November 24, 2016 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION

Jen Tse



Wally Swist






I have only a minute left

on the dryers my clothes are still spinning in,


and I queue behind the bespectacled student

who is placing her laundry in the machines


to my right. We don’t even exchange a word,

since her body language communicates volumes—


she is emblematic of her generation: impatient,

entitled, rude. She epitomizes


the false tautology that a modicum of effort

maximizes the result most desirable, but what


transpires is, unconditionally, an effect that is opposite.

She pushes the carriages around her out of the way,


including mine, with an air of impudence

then strides out of the Laundromat to her car—


bristling, haughty, impertinent.

If I had said anything to her, I might have been arrested;


but it was everything that was lacking in her behavior

that I absolutely detested.












What I remember most

about the drive north to Connecticut from Miami


is the blueness of the rainy evenings;

the stopping at diners for our meals, fragrant


with coffee, burgers, and fries; flipping through

the selections on the jukebox, the rhythms


of the Doo-wop beating in time with the raindrops

striking the windows of our booth, Sinatra’s voice


soothing the poignance of the storm;

then there was the smell of mothballs and bibles


filling the emptiness of motel room drawers;

my father visibly aching from the long drive,


my mother’s interminable patience that everything

would all work out when we arrived in Milford


to reconnect with friends, to visit with her cousins

in Ansonia, worrying that she needed to enroll me


in parochial school before the school year began;

intuiting the need to finish things before her


unexpected collapse from the cerebral hemorrhage,

to die six days later on the operating table;


leaving behind a son immersed in the amber

of catatonia, a husband who would wear his


bereavement as he would bear a wound; however

it was in our driving beneath the hanging Spanish


moss in Georgia when we passed a chain gang

in their red and white stripes that I met the gaze


of an African-American man with an animated

face, quizzically meeting my eyes, looking out


the backseat window; his expression intimating

to me how much he wanted to be unchained again,


to be able to put down his pickaxe and to get out

of the heat, to quit the punishing road work


of breaking stones, to throw off the gravity

of the iron weighing down his limbs, and as our


car continued up the road, to climb in with us,

to release himself from his captivity, to revel


in seeing the distance accrue into the magnitude

of the passing landscape, the stark glassiness


of his eyes staying with me all of these years,

the pleading in them, his dire face expressing


the dread I would come so well to know myself

that openly relayed please don’t leave me behind.













Wally Swist

Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), Invocation (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015), and The View of the River (Kelsay Books/White Violet Press, 2017). His recent poems have appeared in Appalachia, Miramar, Mudfish, Rattle, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and upstreet. He is Guest Editor of the summer 2017 issue of Blue Lyra Review.

1 Comment

  1. Art Beck November 26, at 17:50

    Mayakovsky, in his "How Are Verses Made", said something along the lines of poetry being the art of finding just the right distance. Wally Swist's Distance might just be a perfect example of that aesthetic.


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