Brian Swann

October 18, 2019 Swann Brian


So they brought in a bird for him,
Ash-color, a crown on its head
Like a rooster’s comb, a mirror
On top of the crown with a hole
In the middle like a lifesaver,
And through the hole he could see
The night sky and though
It was only about two in the afternoon
The three bright stars of Taurus
Shone through the hole in the polished mirror,
And he shuddered and trembled
And shut his eyes and when he opened them
He saw sky vanishing, stars and bird
Disappearing as a comet opened and
Melted above lemon trees, and he
Closed his eyes and when he looked again they’d
Tricked him and he was shocked to see
In the mirror puffy eyes, sunken sockets, jowls
And wattles and in horror he turned away
And had them make a mask of turquoise,
Snake teeth and quetzal feathers, but
It did not fit and fell off, so miserable
And drunk he tore at his face and slept
With his sister, then walked into the waves
Toward the setting sun and vanished
Leaving the people on the shore
Looking for his promised return which
Eventually he did but they didn’t recognize him
Wearing a different mask so they turned him away
Which was when walls fell, hills collapsed,
Fish took off, birds vanished and the wind
On its way out blew in doors and skies clashed
But they still turned away from him even when
Things calmed and new patterns formed in
Night skies, but stars still pivoted slowly,
Or sat like upended paving stones, spun in place
Or fell like feathers in whorls and loops
Over streets still smoldering, water still
Salty with blood and people stepped over bodies
Broken in the quake while the power-company
Cut trenches to channel the whirlwinds
And drain the clouds, and then they missed him
But now he had turned his back and one late afternoon
Found him standing in thin rain surrounded
By mountains, old snow stippling their tops,
Thinking that though the world is trapped
In a web of categories making some things possible
And others not, sometimes something escapes
And slips through it all so even age and death
Have a different song, a kind of silence
As full as the language of birds he watched
As they threaded the rain that wove back
Into itself as if it could do that for ever,
And he stood, old and gray in its drift, as if
Carved from air or a contusion of light,
Something expressed with the reluctance
Of windows at nightfall when light is dragged
From them, and so he left in search of his old house
But in the lack of numbers the names
Of streets helped only so far while asphalt
Cooked in brass and the breeze was at best an
Unsteady prayer for clarity where shadows
Collapsed in pockets, and everything was full
Of a glare insistent as noise, but yes
The house endured, wood warped, windows
Askew in a trance of sunlight acute
As absence, a sort of duress keeping everything
In place, a structure from which movement
Had passed and again he had the desire to be
Somewhere and someone else even while light
Stayed trapped in him as in a glass figurine
Globe nebulae spilled over, in the distance,
Other light insisted over trees with the musculature
Of marvelous emptiness, and yes, he thought,
Still, this narrow house at the intersection of Cortes
And Tlaxcala with its cracked walls, fissures
Stuffed with dirt, glistening obsidian spelks,
This is it,
and he enters, waits for the broken glass
To come together again, focus itself back into
An image of heaven’s vault no plane cuts through
Or night clamps shut, though there’s a noise in the wall,
Clicks and chewing in the rafters, getting nowhere
But going until one day it could all come down in a cloud
Of dust for him to put back up, and that’s what keeps him
Going as in his mind he watches bubbles rise and burst
Each day, little puffs of brightness, and in them he thinks
He hears flutes, and follows a procession through
Ancient walls, winding and leaving rhythms irregular
But consistent, follows footprints in the mud
By the lake, something to go on, something
To believe in like the echo of a shape that passes
Through gates and into the garden with fireflies
In the anacua, some escaping, some pulsing the leaves.
He stops, slips through the rain to the beat of drum,
Efflorescence of troupial, call of the oriole,
Orange light burning into cattails, flowers
Breaking open at the surface, lifting as corollas,
Lilies, indigo plumes, with heron and duck,
And joins night going quiet as mud the city’s
Built on, whispering and shifting, dreaming
Tangled knots of memory while from behind
The volcano a full moon bellies up, breaks
Free, an eye fragile as old ice on the sky’s beach,
Its rusty flowers, waterlogged fruits, clapped-out
Carillons, splintered mirrors, floating faces,
Codices and skeins of scrolls, and then he goes home
And sleeps, waking to a hazy sun, trucks revving up,
Slamming into reverse, and he looks through
The haze to Mt. Tlaloc which bursts into
Fragments of gunmetal blue, sweeping away the last
Starved stars into the eyes of sorry jaguars
In the zoo whose air’s barely breathable,
And when he arrives at the aviary his attention
Is caught by the plaque of an ash-color bird with a
Crown on its head and a mirror on the crown with
A hole in the middle, then,
Back at the house with its noises in the walls,
Clicks and chewing in the rafters, he looks
Down into the gap between mirror and corner where
Brush missed and vacuum overlooked, and
His eye is caught in spider-lines, skeins of sun strung
And trapped, hair like comet-tails, and motes hanging
Like planets that shake in his breath. He stands up
And stares into the glass, moves his right arm
And the one opposite moves, same with the left,
The same. He remembers synesthetes can tickle
Themselves in a mirror. Confused, he hears flutes,
A procession through the walls, rhythms irregular.
Levers up, puts on a 45. Flops back. The hip.
Opens a book to where someone is trying “to loosen
“The bonds of self.” Lays the book down.

Brian Swann’s most recent poetry collection is SUNDAY OUT OF NOWHERE: NEW AND SELECT POEMS (Sheep Meadow Press,2018). Other recent books include Companions, Analogies (poetry, Sheep Meadow Press, 2016) and Not the Real Marilyn Monroe (fiction, MadHat Press, 2017) and HUSKANAW, (novel) from MadHat Press, 2022.