EP&M Online Poems



Ryan Sawyer




Socrates shuffled down a shady street,
rehearsing arguments under his breath
like some fraught salesman.  His trial and death
still years off, and Plato’s utter defeat
of rival storytellers nothing but
a dream they shared, awkward Socrates, while
bright, was thought mildly grating.  His broad smile
unnerved his neighbors, who hurriedly shut
their doors whenever the irksome old dog
pattered by.  And his phony ignorance?
Never tricked anyone.  “He’ll dodge, he’ll dance,
playing the fool all along, and then slog
on and on till he wins.  That’s what I call
wisdom as endurance,” one neighbor said.
“He talks too damned­” said another, who fled
at the sight of the man.  But through it all
Socrates kept on.  Was he deaf?  Just rude?
We can only guess.  The wisest 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
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 groped once again 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
On the winding road to Bowl and Pitcher Park,
did you sing along with everyone else?
Not your four brothers, who spastically pumped
their arms to produce crude squeaks, but one voice
at least, your father’s, his bright baritone
lingering over songs from morning Mass
or else some Bing record.  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 tiny Chevy bobbed
along that lavender river valley
like a wind-up toy.  Out of its windows
came the oddest, sweetest cacophony.




The Present
 My wife was acting out a joke.
Upended by her slapstick wit,
I slipped into a laughing fit.
But later, that same night, I woke
in the dreamless dark with a pit
in my stomach again to old,
unwelcome thoughts:  some year, some night,
would be our last.  No other fright
takes hold so tightly, and no cold
shudder can shake its perfect bite.
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 gift,
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.



Ninety minutes of torrid play
concluded in a tie today. 
The final score:  zero-zero.
Russell Yelburton Lornia,
of Haverfield, California,
loved chess and watching redwoods grow
like beanstalks from a giant tale. 
No wife, no kids­he left no trail.
It seems he never settled down.
Ditched as a boy by his father,
a flutist who didn’t bother
with family, Russell skipped town
early.  When, only twenty-four
minutes in, Russell failed to score
off a perfect through ball, a frown
wrinkled his face.  He cursed his name.
It was the best chance of the game. 
If only he’d kept the ball down!
At halftime, he felt a crisis
coming on.  (Is he too nice?  Is
he really giving it his all?
Would he get another break?)
As his cleats pressed into the fake
grass to start the next half, the ball
felt fashioned to his feet.  The scene
was set.  But a clumsy careen
in just the fifty-first minute
caused his right quadriceps to burn. 
He left the game, not to return. 
Russell saw no chance to win it
after that.  The final ticks passed
erratically, like Russell’s last
thoughts:  a whiffed kick, an awkward hit.
“He used to wave from his front yard,”
a neighbor said.  She sighed.  “A hard-
fought tie.  Can that really be it?”





Five Credible Conclusions

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, carloads will slide 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 mountain lake heaves like any earthquake. 
On the dock, you feel it, never starting
or ending exactly, but 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

Socrates, Sunday Drive, The Present, Obituary, Five Credible Conclusions copyright © 2007 by Ryan Sawyer
All rights reserved


Ryan Sawyer is a poet and a Financial Advisor, CFM, with the Merrill Lynch Private Client Group in Seattle

Editor's note:  These poems, in different form, have appeared on EP&M Online before.  These marvelously improved versions more than merit second publication.  Thanks to Ryan for sending   them to me.