Wally Swist ~ Six Poems

The Sewing Table

It creaks at either end
if you don’t hold on
to it from underneath
when you move it

and we move it often
around the small kitchen.
Pine plank with engraved
six-inch rulers burned into to it

on both of the long sides
so that the appar­el sewers
could cal­cu­late quickly.
Measuring a full yard long

and nine­teen one half inch­es wide,
we’ve had thou­sands of meals
on it, writ­ten cheques, lists,
and poems over it, placed a laptop

across it to view only the finest
of films, made translations
of Lorca’s Andalusian Songs
and of the pure poetry

of Jimenez, following
his sug­ges­tion of always writing
by going against the grain.
Where we have experienced

com­ing into the grace
of the col­ored orbs of angels
and the delight of speaking
for what some­times seems

like for­ev­er with the best
of friends on the phone
while we lean on our elbows
over the wood worn smooth

by the rit­u­al of dai­ly use,
with wash cloths and palms
of our hands; and where
we have been able to

recount what we forget
and for­get what we could
no longer remember,
where we’ve looked through

the kitchen win­dows to see
flocks of birds cross the sky
and for you to become
the pro­fes­sor of clouds,

as you inform me what kinds
and which shapes float by
over our lit­tle sewing table
and the sto­ry of you and I.


Brown Swirl Door Handle

         Victorian, Late 1800s

The ques­tion, “What does it open?”
imme­di­ate­ly springs to mind,
but as sig­nif­i­cant­ly, “Who sawed
off the han­dle from the door
in a per­fect square.” The wood

is a rough pine, most of the white
paint chipped away, but what
of the love­ly han­dle, and to where
might it had opened and lead,
what real­i­ty, what fiction?

Where might it bring us to now?
Might it not lead to John’s
anec­dote that he shared with Tevis
about how he first became interested
in antiques, how he would play,

as a boy, in the sun­room of his
grand­par­ents’ house on Long Island,
among the shine of pol­ished wooden
fur­ni­ture and bright­ly sten­ciled walls;
or might it also lead to Tevis’

Aunt Mildred and Uncle Stan’s home
in South Redding, Vermont,
from which she peered from an upstairs
bed­room through a heat­ing grate
to see Mildred pop­ping corn and Stan

flip­ping flap­jacks, only to revisit
decades lat­er to the per­pet­u­al surprise
of the house seem­ing so small,
when as a girl it loomed large and tall.
Might not the brown swirl door handle

lead us to the space with­in space
and a time con­tained in time where both
John and Tevis could so ami­ca­bly meet,
as they do, in which both could turn
the brown han­dle of a door that opens

into not an emp­ty room but the charmed
show­room of Windham Antique Center,
on Village Square in Bellows Falls, where
they are prone to exchange their anecdotes
and pas­sion for antiques, where they bask in

the sun­light of the moment, turn­ing the knob
and releas­ing the bolt of an unseen door,
which opens into the res­o­nant memories
of child­hood that not only endure in
their own minds but also are now lit in yours.



Opening the blinds
to see you in the mist,
brows­ing remain­ing green leaves
in the October tree break,
you turn your head

slow­ly towards us,
aware you are being observed,
but are at peace
sati­at­ing your hunger.
Were you the fawn

I stopped traffic
on the road a year ago
so that you could cross?
You who cap­ti­vates us so
by your tawny presence,

not even an incli­na­tion to bolt,
appar­ent­ly wel­com­ing us
to your world
of grace and grat­i­tude, until
it is time for us

to con­tin­ue with our day,
and I begin to tidy the kitchen
after our own breakfast,
when I look up to see that you
have gone deep­er into

the leaves, just
your head showing,
then upon lift­ing my eyes again
you are gone, hav­ing disappeared
into a seam amid

the branch­es of the trees,
only mist ris­ing upward
where you had been,
some­how con­ceal­ing yourself
among the open views.

You are just as you are,
elu­sive in your ways,
not unlike Tevis’s memory
loss, always surprising
in her being able to recall

a mem­o­ry, then for it
to van­ish again, reappearing
as you reap­pear, briefly,
to emerge and then stray
appar­ent­ly with­out even a trace.



You have brought out
the mat­tress pads you have stored
in the linen clos­et and moved them
to where we are unable to walk
around the bed. You move
box­es two flights down
to the base­ment and stack those
amid gold­en candlesticks
bear­ing tall white candles,
light­ing the semi­dark­ness with
their glim­mer­ing met­al bases,
their round han­dles filled
with empti­ness. You were
a librar­i­an, an archivist who
curat­ed Emily Dickinson
and Robert Frost, always
metic­u­lous in your manner,
now your brain change
has left you mud­dling through
the file cab­i­nets in your brain.
I observe your mind surge,
even shift, in its attempt to give
order to the disorder,
the sav­ages of dementia
that are emp­ty­ing your ability
to recall the memories
of your life, to remem­ber what
goes where, where you did
what in which place, the string
of the cur­rent conversation
dis­ap­pear­ing not just once
but sev­er­al times, each time
need­ing repeat­ing so that
you might understand,
no mat­ter how slow­ly or how
calm­ly stat­ed, the words
and mean­ing of our exchange
seem­ing to dis­ap­pear even before
I just fin­ished speak­ing them.


Shadow Play

You and I were on a beach,
the sand smooth as putty,
the crash of waves end­ing in lacy
foam at Acadia in Downeast Maine
more than twen­ty years ago.

You chal­lenged me to a game of who
could gath­er the most sand dollars.
There were so many scattered
across the beach by the edge of the sea
it aston­ished us, and I was winning

when a man appeared, apparently
out of nowhere, and hand­ed you
sev­er­al sand dol­lars so that
you could beat me, both of us standing
and look­ing at each oth­er in amazement,

and when we looked around the man
had van­ished with­out a trace.
We thought he might have been
an angel, but now so many years later
I pause to think that not unlike

the man who hand­ed you the bounty
of sand dol­lars we have had
been giv­en the gift of grace
more times than we can remember
and much like the disappearance

of the man on the beach
your mem­o­ry has near­ly disappeared
to the degree that when I shared
my mem­o­ry of the sand dollars
you lift­ed your head and peered into

dis­tance, and relayed you could
bare­ly remem­ber that at all,
mak­ing me think what you saw
when you squint­ed your eyes
were only a cast of shad­ows at play.



Its such­ness can be found
in wan­der­ing the empty
streets just before the dawn.

Luminosity isn’t something
that we think of as being
hid­den, but its depths can be.

What it is that releas­es it
is com­pas­sion, as in listening
to your partner’s confabulation,

or the sto­ry her mind has
made up, about going to visit
the elder­ly woman who lives

in the yel­low house at the head
of the street, the one who leaves
the front porch light on,

or in how your part­ner struggles
to remem­ber now, how that
for her is like try­ing to catch fish

with her hands, her mind aswirl
and the iri­des­cent water
rock­ing and rock­ing around her.


Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), select­ed by Yusef Komunyakaa for the 2011 Crab Orchard Open Poetry Competition, and A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds and Nature, win­ner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Poetry Prize. He has pub­lished sev­er­al books of non­fic­tion, includ­ing On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (Adelaide Books, 2018), Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018), and A Writer’s Statements on Beauty: New & Selected Essays & Reviews (Shanti Arts Publishing, 2022). Recent poems and trans­la­tions have or will appear in Asymptote, Chicago Quarterly Review, Commonweal, The Comstock Review, and Poetry London. Shanti Arts pub­lished his trans­la­tion of L’Allegria, Giuseppe Ungaretti’s first icon­ic book, in August 2023.