Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012); The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015); and Invocation (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015). His poems have appeared in many publications, including Commonweal, North American Review, Rattle, Sunken Garden Poetry, and 1992-2011 (Wesleyan University Press, 2012). Garrison Keillor recently read a poem of Swist’s on the national radio program The Writer’s Almanac.
I take the Frost Trail up the mountain,
before coming to
the plank walk through the marsh.
In the grassy clearing, among the stones
of the path, a bear’s black hulk streaks into
the copse to my left—I stop mid-track.
Go back down
the way I came, fear stalking every step?
Or move forward, making
as much noise as possible,
pass its hiding place in
the tangle of pine and bending birches?
So, I whistle—why not?—
and pass the place at the edge of the woods,
it begins to huff, to woof
like nothing I’ve ever heard before.
I put one step in front of the other,
bang the end of my walking stick
over each stone, set the echoes
ringing. I climb the summit, the fire
in my legs driving me forward.
the screaming even inside the house, bolt
out the front door,
my friend’s shrieks rending the night,
startling the black bear, and me.
It spins around,
sees me, falls, slow motion, backwards—
lands on its bottom—
in an instantaneous reverse of direction,
in athletic brilliance.
He darts on all fours into the spring woods,
the deadfall snapping into distance as far
as we can hear. At the feeder’s suet—
the fading heat of the bear’s body,
the heavy reek of overwintered fur.
Placing my foot beside the dented track,
I look down into it, here
at the bottom of the five hundred foot
vertical rise that twists up Mount Toby’s
north face. I calculate
its size, its proximity, as I stand
next to where the black bear stood.
Along the trail, the trees
all at once ripple, matching the ripple
that ascends my spine—
of trees shiver in the chill autumn wind.