Wally Swist

Aridity and the Spiritual Life
It is apparent in the three large terra cotta potshousing the geraniums on the brick esplanade around the side of the farmhouse. It isin the dusty pots resting on black plastic skids placed above the sand, glittering with micaon the walk. It is in the dryness which has browned the grass. It is in such dryness where we can alsoflourish, this abeyance between where we might just lie in the hayed meadow and let the downpourtake us, if there was such abundance. The dryness is a knowing of the time betweena dry chaffing and more of an arid settling, an accumulation of dried mud and dust,the blowing of which distills what is empty in us so that we become even more barren, abradingourselves of our inner tarnish. It is polishing what is silver within us into the buff of a burnished gleam.The results of aridity and solitariness are much like inadvertently soaking up a spilleddrink with one's sleeve. Little things then pique our gratitude. Sometimes it is only then we hearthe voice of the divine in a donkey's cry.

Green Heron, First Day of Autumn
We don’t see youat first passing the pond butwe notice you walking back—blending in with the branches of deadfall pointing to the sky.You embody stillness,your reflection rippling inthe water’s surface, the sere wind simmering throughthe willows. Its sibilancea counterpoint to your vigilantquietude. We take a few steps closer and you turn your head—its green luminescence gleamingin the afternoon sunlight. Butthen you turn back to your work that is not work but your nature,to whatever it is that has caughtyour attention, and without a splashyour head breaks toward the pond, penetrating its surface with yourbeak, as you swing your body as doesa trapeze artist, claws clutchingthe branch, peach-yellow abdomen brandished momentarily,in your lunging toward fish or frog,and then drawing yourself back upagain to rest in your hunkered fishing posture, or as a monk or nun at prayer,cloistered within your inner silence.We are nourished by your calm,bolstered by your practiced acrobatics, your return to your pond meditations—the wind picking up toward evening,a chill descending, clouds tinted rouge.You stay, but we must go.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Why you are calledred-bellied is counterintuitive,since it is your head that is streaked with a band of crimson;and it is that which I firstsaw rounding the trunk of the shagbark while I stoodmotionless as a stone . . .just looking at the summer horizon, morning cumulousblown through the sky belowthe coolness and the dew. Your low guttural annoyanceissuing from your throatupon seeing me ceased, since you were able to senseI would do you no harm—still as I was, and distant enough, being a few stepsaway, so I could study you:claws scratching the upturned cantilevered sections of bark,wearing your crosshatchblack and white back feathers like a camouflage tuxedo, beakdarting between each barklayer until you seized the prize of finding a long earwig withina crevice, squirming at the tipof your nib, but lodged there firmly, before adjustingyourself, and, in a start, leapingup into flight with fare for your nest of chicks. How you havefulfilled me by my justhaving seen you hitch around a tree, and upon take-off,undulate through the airto bask in your woodsy ways.

Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), co-winner in the 2011 Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Contest, and A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds & Nature (Ex Ophidia Press, 2019), the winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Prize.

Recent books of poetry include The Bees of the Invisible (2019), Evanescence: Selected Poems (2020), and Awakening & Visitation (2020), all with Shanti Arts Publishing.

Forthcoming books include Taking Residence, and Fruit of my Flower: Selected Adaptations & Translations, also with Shanti Arts Publishing Publishing.

He has also published collections of nonfiction, including Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018), On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (Adelaide Books, 2018), and A Writer’s Statements On Beauty: New & Selected Essays & Reviews (Shanti Arts, 2021).

See Wally Swist's Archive page to read more of his work.