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
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.

-James Wright

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.