Thursday, May 7, 2009

i had a tapeworm - michael ryan

I read this poem for the first time a few months ago. Then, I knew very little about Michael Ryan, with the exception that he was teaching at the University of California, Irvine, where I quite wanted to receive my MFA. Though things didn't pan out in that direction, I'm glad I recognized the name and gave this poem a few reads. The tone immediately resonated with me. I am drawn to its beat-ish qualities, its prosaic style and confessional tone. Its assonant-driven sound reads like a slam poem, playing on tension between public declaration and intimate subject matter. The poem moves from out spaces like the Y to the inmost tunnels of the speaker's body, from a public pool into a secret inside a secret. On a personal level, I appreciate how the speaker addresses a complex nest of emotions that surround affairs from a temporal distance and within such a short poem: tender remembrance, guilt and regret, jealousy of whom the ones with whom we cheat are with and their other possible lovers, severe contemplation of the past, the haunting of a beautiful mistake. The tapeworm is within the speaker and eats at him, though his true fear isn't the decimation of his insides, but the betrayal of exposure and the unforgiving nature of age over memory.

I Had A Tapeworm

I had a tapeworm, and imagined it
flat—paper-flat—like a strip of caps,
pallid red, a quarter-inch wide
with bulbous BB bullfrog eyes
peeking out of my asshole as I lolled
in a crowded fetid basement swimming pool
(the kind that used to be in inner-city Ys:
windowless; steamy; concrete-block moldings
chalky-cracked), and you whom I’ve neither
seen nor heard of for thirty years
were saying I’d give everyone in the pool
my tapeworm, which you knew had eaten
my insides and now had threaded through
both my intestines and was trying to get out.
Where were we? Everyone was old, old—
gray, infirm; flaccid and thin
or fat and bald, all ill flesh drooping—
the women in rubber-flowered bathing caps
and black one-piece suits as if we were all
on an outing from a nursing home.
I couldn’t see myself to see how old I was,
but you were thirty, at the peak of your beauty,
as when you knelt naked on the motel room bed
brushing out your thick dark waist-length hair
after cheating on the lover you were cheating
on your husband with, who was at that moment
waiting for you in another motel room
from which you had slipped to meet me secretly:
a secret inside a secret, buried, encased,
as if if we dug deep enough into it
we’d find what we were trying
to get or stop.

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