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 Literary Press, 2015), Candling the Eggs (Shanti Arts, LLC, 2017), The Map of Eternity (Shanti Arts, LLC, 2018), and Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018).
His poems and prose have appeared in The American Book Review, Anchor: Where Spirituality and Social Justice Meet, Appalachia Journal, Arts: The Arts in Theological and Religious Studies, Commonweal, North American Review, Rattle, and The Woven Tale Press.


Announcing themselves as they do
they reappear,

at the turning of October to November,
as the golden light silvers,

over the rim of the far meadow,
rearranging their wedge

in mid-flight. What it is to hear
once more their voices,

the wild music of their cries, crying
their name, Branta,

an avian dialect native only to
their own, as they fly

ragged in the wind, before they reform
across the sky—

a pause between
looking and listening, when they

disappear in the air
I just saw them stroking through

just now, leaving a quietude settling,
until another flock

passes; and the lamentation
of their plaintive calls lingers

as they pass, as the days pass,
and the season augurs toward winter.

Sun Worship

To speculate that there is no
sentience within the animal

kingdom is to cast oneself in
a net of sublime ignorance,

and if proof of a higher order
needs any substantiation then

the early autumn morning
I quietly stepped over the red

brick esplanade around which
surrounds half the farmhouse

to bring the recycling out to
the barn, I was stopped by

the spectral presence of
the milk snake that had lived

near the concrete porch steps
to the mud room. Elegantly

curled in several loops, half-
way down the cold parquet of

the walk, the snake faced east,
where the sun was already

rising over the ridges of
Mt. Orient, with its striated

red reflections glistening in
Lawrence Pond. There are

moments which open forever
and remain with us in their

quintessential nature, etched
as on a plate within our psyche,

as with this snake’s head held
high, straight up from the draped

cursives of its body, statuesque,
steady in its gaze of the sunrise

over the eastern hills, that I felt
intrusive in its presence, not

wanting to interrupt such
magnificence, the rarity of

experience of viewing anything
so inviolate as another animal

in awe of the wonder of what is
sacrosanct in celebrating and

honoring the rising of the sun,
that how could I possibly

even bear to interrupt its sense
of worship, which could only,

with active humility,
increase an appreciation of mine.

Poem after James Wright’s “In Fear of Harvests”

It still happens now, James.
As ever, somewhere, close by,
Nearly motionless, a solitary
Horse grazes, breath steaming
From its nostrils, as it snorts
And, yes, the bees, those
Ardent little sisters, work
The crops in the fields
And ply their small bodies
Into wreaths of blossoms,
Whose nectar thickens
Into wild honey
Beneath the buzz of silence,
As your words do,
In an apiary submerged
Beneath hives of snow.