April 9, 2018 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION

Fernando Coelho photo



Wally Swist




Spring Rain



This stark era of Trump,

and the absurdity America

has become, with the legion


of criminals leading the country,

and the low bar set by their

example that has allowed


the psychic free radicals to run

amok, I think of that moment

of perpetual sweetness in 1961,


when Audrey Hepburn and

George Peppard played out

the last scene in Breakfast


at Tiffany’s, when they find

the lost cat and stand in an

embrace, with the orange tabby


between them, in the falling rain

on a sidewalk in New York,

while Henry Mancini’s orchestra


kicks in with the score of

Moon River, the deluge continuing

to fall; Hepburn and Peppard


steadfastly engaged in an enduring

kiss, memorably soaked to

the skin in their London Fog


trench coats, and a ’58 two-tone

blue and white Chevy, with fins,

drives past.  The camera, panning


overhead, begins to fade, leaving

Holly Golightly and Paul Varjack

with us, to perpetuate


in the American psyche forever.

To be that wet with rapture,

and drenched in such exhilaration,


inspires me to whistle along

to the tune, knowing that we, oh,

so much want to be that happy, too.





Ode to Jack LaLanne



Charles Atlas had nothing on you.

Those of us who knew of

the muscle-bound boys who kicked


sand in our face at the beach

weren’t of the same caliber,

nor of a similar inner substance


as you, who would never even think

of stepping down from your firm

moral fiber, as steely as the muscles


you exercised to build.  Only a bully

such as Donald Trump would be

attracted to the mindless authority


of kicking sand into people’s faces,

only a true weakling would

even consider something so reviled.


You were a boyhood hero,

and I think of you every morning now,

as an old man, when I raise the shades,


to begin my own daily routines—

my three laps at the mall.  Even before

our fathers rose from their sleep


from the late shift, or were

on their way out the door for the first,

you had already slipped on your wet


suit, and were pulling a tugboat in

New York harbor, stroking through

the cold currents of the Hudson River;


or doing over a thousand pushups in

only a matter of some twenty minutes;

or shackled with chains, swimming


from Alcatraz to San Francisco,

police following in a boat just to keep

sharks, just twenty feet from you, away.


Children, who were still in pajamas,

lucky enough to be watching your

15-minute morning exercise program,


were in awe of you and your brand,

of your proving yourself, and the risks

you took.  You showed us how to love


ourselves, to nurture our bodies, but

you also inspired us by writing books,

acquiring a doctorate in exercise science.


I still think of you every morning, Jack

LaLanne, every time I raise the shades,

each time I complete a lap at the mall;


you who lived to be 96, who espoused

the Greek ideal; who, even if you had

the chance, and we are sure that you did,


would have deferred, would have walked

away from any opportunity of kicking

sand in someone’s face, especially that


of Charles Atlas; and you would have

been someone who would have stood up

to the insolence of Donald Trump.





The Woman at the Mall



Every morning I walk the mall,

say hello to Mohammed, who runs

the Cafe Emporium, who always


replies with his trademark double

shot of goodness, in chiming:

Good morning, good morning.


Every morning, I say hello to Alex

and Anne, daily walkers, who I have

come to know.  I say hello to Eddie,


who is the superintendent, and I

wave to the mall manager, Johnny,

who are always on the go, and they


answer and wave back at me; but

there is a woman at the mall who

often wears dark glasses, who some-


times takes them off and walks over

to me, glowering, saying nothing,

staring, with either a smirk or a look


of pure venom poisoning her visage.

When we pass she glares, and I look

back at her, without saying a word.


If she were a man, and I a woman,

I would have cause to have her

arrested, but I am a man and she is


a woman; so I have no real basis for

her to be charged with stalking, with

taunting, no complaint to make for


the vicious looks she beams at me.

This morning the woman at the mall

wore reflector sunglasses, which I am


sure were meant for me; so I could see

my own face reflected in her eyes.

Whoever this woman is she embodies


the archetype of a new perversion

of femme fatale, the me too movement

on steroids, a 21st-century misandristic


and hostile female.  The woman at

the mall looks at me in such a way that

makes me imagine how Satan looks,


similarly, at all of us, too; and in looking

that way, we can maintain her malicious

gaze is also trained right now upon you.





The End of the Nightmare



The dream was well-lit but churlish

in character—la fin du cauchemar—


my having to persevere in the after-

life by my meeting up


with a significant other that I wish

had been someone other;


and the bare plank furniture, that

gray kitchen table right out


of a van Gogh still life, with

a tablecloth so thin you could see


through to the grain of the wood.

And who is that man, the one


with the white beard and bushy hair?

Who is that fellow with the trace


of powdered sugar from a Millefeuille,

near the lower corner of his mouth—


who doesn’t speak but whose gaze

lingers here and there;


as if he could barely remember

who he was, where he was going,


and who he used to be, thinking, as

I certainly was, from my distance,


of viewer, could this be it, this

infernal company, this huis clos


amid these paltry rooms, and such

malapropos company, awaiting re-


birth in the bardo, or even worse,

a more severe sentence of remorse


that bears the weight of my yielding

to the truculence of others for eternity?





Mademoiselle Hortense



She is the Dickensian character

in Bleak House, who is twice


maligned, once by Lady Dedlock,

when she is discharged


as her lady’s maid, and then by

the devious Tulkinghorn,


the scoundrel solicitor whom

she murders when he breaks his


promise of finding her another

position.  She is the dark


feminine, a prototype for Madame

Defarge, not just another angry


Frenchwoman in a shawl, who

later appears in Great  Expectations.


Mademoiselle Hortense is also

Medusa, the woman scorned,


the abused female, whose stare turns

those who meet it to stone.  She is


archetypal, every woman molested

by gifted physician, Larry Nassar,


and the dark force which emanates

from every corrupt action, each misuse


of power, every exploitation, each

tragedy which is inexplicably beyond


reason.  She is good gone wrong,

every evil that is but didn’t have to be.







Wally Swist

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 Press, 2015); Invocation (Lamar University Press, 2015), and The Windbreak Pine(Snapshot Press, 2016). Forthcoming books include: The View of the River (Kelsay Books, 2017), Candling the Eggs (Shanti Arts, LLC, 2017), and Singing for Nothing from Street to Street: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018).

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