February 9, 2015 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION




Wally Swist




in memory of Jerzy Kosinksi



It had rained or it was about to rain,

as you stood in the threshold of the doorway

of the bookstore, a small entourage


surrounding you.  I remember a woman taller

than you, a fur wrap around her shoulders;

and others, a man in a trench coat with


salt and pepper hair.  You looked powerful

but tentative, at once.  I recognized

the darkness in your face from the pages


of The Painted Bird, which I had devoured,

aghast by the tale of your survival; then

read again, exhilarated as I might have


taken the same roller coaster ride,

by it having frightened me even more than

it did the first time, just for the sake of


the thrill of being alive.  You looked up at

us on the raised platform of the front desk

as you might be squinting into a light


that was brighter than it is comfortable

to see into, and I asked you

questions about your writing, how you


were, if I could help you find anything,

could you please come on in;

and what I saw there in your visage were


the atrocities that the war tattooed onto you,

although you did escape the humiliation

of the Nazis branding numbers on one


of your wrists.  The child in you never fully

having escaped hanging from a ceiling lamp,

or a chandelier, while a German Sheppard


placed in the room with you, leapt and

snapped at whatever appendage hung low

enough when you tired; and the child


you were did not escape the shadows that

accompanied your fierce sense of freedom

while running through the forest because


all the shadows kept pace with you—

as fast as you could run, you could not outrun

the shadows and the accrued darkness


of what had occurred to you.  Still, I was

shocked when I read, some years later, that

you had taken your own life, that it was


impossible for you to have outdistanced

the war and your memories of it,

that it haunted you, that it was imminent


in the gravity of the creases of the wrinkles

in your face that reminded me

it had stormed or it was about to storm.







Wally Swist

Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012) and a new interpretation of The Daodejing of Laozi, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Press, 2015). Some of his new poems appear in Commonweal, North American Review, andRattle. Garrison Keillor recently read his poem “Radiance” on the daily radio program The Writer’s Almanac.

1 Comment

  1. Robert Abel February 09, at 14:49

    Another superb poem by Wally, whom one expects to be writing about his close observations of nature. Here he turns to close observation of a man whose traumas reveal themselves in his bearing. A constant writer, Wally is clearly a poet who pays attention.


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