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.

The reporter’s dream

The reporter’s dream

You’re the reporter and you’ve just talked to people whose lives have been turned inside out, but neatly, like an envelope; they are still capable of holding things. Now you have to make sense of it all. Or do you? You fall asleep at your laptop despite the deadline and the coffee. In a dream you’re walking through a library of strange books, which rustle in the stacks as if a wind is moving through them. These are books whose stories are still being written. Sometimes whole chapters move, or rewrite themselves silently because the ink of the present is constantly bleeding through the pages to the earlier chapters, so that when you re-read a person’s past you find a minor character has disappeared, or assumed sudden importance. The covers, too, change over time. And the call numbers. You’re trying to be conscientious and place a book back in its proper place but the numbers keep changing on the piece of paper taped to the book’s spine. You get tired and there’s a place to lay down waiting for you. It’s hard but comfortable. And there’s a blanket, white and starched stiff, with the first three letters of your last name on it. You pull it over you and sleep.

Six lines for an early September front porch, for maple, bird and twilight

Six lines on an early September front porch, for maple, bird and twilight

sep 8

The maples are still green. I can hear the Canada geese
Sloughing below vision. Noisy in the west, where clouds break

Against the invisible shoreline of the livable world.
Their calls drift east, first in a foam of chaos then spreading

Like a wave disperses, one voice eddying out, diminishing
Then rising again, with a single repeated wish, good luck, good luck.

September moon song

September moon song

sepmoon

The mist blows across the moon
And makes the low sound of time

That you hear in your bones and eye-sockets,
That old houses hear. The floor boards

Remember when they were part of something bigger
But when they sing to the moon it sounds

Flat, like uncertain foot-falls in a dark hallway.
The screech owl in the backyard

Is like someone who laughs before they have told
The joke and then had no reason to tell it.

And the two voices talking about a dream
One had, up at maple leaf level; they fade

And drift, like a moon across a window pane,
Or the impression on the grass of a possum’s pink feet.

Six late-August evenings (5)

Six late-August evenings (5)

5.
Ithaca, 1987. Walking down the middle of a street
In Collegetown. Above my head in the oak arching

Over the road, splattering sunlight like a Pollock
Being painted over every second under my feet,

The eternal drone of a lone cicada. No over or under,
No depth or arc, no resolution. Through the oak leaves

A bluejay flashes through with the suddenness
Of a thing that carries its own sky. The drone stops,

The cicada’s head drops papery at my feet like
An origami animal of surprise that even the eternal dies.

*

Charlottesville, twenty years later. My children call it
The jungle. Half the back yard shaded by maple,

Mimosa and oak. A path meandering along its fenced perimeter
Between saplings and ivy. The jungle extends through

The entire neighborhood’s backyards as if by communal
Design. The broad winged hawk has taken up residence

Because the neighbors behind us feed songbirds.
We feed the nightstain of crows that drop on our deck

In the morning, ungainly dew, to pluck last night’s dinner scraps
From our crow trough. On a hot August afternoon I walk

From the deck to the edge of the jungle. Something has caught
My eye: a blade of blue sticking from the grass.

It’s a bluejay feather, standing in the earth like a pen, its quill
Embedded several inches into the ground. A few feet

Beyond that, the impossibly soft white belly feathers, strewn
Like an exploded dandelion. A few feet away, nothing else

But the bluejay’s head. So much smaller in its silence.

The Blue Fell

The Blue Fell

The sky was catching its breath on the mountaintop
It had come a long way I suppose in a hurry its journey

Not yet done For whom do you carry these tears
Asked the fell For a son who has lost his father

The sky answered though this cloud has enough
Grief that some may fall on the car just now lost

In its fog The pines on the fell bristled and the under
Growth glistened with derision The fog said the fell

Is mine it arises from my circumstance in the lower
Green regrets it is too humble to creep over these

Heights and the fell broke the cloud and the cloud’s
Own dying half-crept east bleeding clear rain

and wind from the contours
Broke it further

And a man awoke from a dream of holding his
Mother who was crying but in the dream the tears

Were words in other languages because she had forgotten
Her own language six years ago the words rolling

Across the floor like marbles rolling incomprehensible
And outside his father younger by forty years

Was mowing the lawn shirtless he liked how the mower
Was so loud no one could call his name

Until he was done then I blinked halfway up the fell
Sleet clattering like marbles off the windshield

I took him up once at the top on a clear day
We stood there with nothing between us

And we went back down together

Six late-August evenings (4)

Six late-August evenings (4)

4.
When I woke the hole inside my dream was being filled
By something blacker than the night-soil

For an hour I watched awake on my bed as if from underground
As if being awake were something buried in my dream

Observing the cross section of my spirit and I understood
Each root was a person whose spirit had grafted invisibly

And fed the visible and I knew with certainty
The hole being filled was where my father had been

What it was filled with I did not know I only knew
I had to wake but there was no additional waking

There was no news in the morning to carry that loss
So it seeped into me as if I were a hole recently dug

It could have been that morning it will be another
I have already lived it realizing what I think is real

Is another seed buried in a night of wild sounds
Another empty pod from which a dream has grown

Waking up again to the darkness in the dark filling
To the sound of absence pouring into the future

Six late-August evenings (3)

Six late-August evenings (3)

3.
The mist climbs down the edges of the soccer field.
We are surrounded: on one side a power substation

With towers, cables and wires stretching out in all directions
Dwarfing the abandoned factory on Commerce with the smokestack

That looks like someone stubbed a giant cigar
Into the earth, back when people were giants;

On the other side a massive mostly empty school for the deaf
And blind trying to figure out what to become in

A new century where you don’t isolate children.

The mist is rolling, from the corners of the field
Toward the pre-teen daughters in their blue and red

Pinnies focused on the soccer scrimmage.
My daughter is out there, growing taller and stronger

And more invisible with each passing minute.
Coaches are like a good timepiece made in another

Country, they don’t stop for anything. Not even for
Parents whose daughters are disappearing before

Their eyes, straining to identify a joyful yell for the ball
As it skids over the wet blades into the future,

beyond the taut lines of current and the brooding brick
and the skeletal structures of power behind them, looming.