R.M. Ryan: ART IS LONG, LIFE IS SHORT, AND ALL THE REST OF IT

by R. M. Ryan

 

I heard somewhere of an artist who stood before
a firing squad and begged, “Please don’t shoot me.
My drawings are beautiful.” The Captain of the Guard

was bored, having shot so many in the sun that day.
“Let see,” he said and ordered pen and paper
brought in. The artist drew furiously and got the scene:

the wall smudged with blood, the squad of men
in their rumpled uniforms, some leaning on the rifles,
others smoking, the dead man stretched out,

the litter bearers just arriving, the mountains
and the sun above the rest of it. “Pretty good,”
the Captain said, but shot him anyway,

and the artist fell, thinking as he died,
the pen isn’t mightier than much of anything,
though his fall completed what his drawing showed,

or did when the litter bearers got there,
and the Captain moved into the shadowed foreground.
He held the drawing up, trying to figure out

how the scene varied from the way the afternoon
had gone, the afternoon so quickly done,
the afternoon now fading in the sun.

(c) R. M. Ryan. All Rights Reserved.
This poem will appear in R. M. Ryan’s newest collection of poems, American Flyer, forthcoming in 2017 from Louisiana State University Press. You can read our conversation about some of his earlier work here.

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