John J. Ryan
Instructions for a Snowy Morning
I step into the room that is sunlit
even though you’re not there.
My heart is still in my chest.
I have entered for the first time this year
because you wouldn’t have let me until now.
The drapes are open and unchanged
(as you like them)
and the bedspread fits tight and unwrinkled to the mattress.
Every aspect of the room suggests neatness
lightly coated in dust.
Incredibly, another year has passed already.
Save for the dust motes fracturing the light,
the ceiling is too close—
perching over me without moving.
I stand below the upraised rock of it,
wondering if it could, or would, fall.
I have inscribed it with glyphs for so many years
that I have trusted it will stay.
But today, as I trace my fingers
through the worn grooves of longing,
I fear that I might upset that crucial balance
between longing and living.
I find my pulse because I have to.
I duck backward through the doorway with a shudder
but hear no crash.
Overhuddled against the wind
our one homeless man breathes through his beard
and wills his able legs up the boulevard.
His beard is ever-ready,
ever-full, bushy to his shirt collar,
obscuring his mouth and neck.
It’s not as cold as he’s acting
nor is the wind so strong
nor his puffy down jacket so worn.
He might be portending the worst
that is yet to come;
he might be pretending that the worst
is yet to come.
He ticks off the seasons in that same coat.
I passed him once on a concrete foot bridge
over the creek. There, stripped
of civil overtures of avoidance,
I looked at him full.
But even then he leaned into
the robust summer stillness,
the percolating heat
in our river valley town,
and gazed at his plodding feet
and the space they meant to occupy.
I haven’t looked into his eyes
to know if his gaze is a gaze at all,
nor how purposeful is his stride,
nor what errand keeps him forever
ascending and descending the gangways
and crumbling steps and culverts
of our river valley town,
neither progressing towards nor receding from
our sight, our minds;
a monk in our river valley town
where everything slides back down.
I have left the sounds of the party momentarily
to seek relief in a below-the-staircase bathroom.
As my mood grows lighter,
I hear the booming voice of one friend,
the tittering laugh of another,
and then the staccato explanations of my wife.
A new voice enters this word pool without a splash–
an Olympian in tone–
stirring up deeper things,
no treading here or there.
Words buoy themselves above his persistent murmur:
assure and console and bereave.
There are no more ripples from the den,
just this benign susurration
and the nods I imagine.
This voice is so serene and sublime
that I almost don’t know it is my own.
I lean against the wall,
the night breeze from the small window
on my face.
My, he does me so well,
and they are persuaded, too.
I have one leg over the sill
when a calm, uniform laughter
molts beyond the door.
They sound pleased, my own laugh
at the center.
I drop to my knees in the dew-laden sod,
push my face into moisture.
Their hound is crooked with starlust.
I see him pulled away from the strictures of soil.
He sniffs me approvingly.
The gate has been left open.
I look around the room
percolating with family.
I start to see everyone in everyone.
Some in the eyes,
others in the brow,
one in a long laugh,
another in a low exhale.
My sister in Mom’s vulnerable defiance;
you in your father’s affability and grace;
all of us in Irene’s to-and-fro bopping,
laughing our laughs,
pouting with your dark eyes;
Rosalie immobile, impassive,
waiting, dreaming, considering,
eyes closed in all our arms.
I know my face is mine now,
as are all of ours,
but still I wonder.
I find Dad at a remove,
Instructions for a Snowy Morning
Unwind the clocks.
Step out of anticipation
and into the present.
Bring a cup of something hot
to your lips.
If the radio that has announced
today’s closings still pleases you,
leave it on.
Let the classical on the AM
soothe the world to sleep again.
Tame your hunger for the news curled
in plastic wrap in a drift on the lawn
with butter and toast instead.
What’s old is new today.
As a spider makes its way across
the hinterland of your low, busy carpet,
venture no further yourself.
Position yourself by a window,
Let the tiny white collisions mount
in your mind.
They are the only matter.
JOHN J. RYAN is the chair of the English Department at Clayton High School. He completed his MFA in Creative Writing at UM-St. Louis, where he served as an editorial assistant for Natural Bridge literary magazine. His fiction appears in the fall 2005 issue of MARGIN: Exploring Modern Magical Realism. Elements of Surprise, his first chapbook of poems, was published by Sungrazer Press in 2002, and his poems have also appeared in River Styx, Black Buzzard Review, U.S. Latino Review, and Delmar.