Wally Swist – Three 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, Rattle, 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.

Black Bear


I take the Frost Trail up the mountain,
before coming to
the plank walk through the marsh.

In the grassy clearing, among the stones
of the path, a bear’s black hulk streaks into
the copse to my left—I stop mid-track.

Go back down
the way I came, fear stalking every step?
Or move forward, making

as much noise as possible,
pass its hiding place in
the tangle of pine and bending birches?

So, I whistle—why not?—
and pass the place at the edge of the woods,
it begins to huff, to woof

like nothing I’ve ever heard before.
I put one step in front of the other,
bang the end of my walking stick

over each stone, set the echoes
ringing. I climb the summit, the fire
in my legs driving me forward.


I hear
the screaming even inside the house, bolt
out the front door,

my friend’s shrieks rending the night,
startling the black bear, and me.
It spins around,

sees me, falls, slow motion, backwards—
lands on its bottom—
in an instantaneous reverse of direction,

in athletic brilliance.
He darts on all fours into the spring woods,
the deadfall snapping into distance as far

as we can hear. At the feeder’s suet—
the fading heat of the bear’s body,
the heavy reek of overwintered fur.


Placing my foot beside the dented track,
I look down into it, here
at the bottom of the five hundred foot

vertical rise that twists up Mount Toby’s
north face. I calculate
its size, its proximity, as I stand

next to where the black bear stood.
Along the trail, the trees
all at once ripple, matching the ripple

that ascends my spine—
the crowns
of trees shiver in the chill autumn wind.

The Chakras, as Flower Essences

Indian Paintbrush

This is where the siddha and initiate rest.
It may be represented as alimentation,
but it is also where we make use of
what we have at hand. Viewed through
the lens of aesthetics, this is the place
of creative expression, of how you
relate to me and how I respond to you.


When this red fruit is broken open, we see
that its chambers resemble the heart with
its ventricles, holding clusters of seeds.
Here we can be in sensual touch with each
other, as well as intuitively. It is where we
turn up the sexual heat, nourish and thrive in
the arms of another; with urgency, procreate.


As much as we desire power over each other,
horizontally, inflected vertically, we mine
our depths, tapping the inner ore; power up
the glimmering psychic metals that enable
us to cogitate clearly; joyfully engender
reason, purposefully gather strength; allow
the child within us, Puer, to dance.

Wild Rose

Jung thought he had climbed the trellis this
far, which is another way of saying this is
where the emanation of the Sacred Heart
of Jesus pulses with compassion, of love.
So, if you are feeling listless, find heirloom
roses within your own garden; enliven
yourself; inhale their being to start living.

Desert Larkspur

If you want to touch this spot, put your fingers
upon your throat, speak a word; you will come
to know how important it is to enunciate well,
to speak mindfully. In transition, as we all are,
it is here we find how to live. Here we divine
spiritual direction; we recalibrate our compass;
the lodestone of guidance points a new way.

Flower Aster

The delightful surprise is that this center is
between your eyes. This is where we develop
vision of another kind: not just what we can
normally see, but where we hone the planes
of illumination, forge insight’s bright star.
Aligning our evolutionary paths, the lens of
wisdom, in its magnificence, is polished here.


Sarhasrara, purple crown, blossoms beyond
blossoms, where the myriad is One. Here we
see only footprints in the sand. We cleanse
in space that is galactic. The body’s tension
relaxes; Kundalini rises up the spine, continues,
expands as a tuning fork’s struck tone. We are
aware of the ringing of so many clear glass bells.

Thrown Stones

Scuffing through undergrowth, clattering down
the ridge bordering the trail,

the raccoon now stands on hind legs. You stop
yards from where it left lush, early spring

woods, nodding trilliums almost gone past, their
sweetness still in the air. The raccoon seethes

in wretched, rabid intensity,
bewildered by daylight, unsure of its next move;

made old by disease, gaunt and
peculiar, wizened eyes blaze within dark sockets.

You bend, gather a few round stones
from the path, then bounce the stones before it.

You shout go, go, helping it return to the woods,
then eye each other, before it backs away onto

the haphazard trail it made through the bracken.
Stunned, the raccoon lowers itself

from its haunches, once more on all fours, looking
out from behind the camouflaged

face, the burn of the fever buzzing its brain—
the frenzy unmasked—

morning sunlight now flooding
the leaves, stippling the shadows of the path.




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1 Response to Wally Swist – Three Poems

  1. Marvelous!! the whole wild world and our fraught engagement with it, at it’s edges, such fascinating encounters!! and the fruits and flowers of the gods!! Glad I had these to enjoy today

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