EP&M Online Poetry

Seven Poems
Ryan Sawyer

    by Ryan Sawyer

Socrates shuffled down a darkened street,
rehearsing his logic under his breath
like some desperate salesman. With success
still years off, and Plato’s utter defeat
of rival storytellers nothing but
a shared dream, Socrates was, at that time,
mostly just a mild annoyance. His smile
did alarm his neighbors a little, what
with how he resembled a rabid dog
prone to attack, but his false ignorance
never really did fool anyone. “When
he’s around, the guy just argues. He’ll slog
on and on till he wins. That’s what I call
wisdom as endurance,” one neighbor said.
“He talks too damn much,” said one, who then fled
at the sight of the man. But through it all,
Socrates kept on as if deaf or rude.
Intelligent Athenians kept clear
of him, and now their tales are lost. We hear
only Plato, and are led to conclude
that Reason’s renowned tradition began
with an odd, unfriendly, dissembling man.

Rothenberg’s Horses
    by Ryan Sawyer

Let’s say you’re groping in the dark and you
stumble across an image of a horse
as Susan Rothenberg once did.
Think of it as a lark. Later, of course,
as the horse reappeared, a fluke
became a complex symbol: primitive
yet modern, animal and yet human,
physical but somehow spiritual. (Yawn.)
Doesn’t the slow sun grope across
a dark planet, its thin fingers at dawn
latching on to what is given?
Don’t clouds coast, even though they’re all wind-tossed?
Thank goodness. Soon enough, as if to prove
it, Rothenberg once again groped and found
something new, not quite contrary
to the horses, not quite in line, not bound
yet by symbol and yet unmoved
by argument, but not exactly free
of something larger, either. She just turned
into her pale studio and stirred up
the red earth of New Mexico,
the yellow death of New Mexico.
The dry-eyed, azure sky that burned
above gave itself, too, to be borrowed.

Sunday Drive
    by Ryan Sawyer

On the winding road to Bowl and Pitcher Park,
did you sing along with everyone else?
Not your four brothers, who steadily pumped
their arms to emit crude squeaks, but one voice

at least, your father’s, his bright baritone
lingering over songs from morning Mass
or some Bing record.  Your mother watched while
two ribbons, farmland and sky, rippled past

as the years do, and tapped her lips lightly.
Grandmother stayed home and hid her money
under the placemats.  But you, you sat with
tiny hands folded across your tummy

in the front seat, middle, belting it out
comically loud, striking a modish pose,
eyebrow up, like some starlet, keeping time
with the thumping windshield-wipers.  On those

Sunday drives, the family Chevy bobbed
along that zigzagging river valley
like a wind-up toy.  Out of its windows
came the strangest, sweetest cacophony.

The Present
    by Ryan Sawyer

My wife is telling me a joke.
Upended by her slapstick wit,
I fall into a laughing fit.
But later, in bed, feeling choked
by darkness, I wake with a pit

in my stomach again to old,
unwelcome thoughts:  one night, some night,
will be the last.  It’s fact.  No fright
can chill so suddenly.  No cold
shudder can shake it out of sight.

It’s no help to reach consensus
at age eighty.  Can’t you hear it?
Happiness is found in spirit
alone, in loved ones around us,
not things.  But that’s why we fear it,

death.  So bless us, Lord, and your gifts,
which we are about to receive.
Nothing to do except believe
that in her sleepy style she’ll drift
awake.  We’re lucky till we leave.

    by Ryan Sawyer

An emotional and fiercely played
ninety minutes ended today
another tie:  zero-zero.
Anthony Jefferson Broder,
of Haverfield, California,
loved chess and watching redwoods grow

like beanstalks pushing through the sky.
Never married, Broder left behind
no immediate survivors.  Now,
to recap the life:  his father
a flutist who didn’t bother
with family, Broder left town

early.  When at just twenty-four
minutes, Broder failed to score
off a wobbling pass, he frowned
in disgust, muttered in wrath.
It was the best chance of the match.
If only he’d kept the ball down!

At halftime, he felt a crisis
coming on:  did he play too nice?
Did he really give it his all?
And would he get another break?
As his shoes sank into the fake
grass to start the next half, the ball

rolled over his toes like candy
over teeth.  He felt just dandy.
But in the sixty-first minute
a teammate was gravely injured.
He left the game, not to return.
Broder saw no chance to win it

after that.  The final minutes passed
fitfully, much like Broder’s last
thoughts:  a whiffed kick, an awkward hit.
“He used to wave from his front yard,”
a neighbor said, then mused, “A hard-
fought tie.  Can that really be it?”

Five Credible Conclusions
    by Ryan Sawyer


Free and finally able simply to sit
on the front porch and extend her bare feet
into blazing sunlight, she lets the lawn,
surging and tilting backward in the breeze,
carry her where it will. She tilts with it
into memory, floating over dim,
hardwood floors, paths she’d never seen before,
through the house and beyond, soothing herself
with images of how things might have been,
swimming a little in the summer air.


What light will follow this rain? The airy,
introspective white light of the north coasts?
Or will it be the sprawling, moist, breathy
Mediterranean yellow that lies
out languorously, warming our shoulders
and our meandering veins? Ah, let there
be something. Start with light, not a deadwood
sleep, a temperatureless sleep, dreamless too,
with here and there patches of body hair
silently fluttering like empty fields.


The odor of earthworms before a rain,
the faint moisture that aches inside the air
before a rain, the trickling in the ear
just starting: these are pinpricks of desire.
Eventually, the sky will crash. Asphalt
will darken and slide carloads up and down
amphibious routes. Some damp, roadside soul
will declare there never was an Eden
except in the poor, palpitating mind,
that love, like sin, is just a tangled web.


A lake heaves like any earthquake. On
the dock, you feel it, never really starting
or ending exactly, but just ongoing,
sloshing you around like a tiny cube
in a dark blue drink, the water’s white tips
lapping against the warm wood, back and back
again, lapping under your ear which rests
on warm wood, which presses against warm wood
and hears the water lapping, back and back
again, never really starting or ending.


When it’s all over, and historians
arrive to figure out how best to make
the apparent purposelessness of things
cohere, they work straight through the moonless night
to get it right, metaphor, myth, and all.
And when they depart, they travel along
an infinitesimally rising
trajectory, a glittering passage
lit by a thousand famous thoughts, and whack
at the overgrown grass with chiseled sticks.

Ryan Sawyer is 31 years old and lives in Seattle. In 1995 he received an M.St. in Research Methods in English from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His thesis on Wallace Stevens and Adrienne Rich was awarded a Distinction. More recently, he has published poems in The Neovictorian/Cochlea and The American Oxonian, and has poems forthcoming in Candelabrum Poetry Magazine. His poems have received awards from the Sky Blue Waters Poetry League and the Emily Dickinson Awards competition, and his chapbook, "Bowl and Pitcher Park", will be published by March Street Press in 2004. Currently, he works as a consultant in the high-tech industry.

"Socrates", "Rothenberg's Horses", "Sunday Drive", "The Present",  "Sketch,"  "Obituary", and "Five Credible Conclusions"
copyright © 2004 by Ryan Sawyer
and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission from the author.