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Wally Swist

For the Dance

            for Canadian Poet anne mckay
and after the Butoh of Sankai Juku*

The sound of bells, gongs: water ripples
beneath the sky past dusk; a column
of dust falls, a funnel of water—

between birth and death if only
there were wings that could carry us.
Candles flicker in a sway of smoke

against a winter-blue sky of stars: the air
shimmers and brightens again; the colors
flare in the water the horizon fills.

Blue turns to green, all of the water
fringes red, then blues again in silhouette;
a song that echoes the deep bass

of the night—then the new birth,
a hymn, a bright mist, the music igniting
another dawn.  We begin again.           

*Translated as: in the studio of mountain and sea.

Practicing Mindfulness


All day the rain blows in gusts; mist moves in
to swirl above the crackling of fallen leaves,
to fill the branches of the trees where their foliage

had been, then disappears, reappears; the wind
driving browned pine needles through the air.
I cartwheel the rotted skids I cleared

a hundred feet down the slope behind the cabin,
then lay out the new pine skids I acquired
from the lumber yard for free.


I practice mindfulness in moving
the split wood onto the skids: at first one piece
in either hand, then I develop carting

an armload, the grit from the wood
muddying my work gloves, and the rain
falling hard enough that I change hats

from my beret to Provincetown ball cap.
I stack the wood on the three skids
farthest from the cabin four feet high;

the skid I place closest to the front door,
I stack higher.  Sometimes a knot in a piece
of split wood looks back at me like an eye,

and I move through the mist and pelting rain
all afternoon to finish just before darkness—
only the slash of the pile remaining.

Spring Letter to a Friend

It appears that winter has wound down to a lamb-like bleat,
as we slosh our way through to the end of March.

My plans, as firm as any plans can be, are to ascend Toby
for the first time this year.  Most probably,

I will take a run up tomorrow.  My hermit-in-a-hut existence
needs a deserved respite, and I can truly use the aerobic

exercise of a ramble.  So, I will roll up the bamboo screens
and allow the swallows to use the exposed windows

for their acrobatic drills, while I trek up our small mountain
to enjoy the luxury of the still-open views.

Wally Swist's new book, Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, was chosen by Yusef Komunyakaa as a co-winner in the Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Competition, and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in the spring of 2012. His previous book, Luminous Dream, was chosen as a finalist in the 2010 FutureCycle Poetry Book Award, and his scholarly monograph, The Friendship of Two New England Poets, Robert Frost and Robert Francis, was published by The Edwin Mellen Press in 2009. He has been invited to record an audio book of his nature poetry with Berkshire Media Arts.