CONSIDER A MOVE
The steady time of being unknown,
in solitude, without friends,
is not a steadiness that sustains.
I hear your voice waver on the phone:
Haven’t talked to anyone for days.
I drive around. I sit in parking lots.
The voice zeroes through my ear, and waits.
What should I say? There are ways
to meet people you will want to love?
I know of none. You come out stronger
having gone through this? I no longer
believe that, if I once did. Consider a move,
a change, a job, a new place to live,
someplace you’d like to be. That’s not it,
you say. Now time turns back. We almost touch.
Then what is? I ask. What is?
Michael Ryan’s Consider A Move
Like the blessing of a sunny afternoon or a quiet hour, sometimes a poem comes to us unexpectedly. With no order or process in mind, I took books from my shelves earlier this winter and read them. I was spending a great deal of time in my room and, thus, spending a great deal of time with literature and poetry. I didn’t read many of these books cover-to-cover. I flipped through them, found a word or line that snagged my interest and then read until I was lost. I’d return the book to its place on the shelf and start over again with another. It was obvious to me that I was looking for something. Far less obvious was what I was looking for. This process went on for days, then the days piled into weeks, and the weeks stacked into heavy months. I rediscovered poems and books that had gone fuzzy in my mind, but I still was searching. And then I found an aqua green colored book with a cover picture of a long dirt road stretching out into the plains and an upright suitcase on the road in the picture’s foreground. This book was Michael Ryan’s Selected Poems and on page twenty-six I found exactly what I was looking for.
Consider A Move is a tightly constructed poem, but this formal rigidity is offset by a conversation at the crossroads of existence. One of the characters in the poem has forced, to borrow TS Eliot’s Prufrockian vocabulary, the moment to crisis. The “you” character in the poem is viewed through the eyes of a caring and concerned, but perplexed speaker. The poem begins with a declaration that seems to combat whatever the “you” character has been doing for weeks, maybe months. “The steady time of being unknown, / in solitude, without friends, / is not a steadiness that sustains.” These lines are like casting a line into the lake and catching a fish as soon as the hook skims the water. Appearing at the start of the poem as beacons of truth, these lines just might be the only answers the poem and speaker can provide.
The voice the speaker hears on the phone confirms distressing news: “Haven’t talked to anyone for days. / I drive around. I sit in parking lots.” This person is obviously not themselves. This person is obviously depressed. In the moment of stark realization, we join the speaker as he wonders “What should I say?” We are confronted with the problem as if this is our own best friend stuck in the mire of loneliness and despair. It’s not a fun dilemma to assume, but it’s a real dilemma. Michael Ryan’s speaker answers the friend, while also answering us with private thoughts. This push and pull maneuver creates an inner dialogue, while still carrying on the conversation with the friend, all in a compact rhyme scheme. I’m in awe of this section of the poem: “What should I say? There are ways // to meet people you will want to love? / I know of none. You come out stronger / having gone through this? I no longer / believe that, if I once did.”
What are the solutions? A move, a new job, a change, “a new place to live, / someplace you’d like to be.” Just as quickly as the list of possible answers is constructed, the voice on the other end of the telephone dismisses them. The poem’s speaker is dumbfounded: “Then what is? I ask. What is?” In this closing stanza, the unification of the speaker and the distressed friend comes to fruition. They are apart, and yet this confusion and frustration with the world, with life, brings them together. It’s not ideal, but it unites them nonetheless.
I’ve read this poem many times within the past four months. I’ve read it hoping each time that the final stanza would magically glob together all the letters into a ball, like I did with play-dough as a child, and then unscramble into an ending that provides an epiphany. In desperation I want this poem to reveal a truth to me, a means of getting my life, all lives, in order. Is that asking too much? Is that imposing too much upon someone else’s poem? Certainly. I wouldn’t feel right if others read my writing, my poems, and assumed they were blueprints that would provide everyone a model for sound living. This is a question at the root of all art, not just poetry. In his poem Dedication, Czeslaw Milosz asks “What is poetry which does not save nations or people?” That just might be a question for another day, another essay for sure, but I’m reminded of it as I read Michael Ryan’s Consider A Move. For now, I will take this from the poem: trying to save others is difficult, especially when you’re not even sure how to save yourself.