Oscar Wilde on the Relation of Poets to their Poetry

“The only artists I have known, who are perfectly delightful, are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.”

— spoken by Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wolfsbane (Aconitum)

Wolfsbane (Aconitum)

On our stroll back from the estuary,
we rested beside a riverbank
and tugged these hooded flowers
from the edge of the foam.
I told you that they were violets,
but—what did I know?—
I couldn’t tell a lily from a lilac.

I wove them into your curls
until your hair was as heavy with purple
as dusk upon the rollicking waters,
slow-motion in the quickening breeze.

When I leaned my lips into yours,
yours had begun to quiver and sweat.
You grew rigid
and heavy
as petrified wood.
At first I was embarrassed
I’d overstepped
the boundaries that boys often risk
when faced with beautiful girls.
But later, I learned that the stems
of those flowers
had leaked into your scalp—
though it was hardly anything,
hardly anything at all—
this I learned
only after the paramedics
gave up on you.

by Ryan Dowling

In an age of instant gratification

In an age of instant gratification

there are days when you
kick back like the farmers
in a three-week drought
and wonder
if the ancient rain dances
had any merit,
if you should slit your palm
with a dagger
and bleed over a fire
or if
a Hail Mary, an Our Father
just might reach
its intended audience.

It’s better to understand
that the gods don’t care
if you holler damnations
into the dark
or if you twist your baseball cap
from back
to front
and then cock it
to the left.

They won’t even notice
if you sing in church
or you shit
in the woods
or you fleck
holy water over your pillow
or you carve
with a stick
an ankh or a cross
or a pentagram
or a corporate logo
or whatever that’s
supposed to be
in the dust
and then you kneel down
and kiss it.

The rain will fall
when it falls.
The poems will come
when they come.

The hardest thing for
us to do
is to be patient,
especially when there’s a
15 minute wait
at the McDonald’s
drive-thru.

by Ryan Dowling

Nostalgia in the Rain

Nostalgia in the Rain

Once more the day drops
in a paradiddle of raindrops,
knocking at my amygdala.
Standing with an armful of eggs

between the porch lilies,
a shadow drops the trench coat
from its man-shape
and collapses into a mist

of formaldehyde. I step out
upon the eggshells.
Nostalgia rises with the force
of the worms rising up,

and nostalgia itself
is a worm-eaten bore in the brain—
so straight it’s a peephole
from ear to ear. When the rain

falls hardest, it drums
a death-rattle from the earth,
and the stink of it suffuses the sky.
I can’t smell a thing,

but somehow I know the odor,
like an old rainjacket,
like an old drunk passed out
in the pissing dawn.

by Ryan Dowling

Enough

Enough

It’s true, there’s no such thing as writer’s block.
And yet, it’s not enough
to simply arrange words on paper.
Not for me anyway. I get to thinking,
does the world really need
one more poet who mistakes ambition and prolificacy
for some kind of genius? Enough.
Enough! This morning, for instance:
I thought I saw a poem
in my scrambled eggs and sausage.
Another in my girlfriend’s hair, spilling over the bed,
as if she dreamt of waterfalls. And yet another
in the dumb blue-yellow sunrise
silhouetting the traffic jam across the highway
from my kitchen window. Until—
“Enough!” I said to myself. “Quit
badgering me already:
I know it’s ugly down here
and I know when to walk away.”
Reconciled, I forked the last egg from my plate,
wolfed it in one bite, and felt good.
Then I divided the rest of the morning
between my mug of coffee and my green pipe,
watching the urge of traffic. Not a care
where they were going. Just glad
I wasn’t one of them.

by Ryan Dowling

Ugly’s Only Skin Deep

Ugly’s Only Skin-Deep

but who said beauty’s absolutely guts?
night is a gas flame in a dream
the altar boy aims his slingshot at a satellite

snuffs a comet drops a star
and slumps the city shoulder to shoulder with the hill
of the blonde valley of nine shadows where

a bee opens a raspberry flower
beside the sod hut where a bodhisattva’s too drunk
to play his paper flute where the fox died

of an infected paw a fly spreads its wings in the wound
the years collapse to weeks
weeks to hours hours to seconds!

and I’ve never been less iron than April
with its pollen and its people and all their pollution
it pokes a hole in grandma’s ghost

when daughter sister mother love
father brother son it’s the world on a stick
sit down drink up be kind

life is hard and leisure hardens in the sun.

 

by Ryan Dowling

An Investigation of Zhuangzi’s Dream

An Investigation of Zhuangzi’s Dream

You dreamt heavily Saturday,
and woke up Sunday with an old question:
Am I yet the butterfly sleeping on the temple bell,
dreaming he’s a man? The day’s
events threw you off with their suggestions.
A young priest, dozing at the wheel,
rear-ended you at a red light.
He was scared and sorry,
but the police officer on duty was so jolly
the jokes rolled right off his tongue.
A circle of people in the town center
locked arms around a fountain
and then redispersed into the crowd all at once.
A bird sang from a soapbox
and its song got stuck in your throat.
The small invitation to your brother’s funeral
slipped in the wind
and landed on a dandelion.
There was no more honey in all the house.
You wrapped yourself tightly in your sheets like a cocoon.
When sleep lowered its bell over your head
you could hear a ringing
somewhere far away
and somewhere very near.

by Ryan Dowling

The Mechanic

The Mechanic

We’ve learned to think for cars, and think like them;
we know their schematics better than our own anatomy.
Our blood’s been mixed with waste oil, our bones
replaced with bent rods. Our brains are computers
that cannot reboot. The dash lights are on.

Why do we do it, why do we lie down
on these dollies and slide under another Dodge,
another Corvette, another Ferrari we’ll never afford—
link by link, our hands broken in the wreckage,
groping for salvage as if it were salvation.

I think of the millions of miles of accumulation,
all the scum of the earth sucked up on a Sunday drive—
the sludge, the sludge, unstomachable.
Neon and sweet, the ethylene leaks. The blood
of a rodent sputters from the hubcap, and the rubber
hisses from a nail. What began as a spot of rust
ends in cancer. There is a diagnosis, there is a danger—
corrosion in the engine: the cylinders
eaten, the pistons spit out, the brute steel
beaten like an anvil under heat…

And at the end of the day, I just can’t get the filth
out from under my fingernails.

by Ryan Dowling

Bad Apples

Bad Apples

1.

Look, the world is
flat (they just haven’t
proven it yet),

its exact edge a sign
that god is guilty, where god
equals one square inch

of buried evidence in an
apple orchard
abandoned last August.

2.

A bad apple
only wants to fall somewhere
near its roots,

to be dismantled by
ants and carried
away from its core

like a word from its
significance, significance
from its sign.

3.

Whoever thought this funny
and tore down the
stop sign: the cops

are looking for you.
I died last night—dropped
right off the

edge of the world. That sign was
there for a reason.
That apple was there.

 

by Ryan Dowling