Wally Swist – Four Poems

Wally1Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012); The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015); and Invocation (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015). His poems have appeared in many publications, including Commonweal, North American Review, Sunken Garden Poetry, 1992-2011 (Wesleyan University Press, 2012), and upstreet. Garrison Keillor recently read a poem of Swist’s on the national radio program The Writer’s Almanac.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

I first saw the bird perched upon
one of the round metal rails
of the staging behind the cinder

block garage—the garage roof
being jury-rigged with various
contraptions to save the frame,

probably not able to withstand
another season of snowfall.
In listening to the bird’s song,

my mind became ever clearer
and clearer, and when I focused
on its perch, I could see its

chestnut sides; but it was in
its calling wee-choo, wee-choo
that differentiated it further—

that song both augmenting me
and making me smile, that song
providing a spacious sense

of equanimity and a recognition
of the connection to all things,
here and now.

Somnambulant Rain

Despite the wind and rain, my memories
from childhood of hurricanes in Miami

still warm me: the power out; the deluge
sounding on the roof like the somnambulant

rain in Key Largo, with Humphrey Bogart
and Jimmy Cagney; my mother juryrigging

her cooking me a meal of franks and beans
over a candle in the kitchen.

What comforts me is just being inside
and safe, the taste of the rustic, simple meal,

however modest, providing sustenance—
it all comes back to me in hurricane

weather: a palm tree down in the yard;
the static storming over the radio band;

my father home from work cursing
everything Floridian; the rain splattering

the storm window glass, rattling
in the each gust of the unflagging wind.

Ode to My New Shoes

I first saw them on a rack
at Paul’s Shoe Repair.
They called to me silently
the way someone who is
lonely does from the corner
of a room, but like someone
who has much to say
of substance the cordovan
shoes offered me their glisten
and polish, their redness
emanating through the tone
of their brown gleam.
To understand their loneliness
further, Paul informed me
that someone had left them
behind after he made a repair
to them, and that is why
he was willing to let them go
at only $20. When I put them
on I felt elated by the quality
of their Florsheim Oxford
appeal. They made me feel
more than an inch taller
walking on their black soles
and stacked heels. Although
I needed to bring them back
to Paul so they could be
stretched and lifts cemented
inside both back quarters,
these cordovans accommodate
the bunion on my right foot
and the sensitive big toe
of my left, where I lost a nail
hiking in a boot that didn’t
quite fit. I trust them
to carry me across any gallery
parquet, and hear them
speak their happy chatter
by their clicking echoing
never beneath me but
to each side, all around me,
in harmony with my gait,
making sure they alert me to
their unreserved joy that
their use is being implemented,
that I can depend on them
in all weather to carry me
over shiny flat surfaces and
the crunch of cinders when
crossing parking lots of uneven
ground, and that they will not
only be two of my daily
companions but will support
me in all that I do, cushion
my arches, protect all ten toes,
and offer me overall comfort
for my two feet, walking
with me stride for stride,
wherever it is I need to go.

Suicide Vest

You will begin to see what you enter
is neither heaven nor is it certainly

paradise, and you will need to return
in order to make amends again;

and it will be necessary to see
and witness all of the pain you have

caused, the limbs you have severed,
the lives you could have loved

but instead just lost, the bodies burst
apart, which are now spatters on a wall.

How can we make it plain that
this is not the way to praise ourselves

or divinity, nor is it proper
to read a sacred text literally, since

jihad is just a metaphor and wasn’t
meant to be taken as fact. The war

that was to be waged is to take place
within, so the heart can be cleansed

and made appropriate for the spirit
to move in and to flourish in a state

of peace where all is quiet and still
and not in terror or a palace of unease.

Make no mistake, for those who
decide to wear such a vile invention

and to pull the cord is anything but
glamorous or valiant, the act itself

of detonating such a device and
perpetrating such horror is inhumane,

and of such evil, and so much a crime,
that to take one’s own life as an empty

sacrifice in such misplaced glory is in
direct opposition to what our legacy of

consciousness auspiciously portends,
but leaves a crater in the ground,

fatally taking those who are innocent,
with the perpetrator vanishing in such

heinous ignominy what remains is only
the darkness where hatred emanates.




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1 Response to Wally Swist – Four Poems

  1. Suicide Vest—yes, the waste of all the “lives you could have loved”–replaced by the crater “of darkness where hatred emanates.” Wasted, wasted, wasted.

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