Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012) and The Daodejing of Laozi, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Press, 2015). His new poems appear in Commonweal and North American Review. Garrison Keillor recently read his poem “Radiance” on the daily radio program The Writer’s Almanac.
Walking back from the mailbox on the roadside,
With junk mail in my hands, I think about
All of the letters from Catholic societies that
Were addressed to my mother after she died.
The letters often contained pendants devoted to
The Blessed Virgin, and all of them, I am sure,
Were petitions for donations. My response,
As a child, was: Why didn’t all of these people
Know that my mother had died, why were they
Still sending her letters? Receiving those letters
Reminded me of the grief I would feel when
The blind would ring the buzzer on the front
Steps of our home, their stark white canes
Made only more isolate in the brightness
Of the sun. The blind would go door to door
To sell packets of needles, and I would always
Be startled by the obviousness of their loss,
The bleak unlit hallways their lives had become.
I recall one blind woman, with a spectrally
Beautiful face, whose pupils were occluded
With a milkiness, whom my mother purchased
Needles from, my mother the seamstress who
Could have provided the blind woman with
Sewing kits full of needles. A similar grief
Resonated within me when, after waiting for
The door to open, I was told that you weren’t
In today, the stab of disappointment an arrow
Slowly quivering in me, despite my denials.
Being bereft is never censure to the heart
Opening, it is central to it, it is the key.
Finding the Center
October, past peak,
And the wind spins the leaves into the air
And through the brightness of the sunlight.
It is this which is what Chopin
Found to be rhapsodic
In the diminuendo and the crescendo
In the keys of his first piano concerto
That we can not only hear
But that we are also drawn into listening to
Through the glissando of the notes;
Of the parse and pull of the leaves
That streaks the sky with the lush browns:
The yellow-scarlets, the golden-yellows,
With the leaf-edges still limned
With summer green. It is in the rising
And falling of this that we eventually
Yield to the unending beauty
Of the moment, from breath to breath—
One theme in counterpoint
And then in harmony with each other,
As with the leaves blowing back and forth
Across the road or rushing across a patch
Of sky, cloud shadows moving
Over the buff of the windswept hills.
I wrote a friend the other day, after hiking
The mountain, that: I feel cleansed
Again, and that I am higher than the clouds.
I should have added that
I found: You are the center, all the time,
And it moves.
Always come forward in a crowd
and walk up to me the way you have today,
to place a kiss so lightly, but perfectly
on my lips, while pressing the electricity
of your body against mine, reminding me
of the way Magdalene might stride among
the apostles, and then stop to kiss Christ
fully on the mouth. No wonder Gustav Klimt
represented the couple in his painting,
The Kiss, in what appears to be gold leaf—
to approximate that sensual sweetness,
with the thrill of Eros, and the touch that sends
a shiver, as if it were a shock of static—
which just begins to open the door of mystery
that leads to the grand suite of the soul.