Original poem reprinted online here: "I" by Michael Ryan
Originally read: July 10, 2013
More information about the Poet: Michael Ryan
"When did I learn the word 'I'? / What a mistake." The opening lines of the poem is humorous. But the humor is self referential and also language based. This poem plays not only with the definition, but also visual representation.
"For some, / it may be a placeholder, / for me it's a contagion." The speaker contextualizes the usage of "I" with "for some" and "for me". The differences between inferences. Note how the "for some" part focuses on a placeholder -- not so much of a definition of the self. For the "for me" part the contagion line is more tricky. Contagion -- harmful spreading, but not so much in this poem as far as length, but possibility. The poem looks at many different aspects of "I" but not in a personal way.
"For some, it's a thine line, a bare wisp, / just enough to be somewhere / among the gorgeous troublesome you's." Visually, a thin line -- an accurate depiction in which the "placeholder" mentality is in place in which separates the "you" from the "I."
Then for the speaker goes off on the possibilities of the "I":
For me, it's a thorn, a spike, it's slimness
a deceit, camouflaged like a stick insect;
touch it and it becomes what it is:
ravenous slit, vertical cut, little boy
standing upright in his white
communion suit and black secret.
The key with the rest of the poem isn't the definitions so much as the punctuation. The speed of the commas in the first line is meant to camouflage the punctuation, but also adds various attributes to the "stick insect" quickly -- slim, check, spike, check, thorn, check, camouflaged, check -- deceit? What? Note that there's the difference between camouflaged and deceit -- as though to state that difference between intention and the visual.
Then comes the semi-colon, in which there's connective tissue with both this multi-descriptive stickbug metaphor and the next part -- "touch it and it becomes what it is:" This line is dependent on the "you" exploring, as well, what the "I" could possibly mean.
Now the colon is also tricky -- the colon signifies the definition of "it" in regards to "touching it" and "knowing what it is." The metaphor of the stickbug should linger; however, the focus is the full commitment and exploration of the I -- the speaker's "I."
And what we see is something more religious, "little boy" -- an I that's not something fully developed relying on something external for growth. And then the play on color -- "white communion suit" and "black secret" -- the external is clean cut -- a communion suit which, in an oxymoronic matter, cannot be seen. Why? "I" relies on the black space -- what's there on the page, and so the black secret is more of what the reader searches for rather than what is there.