Astral Redux

Astral Redux

There are spoken infirmities and spilled lips
cloaked in the growl of rusted foliage
and mutiny in the eyes
and in the ears and in the yawns
of faces wrinkled into disrepair and rage
                furious mold glittering on the clown’s tongue
                               under the streetlight a tail without a dog
world offenses
and the disjunction of its judges
cannot undo any of this
yet the boy who painted the evening sky
an orchard eager to implode
dropped the little dipper of his big idea
when he banged his head on the moon
and gravity was tilted back
and conciousness slid off the table
               so that arm in arm we took a wormhole through
                              and beyond the astral plane
                                             at times colorless
                              but peopled by a stampede of puddles
               families of stamps and envelopes
we heard the machines and taught them thoughtlessness
suspicions arose as a sparrow hit the window
the honey stood with the consistency of a clay pillar
the swagger of a lily endured by sages
the monk lighting a cigarette at the memorial
I’m remembering what was left
                of the ribbons in the murder room
                              and of the knife-shaped intruder
                                             that came through the keyhole
now both puppet and ventriloquist
hang by the cat’s cradle of the universal grid
a breeze expired on a blade of grass
to regard you with funereal indifference
as over the coined eyes of an unremembered uncle
who burned out in the exit lane
              I kick the heads off the dandelions saying a prayer
                             to dispel the sound of inner oceans
                                            undictated by this or that
                             indiscretion or assault or melodramatic arrival
I have my duty and know my name among the garden
traveling the beet to its root and back again
arms centrifugal in and out of time
going the course of nature in the wake of the worm
minding my own business hunched over
a scythe left and right at the big man’s knees
splitting the boulder to which I fastened my libido
my back a collapsible antennae my head a radio in the stars
my sleep patterns repeating in the rapids of sleep
               where will you be at midnight among the pranksters
                             conniving under the armored skirts
                                            whistling a tune?

by Ryan Dowling

Mixed Strains

Mixed Strains

“It’s cold in here,” she says.
“I live alone,” says he.

“And your walls, they are so bare,” she says.
“They’re not what I’m looking at,” says he.

“Am I your first guest?” she says.
“You are my first choice,” says he.

“You don’t mean you…” she says.
“Of course, I’d never…” says he.

“May I have a drink?” she says.
“I’ll make it double,” says he.

“I don’t want to give you the wrong idea,” she says.
“How could you give me what I already have?” says he.

“Let’s skip the liquor and go to coffee,” she says.
“Shall we go all night?” says he.

“I have to work,” she says.
“I’m being a jerk,” says he.

“Oh, please don’t say that,” she says.
“You may leave anytime,” says he.

“Why do you behave like this?” she says.
“Why do you make me like this?” says he.

“Maybe I should leave,” she says.
“Oh, don’t say that,” says he.

“It’s cold in here,” she says.
“I live alone,” says he.


by Ryan Dowling

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

Salutation by Ezra Pound


O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.

by Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

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



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

Spring by Edna St. Vincent Millay


To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing.
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)





It’s never too early to slight a recent dream,
never too late to step one-strided to the heights.
The earth and its catastrophes cannot restrain
a man from slurring silence into Speech.

And razor Light eviscerates the multitude,
and Music spires through the middle ear,
and eloquence is balanced drunk with Dance,
and Memory, that traveled tide, comes back.

by Ryan Dowling

Emily Dickinson’s Gun


“My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –”

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried Me away –

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe –
And every time I speak for Him –
The Mountains straight reply –

And I do smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow –
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through –

And when at Night – Our good Day done –
I guard My Master’s Head –
‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s
Deep Pillow – to have shared –

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –
None stir the second time –
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –
Or an emphatic Thumb –

Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I –
For I have but the power to kill,
Without – the power to die –

by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)


Personification is the attribution of human qualities to a non-human thing. In this poem, Dickinson personifies a gun. Observe the different ways Dickinson uses personification. Here are only a few of them:

The speaker of the poem (the “Loaded Gun”) reveals an intense relationship with its master (“The Owner”). Notice how Dickinson resists saying that the master sleeps with a gun under his pillow; instead, the gun says, “I guard My Master’s head.” Later on she suggests that the gun itself can kill anyone who poses a threat to its master: “To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –/ None stir the second time.” And in the final two lines, “For I have but the power to kill,/ Without – the power to die –“ Dickinson shows that the gun is capable of existential thought (in short, thinking about the “human” condition). Notice too how the final line, in turn, reveals the gun’s only non-human quality, which is also the source of its anxiety: it cannot die.