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.

November hymnal (27) / Song of the cold wind

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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

November hymnal (25) / Ennui, or Jack the Ripper letter, November 22, 1888

November hymnal (25) /  Jack the Ripper letter, November 22, 1888

On a limited batch of stationery
A Pirie & Sons watermark

Also used for the artist’s
Family correspondence that year

Or in a painting in the painting
Multiple times bare necks black lined

Shadows or pearls or unexplained
Marks across an unconcerned open throat

A shape behind the nude model or sitting
on the bed’s edge as she lay there finished

He knew what the women looked like
Multiple times bare necks black lines

They would stand the victim on a hook
To document the wounds but when they

Could take photos of her on her bed after
All she was unconcerned that she was dead

Scribbles on the wall behind her at the margins
Of the camera’s focus and on the margins of the note

Sharper as the weather was at various hours
A violent spree where the ledger had been

Sketched with bodiless heads.
The person could not be hidden

So she was torn until she was a body
And then torn like a page

Where the ledger had been
Well formed if not elegant.

Which was the titled canvas
And which November’s taunt?

“What a pretty necklace I gave her”
“Am on the trail again”

November hymnal (23)

November hymnal (23)

On Friday I avoid the streets and stores and wait.
For doors to open in the words.

You can’t just force your way in words. The stars
Would feed you to the empty hordes

Of night. Instead I balance on the clock’s
Left hand and hope the day will take its course

And let the minutes devour whoever they stalk.
Some days have guns. And hours enforcing  a curfewed

Month’s thoughts. Silence on the phone
Between whatever tone you choose for it

To wake you from your dark jade dream to stone’s
Cold unpolished light. He wouldn’t hit anyone

He can’t enjoy, time. Enjoys the stars
Like fish scattering from the noise.

November hymnal (22)

November hymnal (22)

So, after gratitude: the third part of autumn.
Questions without punctuation

Like love poems which will find answers only
When they reach the wrong person

In another language. Then the late slant
Of sun appears to end a sentence

Without words. No hope of early release.
The moon is balanced on the sky’s highest

Tent pole, just above the bear on the bicycle.
But nobody sees the bicycle. Suddenly

In the night’s back third we’re all up there
Clutching the ring to our parachutes

In the diffident cold, like all the stars
And no less courageous for it, our panic

Making a shape for strangers
Holding hands below.

November hymnal (21)

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November hymnal (21)

Late at night, the moon starting over.
Down the stairs the piano shines quietly

Under a stained glass lampshade.
Where leaves and boughs are a single shape

Connecting the trunks which disappear into darkness.
Like music is a single sealed vessel

Coming through the clouds the moon plays its phrase
in a lost key descending the sky’s scales.

Every season is within it: fruit, seed, husk, flower
Forgotten. In the dark mirror on the piano

Beyond the owl’s shadow the edges of sheet
Music shine. Starting over, before I unsnap

The accordion of thanksgiving, I’ll sleep.

November hymnal (20)

November hymnal (20)

Memories of jumping in leaf piles
Are like the action of jumping

Into memory: edged shapes so light
The sharp pleasant scent

Composing myself amid total
Decomposition (meanwhile late

Fall’s upside down spring leaves
Reach the canopy of ground

And ever so slowly begin
The ascension to crown the roots)