Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), Candling the Eggs (Shanti Arts, 2017), The Map of Eternity (Shanti Arts, 2018), Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018), On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (Adelaide Books. 2018), and A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds & Nature (Ex Ophidia Press, 2019). Forthcoming books include Evanescence: Selected and New Poems (2019) and The Bees of the Invisible (2020), both from Shanti Arts.

Remembering Ruth Stone

After reading In the Next Galaxy,
I phoned Ruth Stone, who was living in her home
in Johnson, Vermont. 
I wanted her to read for a small honorarium. 

“I am blind,” she said.  “I just can’t do it,
but I would have liked to do it.
Thank you for asking me and for knowing
about my work.” 

I even offered to drive up
to Vermont, put her up in the campus hotel,
and drive her back from the reading,
if she wished.  But she thought better of it. 

I learned that she died shortly thereafter. 
She was the real thing: deeply human, astoundingly
beautiful voice, a great but overlooked poet,
who would have almost preferred to remain that way. 

I just wanted to get to know her, to listen
to her silences more deeply. 
Over the phone her voice sounded like an angel,
trapped in a sightless darkness. 

I hope that when she passed over
the veil was lifted from her eyes, how then she could
see the whorl of light she entered in the next galaxy,
where she herself became a constellation.

Written Upon the Death of W. S. Merwin

Day of windblown cloud,
cold blue shadows crossing over the remaining
patches of snow;

the first green needles
pricking the air in the coiled red branches
of stinging nettles

make me remember
your poem, “Urticophilia,”
your caution to us to hold

the nettles tightly in our hands
so as not to become infected
by the sharp leaf-hairs that inject

irritants into the skin
that cause an irradiated itchiness
which swells the affected epidermis

to the extent
that even just grazing the leaf-hairs
results in an unimaginable tingling,

a red rash that spreads,
that inflames follicles and sets them ablaze,
with nagging discomfort;

and how, instead, in your poem,
you teach us to gather the young leaves
to make a memorable soup.

Hearing the news of your death,
we gather the leaves of your poems,
savor their lines, their elegance,

Written Upon the Death of W. S. Merwin
appreciate their full resonance,
their taste of infinity,
the full flavor of then and now

in their timelessness—
for all ages throughout time
are, and will be, always present:

you who leave us such a legacy of astonishment,
you who have become one with the windy horizon,
you who have now become one of the ancients.