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By Michael Ryan

Reading in the paper a summary

of a five-year psychological study

that shows those perceived as most beautiful

are treated differently,


I think they could have just asked me,

remembering a kind of pudgy kid

and late puberty, the bloody noses

and wisecracks because I wore glasses,


though we all know by now how awful it is

for the busty starlet no one takes seriously,

the loveliest women I’ve lunched with

lamenting the opacity of the body,


they can never trust a man’s interest

even when he seems not just out for sex

(eyes focus on me above rim of wineglass),

and who would want to live like this?


And what does beauty do to a man?—

Don Juan, Casanova, Lord Byron—

those fiery eyes and steel jawlines

can front a furnace of self-loathing,


all those breathless women rushing to him

while hubby’s at the office or ball game,

primed to be consumed by his beauty

while he stands next to it, watching.


So maybe the looks we’re dealt are best.

It’s only common sense that happiness

depends on some bearable deprivation

or defect, and who knows what conflicts


great beauty could have caused,

what cruelties one might have suffered

from those now friends, what unmanageable

possibilities smiling at every small turn?


So if I get up to draw a tumbler

of ordinary tap water and think what if this were

nectar dripping from delicious burning fingers,

will all I’ve missed knock me senseless?


No. Of course not. It won’t.


Michael Ryan, “Larkinesque” from New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2004 by Michael Ryan. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004)

Poet Bio

Michael Ryan was born in St. Louis, Missouri in and was educated at the University of Notre Dame, Claremont Graduate School, and the University of Iowa. While at Iowa, Ryan was the poetry editor of The Iowa Review. Ryan has taught at colleges and universities across the country and is currently on the faculty at the University of California—Irvine.

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