Ryan killed himself in his first year at Virginia Tech, October 26, 2002. The poems were written following his death. This page is dedicated to his memory.
Notes on publication
This series of books follows a chronology that’s belied by their publication dates. The core poems of the series, Southern Son and Love in Winter—Missing Ryan were written in 2002-2004 following his death and rewritten innumerable times, set aside then picked up again for a decade. The poems in Dogs and Disturbance and Not to Touch followed. Thus the poems included in Southern Son were the last to be published. Love in Winter—Missing Ryan will be published in 2019.
After Ryan’s death, a pledge was made to tell his story, in hope that it could be a memorial, that a life cut entirely too short would be remembered. Southern Son and Love in Winter are three-quarters of that memorial, with the last quarter of the poems still not finished. Joy at Love will complete the series.
It is one thing to write poems under the mad grip of grief, but excising anything less than the truth, straining to touch beauty, this has been on-going work.
Ten years after Ryan’s death In late 2013, our magnificent red Husky, Mojo, went into decline, followed swiftly by Molly, the rescued Rottweiler, and lastly Maddie, smallest but the true alpha dog of the pack. Already heart-strung from losing Ryan, helplessly watching these wonderfully engaging members of the family fade from existence drove the writing of the poems that ultimately became Dogs and Disturbance, the first book to be published. Many times after Ryan’s death, seeing Maddie I was reminded that Ryan had held her driving home from the kennel. That kernel became Coming Home to Stoneybrae, included below. The poems included in the book allowed the postponement of editing Southern Son, without a doubt the most difficult to finish.
Margaret Fedder’s gracious review highlighted Coming Back to Stoneybrae. Dogs and Disturbance won an award in 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Honorable Mention.
Billy Collins declares the subject of poetry is death. These poems meet this basic criterion. But are they more meaningful than one person’s grieving in a public forum? If they are poignant, do they contribute anything more? Black ash blows away in a wind; love and loss are what remains.
Coming Back to Stoneybrae
Ten years have gone no faster since, before the brick bat slammed
our lives off orbit, lived like innocents ‘til then. Imagine ten
bucolic falls in yellow leaves, nor‘easters scouring the beaches
untouched by the weather trudging steps in pantomime amazed by life and crying.
When Ryan was fifteen we brought two Huskies home in January’s ice box winds
the panting little red dude riding shotgun on my lap his sister Ryan took to hold
fluff in gray and white in back. Moments after being inside our white limo
with good heater from Bavaria Red began to pant, his tongue so small, so lost in fur.
Coming back to Stoneybrae winter’s children with us; Sunday nightfall he was gone again.
Fifteen, he was a man who I never saw enough lived lives in parallel
missing minor rituals and clues counting down to what was going to kill him.
Wee things that they were bounding, sliding hardwood floors practicing for arctic flows
new kids home at midnight I slept beside their cage upon the kitchen floor.
Three years would pass, Mojo grew into his own grew a lion’s mane of red
ermine ladies lusted for the leonine great movie star Innisfree’s best offspring
running nights full out signaling his sister trapped the coon who’d taunted them
the clown in love with life troubled only by our absence and small white dogs he hated
moving shortly to the lake house Ryan starting college, beach time coming in October.
What kind of father lets go his son like that to think puppies could replace him?
The math of ten, a math of mourning: one eighth a lucky life, just past half of Ryan’s,
near the whole of Mojo’s yet he filed no protest too much the gentle stoic.
Ten years too near the day of Ryan’s, my handsome Red with nothing left to comfort me
slow walks not even feeble jumps for happiness, sank his head between his paws.
Time seems an invention an iron box with no escape. October’s come again.