Flesh to Stone
Says K. in The Trial, “Like a dog!” and the stone
feels cool against his cheek until his blood spills over it.
Let us be clear: the average stone is a many-veined
cranium with as much blood and occasionally eye-pits.
Summer of 1996 I sunk a skipping stone in the Mississippi;
it’s still there, leaning into the current, a clean cut.
Soapstone in the bed of a brokedown 1983 Ford Ranger:
stone a million years old and—look—still going!
I have come to accept that I envy the centers of worlds,
that, dense as stone, I spin endlessly upon myself.
And here I sit, head spinning like a bar stool, stone
drunk at the peak of pity. Each tear a pebble at my feet.
by Ryan Dowling
Many thanks to The Rockford Review for publishing my poems “Elegy for Ian” and “Lyndon Station.”
Elegy for Ian
At your memorial
I am reminded of religion
by the stiffened rows
of pews, bowls
of holy water, Saints
in stained glass.
It never worked for me
and it won’t now.
I see their wooden Jesus
on a wooden cross
hanging over an altar:
cheap red paint
on his head, his ribs,
his hands and feet–
fake, all fake.
But you, my friend,
here you are a jar of ash.
You, who shook my hand
in the flesh, now dust.
Let the gods
die on crosses
with their resurrections
It is you
who is not
by Ryan Dowling
The frost splintered your windshield like a snowflake
that wanted in. We pitched a tent beside the firepit
and bent the stakes on frozen ground. There was enough dead
cedar to build a barn, enough matches for two packs
of cigarettes, but we only succeeded in blowing the ashes
of our incompetence into snow. The three of us–you, myself
and the Cold–entered the tent and butted heads.
The bottle of Jager went quick. I whittled a dead stick
sharper than my knife; you wrote a poem and read it,
a polemic against my face: fat-lipped, lazy-eyed, my hair
a nest of straw and wire wrapped up in a skullcap.
You wanted inflammation, so I picked your brain
for details. That’s the stuff. The Cold waited for us to sleep,
to creep into our sleeping bags. By dawn, even the heat
we’d hidden under our armpits and testicles had been stolen.
We drove home without saying a word to each other,
no longer friends but almost brothers.
by Ryan Dowling
The Father-Son Continuum
In all that is the father
there is the longing for death in the birth of the son:
a dying man on a frightened horse.
My father on his manstalk
burned like a scarecrow just before the snow falls
when the snow falls in only one field.
When it proved useless, he put his mind for sale.
Though the moon paid in amnesia,
he traded it to the lower dark for a way out.
He built a stairwell with his bare feet,
and with his nailed-together hands he built a clock
the way nothing is built to last.
At the oak tree where he buried his father’s ashes,
his prayer with a rake in his hands
was the pile of dead leaves at his feet.
In all that is the son
there is the longing for life in the death of the father:
a frightened man on a dying horse.
— Ryan Dowling
The World Removed From Its Axis
Here is a boy whose mother loves him
stepping into a man’s world,
dragging his feet.
Here, October insects flock to windows
between two worlds, death
on either side.
Let’s get out and explore the world, we say,
as if there were trails to the stars,
bridges between them—
and yet go on living in our own worlds,
wherever we reign omniscient
in what little we know.
by Ryan Dowling
(Note: “man’s world” may seem to suggest a world dominated by men, but what I mean is adulthood. “Adult’s world” sounds awkward, and also makes me think of those sex toy superstores along the expressway… It’s unfortunate that the word that fits best has this connotation but, leaving this little explanation, I’m going to let it be.)
I’ve collaborated with my good friend Basilike Pappa on the poem below. Visit her lovely blog Silent Hour to see more of her work.
Two Poets Cross at the Tuff Bean Cafe
“Let’s try this again,” said he.
“What’s there to gain?” said she.
“I could buy you a coffee,” said he.
“And lead to catastrophe?” said she.
“Look,” said he. “I’m sorry about the other day.”
“Good,” said she. “Then I’ll take a cafe au lait.”
“I like a woman who knows what she wants,” said he.
“I like a man who knows when he’s wrong,” said she.
“Shall we sit and talk it out?” said he.
“You read my thoughts out loud,” said she.
“I still feel your hand across my cheek,” said he.
“As do I the marks of your critique,” said she.
“But I like your style, your rhythm, your voice in verse,” said he.
“Then I suppose I like your choice of words,” said she.
“You know,” said he. “I’d love to rhyme you line for line.”
“That so?” said she. “You couldn’t keep up if you tried.”
by Basilike Pappa & Ryan Dowling
My story “Inertia” has won 1st place in The Rockford Review’s Energy Prose Contest.
In addition to this, they will be publishing my poem “Ode to a River Boulder” in their 2017 Winter-Spring edition.
On a side note, I have recently joined the Rockford Writer’s Guild. Once a month they hold meetings open to the public and free of charge. If you happen to live in or around the Northern Illinois area, I’d encourage you to stop by and share your work. For more information click here.