Wally Swist – Four Poems

photoWally 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.


Cry of the Hawk

The hawk’s shrill cry emitting from the twisted
Branches of the windbreak lining the scrub

Meadow pierces me. I remember when
My Labrador and I were walking back from

The brook on a summer day such as this one.
We looked at each other standing in

Our own disbelief, water still dripping from
Her coat the color of cinnamon. The hawk’s

Chick must have just dropped down from one
Of the high branches of the red pine out

Of its nest, tumbling onto the piles of needles
Surrounding the trunk. The mother’s call

Answering the chick’s shrieks, as it hobbled
On unsteady legs and claws, often balancing

Itself on its wings and tail feathers. The red-tail
Descended in a barely audible rush of its

Half-outstretched wings, landing at the base
Of the tree, alarm evident in the flaring pupils

Of its eyes, looking at us standing several yards
From her. She must have felt our wanting

To help her because she seemed to have
Acknowledged that in us before turning toward

The brush in which her chick had already
Disappeared into, thick with deadfall, detritus

Of beech leaves, and runners of princess pine.
We walked around her, giving her the berth

She deserved for her to carry out the rescue that
Only she was capable of. As she stood erect,

Lifting her beak and calling out to her chick, as
It weakly answered with its frail shrieks that rent

The air with the sound that could only be
Unmistakable as that of incomprehensible grief.


The Day after the Boston Marathon Bombings

In the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Sacred Heart,
the young woman wept the day I was there;
her deep sense of mourning and her connection

to the divine brimmed within her
and filled the sanctity inside the space itself.
There was no pretense about her,

and a spectral beauty emanated from her.
I may never forget her for the distinct humility
that she exhibited, which presented itself

as a certain sweetness that pervaded the air,
as if there were incense burning,
although there was no incense being burned.


November Light

The morning sun shining through
the adolescent maple graces itself

beyond the two front windows
of my studio.  The light this time

of the year is often more
of an inflected silver than struck

gold; and the maple’s leaves are
such a shade of scarlet,

that is infused with yellow, it is
as if the foliage is nuanced with

Monet’s vibrant pastels
and cast in Rodin’s hammered

bronze.  How fortunate we are
to live in the world that offers us

its constant reminders of who
we are and what our true being is.


Portrait

Ed is leaning against the chain link
Of the portable cage he has moved

To the grass in the barnyard where
He is speaking to the Rottweiler,

The aging rescue dog, who cocks
His head, and holds his muzzle up

To listen to what Ed is saying to him,
As he coaxes him back to health

After the surgery in which the massive
Fatty tumor was removed from

His back and side. Ed speaks to him
With as much care as he solicitously

Places the old faded tablecloths
In the bed of daffodil shoots, whose

Spears have been warmed these nights
Of late April frost. Through Ed’s

Tenderness, the Rottweiler has nearly
Grown into a dog whose visage bears

The look of supreme loyalty, even with
A glint of gentleness mitigating

The ferocity in his steely brown eyes,
Although it would be against

Anyone’s better judgment to stick
A finger through the woven steel

Of the dog pen. When Ed unlatches
The lock and walks into the cage to place

The shiny metal bowl and the plastic
Water bucket on the ground, the dog

Backs away to make room then sits down
And looks up again in tribute to the man

Who has taken him walking the meadow
Behind the barn late past twilight

And into many a dusk. The stiff April
Wind blows through Ed’s white beard,

That flutters against his chest, and his
Shoulder-length hair. The dog’s eyes

Sparkle as Ed rubs his head and beneath
His chin with one of his calloused hands.

When the wind lets up, everything appears
To be resolved again, everything seems

To have been restored to its proper place,
Within the sacredness of the day.


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