Wally 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 Press, 2015); Invocation (Lamar University Press, 2015), and The Windbreak Pine (Snapshot Press, 2016). Forthcoming books include: The View of the River (Kelsay Books, 2017), Candling the Eggs (Shanti Arts, LLC, 2017), and Singing for Nothing from Street to Street: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018).
for Bob Abel
We meet at the trailhead of the Conte Reserve,
the weather this August morning not cool
but overcast and clement, with the humidity
only becoming noticeable when we near
the Fort River, its muddy shoals prominent and
green with blades of grass in a drought summer.
We talk only about things that matter:
you mention how you recently spotted a blue-
winged warbler and comment how these thick
alder woods are favorable for sighting one.
I point out jimson weed growing in a bower
and mullein lavishing on the sandy flats,
with its basil leaves and those creamy-yellow
blossoms starring its tall stems.
Joe-pye weed rises above of a tangle of brush
beyond the wooden pavilion on the path;
along the cinder trail a baby rabbit appears,
undisturbed by two humans whose strides
crunch with each step of their boots. When
we come to the outlook of open meadow,
which stretches to a tree break before bordering
the ridges of the Holyoke Range, we can see
the mist rising through the rain on the slopes of
the Seven Sisters, just like in a Chinese scroll.
You become quiet and I cease talking
as we near the detritus of deadfall on the banks
of the deadwood bog, and you raise your
binoculars, and say in a whisper, Green heron,
as the bird majestically skitters the length of
a fallen trunk of white pine. Shyly, it appraises
us, but is still comfortable with the distance
between us, shifting from one leg to another,
bolting quickly, again, from bank to log, and
back again, then moving cautiously out of sight.
As we finish the walk, it has
stopped raining, and the meadows are alive with
Queen-Anne’s lace highlighted with blue chicory.
Shifting from foot to foot, the green heron steps
lightly along flotsam of pine in the deadwood bog,
mingling with all of its brethren
whom we did not see but who were ardently
peering at us through their veil of viridescence.
The Lute Player
in the grace of the sculpture, the elegiac
last note plucked in a song, whose final
chord resounds from finely carved strings.
This tune is only one that can be imagined,
but can be presumed to be the truth
etched in stone, which released the object
of the lute player’s desire, all the while
never allowing him to extricate himself
from the spell of the melody he cast.
Such a sweet sadness pervades it. Only
just seeing him there is close enough
to listening to it. He didn’t want to write
the song about her, but the music sung
to him. He heard it and had no choice but
to write it down. Entwined within it
was her cold, small heart; the arrogance
of her convictions, tragic as they were,
bound in her exquisite solipsism. It is
all there in the song, and if marble could
sing, it is heard within the gleam of his
open mouth, of his hands holding the lute,
his fingers of one hand on its neck,
the others along its strings, his head tilted
in quiet intensity, the broad hat just
touching the collar of his serape, polished
so that caught in shadow he still emits
an inner light in the dream. Just as
he is to escape his plight, he is pulled
back within the reverberating echo of
his song, whose brilliance shimmers
on the very air, and whose resonance
is reflected in the weight of marble.
The last three weeks have knuckled my health
into a perversion. First there was the head cold;
then that moved to my chest; on the heels of that
was the left foot ankle sprain; after that gout
inflamed both feet. I ache for being well again
and I long for my walking every morning.
Living alone is one thing, but feeling like one
is an invalid is entirely another. That is not
necessarily self-pity. It is the truth. Women
normally have a safety network. Single old men
have none. Most people they have known, in
one way or another, have nearly forgotten them.
If you can’t keep your health nothing remains.
I can walk, but, even after taking care of myself,
I am only the worse off for it. I can’t remember
when I wanted winter to end as much as I do
this year. It has been a nasty season of shirtsleeve
weather one day and below zero wind chill the next.
I have never heard March gusts rage as much
as they have this year. They have been Trumpian
in their seething up and through the morass, then
across the sky. Forgive me for casting this
Poe-like mood of dusk settling over the darkest of
tarns. There is something Gothic about being ill.
Doors creak when they didn’t creak before. Wind
blows brush over great swaths outside one’s window.
The gnarly cold blows thinly through invisible
cracks in walls. One’s bones ache and one’s mind
is swathed in what appears to be eternal nightfall.