Fox Abandon; The Space Between; The Last House; Release

Fox Abandon
Awakening to the motion
detectors going off in the barnyard
is not anything new
but detecting motion within those
parameters is, sensing
there was something more to it
than the feral barn cat stalking
rodents.  Raising the shade,
the fox must have heard me, or
seen my reflection in the window;
and it wasn’t as if I didn’t
have to exercise patience, knowing
how long the lights stay on
out there, aware that because they
stayed on, something slinked
in the shadows of hedge or barn.
When she appeared
in her regal red finery, not without
decorum, her tail nearly as long
as she was; the whimsical,
wry smile; the ears perked;
her exquisite gait that of a dancer,
her legs and feet propelling her
smoothly across the ground
in more of a glide than a trot
or a brisk bound, as she ran to
the peaked shadows
and between them, darting from
one point to another, possibly
running down a mouse, before
cavorting into the winter grass
north of the barn, the brilliance of
her coat catching different tones
of color, from a glistening blonde
to a wizened fox red, in the glare
of the spotlights, as she
eventually sprinted into
the darkness several hours before
the early spring dawn, which
would break over the ridge
she must have tracked over
by then, igniting the full palette
of her coat, as if she
had dragged it behind her across
the hills, and it caught on
the edge of the treeline, lighting up
the edge of the sky with a color
as bright as her quickness.
The Space Between
            for Christine Cote
There’s a lot to be said
for being able to appreciate
the uncertain space between
winter and spring, an unusually long space
this year, after an unending winter.
Easy enough to mention finding
finding wood anemone, bluets, trout lily,
and violets.  What is radiant draws us,
holds our attention, replenishes
our hope in the seeds
of regeneration springing into flower.  This
serves us.  As does Nadezdha Mandelstam
in Hope Against Hope, when she gives
back the egg her husband, Osip,
had begged from neighbors for her supper
before he was arrested
under orders by Stalin and taken to be
imprisoned in the Gulag.  Being grateful
to witness the space
between winter and spring is a grace
few of us fully fathom, that grayness between
the melting ice and snow
and the brittle emptiness of leaf litter
beneath the budless trees.  This may resemble
the truth we seek more than the hope
we gird ourselves with to staunch
the ruthlessness of an authoritarian regime,
intolerant of compassion
or a cognizance of what is moral. 
The space between may prove to be
a meditative and more prudent path to take
between the grayness of one season
and the animation of another,
before we are truly surprised by
an indescribable joy upon seeing
the ineffable yellows spangled by the lily
and the speckled whites of anemone
mark the distance between winter and spring. 
There’s a lot to be said
about oppression and freedom,
between our seeking truth and the abundant
hope found in a cotillion  
of box turtles sunning on a log
or a young black snake’s sinuousness
sliding between the first wildflowers of spring.
The Last House
My 12-year-old entrepreneurial self
was invested in delivering newspapers. 
Walking was what I did.   The owners
of the local musical theatre lived in
the next to last house on the route.
I delighted in peering over the hedges
to where an MG might have been
parked, or to see the slinky women
in sequined dresses breeze beneath
the orange taffeta lampshades
of party lights around the pool;
but beyond this property was
a plain white clapboard, with
a dog pen out back, whose occupant,
an elderly babushkaed woman,
might be seen going back and forth
from the caged pen, while
disappearing somewhere in between. 
I was always relieved to see
the cage both closed and empty since
the mongrel shepherd was vicious.
Its bark rendered a hole in the air.
The final time I delivered a paper
to the last house on the route,
I noticed the cage door swung open,
and as I turned to walk away past
the canary yellow school buses
with Bluebird written on them in
black letters, parked in the depot
across the street, the dog made its
first pass, approaching me with
a ferocity, then circling again,
each time coming closer and closer.
With each pass, my legs leadened
in fear, until the ultimate pass, when
I could not find it within myself to
lift them at all, and the dog lunged
to bite me from behind, which
preternaturally incited my motor
functions into movement again,
that bite rousing me into the action
of my feet and legs carrying myself
back up the road, where I checked
the bite upon returning home, and
the black-and-blue teeth marks that
didn’t break the skin, due to the winter
coat I had worn on the route;
the shepherd’s growl, the menacing
sound of its teeth and snapping jaws
resounding in my mind.
To be on,
for it to be one of your better days,
for it to culminate
in knowing, beyond a doubt,
that placing your hands in the air
just at the right moment,
so that you can bring them together
and softly palm
the trapped sparrow flying around
the bookstore café
is to experience a moment
of the remarkable, then to step
outside to open your hands
to release the bird
and to watch it fly up
over the languishing blossoms
of the hanging cherry tree,
is to also release that
wilderness within yourself
back into the open air.
Seeing whatever it was
that had darted in front of your eyes
out of the barnyard at dusk
reminds you of the bat
in the auditorium at the book signing
that flew up above the heads
of the onlookers during a break,
then dodged coffee urns
and fruit Danish while
knocking over stacks of paper coffee cups
before you could pull off a tablecloth
from a free table,
and corner the bat, urging it through
a series of hallway that lead to a storeroom,
where you threw the red cloth into
the air, and the bat flew into it,
as it landed onto the checkered
linoleum floor.  Kneeling down
to bunch the cloth loosely about
the bat, you could feel the nervous
twitching of its wings
beneath the fiber of the cotton
weave, and walked it outside,
where you tossed the tablecloth up
to release the bat
in the falling rain, upon which
it chose to attach itself
to the crenellated concrete
of the outside wall of the building,
blinking its eyes in the freedom
of a new day, adjusting
its sight to everything, all of which
appeared to be nothing less than remarkable.

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 the winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Prize for his book, A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds & Nature.

His forthcoming books include The Map of Eternity (Shanti Arts, LLC, 2018), Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018), and On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (Adelaide Books, 2018).

His poems and prose have appeared in Adelaide Literary Journal; The American Book Review; Appalachia Journal; Arts: The Arts in Theological and Religious Studies; Chiron Review, Crab Orchard Review; The Galway Review (Ireland); North American Review; Still Point Arts Quarterly; and Transference: A Literary Journal Featuring the Art and Process of Translation.