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.

Chimney song

Chimney song

The brick broke close to cleanly
and lay in a wheel rut its two pieces

within half an inch of each other after
the dark tumble from the next door

neighbor’s chimney down its roof
and in air across the shared dirt driveway

between houses where it banked off
the screen of our kitchen window

just below our bedroom then fell
its final six feet to the muddy tire

tracks and divided itself almost
neatly like a last piece of cake

being shared between the past
and a future without houses

The shadow of a doubt

The shadow of a doubt

So much bigger than doubt itself
cast into the future or back on the past

where it seems more solidly something
else. I crept up on it once

to see if it recognized me
After all it had led me so far

forward and back
but I could not find its eyes

The King of Frederick Street

Note: As the Yankees and Red Sox square off for the first time this endless pandemic summer, I’m reminded of a poem from my 2013 book 20 Poems & Other Translations from the English, which is about my father’s last visit to Virginia. He was afraid to leave his wife, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, for too long, but he spent a week with us and it was wonderful. It was also the last time we watched a Yankees game together until the month he would die, last July. So just a nod to my dad that I’m still watching.

The King of Frederick Street

Almost eighty, my father is surrounded
by my children, their dogs and cats
while wrestling a Solitaire game whose battery

will not seem to die. We set a folding chair
on our elevated patch of lawn
where the maple’s shadow slows and slurs

across his feet, sliding up the grass
to the house like an instant replay
of a baserunner sliding past him safely home.

It takes an hour, but now he rests in the sun.
The King of Frederick Street, we call him,
sitting on a lawn above car level on the high

side of this crooked hill, watching cars
go by, too fast, he notes, for a street
with children. Seven hundred

miles to the north his wife does not remember
most of while she’s loved. Still, him she loves
and recognizes four times a week,

musses his hair and strokes his nose and laughs,
and now does not beg to be released.
From love and parenthood there’s no escape,

also no home safe to slide past and drag
a hand across the plate just beneath
Death’s late tag. Though I can see him

try to calculate the odds, the angry focus
like leading off third, game on the line.
Pop–the Yankees are on at eight. He’ll come

Then, pick up that infernal Solitaire game
and we’ll play it side by side on the couch,
stand for the anthem and work the count

as innings race by in slow motion.
I glance across the thirty year gap
And know the years will thin;

Meanwhile, we sit, and compete
at who’s best at being alone.
He wins and wins.

Reclusion (2)

Note: When I revise a poem at all, it usually works like this: I write a poem, I walk away from it for a bit, then reading it again I take the bottom 2/3 off it, or the top 2/3 off, and find my poem sitting somewhere in the middle. In this case, I wrote “Reclusion” exactly as it was in those eight lines and felt it was done. I published it here, and then went back to my working document to write something else. I found my mind wanted to keep playing with the lines and the words of “Reclusion,” though. I added two sections of diminishing length that used the same language from the first eight lines. I got up and walked away. I came back.  I slept on it. I tinkered with stuff in the basement and back yard. I came back inside. I read it again. I felt like this longer version is the actual poem. Although Melissa Crowe of Beloit Poetry Journal might laugh reading what I’m about to write, I don’t often think the longer version is better.  But in this case… I dunno… So, not to get in the way of the first published version, I will let that one stand on its own. But here’s a different look at “Reclusion.” Feel free to tell me where I should have stopped. Or, should I keep going?…

Reclusion

Give me three words then sleep.
Like three mountains I’ll have

To climb before you wake.
Or like time I’ll wear them down

To level with me in the hollow
Quandary time between dreams.

The heart like a quiet piano
In a room the moon doesn’t reach.

*

In a room the moon doesn’t reach
To level with me: in the three hollow

Words sleep climbed before I woke:
Or like the time you wore them, down

In the heart’s quiet piano, notes
Like three mountains I can still see.

*

In the hollow piano
In the room before I woke

The moon dreams of mountains

The six essentials for landscape painting, according to the sage, poorly translated without the benefit of the original [Summer Mountains 8]

 

The six essentials for landscape painting, according to the sage, poorly translated without the benefit of the original

The brush moves forward, seizing forms without hesitation
with the elegance of an unanswered prayer

The voice of the brushwork is like a breath
in the blackness nudging against the window screen

In the left third the closest mountain
signaling from a distance appears

The shadow of right action
Moving freely through the forms

But in the ink wash we see it for what it is
A pile of unanswered prayers

The master cracks the brush and rubs his eyes
There are not enough mountains for that

Mountains like [Summer Mountains 7]

Mountains like [Summer Mountains 7]

Mountains like sheets hanging on chairs
Mountains like a person sleeping under the bedspread

Mountains like broken bottles
Mountains like everything that hasn’t yet fallen

Crumbled fractured cracked given in
Mountains weeping rivers

Mountains like the accident of bears
Mountains like the unpolished mirror of clouds

Mountains afraid of the dark
Growing toward the sun

Mountains with a collapsed artery trapping the train
Mountains available for the press

Mountains the stitch across the wound
Mountains like a long German noun

Mountains impossible to name mountains
Banks of the rivers of air

Fable, July 20 [Summer Mountains 6]

Fable, July 20 [Summer Mountains 6]

Ten days before my father dies again.
It’s a long hike, but no matter

How slow I walk
I will get there on time

At the peak of grief.
Only then I’ll see a second

Spire of stone barely
Substantial through the cloud

Which I will realize
Is the true grief and this one

I have climbed is
A mountain’s memory.

Then will come a year
And another.

This is how the great
Mountain ranges are formed.

5. Detail of 4. [Summer Mountains 5]

5. Detail of 4.

(detail of Musicians riding on an elephant, 8th cent.)

Now in the dark of the tiger’s stripes
The words are full of mouths when will they close

Summer is inches away
Breathing against the glass.

The praying mantises have left the peony leaves
For the untrimmed plants by the porch

One brown mantis remains like a recluse
Behind him the sky pulls up the ground

The mail truck is tipped over the library tilts
Like one walking home from a bar

But inside the musician’s house next door
The plates hold their breath on the table

Still as a magician’s trick while afternoon
Striped shadows stalk the heart pine floors.

Musicians riding on an elephant [Summer Mountains 4]

 

4. Musicians riding on an elephant

8th century, painting on a biwa

The elephant looks back the way he came
He is not afraid of what’s coming

Silence of the elephant paused forever mid-step
In a landscape painting rendered on the face

Of a lute. Above them the four strings
Of the sky tell the story

Representation of the landscape based
On the look of the characters based on the

Look of the landscape

Mountain rising like a candle un-melting
Birds fly away toward the ghosts of

Mountains the host and two guests