Regarding “Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard”

Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard by Kay Ryan

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand,
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops
a certain space
-however small-
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.


Believe it or not, I know almost nothing about this poem and its author. Apparently Kay Ryan was selected as the country’s 16th poet laureate in 2008 and is a kind of big deal. I was given this poem to read in my ninth grade English class where we read pretentious books like Annie John and Slave Girl and other important essays and what not. I think I can speak for everyone in that class when I say we all felt very, very mature and clever.

Anyway, my teacher used to give out random xerox copies of assorted poems for us to read as a class and this was one of them. I don’t have any of the original handouts (or any of my schoolwork for that matter) but this poem made it onto my computer where I’ve saved it ever since.

Probably I appreciate the poem now more than I could have as a fourteen-year-old. The idea that a life should leave a mark somewhere–anywhere–makes perfect sense to me. I also like the image of life, and maybe death too, as a “grand and damaging parade.” It’s such a horrible idea thinking of something as damaging. And yet it’s also so true and sounds so beautiful at the same time.