Author Archives: Jeff Schwaner

About Jeff Schwaner

Poet: three published books of verse and two novels. Studied poetry at Cornell University, where I was awarded the Dorothy Sugarman Poetry Prize and George Harmon Coxe Award for Contributions to Creative Writing. Entrepreneur: Co-founder in 2000 of Booksurge, an author-initiated self publishing and Print On Demand (POD) site purchased by Amazon in 2005. Working guy: manager at LexisNexis. Family man: husband and father of three. New England native and current Virginia resident. Big fan of Blue Ridge mountains and hills and trees in general.

Brok3n [by August Schwaner, age 11]

Note: My son August, age 11, wrote this poem this morning. 

Brok3n

The wind blows
It does nothing
The rain falls
It does nothing
Yet if you were the rain
Or the wind
You would cry out
“Remember me too.”
And if you were yourself
You would already be doing that
Oddly, I’m ready.
I don’t know what for.
But I know if the wind and the rain stops
I’ll cry out
“Somebody Break Me”
And the stars will reply
“Not yet.”

Wallace Stevens walks abroad on a foggy-mild first night of December, passing as an unseen shadow by my window from which I often view the public library, and has nothing further to do with this poem

FullSizeRender (2)

Wallace Stevens walks abroad on a foggy-mild first night of December, passing as an unseen shadow by my window from which I often view the public library, and has nothing further to do with this poem

That one had a little skull to speak of.

Magnolia trees’ fail to announce themselves but demand to be seen. As if once they were simple flowers for the dead, rootless like a funeral flower left by a stone, but time turned it into a tree with the unexpected smoothness and texture and the character of a stone, and the smell of lemons reminded us of all whom we miss and who miss us but are by us forgotten. A shadow reminded me of this

While I walked with a scary god in the dark.

It’s not debt I fear but desertion. That there’s no scary god beside me that I pick up and carry when things get difficult.

I pulled off last month’s skin and saw that I am already that memory you have of me, it said to me under a streetlight. I said something like a thought has to be light or it can’t fly and we left it at that.

The baby’s skull mends itself from the moment it’s born, like it knows what’s coming. The magnolia’s petals, like softened plates of bone abandoned by a weak seam.

I knew if I said anything like “seem” that you’d think I was writing about Stevens. And now he’s part of this poem for you, even as the poem is coming together like the plates of a skull to keep Wallace Stevens out of its mind.

This is what I knew about the South. I drove across an empty parking lot in the Florence of South Carolina. Inside the coliseum, the hockey players swarmed in a pre-game drill.

By the time I turned around my scary god was trying to bury me among the abandoned boats of fallen magnolia leaves. His eye sockets were the shells of boiled peanuts and his mouth was a stately house left by its family as the burning army came closer.

November hymnal (30)

November hymnal (30)

I have cast these songs as a spell
Against the clarity of faith and doubt

Drafted the lyrics on fog
Or as water freezing on a windshield

Light still coming on through
Not broken but improbable

Temporary refractions where
Nothing’s lost to trust

I have cast these songs as a counterweight
To wings who’d take me from creek wisdom

And these songs I’ve cast like rocks
Through the windows of sunday

Thirty days leave like clouds
over cold jetty stones

November hymnal (29)

November hymnal (29)

The wind blows the massacre over mountains
And the mountains blunted by a billion years

Still shudder and a twist of vultures descends
Through the leftover chasm of last breaths

As if it would corkscrew through the hotel parking lot
The crust of asphalt crumbling like a cork

Down the red earth to the buried creek
But they settle on a pine and resume waiting

For something new to die. Hundreds of pine needles
Drift down like hairs uncounted by God.

November hymnal (28) / A Memorable Fancy (for Wm. Blake and A.R. Ammons)

November hymnal (28) / A Memorable Fancy (for Wm. Blake and A.R. Ammons)

As I was walking with the rain along the gutter
Nudging sodden leaves over to clear a way

Or arranging wind-sticks parallel to the stream
To frame water’s efficiency, I heard a thump and saw

November’s angel crouching on the curb.
I ignored him, flicking an oak leaf on its back

To watch it skry the secrets of the surface picking
Up speed but kept him in the corner of my eye

Like you do a wasp off the end of summer’s porch.
His wings were sewn of fallen black walnut twigs

His eyes empty walnut husks his oily tears black
His muddy shield a yard sign for the side that lost

Election, limbs swelling of green willow torn tender by a storm
And twined useless for winter burning. Look I said without looking

Myself at him how the fallen is transfigured into
This slender stream of mourning how every failed

Flight gives it sinew and speed. The angel had a word
But could not with a tongue of apple core spit it out

And I did not want a word with him: still I figured he meant
Well enough though a few of his feet washed away

In the strengthening rain river and I kept to the far side
Of the runoff thinking even God could not cross live water

Without a boat or an invitation or swim lessons at the Y
First: turkey vultures of which there are many in this valley

Won’t eat a living thing and my faith shambling beside me
One wing cocked like a wound’s stitches on the sky still

Had at least a threat or curse left in him but the Black
Vulture will pick at what’s weak and having seen if it puts

Up a fight or bares its belly dig in before the blessing:
The water was a streetside torrent the width of a car tire

And there came a flapping I felt more than heard
And twigs like tiny logs coursed by me in the stream

And the month clicked its beak and pieces of black
Husk I watched slide downstream toward December.

November hymnal (27) / Song of the cold wind

IMG_9190

November hymnal (27) / Song of the cold wind

The maple leaves have browned on stems above
A trunk choked with ivy in my neighbor’s yard

The song of the cold wind through the month’s
Last leaves is like running rain then

River galloping over rocks then like burning
Banned books then finally as the song

Of the cold wind harmonizes with ice it’s like tearing
Up the truth (I thought these words

holding my tongue and chattering teeth because
Behind them lay the idea of the May maple

All too ready to spring but I counseled patience
There is no use biting what’s already dead)

While the once weightless brown words dropped
Stone heavy where sleet slept on them and any

Body walking by could hear them
Bounce off the ground like pennies

November hymnal (26) / Lines written while waiting to hear about a house fire

November hymnal (26) / Lines written while waiting to hear about a house fire

Outside in the dark there was a picture the shape of a window
Projected on the house next door. Within the frame a slow

Motion dancing of slender orange and shadow
Like plants swaying at the bottom of the ocean.

Still not fully awake, maybe like a deep sea diver gesturing
In slow motion through the stuff of sleep, I got up knowing

The light was a projection from my daughters’ room.
I floated down the hall, my feet were still fins, awareness

Being fed to me by a tank strapped to my back.
I reached the doorway and saw the lamp on fire

Between their beds on the night table. It twisted like
An orange octopus rising up but not moving in the utter

Silence of two girls sleeping without knowledge of
Death. That’s when my mind scrambled onto land.

I woke them and whispered them out of the room
To their mother. Pulled the night table away from the curtain

Kicked the cord from the socket. I froze
Staring at it for a second, still a small thing that

Swerved as if it had a right to exist
And grow to the size of a house.

Then I had a bucket in my hand and
That’s when I drowned it. Then I ran

To the bathroom and filled the bucket again
And a few times more then it was a bucket of black

Smoke and I was standing in water I could hear
Myself cough as if under the surface and my family was on the porch

Below and it was winter and the cold air surged
Up the stairs to the bedroom as I opened the windows

Like a genie ready to grant a wish of burning
Free of form like a color dancing from a magic lamp