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, 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.


These Foolish Things

Beneath the tall pines, with the motor running,
a sacredness between us,

for more than an hour in the rutted hard pack
driveway of Fort Juniper,

where Jack Gilbert was the first Poet-in-Residence,
he spoke to me, as I listened

to each nuance and inflection.
He held his head at the pitch an eagle might, as he

delivered a litany of admonishments about poetry.
His smile and the flash in his eyes

spotlighted by a sky of stars through the tree tops,
as I assimilated not only the words he spoke,

but also the depth of the tone
of what was transpiring between us, which for me

instinctively were moments of what
were extraordinary, already aware that the memory

we were laying down was
that of a monument erected in a forest where few

come to pass, or
when you saw that first film in Technicolor, and

the entire world would not ever quite be
the same again; just like when Jack told me about

his love for Sinatra, in
the late forties, when he would turn on the radio,

sing These Foolish Things
along to his mellifluous voice, then how he would

walk the streets of Pittsburgh dreaming about love
in a reverie beneath the moon.


Ode to Hesitancy

Something, if anything, that holds you back,
especially in romance, and not just in

purchasing a blouse, is significant to pay
attention to. It is important for you to be

aware of your inner depths. However, what is
tantamount to such probings for one’s

ostensible truth is also why, as you say,
you are hesitant to become involved with

a lovely man such as myself. I don’t take your
comment quite as a rejection of me

as a question you might very well pose to
yourself, and what that something is that

prohibited you to move forward in opening
to me. As I am able to look into myself,

there is an abundance of light that radiates
within me and about me. If you are referring to

something darkly ominous within myself,
other than my own shadow, then, without

offering a defensive stance, I believe you
very well may be projecting your own hesitation,

and whatever else that incorrectly rings, upon me.
However, I intuited your response only after

just sending you the last email. So, I am
not surprised by either your reply or your choice

of words. Our responsibility in our lives is
becoming conscious, and not necessarily finding

a partner that suits us, as we may choose a model
in a Sears catalog. May we both, as well as

all of us, raise our consciousness, and engender
the magnitude of our soul, during our lifetime.

Such a task may very well
require the aridity of living deeply in solitude.


In the Cold with Henry Purcell

If all is one, and everything
affects everything else, it may best be
seen in the life of English composer,

Henry Purcell, and his apparent
limitless influence on musicians dating
from the English musical renaissance

to those of the 20th century, especially
Benjamin Britten. It is intensely
gratifying to listen to themes in Britten’s

Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
and hear strains from Purcell’s Abdelazar,
and the notes of its resonant

Doppelganger interwoven four hundred
years later in tribute to his brilliance.
Purcell’s short life ended at the age

of thirty-five, from either tuberculosis,
or his wife having locked him out
of the house, after his returning late

from the theatre, and then his catching
his death. After several decades, I try
to rationalize my having been locked

out of the house I lived in
as an adolescent, when my drunken
step-mother would either condemn

me to the basement, after my playing
basketball in the rain, or not returning
home at the proscribed time

on the school bus, and running
track instead—the madness
of her thinking was that she didn’t

want to be accountable for me when
what I exercised were such relatively
normal choices, which then led to

what was her own instability and
dereliction of responsibility, which
exhibited itself as a kind of adult

delinquency. Such brutish
willfulness and insanity are dark
actions of wrathful intent that

brand their victims, but now
I can be vindicated in knowing that
even Henry Purcell, too, was

pressed into suffering such
inequities and humiliation,
and welcome sitting next to him

on the stoop in the cold,
shivering along with the very best
in some of the worst conditions.


Dark Bozo

The inflatable clown
stood as tall as I was at the age of five—

that is when Bozo was all blown up.
All blown up is the closest approximation

to what Bozo was best at—
being inflated, full of air, bombast written

all over the clown’s face.
The toy was actually a punching bag;

so, if you were to strike the clown’s nose,
it would squeak, making the body

rock back and forth on those enormous
clown shoes, sometimes coming back

at you to hit you in the face,
which awakened you to the clown’s dark

side, the diabolical grin appearing
more odious, smeared with its monstrous

black paint and lipstick, and the depravity
echoing in the double-abyss of its heavily

mascaraed eyes. The comedic face
concealed its sinister sibling and evil twin:

whose name is tragedy: how many
children running with scissors maimed

themselves for life while running away
from Dark Bozo, as the clown

was soothed by the endorphin release of
its rocking, tipped by the slightest wind,

even by just your passing it by.
What was inherent in the inflatable clown

seemed to be mimed within you—
some lingering madness from one

of your darker dreams; whatever injurious
thoughts you may have sprung

upon another in an act of vindictiveness or
revenge openly lurked on the face

of Dark Bozo, surely ready to inflict their
vengeance on you; and the very essence

of evil you recognized in yourself
was evident in the clown’s comic features,

even in what you imagined as the laughter
you heard issuing from that opened mouth.

Even when deflated, Dark Bozo’s shadow
remained in the room, his face staring up

at you from its folded plastic body from
the depths of the toy box. It’s malevolent

aura demanding to be blown back up again
with the bicycle tire pump’s rubber hose;

mainlining the very air for its seduction
of your mind; Dark Bozo,

whose thoughts paralyzed you—
whose messages you tried not to hear,

since you were sure
they were nothing but mean and unkind.

 

 

 

 

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