– Jessica Swafford
* My first attempt at writing a “skinny”.
And in the morning, the peppers
Still hadn’t bloomed
In the shadow
of the Bradford Pear.
The earwigs still feasted
On the basil leaves
To the delight of the robins
Which again feasted on them.
The cucumbers still hadn’t climbed
The trellis but made their bed
In the storm-sopped soil
Just like the night before.
I ask again,
and the Kale lifts its leaves toward the sun.
Some days are harder than others.
Doesn’t matter what is happening
Or how the energy is coursing through me,
This video of a cat made me laugh
So now I want to watch another.
Words itching to get out
Unrecognizable behind this haze of whatever
Forming the block between brain and hand
I’ve got a couple lines down
And plenty more scribbles after that.
Thirty days times a hundred words or more
Is at least three thousand thoughts and decisions,
More if you’re an overachiever.
But I’m still addicted to crushing my candies
Level one thousand three hundred eighty-eight!
Oh, wait…maybe…if this…yes!
Level one thousand three hundred eighty-nine!
Anything written tonight will be
Nothing short of a miracle.
I’m not sure how much more I can take
From the cloying, deranged voice of a well-meaning woman
Who calls me ‘doll’ a little too much and
Pets my head like a Labrador
To the snooty overlord
Who tears me away from real responsibilities
Please clean my congealed yogurt out from the sink
Cloying, deranged smile
I need a break, we all need a break
But even lunch turns into a trial
You insist on yelling “ándale!” to our
Far too polite waiter at Mexican Hardee’s
Even that name, cloying and deranged
What a goddamned insult
Barely concealed gossip, wafting just over
The cheaply constructed walls that are full of
Technicolor push pins, perfectly sized to slam
Into my ear sockets, blissful release
Oh. Nevermind, it’s 5 o’clock!
Everything’s great again!
I read an obituary today
belonging to a total stranger,
a lawyer. It was long,
but what was interesting
was that after the military,
after high school,
undergrad, grad school,
and law practice,
he took up flying over the Great Lakes.
And building miniature trains.
It turns out there are societies
dedicated to these pastimes—
these hobbies people turn into passions—
where members congregate
year after year
to put their energy into something
just because it makes them happy.
And when I read that obituary,
read about that man’s life and passions,
I got to work on mine.
This was among my dreams during the night. After the dogs got me up. After I finally summoned sleep from the dust under the bed. We walked out of the building. Not holding hands yet. Got separated by some folks coming up the walk. I saw you turn toward the playground. You were out of sight by the time I followed. The parkway was rich with trees that shattered the afternoon light. Thick privets were interrupted by river quarried rock walls and fading gray driveways. I knew where I’d find you. Which swing your legs would push higher and higher as you laughed. Instead you stepped away from a wall and spun me around and pushed my back to the stones while your body pressed against me and your mouth opened over mine with a heart full of hunger behind it and our hands were tree limbs moving everywhere in the gale that sprang from us. We moved apart. Held hands. Headed toward the swings to pretend we were children. I’m glad the dogs didn’t wake me again until morning.
Your Name means Laughter
– for Isaac
You asked me to paint
your room like a game,
the story of a boy fighting
giants, monolithic colossi
formed of moss and stone,
each muted color a stroke
of artist’s brush.
Is it any wonder that you see
yourself, so small, facing monsters
throwing shadows across a bleak
and forgotten landscape? You
cross the threshold of a decade
in a few months’ time, and yet
you’ve shouldered more than that
which breaks grown men.
Before you were born, before
a single soul believed you to be
a boy (the boy I always knew
you’d be), I prayed for a name.
I whispered through the walls
of your mother’s body. You
answered my voice with yours
rolling, pressing flesh within
flesh, stretching your world,
refusing to accept the space
you were given, forcing it
to respond. She would sleep—
we spoke and laughed. Even then
you fought battles too large
for a boy, for someone trapped
inside—you kept your mother
out of the war, just as you’d keep
me from the one in my head,
when she left us anyway.
On the day you were born,
we decided. I told you I wished
you would come—it wasn’t time, but
you came, hours later—you pushed
through hell and the walls
to find me. You turned your head
and looked in my eyes, even though
science says it is impossible.
So why does my heart break, seeing
you struggle with this fallen world?
You’ve already proven you’re more
than what they say, more than all
the trials, than those abandoning you,
falling short of what you deserve.
has failed you more times than not;
I see it in your eyes: The strength
to scale mountains and monsters
the world might throw at you.
I have always believed
there is power in a name; we are
not limited by what we are called,
but we can be emboldened by that
which is spoken into us. You are
unstoppable. You are
unbreakable. You have
always been a boy with the heart of a man,
carrying the sword of your intellect
and the shield of your faith.
You still make me laugh—
though now, I laugh at how I think
I must protect you, when you have
always been the one who rescued me:
You, age 1: Against my chest as I wept,
as you slept, in the night
while she was gone.
You, age 2: The reason I fought
for our family, for myself
when she returned.
You, age 4: Your bedtime laughter
the buoy keeping me afloat
at the end of a day.
You, age 8: The strongest reason
I came home from the pain
I know it sounds saccharine, but
you are my hero. So, yes,
I will paint it on the walls
of your world, in words,
in whatever strokes
and I will watch you
become the man
you already are, inside,
a warrior laughing
in a world full of giants
falling at your feet.
The real worlds naturally start with spring
And so are out of phase
My made-up world starts in pitch and cold
The Chinese have their own beginning
So did the Mayans but that’s over now
Maybe at the deepest bottom of the ocean
Where life eats heat
A different beat
Enforces a rhythm
Strange and discrete
Or in the darkest caves
The blind fish
Have only the water’s splash
To make now from past
A mother of eighteen
It’s an odd relationship we have
The way you’d touch me as a reward
And expect me to be good.
I looked up to you a lot of the time
Though I wasn’t always sure what you were saying
I’d rest my head on you,
Follow you around,
And miss you when you were gone.
You tried to train me
But I peed on the fence,
I am just a dog