Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Some quick folk dance of kindness": a poem by Michael Ryan




In the depths of an unkind February, I return to this poem, one I've long admired and often given to my students.  I love how the poet, Michael Ryan, deftly mingles the melancholy feel of an early twilight with the hopelessness of an irretrievable love.  That last line--the speaker's admission that he brought on his own bad luck--always pierces me like a pin prick.  I particularly like how the poem sets up this idea by showing us those "gray women in stretch slacks" and their "quick folk dance of kindness," how we know without the poem saying so that the speaker regrets his own lack of kindness, knowing that if he'd shown a little more of it to his beloved she might still be with him

In Winter

At four o'clock it's dark.
Today, looking out through dusk
at three gray women in stretch slacks
chatting in front of the post office,
their steps left and right and back
like some quick folk dance of kindness,
I remembered the winter we spent
crying in each other's laps.
What could you be thinking at this moment?
How lovely and strange the gangly spines
of trees against a thickening sky
as you drive from the library
humming off-key?  Or are you smiling
at an idea met in a book
the way you smiled with your whole body
the first night we talked?
I was so sure my love of you was perfect,
and the light today
reminded me of the winter you drove home
each day in the dark at four o'clock
and would come into my study to kiss me
despite mistake after mistake after mistake.

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