The Works of Wally Swist
Wally Swist is the author of several volumes of poetry,
including Mount Toby Poems (Fulton, MO: Timberline Press, 2009), which
appeared in a letterpress limited edition. A short biographical
documentary film regarding his work, In Praise of the Earth (Hadley, MA:
WildArts, 2008), was released by award-winning filmmaker Elizabeth Wilda.
His book The Friendship of Two New England Poets, Robert Frost and Robert Francis: A Lecture Presented at the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2009) was issued as a scholarly monograph. A recording of a poem from his reading in the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival is archived at npr.org.
His recent and new poems appear or are forthcoming in Alimentum: The Literature of Food; Appalachia; From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright (Duluth, MN: Lost Hills Books, 2008); The Light in Ordinary Things (Berkeley, CA: Fearless Books, 2009); and The Literary Bohemian (Český Krumlov, Czech Republic).
All Poems © Wally Swist
Backlit in a Wash of Light
for Art Goodtimes
I think of you writing me last night, of your grief.
The invisible lead filling the interstices between your words:
I’m in San Francisco. My brother is dying.
It’s been nearly thirty years
since you and I hiked together up Slaughterhouse Gulch,
when you were living at the foot in the pine lodge,
where legend has it Butch Cassidy practiced jumping onto his horse
before he robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride,
and rode out of that box canyon in 1889.
A mourning cloak leads me, then shadows me, on the path,
not unlike you playing Coyote back then. We lassoed
ropes onto the rocky outcrops above dry waterfalls
on our way to the top of the mesa
that was studded orange with poppies, where I watched
you stalk a herd of elk, before we hiked back down
to recross the shallow race of that part of the Colorado River.
Here, on Mount Toby in western Massachusetts, just beyond
pine shade and leaf-mold, the petals of trailing arbutus
begin to flower—some buds open, others closed;
all so new among their quickly browning leaves.
I’m still inhaling the sweetness of their fragrance
even after having almost descended the trail—
then just happen to look back up the mountain slope
to see spray from the brook backlit in a wash of light.
Bloodroot Open Before Trillium
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
Last of the snow melt
drips from the sodden, mossy cliffs—
yellow bands of sunlight shining
among the fresh spring greens.
Water sound rises from the gorge—
the brook tumbling down the slope
before it booms over boulders
at the chute of the falls. The wet air
rinsing my face with its sound.
Beside the mountain trail,
muddy with runoff, the race
of the brook quickens into a pool,
and I am reminded
of my Grail Castle experience
when I was thirteen, so like Parsifal,
woods-walking for the first time
alone, how I sensed those hidden eyes loving
me in secret, James Wright speaks of.
As I hike through the shadows
of new leaves, the path to the summit
is littered on both sides with birch,
beech, and hemlock, uprooted after
the ice storm last December, chain-sawed
into slash—resin still burning the air.