we'd lie down
was the same hill the universe unfolded upon
all night, as we watched the stars,
when for once our breathing seemed to blend.



Each time, from that sweet pressure
of hands, or the great relief of the mouth,
a person can be led out of himself
Isn't it lonely in the body?
The myth says we ooze about as spirits
until there's a body made to take us,
and only flesh is created by sex.
That's why we enter sex so relentlessly,
toward the pleasure that comes
when we push down far enough
to nudge the spirit rising to release,
and the pleasure is pleasure of pure spirit,
for a moment all together again.
So sex returns us to beginning, and we moan.



Pure sex becomes specific and concrete
in a caress of breast or slope of waist:
it flies through itself like light, it sails
on nothing like a wing, when someone's there
to be touched, when there's nothing wrong.

So the actual is touched in sex,
like a breast through cloth: the actual
rising plump and real, the mind
darting about it like a tongue.
This is where I wanted to be all along:
up in the world, in touch with myself. . .

Sex, invisible priestess of a good God,
I think without you I might just spin off.
I know there's no keeping you close,
as you flick by underneath a sentence
on a train, or transform the last thought
of an old nun, or withdraw for one moment alone.
Who tells you what to do or ties you down!

I'd give up the rest to suck your dark lips.
I'd give up the rest to fix you exact
in the universe, at the wildest edge
where there's no such thing as shape.

What a shame I am, if reaching the right person
in a dim room, sex holds itself apart
from us like an angel in an afterlife,
and, with the ideas no one has even dreamed,
it wails its odd music for pure mind.



After there's nothing,
after the big blow-up of the whole shebang,
what voice from what throat
will tell me who I am? Each throat
on which I would have quietly set my lips
will be ripped like a cheap sleeve
or blown apart like the stopped-up
barrel of a gun. What was inside them
all the time I wanted always
to rest my mouth upon?

I thought most everything
stuck dartlike in the half-dome of my brain,
and hung there like fake stars in a planetarium.
It's true that things there changed into names,
that even the people I loved were a bunch of signs,
so I felt most often alone.
This is a way to stay alive and nothing to bemoan.
We know the first time we extend an arm:
the body reaches so far for so long.
We grow and love to grow, then stop, then lie down.

I wanted to bear inside me this tender outcome.
I wanted to know if it made sex happen:
does it show up surely in touch and talk?
does it leak from the mind, as heat from the skin?
I wanted my touching intelligent, like a beautiful song.