Wally Swist – Five Poems
Beneath So Many Lids
Rose, oh pure contradiction, joy
of being No-one’s sleep, under so
—Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell
We would meet passing on the street,
often in front of Woolsey Hall, near
Calder’s metal mobile, Gallows and
Lollipops, between classes,
students rushing around us,
you speaking with excitement about
the translations of Rilke
you had begun, me listening
avidly, when you would open that
gold-colored latch of your worn
leather briefcase, and pull out a sheaf
of freshly-inked poetry on white sheets.
You would diligently hold
the pages in the air in one hand while
pointing to lines that held the music
of the meaning you were
trying to bring into our inadequate
English from what you referred to as
being the pure music
of the German. So many years now
since those translations have become
known as the most accomplished
to be rendered into our language.
In those moments, with the throngs
of students flowing around us,
and you passionately gesticulating,
my wide eyes taking in the dark
type that contained
the light of the mystic vision
you hammered into words onto
the page with the keystrokes
of your typewriter, as Calder had
soldered his multicolored geometries
into place to pivot
against each day’s
juxtaposition of changing sky—
there the two of us stood,
our shadows merging
momentarily, beneath the Matisse-
like discs of whimsy
and delight, our imaginations
expanding to what you were realizing
in the pointed discipline
in which you were releasing
the poetry in the written word of Rilke,
of being able to express
what is ineffable; similar to that
rose, Rilke’s epitaph, on his tombstone,
whose contradiction it is
that such a joy is the sleep of
no one person, beneath those many lids.
A Dream like Ours
I must tell you
what your words do—
how they fill me.
May you infuse the distance
between us in such a way.
May what I feel for you
immerse you, always; in this
dream that is ours,
from which, if I ever do
awaken, may it be looking
into your face, whose
depths are inherent with
such intrigue they reveal
mystique, so that I am
always surprised, due to
my disbelief, that it is you
who are the one here
with me; it is you
I see as I open my eyes.
La Vie en Rose
I just thought you might like to hear
about my newest recipe, as inspiration:
langostino and mussels marina over
spinach and chive pasta, with sautéed
garlic, scallions, sweet onions,
and shredded carrot. It also contains
some basil and chicken stock.
I steamed the mussels first, and
allowed them marinate in the broth.
Then I cut the langostinos in half,
so I can rationalize buying only a few
ounces of this delicacy, since I freeze
the other half. Additionally, I squeeze
a quarter of a lemon onto each serving.
Now I have enough langostinos for
a second preparation of this dish.
This meal should really be served with
a small salad of arugula and cherry
tomatoes in olive oil and balsamic.
More importantly, the dish should also
be complimented by a glass of French
red wine. I went again with what
I happened to have opened: La Passion
Grenache, 2011, and as the vintners
intimate: it is mouthwatering, the tannins
are ripe; and the fruity blackberry taste
is more pronounced than those hints
of liquorice, all highlighted by a soupcon
of herbs. One glass of this and
you are in heaven; a second glass offers
your being in heaven and not wanting to
leave: ever. If you are fortunate enough
to enjoy this repast, you won’t help
but raise your glass in gratitude after
you have cleaned the contents
of your bowl, to toast how absolutely
extraordinary it is just to savor dinner—
what it is to be alive.
Letter to K.
I am writing you to inform you that I am disengaging.
My disengaging, at this time, could not be more significant.
I am disengaging because it is a continual lesson in futility
for me to keep going to see you, even on Mondays, which
seemed to be our established day to visit. That
you are not there, has deflated me, at least on occasion,
since I often enough have found this to be a lesson in
deepening my own practice of patience. I am disengaging
because I believe in an active spirituality. My old mentor,
would often say that if you spoke too much about your
spiritual development it would deplete it, much like water
going over a dam. You talking about spirituality as much
as you do, in my opinion, does the same thing, especially
when I see that you talk about it often enough but that
you can’t access it. As the modern mystic, Carolyn Myss,
has said, Many people have these books on the shelf but they are not
able to access them. Would it be too much for you to just
email me or call to let me know that you are not going to be
in on a Monday, especially when you tell me that you even
look for me on Mondays, which then leads me to make
time out of my own day to see you on Mondays? Apparently
it is. I am unable to use the chair you brought me because
of the smell of kerosene that emanates from it will ruin
my clothes. However, I am not offering that as a ruse
for you to pick it up. I just wanted you to know that
as kind of a gesture as that was it did not work out for me.
I know you are in ill health. Both of us are at crucial
crossroads: questions to answer; decisions to make;
discovering a true path that will affect us and those
we come into contact with; whether to remain
in the area or to choose another place in which to live
out our lives. I wish you the best: spirit and soul,
body and mind, goodness and truth. There has been
no one who has enhanced my life more than you have
over these many years. No one has inspired me
in my entire life as you have: so much so for the best.
I send you wishes for the same: become well, do fine
things, take the best care of yourself, especially when
you are at your most vulnerable. Saying thank you
to you for the love that we have shared, and it has been
love, will fall far short of being apropos. So, I posit
that we might want to keep moving within the boundless
light of this love for the rest of our lives, which is what
carries us and protects us whether we will it or not.
The Tangible Plane
My answer is yes. Yes, to the your phrase,
your rubric, that you send to me. Yes, what
a spark, and series of sparks. However, it is
now my experience, as it was my intuition,
that relationships of depth between a man
and a woman need nurture; and distance,
space, and time are disruptive physical
modulations in the alchemy of Eros, which,
if we can define that elemental archetype is
the Higgs boson of romance, the incandescent
radiance of the beloved. This is what
fills the poetry of Rumi. It is what the Sufi
dervishes whirl in harmony with, and it is
in their dancing, that their hearts dance,
and it is in this dancing that our own hearts
spin in the dance with each other.
Our technology is incapable of replacing
the magnitude of knees touching over
dinner and wine. iPods are not hardwired
in replicating a feasible alternative for that
irresistible magnetism of two people leaning
over to kiss, and, at least, momentarily,
becoming lost in themselves, amid whatever
din that may surround them, so much so
that they actually create their own brief
island of solitude in the current of time.
Meeting on the tangible plane is still
a possibility for us. And meeting you
in the way that I met you and for us
to have experienced the electricity
in the connection between us was
certainly miraculous. It is hubris
to even think for an instant that
the miraculous can be a way of life;
however, it is when we become
humbled by the power of the miraculous
does it become practice and path.
You are a singular rose of a woman;
may you continue to blossom and bloom.
Yes, may we meet on the tangible plane;
may the vectors of our meeting align;
and may they be provident for us both;
but may we always savor the alembic
of the distilled lavishness of our repose.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Beauty is relative—however, it is also abundant and perennial. One type of beauty may diminish and morph into a deeper philosophical truth. Beauty can take the guise of morality and define the outer reaches of what it means to be fully human—to grow into that.
The film Amour, directed by Michael Haneke, which was made in 2012 and won the Palme d’Or, is, ostensibly, all about beauty and what is beautiful about life, as well as what are intrinsic elements of living that may be seen as being opposite to beauty. The film’s characters are a husband and a wife, two former music teachers, in their twilight weeks and days. Jean-Louis Trintignant is Georges and Emmanuele Riva is Anne. They are retired. They are cultured. They read, go to concerts, enjoy each other’s conversation, and still love each other—for the most part. Anne once shocks Georges by saying, as wives often enough stun their husbands by their appraisals of their characters, “You are a monster.” However, she clarifies that declarative sentence by adding “But you have been kind.” That is beautiful.
After a lifetime of marriage to each other, Anne suffers two strokes and Georges cares for her throughout her decline. He bathes her, feeds her, exercises the leg on the side she can no longer feel, practices speech therapy with her. Many men, or wives, for that matter, would never have the wherewithal or the courage to brave such lengths—of true amour. Georges may be guilty of being a monster, in Anne’s experience, but he is the precipitant in furthering the spark of beauty between them. The drama may seem very French, something Camus or Sartre would have taken delight in, with both Georges and Anne seeing the end of their lives in plain sight; however, instead of being grim, they rise above the end of life, in uncommon transcendence. In their amour, and its tacit veracity—there are several touching scenes regarding Georges physical care for Anne, which are truly heartrending in their depth of humanity and active loving—the viewer is offered the essence of what love is and what having an affair is not. Hence, the irony in the film’s title. In today’s world where greed, sex, and narcissism are common, the beauty of Georges and Anne is exemplary as not only a moral and cultural pedagogy without pedantry but, quite aesthetically and humanely, one act of beauty after another. Through another’s lens this might be seen as hardship and turmoil, unimaginable spousal duty and death in life.
At the film’s end, without giving anything away, Georges is clipping the flower heads from a bunch of daisies he has just purchased at the florist. He fills the kitchen sink and scissors the flowers into the water, then throws away the stems. These are meant for his Anne. Often we need to practice the art of discernment in order to see clearly. Sometimes we need to ruin the flowered stalk to create a ritual for celebration. As Anne says, in one scene, over dinner with Georges, while looking through photograph albums, “It’s beautiful.” Georges responds, “What?” Anne answers, “Life. So long.”
That is what constitutes perennial beauty and remains beautiful. If we allow ourselves to discover the epiphany in the commonplace in our lives, we realize, to our astonishment, that all along, through every disappointment and affliction, we can say, “it’s beautiful.”
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 Press, 2015); Candling the Eggs (Shanti Arts, LLC, 2017); and Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018). More at: wallyswist.com.