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Michael Ryan

Contributor Biography

Michael Ryan's Threats Instead of Trees won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award and was a National Book Award finalist in 1974. In Winter was a National Poetry Series selection and New York Times notable book in 1981, while God Hunger won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1990. In 1995, he published an autobiography, Secret Life, and, in 2000, a collection of essays about poetry and writing, A Difficult Grace. His memoir, Baby B (Graywolf Press, 2004), was excerpted in The New Yorker. New and Selected Poems won the 2005 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Among many other distinctions for his work are a Whiting Writers Award, NEA and Guggenheim Fellowships, and awards from The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Poetry Society of America. Ryan is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of California, Irvine.


Torment by appetite
is itself an appetite
dulled by inarticulate,
dogged, daily 

as Chekhov put it, “compassion
down to your fingertips”—,
looking on them as into the sun

not in the least for their sake
but slowly for your own
because it causes
the blinded soul to bloom

like deliciousness in dirt,
like beauty from hurt,
their light—their light—
pulls so surely. Let it.


Author's Note:

This poem was previously published in Michael Ryan: New and Selected Poems (Mariner Books, 2005).

Oliver BH Seet

Contributor Biography

Before his retirement, Oliver Seet Beng Hean was an Associate Professor of English at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. He has been a teacher educator for the greater part of his life. His poems have been published in many anthologies, magazines, newspapers and periodicals. These include Litmus One, Selected University Verse 1949–1957; Anthology of ASEAN Literature: The Poetry of Singapore; &Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond; The Second Tongue: An Anthology of Poetry From Malaysia and Singapore; The Flowering Tree: Selected Writings From Singapore/Malaysia; Journeys: Words, Home and Nation: Anthology of Singapore Poetry (1984–1995); and Bunga Emas: An Anthology of Contemporary Malaysian Literature (1930–1963). His book, Once (Word Image, 2019), collects his poems written over the span of six decades.


Striding into Jerusalem

on camel back

three seers, of royal lineage,

steeped in the language of the stars,

and of their encoded messages,

who were startled one evening

to see in the prime quarter

of a galaxy,

a new star,

a diadem of purest light

outshining all the starry community,

proclaiming the birth of a King

who would cleave the centuries

of chronicled time

at His coming,

to a time before and after,

a King who would be a watershed

in the affairs of men.


So earth shaking

was the message of this star,

so importunate

that they left all to follow

its trajectory

leading them along desert trials,

rarified terrain and strange towns

into Bethlehem at last,

bearing prophetic gifts

signifying His majesty,

His sanctity and His passion.


And at last

standing in the presence

of the incarnate Son

of Almighty God,

they were filled

with such reverence  and awe

that they could only prostrate themselves

astonished that the Creator

would come among men

in flesh and blood.


We stood once at the Aegean Sea

souls interlinked in deathless love

and heard between the surges of the tide,

and the imperceptible turning of the earth,

whisperings of immortality;

that beyond the substantial and the tangible,

beyond sentience itself,

lies a reality, we sense in part

as in a waking dream

—tenuous as gossamer.


Yet we knew then

it was not illusory,

that Divine Love that had bound

our souls inseparably,

would not leave us desolate,

but in transcendent dwellings

would bring us once again

together in ineffable joy

to live in His presence endlessly.


I stand at the Aegean Sea this day

—but now alone,

heart-rent at your untimely departure,

recalling our last lingering gaze,

so impassioned,

so filled with a lifetime of love,

so filled with unutterable sorrow,

burnt now forever into the core of my very being.


But in the stillness,

between the surging of the tide,

and the imperceptible turning of the earth,

I hear whisperings of immortality,

your gentle voice almost inaudibly

assuring me of the transcendent dwellings

and of our reuniting.


How acerbic were the Master’s words,

piercing the marrow

of their conscience,

dismantling the smirk

of self-righteousness

that sat leeringly on their lips

and stilling into silence

the hiss of accusation

against the woman

caught in adultery,

standing denuded of self-worth,

wordlessly ashamed,

before the taunting assembly of men,

armed with stones of condemnation,

baying for her blood.


“Let him who is without sin

cast the first stone.”

Simple words

spoken with the quiet authority

of the Master’s voice,

yet infused with cutting wisdom.


Stooping down again

the Master continued

to write in the dust,

telling words

that undergirded his utterance,

and one by one

they sneaked away

with hangdog faces,

ensnared by the very traps

they had laid for Jesus.


When all were gone

Jesus looked at the woman

—not in judgement

but with compassion

and forgiveness;

her contriteness

and repentance,

had absolved her of her guilt

as the Lord told her

to sin no more.

—John 8:2-11


How strange that he should ask me,

a Samaritan,

for water from the well

of our Patriarch, Jacob

to slake his thirst,

this man from Galilee,

this Jew,

with whom we have no truck.


He has such quiet princely dignity,

such orchards of peace in his countenance,

and eyes that read

the chronicles of my soul;

He sees through the curtains of deception

in my words.

How can he, a stranger

know so intimately

all I have done.

Is he God in disguise?


Yet there is no quagmire of intimidation

in his gaze,

but a liberation

that comes from revelation

of the truth.


He offers the gift of Living Water

whose springs are seated

in the matrix of the second birth

that he alone can actuate.


Lord give me that Living Water

that I may thirst no more.

—John 4:5-42


One glorious morning

when the popinjays of twilight

were thrilling the eastern skies

and lilacs and lilies were in full blossom

in the garden

where they had laid the body of Jesus

bruised, broken, nail-pierced,

dead beyond a doubt

sealed in by a giant boulder

in a sepulchre

and watched over by centurions,


There was a confluence

of Heaven and Earth

within the tomb

a synapse of Divine and Corporeal,

a transmogrification never seen

since the Creation,

when Jesus triumphant over mortality

and the enslaving power of sin,

rose in His resurrected body,

—the firstborn from the dead.


Angels from the Throne Room of Heaven

suffused the tomb with holy light

bursting the seal on the boulder,

moving it aside like tumbleweed

while the centurion guards

transfixed, fell prostrate

speechless and quivering in cold sweat

at the sight of warrior angels

clad in blinding light.


All nature rejoiced to see

the curse that Adam brought

onto the earth

broken at last by the Son of Man

at the Cross,

victorious over the dominion of Death and Hades,

as Heaven and Earth

declared the awesome news

that Jesus is Risen from the Dead,

that all who come in repentance

to the foot of the cross

and look up in faith to Jesus

will receive forgiveness from their sin

and the gift of Eternal Life.


Because He lives

the centuries bifurcate around him:

He is pivotal to solar time.

He stands at the crossroads of destiny,

for each person passing by must choose his path

and his final destination

—Grace or Judgement

when the windows of human time

are forever shut.


Because He lives

the dossiers of sin and wrongdoing

of those who believe

are expunged by His precious blood.

In place of filthy garments

they shall receive suits of righteousness.

All things are made new

when the spirit of man

is quickened into life

by the Paraclete

and he becomes a new creation

—a citizen of the Eternal Kingdom.


—Col 1:18-23

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