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Sample Poems by William Swarts



Air Guitar

My son plays air guitar.
He strums silent echoes
of stereo sounds. Lays
down tempo and theme,
melody and beat,
chorus and variation.
You can see his songs,
blues notes scored
on blue skies.
Why should he fret?
He makes music
of the mind with
composure, with abandon,
stretching invisible strings
to endless chords,
measuring the heart's
unheard harmonies.
His plucked imagination
sweetens the air.


Blue Lips, Blue Fingertips

One step. I leave the trailhead behind
and, pail in hand, begin my uphill climb
on a path, scuffed by thousands of
footsteps, toward the rocky ridge top
to pick this season's blueberries.

I mind my footing so not to trip on
roots and stones studding the trail.
Switch-backing up the mountainside,
I stop to marvel at the centerpiece
of the lower slope forest: a giant boulder,
twice as high as I, festooned with
cascading ferns, crowned by an oak
whose roots twine down dirt-caulked
cracks to tie the huge rock to the ground.

At mid-mountain, where the woodland
stops, I pass through an evergreen forest,
groves of bristly firs and lacy hemlock.
Folks 'round here call this "Christmas tree land."
I tread a carpet of needles and moss,
navigate a rosebay rhododendron maze
of crooked branches and waxy leaves,
and arrive at Glassy Falls Lookout.

This early in the morning, miles of
misty mountaintops stretch like atolls
across the horizon of a cotton sea.
Here on the crest, scattered among
shrubs growing between granite outcrops,
waist-high blueberry bushes grow.

I pluck berries from their stems, drop them
one by one into the bucket. Plunk, plunk, plunk.
--muffled drumbeats on the pail's tin bottom.
Tiny, over-ripe globes crush when picked
and stain my fingertips blue, my lips too
when I lick the pulp from my hand.

By mid-morning, I've filled my pail
to the brim. It's time to backtrack
through familiar territory, past spruce
and pines, red oak and sugar maple.
I walk downslope to where I started,
swinging my bucket weighted with
a harvest of dark blue sweetness.


Jumbo-Sized Deus Ex Machina>

Yea, elephant is firmament unto Himself.
Solar systems orbit and whirl
around inside His mammoth belly
as He creates His thrice-ringed world.

Elephant strides in His brand new world
two-tons tamping down, pacing to and fro,
yea, verily with the patience of Job,
until He sees that it is good.

From the field He smites the skies
and with tall mast cleaves the clouds,
hoists poles for His canopied temple
until He sees it is raised just so.

The creeping beasts He brings forth
in pairs, and fanged animals from
plains and jungles, number by number,
and orders them to be very good.

He has a host of buglers to summon
all the sons and daughters of the earth,
and all of their sons and daughters
and their forebears and forefathers.

Then without cease from His labors,
Elephant trumpets His command:
"O, let there be lights," and,
by Elephant, there were.

35th Birthday March

I was drafted, didn't volunteer,
but I've served half my hitch

and counting cadence now comes easy.
Don't sing me no reenlistment blues.

Marching down the avenue,
twice my age and I'll be through.

Drill sergeants train their troops to
charge and retreat from reveille to taps,

while old vets fade away from forced hikes
between bivouac and barracks.

My mind goes AWOL. Thirty-fucking-five years.
I have no lyric battle cry.

My purple heart is scarred,
Pinned down too long by good conduct.

I'm a seventy-year man,
A three score and ten man,

The world's oldest private.
But listen up. This lifer's march




Commands all generals to halt,
Then strut in step for me.

Marching down the avenue. Parading
to my music, my honorable discharge.



Barren Hill I

For months of Sundays after church
we'd visit Granddad's grave
to pull up weeds and change
the week-old flowers.

Though my grandparents slept
in separate beds and, at the end,
when something was eating him,
in separate rooms, their headstone
on Barren Hill was wide as
a headboard for a double bed
with whose side of the grave
clearly marked by both names,
(but only his dates).

After his death, and for all the years
of nights of the next generation to come,
something ate at Granny-
a wondering when her own parenthesis
of dates would close and the uncrossed
aisle between twin beds would be bridged
again, an asking if the dead wait for us
to catch up or catch on.

She lived with my maiden aunt Elsa
who died twice before her mother.
after her first death, home from
the hospital, Aunt Elsa said as we
watched the moon-landing,
"I've been out farther than that.
Way, way out. Her eyes beamed
Like lasers light-years beyond us,
flashed proudly in eye sockets.
She knew the answers, and more.