About the Author
Michael Ryan is the author of four volumes of poetry, two memoirs, and a collection of essays. He is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of California, Irvine, where he lives with his wife and daughter.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
If in the men’s room of our favorite restaurant
while blissfully pissing riserva spumante
I punch the wall because I am so old,
I promise not to punch too carelessly.
Our friend Franco cooks all night and day
to transform blood and bones to osso buco.
He shouldn’t have to clean them off his wall
or worry that a customer gone cuckoo
has mushed his knuckles like a slugger
whose steroid dosage needs a little tweaking.
My life with you has been beyond beyond
and there’s nothing beyond it I’m seeking.
I just don’t want to leave it, and I am
with every silken bite of tiramisu.
I wouldn’t mind being dead
if I could still be with you.
Although he’s only seven, you can pick him out
from other first-graders: he’s the one wearing
a smirk that says, “What are you afraid of?”
maybe also to himself, if he already suspects his fear
won’t ever be crushed no matter what he does.
But he’s got to try. He snatches spiders bare-fingered
to wave in girls’ faces, bites a worm in half
dangling the two ends from his mouth like fangs,
somersault-dismounts from the jungle gym
the other kids climb off of when he climbs on,
and when he lands unhurt there’s that smirk again
that mocks us for our cowardice.
Don’t hate him for it. It is his only happiness.
Where am I going? The grave.
Who am I being? The slave.
What am I leaving? The fun.
Who will be grieving? No one.
How can I touch you? No way.
Will I ever reach you? Someday.
Why do I need you? Ho ho.
Where will I meet you? You know.
MY YOUNG MOTHER
What she couldn’t give me
she gave me those long nights
she sat up with me feverish
and sweating in my sleep
when I had no idea whatsoever
what she had to do to suffer
the pain her body dealt her
to assuage the pain in mine.
That was a noble privacy —
her mothering as a practice of patience.
How deeply it must have stretched her
to watch me all night with her nerves
crying for rest while my fever
spiked under the washcloths
she passed between my forehead
and her dishpan filled with ice.
That was a noble privacy.
But even then there was so much
unsayable between us,
and why this was now looks so
ludicrous in its old costume of shame
that I wish not that she had just
said it but that I hadn’t been
so furious she couldn’t.
The jolt that opened me to you
and shook me to my toes
needs no implanted seismograph
to read how deep it goes
because it’s still rattling me
into this surprise
that the real dream begins
when I open my eyes
to see you so improbably here
and so entirely true
with all our random ducks lined up
for me to marry you
quacking a glorious Gloria
(transcribed into Duck)
to sexy earthy unnerving love
and astonishing good luck.