Three Poems for Lit Break

by | Jan 26, 2016 | Poetry


If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.
—E. O. Wilson


I met its acquaintance lifting boxes, thick

with dust, that hadn’t been moved for years,

for the purposes of readying the books


for a donation and a sale.

Its size puzzled me: the exaggerated length

of it, its many legs looking more like hair


than the paired pins that support it, segment

to segment; waddling more as does

a skunk would than any insect I had seen


ever does. However, I respected

its dimension and what I assessed as

apparently its age, and from that first time


it regarded me, knowing that I was not

one of its persecutors. Although I occasioned

to see its activities, bolting from one dark


corner of the bookstore to another,

toward the end of the day, perhaps, after

a reception, which might have included


cheese and crackers, or bruschetta

and red and white wine, convinced I

would never witness its covert movements


in broad daylight. Such as that is,

one late mid-winter morning, while

at my desk in the office next to the café,


I turned my head to the right, as if

on cue, and saw through the open door

that it was streaking, most of the length


of its body, hurled upward

and forward, as if it were, perhaps,

screaming, as it lunged underneath


the table of baked goods, and into

the metal baseboard heat cover.

It had chosen a time when the rush


between classes had dissipated,

when I couldn’t help but consider its

enormity and the leftover pastries—


the cinnamon buns,

fruit Danish, oatmeal

cookies, and varieties of Biscotti—


that I would admonish

the student staff to cover

with Saran or to replace the tops


of the clear glass jars,

to deduce that the size

of the centipede may have been


in direct proportion

to its gluttony for glazed

icing, pearl sugar, and marzipan.



Offering Guidance

for Karen Olander


The thought does occur to me that whatever

discipline or life you choose, or that you find


intrinsic to who you are, there is challenge, and

then not only just challenge but sheer obstacles


block the path, through which you must

circumnavigate, or blast right through. No artist


or writer, nor human being ever born into this

world, ever had a clear path to the mountaintop.


There have always been jungles to traverse,

forks in the path that must be discerned


as to which to choose, the roar of tigers around

each bend of the circuitous summit trail,


marauding brown bears prowling near the froth

of the falls, and then the rime-slick cairns near


the very peak itself. Aesthetic ascension is no

different from athletic achievement,


the metaphors being apt for one another.

Where lies the actual nascence of the spiritual realm


therein, since in the very ascent up this

precipitous mountain we always risk everything,


since there is nothing gained if we don’t.

The perils of moving forward are far less than


not embarking on the trek at all. Through this

ardor, we slough off the skins of naiveté and


innocence, and molt into the spiritual beings we

really are, possibly creating a work of art worth


the attention and respect in offering guidance

apt for all others who come along this way.



The Swist


The Swist is a brook. As child, the name

was often intentionally


mispronounced by classmates who would

also insert the word cheese after rending


the air with hyperbole. As a grown man,

particularly women, on a date, would


rhyme Swist with Twist, and then say, Just

like Chubby Checker, right? Often enough,


I have needed to have to speak each

letter of it over the phone to a Customer


Service Representative, enunciating

the letters twice; only to hear, Yes, Swift,


repeated back to me, the consternation

rising in my pulse and shooting right


through the top of my head; my ire

surfacing through my repetition, once


again, of the four consonants protecting

that one vowel in the middle, with


the sinuousness of the soft consonants

providing a rush until the final hard sound,


as in following a straightaway before

a sudden meander. The Swist rises in


Rhineland-Palatinate at 330 meters

above sea level on the Eifel. The brook


is nearly 44 kilometers long, and in

North Rhine-Westphalia it joins the mouth


of the Erft. The Swist flows through

my veins, as readily as it tumbles into


Swisttal, a municipality; and its rush

may be heard in Meckenheim and


Flerzheim, which is considered to be

a berg of the town Rheinbach. It is here


that there are cycle paths along

the edge of the brook, where lovers lie


in the grass and children play among

wildflowers. The Swist also gives


its name to the town of Weilerswist.

The source of my namesake is


found at the northern edge of the Eifel.

Considered to be the longest brook


run in Europe, the Swist may explain

why I find healing in moving water.





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 Literary Press, 2015); and Invocation (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015). His poems have appeared in many publications, including Commonweal, North American Review, Sunken Garden Poetry, 1992-2011 (Wesleyan University Press, 2012), and upstreet. Garrison Keillor recently read a poem of Swist’s on the national radio program The Writer’s Almanac.



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