Poems from “Snow on A Crocus,” Swan Scythe Press, by Joan Swift

Poems by Joan Swift

The following four poems appeared in the newly released poetry collection
Snow on a Crocus: Formalities of a Neonaticide by Joan Swift. Published by
Swan Scythe Press, Snow on a Crocus was given the 2010 Walter Pavlich
Memorial Poetry Award.

What Comes Back

There is no face, no hair, no skin smell,
searing blue or liquid brown eyes telling me
here’s the one I killed.
I float in gauze as day begins its shape
around the bed. There is no blood,
no thud of a falling body,
yet I wake up sure I’ve killed someone.
My victim waits outside the shower
while water tries to rinse the ghost away.
Did I kill my father? He vanished when I was six.

Or was it the man who raped me years ago?
He got off with an easy plea, five years in Vacaville,
then he raped again and killed. Her name was Joan.
Her jacket was the color of a lime and his semen ran
a silver river over it. When I took the stand
I told the jury how I painted a windowsill that day
he lunged in through the door, how he grabbed my throat
and threw me down. The jury gave him life.
Is he the one I killed?

March, gray Sunday morning. My cousin phones:
her granddaughter…baby girl born in a dorm room…
wrapping of the child in plastic…dumpster
behind that empty place of love and tears and terror.
I sink into the texture of the chair. I mourn.
Is there a killer waiting in all of us?

The Start of the Story and Some of the End

You walk through waterfalls all afternoon
and rainbows made of the drenched sun.There is enchantment
where you step through yarrow, aster, mint,

a spell falls over you and love
is nothing else but lying down, a dove

on each of your bare toes and on his back
a tee shirt you keep pulling on like

a bell for all the ringing. Later
snow will fall on your mother’s hair

as she walks from her car to the courtroom.
Killing is always the same.

The child will circle your days long after she’s gone
like a boat that swings on an anchor chain

and never heads out to sea
day after trembling day.

Christmas Night

God is in his house among the stars
so to God you cannot speak,
and your mother is cleaning up the leftovers.

Finding grace in the boughs of the dark
fir tree will not happen. You must go up step by step
to your bedroom, gather your blankets and a book.

Ponder the small life inside you with her occasional hiccup.
Whether to cross into the country of the blessed
and keep herrattles, bellsor, lacking a map

of the dun plains, wander alone with the lost.
There is still time before the first bud breaks from its caul
to save you both, to choose what is most

honest and simple. Downstairs the dishes rattle
in the dishwasher. Under your ribs the child’s dance
is a samba. And now your mother comes and you can tell

her, you can help yourself to this glittering chance
wheeling just out of reach. When she asks you
Honey, are you pregnant? the irretrievable nonce

hangs in the air like a single flake of snow
you could catch on your tongue.
And you say No.

Blowing Out the Candles

Snow falls like feathers outside the dorm window.
Breast feathers of towhees, feathers of snow

geese and trumpeter swans that fly for a winter’s
warm weather cruise

over a pond in North Carolina.
White feathers and off-white feathers, a

fluttering before your eyes
taking you to a world without any purples, blues.

You wanted to keep the baby. He didn’t.
He wanted to keep the baby. You didn’t.

Your pink warm-ups hide you as you drink lemon
tea in the big chair beside the television.

When your mother drives over with a yellow-
frosted birthday cake, you pull the throw

closer to the hill of your secret.
Too long you pretended the pool inside was a late

period. You floated on that water as if the baby
might swim away.

He wanted to keep the baby. You didn’t.
You wanted to keep the baby. He didn’t.

There on your arm is yesterday’s
beginning bruise.

You bumped the door, you tell your mother.
Then you blow out the candles of your future.

Reprinted from Snow On A Crocus, Formalities of a Neonaticide. Swan Scythe Press. Copyright Joan Swift 2010.

Joan Swift’s four full-length collections of poetry include The Dark Path of Our Names (Dragon Gate Inc.) and The Tiger Iris (BOA Editions Ltd.), both winners of the Washington State Book Award.  Her previous chapbook is Intricate Moves: Poems About Rape (Chicory Blue Press). Her poems have appeared in dozens of periodicals, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Yale Review, DoubleTake, The Iowa Review, The American Poetry Review, and Ploughshares as well as numerous anthologies.  She is a graduate of Duke University with a B.A. in English and of the University of Washington where she studied in Theodore Roethke’s last class, earning an M.A. in English-Creative Writing.  A recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, she has also been awarded writing grants from the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the Washington State Arts Commission, a Pushcart Prize, and been featured on Poetry Daily.

You can order Snow on a Crocus: formalities of a neonaticide here.

Please check out Poetry Editor Tania Pryputniewicz’s interview with Joan Swift.

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