Tag Archives: Wally Swist

Wally Swist

wally-swistWally 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.


Black Bear


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.



I hear
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—
the crowns
of trees shiver in the chill autumn wind.

Wally Swist

Wally WistWally Swist has published several books of poetry, including Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, and as a co-winner in the 2011 Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Competition (Southern Illnois University Press,2012).  His new poems appear in Commonweal and North American Review.






Dinner with Camus

I plate both halves of the omelette, one half for now, one for later; and hear
his voice: debonair, erudite, sweetly gruff, Merci beaucoup, he says; and takes

a plate, then sits opposite me.  Switching to English, he asks, Why did you
put in garlic with the sautéed sweet potatoes and onions. 
I tell him, It is because

I love a woman, and that she loves me, but now we only see each other when I visit her
at her office. 
Camus answers that Sartre and de Beauvoir lived separately.

He adds, It was unconventional; however, their love perpetuated itself.  It lasted;
it wasn’t a convenience that they celebrated, but each other.
  I ask him, Did they fight?

He answers with his eyes, lifts a forkful of omelette into his mouth, then says,
Since we all argue about life itself, then why shouldn’t lovers argue about love, even if

they do so silently.  Before I can ask another question, he queries me about why
I added the sweet bell peppers and the sun-dried tomatoes to the omelette,

and I reply, Because I wanted to sing.  I wanted to recollect what was fine about
last summer; making dinner for Julieanne.  Since I had frozen the peppers, I wanted

to eat them before the fine weather this summer.  He stares quizzically, but
compassionately, then asks, Why?  I push my plate aside, surprised to finish

before him, since I am such a slow eater, then answer, Because I am passionate
about the simple mathematics of the lyric
.  He reaches over to help himself

to another glass of wine, and says, It is exquisite for me just to taste this again,
holding the bottle of Baron d’Arignac up to the light fading through

the two windows beside the table.  Just like Meursault when he makes an omelette
after his mother dies, and has a glass of wine with it, in L’Etranger
, I ask, knowing

the scene by heart. Oui, he responds, and looks out into the falling dusk.
Did Meursault fire the extra shots into the Algerian, thinking it didn’t matter, since

he was dead already?  I ask him, nearly feeling a little heady from a second
glass of wine.  It didn’t matter at that point, but everything matters all the time;

what mattered was Meursault’s freedom, unenviable as his decision may have been,
he explains.  I want to respond that I follow him, but since I don’t, I say,

Then what about Meursault’s sense of freedom after he is tried and condemned to death?
He eases back his chair, then replies, You are a commendable cook, and I am

appreciative that you know my work so well.  Alerted to his imminent departure,
I ask, Must you leave so soon?  He responds, We all must go, unfortunately.