Maggie Schwed


The skirt of light
drags heavily toward the trees
and slowly.  So slowly
I can almost
tread its clovered hem, almost
hold back birdless night,
the black cup
that covers this house, and almost
restrain the woods that
(whispering and taller now)
approach like elders.

Even the snake
that blunders
into the laundry basket
and circles and circles
tapping the weave with his snout
until I tip him
out among the darkened grass
cannot sustain me.

Nothing sings
(but locust), nothing
shines (but a wayward moon
sliding on the wall),
and the wind
nosing at the window
works in silence.
What dreams then
as the shade drags on the sill?

Of course I dream of you
and when you ask for my hand
to kiss
in my gladness
I fling it toward you
and awake, face creased
from the sheet and longing.
A spider cringes
in the enamel basin,
a moth sputters at the drain.
I drink.  Three o'clock—                                                                                                                  
the longest hour                                                                                                                                    till dawn.  


First a round loaf
for the chipped plate,
its paint dimmed; room there too
for a cheese to slide from its warty skin,
another and another; and give
the ruins of a tart sliced neat
—half moon, oozing plum.
Lettuces that rustle in their dressing
add something, and a hot sun—the house so tight
we almost sweat.
The visible wind's not heard;
just your square hand
that built the house
and saws the bread
while branches lift
in the winter yard.

Inside these rooms
the hot sun is part of it, but not so hot
it can strip the glaze of ice
from the marsh grass
or unsheathe the trees
raised on the bitter hill.

And this—
how the far field descends
and twists between woods
like a frozen river;
and that hawk
possessing the tallest pine
is part of it.

The importance of these things
is not so great, yet
once the table's roughly set is
all.  We walk into the day
and plod the salted road,
a kind of eagerness shared
both to do this thing and
be done with it
before the having
of our known feast.
We talk as friends,
as woman and man
of the story of our lives
as if narrative were the point,
as if we lived gorgeous themes,
as if our fathers weren't dying
or the laundry weren't tossing itself
in the dryer, as if money
weren't an issue
and we didn't have to pick up our children
by three.

Words snap off in the brilliant air;
pale forms escape our chests,
our breaths quick and mixed
between us; between us,
the talk whole somehow
as a perfect pear.  Then
beads of lentil rest
in a thin soup, in a thin bowl;
slivers of garlic appear
for savor then slip
to the bottom; the pitcher of water
empties; then
before we are called
we go.


It was a long way from the car to the stream
you poached.  Not that I'm complaining, Dad.  
That slog across the open pasture, dreamed

a hundred times since then, seems a bliss
I had.  Single file, we'd take the narrow path
the cows had beaten, a mile of dust that traipsed   

below a moving sky, through bitten grass.     
I lagged behind, wrestling creel and rod,
while up ahead you whistled how you loved

to go a-wandering.  Piles of cow flop,
browning in the sun, were not allowed
to change your course.  Your mind was trout

—speckled green-and-copper flanks, sipping mouths
some god has made a joy to fishermen.
I tramped along without an equal hope,

ankles thistle-whipped, bushwhacked by sage,
and scared that from a shaking stand of willow
out would burst a cow, too crazed by flies to stop

for me.  Some days rage was all my sense
could hold:  I was too small, the creek too far
and cold.  But once we passed the barbed-wire fence,

you'd gauge the stream for shadowed overhangs
hospitable to trout—There!  binoculars
would bring a dim torpedo shape or gleam

to light.  Inspired then, we'd sit to read
the water, licking our half-melted chocolate bars.
Hours passed, years of summers cast

from grassy banks.  The current sliding past
my knees is dizzying.  I stare. The rod's bent
almost double.  I lift my head to catch

your eye.  Rising clouds.  Beneath them,
the old illusion—only a mountain sways.


The swimmer has struck out for the far shore.  
Without sighting her wake
or flashing arms, I know—

she arrives
before the rabbits and
I am late and have to be content

to have seen her dive those other hours,
body bluegill-bright—
(I wait.  Lightening sky

signals day;
a fisherman's reel creaks—I catch
the bright gleam of muskrat, his shy

abrupt plunge
like a blunder, quick
nose leading past water lily, past frog

gulping his name; silver lines
of water break
from his snout and

anxious huffing till he's out
and in
among willow.

Noon.  The warm ground gives.
A veil of insects lifts
the heron.)

She may not return until sundown
to rest then
on the gray boards of the dock

one with the gosling
who alone survives of six this spring
and now leads the flock.

I'll hope to see her white splash
soon, the sound
before the sight—

if not, I'll stay
and watch the night.


Perhaps because
like her he sings
the wind admires him.

She speaks her longing to the moon
who only brightly gleams, then glides
from ash to pine to morning sky
unmoved by wind.

She shakes the willow with distress
moaning, sighing
jealous of the lake's caress—
and settles on a gift:
blown wild rose.

Her message drops
like a wish
flaming pink
against the silk
of mud (his bed).

A petal
on the bullfrog's head.

Maggie Schwed's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Raritan, Nimrod, Western Humanities Review, Commonweal, Pleiades, Barrow Street, and other magazines, on-line publications, and anthologies, including Phil Miller's Chance of a Ghost, and Letters to the World: Poems from the Wompo Listserv.  She was a finalist for the 2006 Morton Marr Poetry Prize and this year's Erskine J. Prize (Smartish Pace).  Finishing Line Press published her first chapbook, Out of Season, in 2008.  She reviews poetry for Pleiades and Smartish Pace.



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