local_library O CARELESS LOVE

by R.M. Ryan

Published in Issue No. 141 ~ February, 2009

It was 1962. I was 17.

Jack Frazier and I decided we’d go

to the Jefferson County Speedway

where, we’d heard, we could get beer

and loose girls. This was the year I carried

a Trojan rubber in my wallet so long

it formed itself into the leather

and Terry Rafferty said

I had the only wallet with its own

life preserver. Oh how I wanted

to rescue myself with that Trojan.

I was drowning in a sea of expectancy.

I followed my erection everywhere.

The world blew kisses to my skin.

The air was electric along my arms.

I walked behind that one-legged

troublemaker, who yelled Come on

or Hurry up as he pointed this way

and that. We disconnected the speedometer

on my parents’ `61 Chevy Bel-Air 4 door.

It was a six–not much Jack said,

getting in, but it was all we had

going for us except the tufts of hair

on Jack’s chest that got us the beer

and maybe the girls, who suddenly

stood beside us just inside the mesh fence

between the bleachers and the dirt track.

I can remember the constant shower of earth

as the cars circled that quarter-mile.

I can hear the motors and the gears working

their way through the dust. I can see

a `56 Ford Crown Victoria, a `49 Merc,

a `57 Chrysler so battered they were like

bad memories of themselves

circling until it was impossible to know

who was ahead and who was behind

beneath the floodlights hung on wires

that flickered as the wind tossed them about.

What I can’t see is the face of the girl

who held onto my arm and yelled in my ear

over the noises of the race. My head

filled with her sweet perfume as she talked.

Beer by beer, Jack and I and the girls

worked our way into the Bel Air and out

into the night on some farmer’s lane

for kissing and rubbing and touching

and my cock’s shout of Me Me Me.

The girl and I were out of the car

and into the bushes and out of our clothes

and I was saying Oh Oh Oh and she was saying

He doesn’t know where to put it

and I couldn’t get to the Trojan fast enough

and my essence was in the air as if

I’d given myself to the world that night

and then I was home, feeling stale and sticky

I splashed myself with Old Spice After Shave

to cover up the smell and the feel

of my secret life and the next day

I smelled like a sailor home on leave

and drove around town in the Bel Air,

its speedometer needle now jerking

around the dial as if it no longer

could identify the exact speed of travel.

These are my teenage years.

My parents don’t seem to notice

that the transmission slips

and that there’s a slight smell

of vomit where Stevie Cocheran lost

his cookies, along with two hamburgers

and a six pack, inside the passenger door.

But then . . . now . . . listening to Glenn Gould’s

version of Beethoven’s Tempest piano sonata,

I realize I’m having all my years.

Half asleep over my life, I hear

Gould speed through the notes

as if he’s throwing them away–

whole attics full of melodies

out the window as if he’s looking for

the deeper stuff in all the souvenirs–

some image, some blend of notes

that carry grace and if not grace,

peace then–peace beneath the unsteady light

where we give ourselves to the world

as we circle in and out of the dark.


Goose Island. It’s 1956.

I’m standing on the shore of the lagoon around it.

In the west is the Rock River on its way

to the Mississippi, the ocean, the air.

Farther west is Mercy Hospital

where my father would die in 1965.

To the east are the railroad tracks and the hill

where I sledded in the winter,

one year so happy I peed in my pants

rather than stop in the dark, in the moonlight.

By the time I walked the mile farther east to home

I shivered so badly I thought I was frozen

and my father, laughing, put me in a warm bath

beside the toilet he would sit on years later

shitting globs of black. “Internal hemorrhaging,”

the doctor said and taught me how

to inject him with morphine, though my father was so skinny

I sometimes missed the vein and hit bone with the needle.

He tried to scream but it came out a whimper,

my father’s voice did, but now he was laughing

as he rubbed me down with a scratchy wash cloth.

“No one ever died of frozen pee,” he said.

Goose Island. It’s 1956.

I’ve gone there to fish. I got up early but found

the line in my Shakespeare reel tangled

so I rode my bicycle downtown for new line,

came home, found I couldn’t install it,

rode back downtown and arrived, breathless,

later than I’d meant, at Goose Island.

I’ve laid out the sandwiches my mother made,

arranged my gear and tackle on the shore,

though I now see I’ve forgotten my hook and my bait.

Out in the water the carp flop occasionally,

breaking the water as if to breathe better.

I don’t know why, but I cast my hookless line

into the water and watch the end sink beneath

the algae, barely heavy enough for the deep.

Goose Island. 1956. The carp are still

coming up for air, and I’m at my desk now, in 2007,

my heart beating the way my father’s did

sitting on that toilet, his blood turning to shit.

I don’t know. I never did.

The Chinese tell the fable of the Mandarin

who, for years, fished with a straight pin

instead of a hook. The Emperor came to see him.

“For what are you fishing?” the Emperor asked.

“For you, my Emperor,” the fisherman said.

I raise my pen to the sound of the heartbeats,

barely audible in the empty air.


The headless chicken

is running toward the alley

beside my grandfather’s house.

Amazing the way it goes

as if it had

serious business,

this chicken

running along in 1958

without a head.

John Avery, who’s nine

and four years younger than I,

is coming up the cinder-covered alley

to see what all the shouting’s for

and I grab the chicken head

and yell Look, John, look

as I run toward him

shaking the bloody head

with its yellow beak, its frozen eyes.

No oh no oh no

John cries, putting his hands

to his cheeks, standing frozen there

while the headless chicken runs faster and faster

in circles then slows and leans

into its turn and falls and rises

and falls once more

this time to stay.

John stares and stamps his feet

and seems to be standing on

clouds of cinder dust

as he keeps on yelling Oh no oh no

and my grandfather laughs and this

is all a little part of 1958

that I’d forgotten

until today when I got

the smudged color photographs

developed from the lost roll I found

in an old suitcase in the attic

and here is a shot of my father’s

`57 Ford parked in the shed

beside my grandfather’s alley

and here, too, is Pam Hart,

whom I loved more than anything

until she dropped me in 1962,

and Ralph Truesdale, who would die

changing a tire beside the highway

sometime in the 1970’s, and my father,

who died in 1965, and the garden beyond

the shed with these roses

blurred in that old slow film,

these roses like smears of blood

from that wind, that wind of 1958.


Golden once,

Now just brown

As the oak leaves learn

The one way out of town.

account_box More About

R. M. Ryan is the author of GOLDILOCKS IN LATER LIFE, THE GOLDEN RULES, and VAUDEVILLE IN THE DARK, which is forthcoming from LSU. He is also the lyricist for The Thugz, a northern California rock-and-roll band.