Poem at Thirty

Michael Ryan

 
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.
 
From New and Selected Poems by Michael Ryan. Copyright © 2004 by Michael Ryan. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Poems by This Author

Half Mile Down by Michael Ryan
My sick heart and my sick soul
My Bright Aluminum Tumblers by Michael Ryan
Who are you
Outside by Michael Ryan
The dead thing mashed into the street
Reminder by Michael Ryan
Torment by appetite
Sex by Michael Ryan
After the earth finally touches the sun
The Past by Michael Ryan
It shows up one summer in a greatcoat


Further Reading

Poems About Aging
Abandonment Under the Walnut Tree
by D. A. Powell
Affirmation
by Donald Hall
Age
by Robert Creeley
Age and Death
by Emma Lazarus
Almost Sixty
by Jim Moore
Beyond the Years
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Blues
by Elizabeth Alexander
Demeter in Paris
by Meghan O'Rourke
E.H.
by John Koethe
El Dorado
by Edgar Allan Poe
Fear of the Future
by John Koethe
First Gestures
by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Fixed Interval
by Devin Johnston
Forgetfulness
by Billy Collins
Gerontion
by T.S. Eliot
Get Up, Please
by David Kirby
In View of the Fact
by A. R. Ammons
Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year
by Maxine Kumin
Moonlight
by Sara Teasdale
My Lost Youth
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My Skeleton
by Jane Hirshfield
Preparation
by Effie Waller Smith
Quiet
by Tony Hoagland
Refusing at Fifty-Two to Write Sonnets
by Thomas Lynch
Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Akers Allen
Self-Portrait
by Adam Zagajewski
Since Nine—
by C. P. Cavafy
The Chicago Poem
by Jerome Rothenberg
The Edges of Time
by Kay Ryan
The Human Seasons
by John Keats
The Tower
by W. B. Yeats
The Widows of Gravesend
by L. S. Asekoff
The Young Man's Song
by W. B. Yeats
this kind of fire
by Charles Bukowski
To a Young Girl at a Window
by Margaret Widdemer
To Chloe: Who for his sake wished herself younger
by William Cartwright
To Earthward
by Robert Frost
to my last period
by Lucille Clifton
To Think of Time
by Walt Whitman
Two Horses and a Dog
by James Galvin
When You are Old
by W. B. Yeats
Poems About Birthdays
A Birthday
by Christina Rossetti
A Happy Birthday
by Ted Kooser
A Newborn Girl at Passover
by Nan Cohen
Birth
by Tina Chang
Crossroads
by Joyce Sutphen
Fifty-Three
by Eileen Myles
Infant Joy
by William Blake
Morning Song
by Sylvia Plath
On His Seventy-fifth Birthday
by Walter Savage Landor
Prayer for a Birthday
by Mark Wunderlich
Poems about Jazz
Howl, Parts I & II
by Allen Ginsberg
At the Blue Note
by Pablo Medina
Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio
by Carl Sandburg
Jazz Fan Looks Back
by Jayne Cortez
Ken Burns poem
by Sean Singer
Listening to jazz now
by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Lost Fugue for Chet
by Lynda Hull
Soledad
by Robert Hayden
The Gardenia
by Cornelius Eady
We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Poems for Summer
Tempest, Act V, Scene I [Where the bee sucks, there suck I]
by William Shakespeare
A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky
by Lewis Carroll
A Boy and His Dad
by Edgar Guest
A Green Crab's Shell
by Mark Doty
A Lesson for This Sunday
by Derek Walcott
A Path Between Houses
by Greg Rappleye
After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard
by Charles Wright
Aftermath
by Tony Connor
Alice at Seventeen: Like a Blind Child
by Darcy Cummings
Anastasia & Sandman
by Larry Levis
And You Thought You Were the Only One
by Mark Bibbins
Arms
by Richard Tayson
August
by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Back Yard
by Carl Sandburg
Bed in Summer
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Daffy Duck In Hollywood
by John Ashbery
Fall Parties
by Becca Klaver
Fat Southern Men in Summer Suits
by Liam Rector
Fishing on the Susquehanna in July
by Billy Collins
For Once, Then, Something
by Robert Frost
Ground Swell
by Mark Jarman
I know I am but summer to your heart (Sonnet XXVII)
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I see the boys of summer
by Dylan Thomas
I, Up they soar
by Inger Christensen
Idyll
by Siegfried Sassoon
If You Get There Before I Do
by Dick Allen
In Summer
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
In Summer Time
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
In the Mountains on a Summer Day
by Li Po
Jack
by Maxine Kumin
Jet
by Tony Hoagland
June Light
by Richard Wilbur
Let Birds
by Linda Gregg
Long Island Sound
by Emma Lazarus
Making the Bed
by Burt Kimmelman
Midsummer
by William Cullen Bryant
Mint
by Elaine Terranova
Miracles
by Walt Whitman
Muffin of Sunsets
by Elaine Equi
My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer
by Mark Strand
On 52nd Street
by Philip Levine
On Summer
by George Moses Horton
On the Grasshopper and the Cricket
by John Keats
Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets
by David Young
Psychoanalysis: An Elegy
by Jack Spicer
Rhode Island
by William Meredith
Sally's Hair
by John Koethe
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (Sonnet 18)
by William Shakespeare
Solstice
by Ellen Dudley
Sonnet 7 [The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings]
by Petrarch
South
by Jack Gilbert
Summer
by Amy Lowell
Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina
by Jack Gilbert
Summer Holiday
by Robinson Jeffers
Summer Images
by John Clare
Summer in the South
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Summer Night, Riverside
by Sara Teasdale
Summer Nights and Days
by Rachel Hadas
Summer Past
by John Gray
Summer Song
by William Carlos Williams
Summer Stars
by Carl Sandburg
Summer X-Rays
by Nina Cassian
Swimming in the Presence of Lurid Opposition
by Sawako Nakayasu
The Abduction
by Stanley Kunitz
The Family Photograph
by Vona Groarke
The Fishermen at Guasti Park
by Maurya Simon
The Fly
by William Blake
The Idea of Order at Key West
by Wallace Stevens
The Last Slow Days of Summer
by Phillip Lopate
The Magpie's Shadow
by Yvor Winters
The Philosopher in Florida
by C. Dale Young
The Summer House
by Tony Connor
The White Room
by Charles Simic
They'll spend the summer
by Joshua Beckman
This Lime Tree Bower My Prison
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Three Songs at the End of Summer
by Jane Kenyon
Vacation
by Rita Dove
Vertumnal [excerpt]
by Stephen Yenser
Vespers
by Louise Glück
Warm Summer Sun
by Mark Twain
Wildflower
by Stanley Plumly