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Four Poems - Marc Swan

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Of Dogs & Men

Finally, you are home
after a few months away
to your apartment in a small village
with a hard sounding name
in a hardscrabble land
of dried corn, unscythed wheat,
dead cows and dogs --
tongues slit and torn
from gaping mouths

In the center of the room
ripped law books, tattered clothes,
broken lamps, a slashed
couch, and human excrement

Behind a closed cupboard door
a tin of metal shavings
and nails wired, set to explode
at the slightest pull

Beside a haystack, in a yard
a few meters away,
your mother steps on the extended
hand of her brother-in-law --
a last grasp
before a mound of hay
settled over his cleaved
and broken face

By his side, an elderly couple
curled like old friends,
caked round holes directly
between their eyes

The family dog
left just the way I described


Skeleton Dance

No tattoos visible thirty feet away
on the arms and chest
of the middle-aged man moving
easily in and out of the water,
a slightly built young woman
beside him. Her long blond hair lifts
into the wind when she raises
pale arms high, back flips
into the waves. He dives shallow,
whirling like a dervish into a cocoon,
then flat on his back
alongside her. At that moment,
my twelve-year-old yells --"Look!"
for me to watch her do a lazy crawl,
then a breaststroke, followed
by a butterfly and a long, clean
freestyle through choppy waves
as the tide pumps thick froth
onto the shore. On the way out,
he sees me walking with my cane --
"You ok?" he asks. I glance his way.
"Are you okay? I mean your leg,
is everything ok?" "Fine," I say,
"and how about you?" "What a day,"
he says. "Here we are two dads
with their daughters at the beach.
What a miracle kind of day."
When my daughter and I get to the car,
she asks, "What was that all about?"
"Danang," I say, "or Khe Sanh
or the road that ran the Parrot's Beak."


What I remember

What I see when he comes in
to meet me before his case arrives
is the throbbing in his head
above the left eye
a crevice that thumps
as if something alive were pushing out
Never stopping

when he tells me he only touched her breast
once “A misunderstanding”
that took him to Bridgewater
then to Taunton State for three years
“On the outside “ he says
“of her blouse”

The thick vein in his forehead throbs
with each word
and when there are no words
then he says “nail clipper”
says he took a nail clipper and dug a hole
in his right arm above the elbow
in his locked room

In his locked room he sunk the tiny jaws
into his right arm
and severed the vein
“with a little click”

He says blood “spurted and spurted
and spurted” until an attendant saw the blood
spurting and took him to the infirmary
where they stitched the clipped vein

All of this in five maybe ten minutes
then he shakes my hand and walks out
of the six by eight cubicle I work in
into the bright light outside the window
three cubicles away

His case will arrive soon



She says we don’t go away forever
just for a while

When we’re ready
we come back with a blueprint
of the changes we want to make –

taking the dys
out of dysfunctional family
or finding love
or success
or learning how to build a bridge
or dance the tango

or do the close step to step
all the way up the arm of the Statue of Liberty

she says
like dead relatives she never thinks of
or felt they thought much of her
appearing at the oddest times

When the days seem like nights
and the fog settles so low
she can barely find the door
let alone the key

they turn on the light switch for her
help her settle into an easy chair
tuck grandmother’s quilt up close

She’s not crazy
this fifty-four-year-old woman
who tells me these things

She was a social worker
She has multiple sclerosis
She almost died
twice from breast cancer
She is not a guru or a wizard
or one of those good witches we read about
She is a woman with a plan


Marc Swan lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (USA). You can find other poems by him at this site: adboit2l.htm and ad211.htm.


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