Wally Swist – Seven Poems

photoWally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012); The Daodejing: An Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Press, 2015); and Invocation (Lamar University Press, 2015). Some of his new poems appear in Commonweal and North American Review. Garrison Keillor recently read one his poems on the daily radio program The Writer’s Almanac.

Revisiting Haskins’s Flats

The land is not exactly unchanged,
since the woods have grown in where there was a back meadow.

However, the brook is still visible,
if not more so, since the trees have been taken down along the banks,

with a significant beaver lodge
near the bridge that crosses the road.  Wild turkeys come down into

the back meadow for feed,
and I understand deer come for the salt lick that has been placed there.

I was magnetized by the pull that
still exists for me of the aura of the paradisal green space of the land,

which is that hallowed glade.
The sign for the meadow, where I would walk is weathered and illegible;

although the significant thing
is that the land exists at all, especially with the amount of thoughtless

development in town.  Just driving
by, was traveling back in time for me.  My yellow Labrador and me

sauntering the meadows and the fields,
beside the curves and meanders of the brook, the woods on the knoll

and the ridge.  For an hour this afternoon,
that time in my life revolved right before my eyes. Only less than nine

miles from Haskins’ Flats to where
I live now in the farmhouse in South Amherst: all those years, and just

fifteen minutes fill in the decades
in between.  However, in experiencing the present moment, I feel more

grounded in having made my visit,
as if time, and my life, has broadened and deepened, cut into the earth

like Cushman Brook’s
doglegs guiding the rush of the water through its course over the land.


From one Taurean to another,
I know well about being drawn to the earth.

Yes, there is a gravity found in those born
under the sign of Taurus, grounded in

their stubbornness.  What has been
fortuitous is the serendipity of your voice

that has delighted me every morning.
I will miss you—and your essence: always

the dance, that chaconne of celebration,
the broad sweep of Rimsky-Korsakov’s

Scherazade. May the graces always buoy
you, and carry you through your life

out of any strife—from one incandescence
to another; and may you continuously rise

above any discord by
moving about, as you do, so harmoniously.

Rogue Robin

The banging half-awakens me enough
to check the clock on the stand to
verify my intuition that it is 5:00 a.m.

Then moments later there is another
louder muffled rap on the glass of
the window closest to my bed where

the territorial robin attacks the image
of himself reflected in the clear glass.
An hour later, he is at it again, with

the increased fluttering of his wings
beating against the window; and in
yet another hour, I am fully awake

and rise to greet the day, the thorny
irritant of the rogue robin providing
an initial challenge. Sometimes he

will have seen me dress, and will fly
into the Norway spruce in front of
the window, turn around, then dive

into the glass, where I will have
placed my hand on the other side
of the window, which he responds

to by opening his beak, the feathers
on the top of his head ruffling
in anger, as the bird slides down

the glass to the porch floor,
not at all defeated but reinvigorated
by the human confrontation he has

elicited, undaunted in his attempts
at protecting what he has assumed
to be his turf from any other robin,

which then insures his right to breed
with any female that passes into his
particular apparently limitless glen.

Mostly, nature, and its flora and fauna,
offer us the beneficence of what is our
discovery of the perennial wonder

of what it opens within
ourselves, and in doing
so, the awe it inspires in us leads

to our experience what
it is to be more fully
conscious; however, when what we

see in nature expresses itself
as despicable, which reflects our most
deplorable characteristics as humans,

it is nothing less than provoking
in that it reveals the lowest chakras
and their power over us, when their

energy is misused, especially in
injuring others. This morning, as I
walked onto the porch, with the intent

of swatting the robin away
from the window by using the bristle-end
of the broom, the bird flew off warily,

only to then zero in on another
male robin in his district, and to viciously
fly into that bird, mid-flight, the way

he practices diving into the window
glass, with such force, the other robin
was nearly knocked to the ground,

when it gathered itself,
mid-air, to fly on, with
the avian drone of the rogue robin,

persecutor and projectile, pursuing
its own image, while driving it
into another part of the farm yard.

On the Wings of Angels

Charley, the younger brother, washed the dishes, and Yiffey
was the pot washer and the kitchen’s rudimentary prep person.

They were what are now called developmentally-challenged,
but they were not always on time for work but they also never

missed a day. Charley, the tall one, cigar in mouth, crew cut
standing up on the back of his bald pate, although quiet, once

told the waitress, Ruth, that he could see through the skirt
of her white uniform when the sun shone through the rear

window a certain way when she was standing at the front
of the dishwashing station, where the trays were unloaded

and broken down from the tables in the lounge. She was Joe’s
girl, although a decade older, and he was First Cook, behind

Pinky Lee, the Danish Chef, known for his humor, charm,
and the piquant richness of his excellent sauce Hollandaise.

Charley frightened her, as he put a scare into everyone, and she
later told Joe that since that day she always wore a slip to work.

Yiffey often washed the heavy-laden metal pots in the large
sink beside the ovens toward the rear of the kitchen, or where

he would be given relatively simple food preparation, such as
shucking oysters, or peeling shrimp, where there was a window

just above his work station, which he would often gaze upwards
to, and where he would often fold his arms up at the elbows,

as a crane might, and beat his hands rapidly, then begin
to croon the gospel song made famous by the Stanley Brothers,

his eyes shining with an otherworldly a light, flying heavenward,
while singing, On the wings of angels headed home.

A Mystical Unfoldment

You suggested that I read the excerpt
of this chapter, and even knew

the page numbers, 254-255, in which
Franklin Merrell-Wolf describes,

with specificity, how he manifested
higher consciousness.

When I opened my copy of the book
upon returning home, I saw that

I had those pages bookmarked with
the image of the painting, Summer,

from the series, The Seasons, by
Edward Burne-Jones, who epitomized

late 19th century romantic style.
The bookmark is more a statement

of myself, and the cosmology
of Merrell-Wolf certainly your own

philosophical credo;
but what synchronicity to have found

the passage bookmarked, and that it
had sung to me enough that I intuited

a need to indicate what I possessed
as the foresight to know I would not

remember it, even though I believed
I thought it was what I understood

and that I would never forget it. These
words are closer to your mathematical

mind, although they do hold resonance
for me, especially since it is Zhuangzi

who intimated that any degree
of breakthrough into the transcendent

toward the eternal, in which
you became one with everything, did

require bringing this within one’s heart.
My old mentor, Joseph Campbell,

spoke about that in regard to the fourth
chakra as the Sacred Heart of Jesus,

which is effectual a raison d’être as there
is, appears as facetious in this irreverent

world. Although it was Carl Jung that
said, after a long life of seeking

the eternal, that he thought he might
have reached the fourth chakra, what is

only emblematic of the paradigm of love.
Merrell-Wolff is the one who actualizes

the breakthrough in writing about what
he has experienced, but if you want to

live in that constancy, such a breakthrough
necessitates nourishing the day-to-day life

of the heart, of accepting the implausibilities,
such as living in the world

and being able to tend to the discomfort
of ourselves, and of others, with nothing

but the grace of what you describe as
the kernel of light, that agility within us

regenerating what is unresponsive
that expands our hearts in forgiveness.

In Memory of Galway Kinnell

Opening the door
this morning, I hear the rush of traffic beyond the tree line

of gold-yellow oaks and crimson maples, the glass
of the door beaded with the melted late October frost—

remnants of what those of us in the world have shed
in your passing.

Nearly forty years ago, I remember you sitting at a round
table of a Chinese restaurant, named Blessings,

in New Haven, with myself and others for a poetry reading
you were to give, and as it came to my turn to request

a poem that you might read later that spring evening—
the trees dropping blossoms across the sidewalks along

Linden Street—I asked for “The River that Is East,”
the one you wrote that regards Hart Crane.

You read that poem, among others, that evening,
the all-so-familiar shock of hair falling onto your forehead

that you would push back with the fingers of one hand,
to the delight of your audience,

Galway, always handsome as your poems were perennially
sturdy with their resonant humanity.

The question now remains is
that how can the fires of your loss staunch

the ensuing darkness other than
the words you bequeathed to us and that burn within us—

the trail of which is laced with drops of melt
that we brush on the branches of the winterberry tree,

of which we shake from our dampened
sleeves, reminding us of just how a branch snaps back

on a sunny afternoon after heavy
snow, leaving a whitened ghost hovering in the air, or

when we bend down to
notice a single glove lost by someone hurrying through

the storm, and recognize our own losses,
those ragged flags that blow as do the curtains drawn

out in the gale through the open windows of the heart,
alerting us to the lightning flash

of our very being that also
marks your death, not dissembling into the incorporeal,

beyond the gold-yellow and crimson trees
and that white line the horizon holds, then relinquishes.

My Better Angels

I will need to be satisfied with knowing
you from afar, which only makes seeing
you today more of a delight than

I can adequately express. Please excuse
my candor: but if you should ever be
possessed with the not-so-wild notion to

want to see me, then it is my hope that
you may allow yourself to be carried
away by such an incandescent idea

as that, and to act on it, with, I may add,
any amount of abandon. You are just
someone that I am unable to help being

drawn toward, and to the encrusted
honeyed nature of the hive that is your
soul.  I am not asking you to understand,

but I am appealing to your capacity
for possibly not passing judgment on me,
especially since the angels of my better

nature appear to be holding me back, but
apparently I am giving them quite a struggle
in wresting away their magnificent hands.

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