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