Marc Swan

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Mexico DF

another party of weary people talking of illness
theirs   their spouses   neighbors   friends
except for Dick and Betsy who regale us
with stories of life on a trawler in Charlestown
living it right now and then it’s just Dick and me
talking of the places we’ve been   changes
in the world   the times that have held   if images
in my head could smell  touch  taste I’d savor
the charred meat smell   the taste of Corona
a peso a bottle  the rough hewn wood inside
the Cadillac Bar near Rio Hudson off Reforma
the hideaway where Che and Fidel planned
the Sierra Maestro  low flames simmered
then burned with revolution  Dick was there
earlier at a time when you could travel anywhere
feel safe and comfortable in open and closed
spaces   a time of enlightenment with Kerouac
Cassady  Burroughs driving in just because
they could but later in my time it was Federales
open-sided buses   shields   batons   bayonets
the streets darker than usual at night    the days
filled with expectation of the killing kind
it would be decades before the student bodies
burned and buried in a mass grave over
the hill   families waiting waiting   were found

published in Gargoyle Summer 2011

South Central Los Angeles, 1975

There’s no gunshot or mayhem
just the thought raging like wildfire
inside my head. He’s an older man
just released from Atascadero. We
drew straws in the lunchroom to see
who would meet him. My small office
is dimly lighted, my choice, the cabinet
to my left full of cases of men, women
in need of help. Help. He listens to my
spiel—limited funding, lack of available
resources. I watch his dark eyes narrow,
his hand holding the cane he walked in
with tightens around the shaft. His eyes
follow my eyes to the door, no window,
just a closed door. Before I reach the
waiting list, he draws a slender finely
honed blade from his cane and lays
it across my desk. I’m not in a hurry,
he says, I’ll wait to get what I need.

published in The Cafe Review Summer 2015

Karner Blue Butterfly

It’s a small show in a grand old
brick synagogue converted to artist
studios—a photographer
is hosting a display
of eight beautifully rendered
montages of the Nabokov butterfly.
Endangered blue the artist calls it. 
The intricate drawings
detail history, dimension,
environment, the birth and death
cycle of this small
member of the animal kingdom.
I ask of the process,
the lengthy research needed
to understand and create
these heady illustrations. Holding
a glass of Yellowtail chardonnay,
the artist smiles and begins
to tell her story. First
she asks if I’m a Nabokov fan.
I’ve never had that thought.
Not really, I say, but I’m someone
interested in learning
She walks and talks from one
to another linking the components
so precisely created. She tells me
of the history of the discovery,
quoting words Nabokov spoke
to describe this delicate species,
of the fires burned in certain
habitats to create ash
for the lupine to flourish—the staple
of the blue butterfly. She tells me
there are only a few places they thrive.
I’m drowning in an academic pool.
I find a convenient segue
and bid her a very nice adieu. On the way
out I speak with the photographer.
He tells me of his latest project
on Auschwitz. I’m ready to sink even
lower into an abyss when he explains
the photos are of trees. Trees born
of the dust and dirt of that place.
Trees bent, twisted with a tortured look,
he says, and that is enough.

published in Westerly Fall 2015 issue    

Marc Swan lives in Portland Maine. Poems coming out this year in Gargoyle, 
Mudfish, Chiron Review, and Nerve Cowboy, among others. His fourth collection, today can take your breath away, was published by Sheila-na-gig Editions, 2018.