Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), selected by Yusef Komunyakaa as co-winner in the 2011 Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Contest, and A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds & Nature (Ex Ophidia Press, 2019), the winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Prize. Recent books of poetry include The Bees of the Invisible (2019) and Evanescence: Selected Poems (2020), both with Shanti Arts. He has also published collections of nonfiction, including Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018), On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (Adelaide Books, 2018), and The Friendship of Two New England Poets: Robert Frost and Robert Francis (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2009). Forthcoming books include Awakening & Visitation and Fruit of my Flower: Selected Adaptations & Translations, also with Shanti Arts.

This Storied Life

This storied life—
one room after another.

Sometimes a single room,
an atelier, a studio;

other times a mansion.
Such as her home, filled

with archived memories
of family and introspection:

the living installation
of photographs, collectibles,

antique furniture.
Such is her heart, filled

with both longing
for what is past, the desire

to live in the ever-present.
And my stepping quietly

along the backstairs
to make breakfast—

always pulling open
a squeaking door,

placing one of my feet
on a creak in the floor.

Taking Residence

Not wanting it to sing too loudly, or for it to fly away,
is learning what it is that is taking residence in the heart.

Not desiring to hold onto it, not wanting for it to dissipate,
is how the presence in the heart requests to be honored—

the visitor making itself known by the murmurs of
its rustling. It is what propels the fountain of it in keeping

its arcing waters from ebbing, only if by resisting what
the heart yearns for, even slightly, which is why the heart

leaps amid all of its windy fluttering. Your loveliness is
as sinuous as the colloquy of birdsong on a summer morning.

Golden Himalayan Cedar

Cedrus deodara aurea

When we walk past them
they always announce their sculptured elegance—

the soft foliage hanging along the lengths
of their stately branches,

which blend into a finely contoured greenery,
their nodding nibs gilt-tipped.

But it is in this lavish mixture
of shape and color that make them

emblematic of what is conifer—
that suchness blowing on the wind,

their sheer pineyness, their svelte lushness.
In their substantive shape,

every evening, we long to hear them
whisper to us about what love is and its constancy.

How they can uphold themselves in such silence
all together in a row, how they provide a way

for small flocks of chickadees and juncos,
amid their shadows, to quickly dart and follow.


Written after Simone Dinnerstein’s Performance
of Mad Rush for Solo Piano by Philip Glass,
Sweeney Concert Hall, 12 January 2020

The intense focus makes
her face ever so much more Pre-Raphaelite—

her inner beauty evident in the glow
of her countenance. She is striking the keys

of the piano with attention
in a rumination of a great soul movement,

which builds and builds into the thrumming
of a beatific musical turbine that resonates

not only in the ears but thrums throughout
the entire body. So many simple keystrokes

struck just so; such a mad rush making
for sublimity and complexity. The supreme

counterpoint is being itself, instilling in
the listener the ability of entering into another

dimension entirely. Similarly, in the spiritually
energized way the holographic image of St. Michael

wraps its cosmic cubic blue aura into
a spectral seam in the air before disappearing

into what can only be described as the otherwordly,
while concomitantly resounding

rhythmically, the music also generates
a mode for our becoming rhapsodic with divinity.

To the Brook

(a response, with apologies, to the eponymous poem by W. S. Merwin)

Do go on then
but always in what can only be
your own time
as I will never leave you far at all
although I leave your words with you
since I could never take them from you
at any time

of course you are always finished
as you are
how can you not be finished
since I remember your sound when morning begins
or whenever the moon rises
whether running or dry with drought
it is the words that are not finished
even though they never really claim to be

always mind
that I will be
not listening when they say
how you should never be
the same in any way

you will not be able to tell them
that the fault was not mine

whoever I am
since I couldn’t have possibly made you up


adapted after Noriko Ibaragi

Living this plague year
to see the blossoms flower,
just one person in a single lifetime—
so how many times do you really see the cherry blossoms
if you become used to it, early, at ten,
then see them again around seventy, at the most,
or maybe just thirty, or only forty?
What a miniscule few!
The sense of seeing many, that many more times
is a commingling, gathering mist
of the visions of our ancestors:
although spectral, preternatural, captivating,
the amassing color,
when indefinite, stepping beneath a storm of buds
in an instant—
like an enlightened monk – you awaken . . .
since it’s death that is the normal state,
and living only a dreamy apparition.